Freezing meat allows you to keep real ingredients on hand. You can save plenty of money when buying in bulk quantities, or stocking up at special prices. Purchase extra amounts of specialty or hard-to-find cuts and save time and travel costs.
But how do you know what portion of any one item you will need? Small families sometimes have guests, and even large families can need just a bit of a frozen meat.
Cut all the guess work by spending a little time on shopping day to freeze “with options.”
Freezing food in single layers on a cookie sheet takes a little time, but saves time later. My pattern is to prepare freezer food while I am cooking a meal the day I visit the store. The idea is simple: Create layers of individual pieces and place in the freezer until solidly frozen. Only then do you place the frozen food in good-quality freezer bags and label. Frozen food will remain separated, and you can select one chicken thigh or six, one or four pieces of bacon, depending on your need.
Before placing the meat on pans, divide larger pieces of meat into serving size pieces. Pork tenderloin is approximately 1 lb, so I cut it into four equal pieces. (Don’t forget that the skinny tail end must be longer.) I form ground meat into patties, even though I don’t make hamburgers often.The patty shape takes little space, thaws quickly, and, of course, is a ready-to-go burger. You can pop a frozen patty into a George Foreman-style grill, and be eating a hamburger within five minutes.
On the other hand, if you need a single serving of ground meat for a pasta sauce, simply crumble the patty before cooking, or form meatballs. I even make quick sausage by kneading surprising amounts of spice into defrosted patties. (This is a great way to add “Italian” sausage to a family pizza.)
If you will use your meat without the bone, remove the bone before freezing. A boneless chicken thigh or breast can be cut into chunks when only partially defrosted. Bone-in meat takes longer to defrost, and must be fully defrosted before you can remove the bone.
I have two square pans (from toaster ovens) that fit perfectly in the freezer side of my fridge. I also have a small cookie sheet that fits in my kitchen freezer, and a large cookie sheet I use only in my chest freezer. Check your flat pans and see what fits best in your freezer. For most meats, the pans do not need to be perfectly flat in the freezer. (I will cover freezing liquids and many other foods, which may require that the pan is level, in later posts.)
Line your pan with plastic wrap before placing the first layer of food, because naturally-occurring water in your meat will fuse quite tightly to your pan. You can place several layers on one pan, separated by plastic wrap, but you want the food to freeze quickly for quality and safety. The photo above with ground beef and pork tenderloin is quite thick, but there is a lot of airspace around the individual pieces, so the food will not take long to freeze. Even so, I put this package in my chest freezer, as it is a little colder than my refrigerator freezer.
Finish your stack with another layer of plastic wrap. Technically, if you catch the food as soon as it is frozen, and package, the last layer is not necessary. However, I like the protection from the dry freezer air in case I am distracted, or forget for a few days.
Allow the food to freeze fully before packaging. Two or three layers of bacon is usually ready in a few hours. Thick or dense food should be left eight hours, or overnight. Remove the top layer of wrap, and place your frozen pieces into a freezer bag.
Make sure you get as much air as possible before sealing the bag. Most freezer bags have zip closures. Zip the bag until just before it is fully closed, squeeze out the air, and finish the seal. If the bag is not full, rolling the empty part of the bag around the full part can help. If the bag is full, give it a hug to squeeze out the air. I’ve tried using a straw to suck out the air, but that method doesn’t “feel” hygienic, and I don’t think it removes more air than hugging the bag.
Clearly label and date the package. I often note where I purchased meat products, for example, Miller’s Medium Gr. Beef 05/11. Don’t skip the date. I highly recommend keeping a top-quality, permanent marker in a kitchen drawer. Through my years of preserving food, I have tried nearly every conceivable method of marking food for the freezer. Today, I ALWAYS use a black Sharpie Industrial marker. Lesser markers will often (usually) wipe off.
Update: See a quick and easy version of above for everyday use.