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There are a number of ways to defrost meat safely, including using cold water and the refrigerator. All will thaw the meat without allowing it to get too warm, as warmth can promote the growth of harmful bacteria. Cooking may not kill all of this bacteria, and their waste products can be harmful, so it is very important for cooks to remember that all meat must be kept cool while they are defrosting, even if the chef is in a hurry.
Meat should never be left out on the counter or defrosted in warm or hot water. These techniques foster the growth of bacteria, and meat that has been handled in this way should be discarded. The potential risk of foodborne illness is not worth the cost of the meat.
The best way to defrost meat is in the refrigerator. If a cook knows that she intends to use meat the next day, she should take it out of the freezer, leave it in the original packaging, and place it in a cool area of the refrigerator over a bowl or plate to catch the juices. This technique permits the meat to gently thaw without allowing it to get dangerously warm. Cooks should be aware when defrosting chicken with this technique that hemoglobin from the bones of young chickens may transfer to the meat, making it look bloody. This is not harmful, just unsightly. Especially large roasts and big birds like turkeys will need several days of refrigerator thawing.
If refrigerator defrosting is not an option because of time limitations, the next best choice is cold water thawing. The cook should package the meat in a waterproof bag and dunk it into a bowl filled with cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to keep the temperature constant. It takes between 30 minutes and an hour per pound (half kilogram) to thaw meat using this technique.
Microwaves can also be used to defrost meat in a pinch, although this technique can alter the color, flavor, or texture of the meat when it is cooked. The technique works best with smaller, thinner cuts of meat, rather than big chunks or roasts. In some cases, the meat can also simply be cooked while it is still frozen, especially if the cut is relatively thin. In these instances, cooks should use a meat thermometer to ensure that the center of the meat has been cooked properly.