Ground beef is often frozen to prevent spoiling. Before frozen ground beef can be cooked it must be thawed. There are three safe methods that can be used to thaw ground beef. The beef can be defrosted in the refrigerator, in a microwave, or by being submerged in cold water. It is not recommended to thaw ground beef at room temperature as this can lead to bacteria growth and make the meat unsafe to eat.
The fastest way to thaw ground beef is in the microwave. Many models of microwaves have a defrost function which can be set for ground beef. The total time to do this typically depends on the weight of the meat being thawed. While it is defrosting in the microwave, some parts may begin cooking so it is important to thoroughly cook the beef as soon as possible after removing from the microwave. Ground beef that is thawed in this way must be cooked before it can be refrozen.
A bowl of cold water can also be used to thaw ground beef. The meat should be placed in an airtight plastic bag before being placed in the cold water. The water should be changed every 30 minutes until the ground beef is thawed, making sure that it does not reach a temperature above 70°F (21°C). Warm or hot water should not be used as it can promote bacteria growth. Beef thawed using this method must be cooked immediately and also can't be refrozen until fully prepared.
The safest method to thaw ground beef is to leave it in a refrigerator set between 34 to 40°F (1 to 4°C) for one to two days. Thawing slowly in a cold environment inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. The meat should be wrapped tightly and placed on a plate or in a pan to prevent liquids from dripping and contaminating other food while it thaws. Unlike the other two thawing methods, ground beef thawed in a refrigerator can be refrozen before cooking if necessary. The meat can usually safely be stored in the refrigerator for an additional one to two days after thawing.
It is not safe to thaw ground beef at room temperature by leaving it sitting on a table or counter top. This method allows the beef to become too warm, which often leads to rampant bacteria growth. Unsafe thawing can lead to serious food-borne illness, and should therefore be avoided.