• December 2, 2023

How to Thaw and Reheat Frozen Foods, From Proteins to Enchiladas

Our book, It’s always freezing season, everything is about Use the freezer more strategicallyWith recipes for your “freezer pantry” that will get you to dinner faster – for example buttermilk biscuit rounds and chicken broth – as well as freezer-friendly main courses such as enchiladas, macaroni and cheese that can be completely prepared from the start, then frozen for a busy day.

But we’ve learned that understanding freezing is just as important as understanding thawing – and by that we mean thawing and reheating frozen food. Whenever you’re preparing to cook with frozen food, be it a piece of protein or a full casserole, a prologue needs to be held before you can begin: How will I thaw the food?

There are a number of ways you can go about this and a number of ways you can’t, and it all depends on the ingredient or dish involved and the end result. Below is how to thaw and reheat all types of food, as well as our preferred (and least preferred) methods for each:


Thawing is different from warming up. When we talk about thawing, we mean the process of increasing the temperature of a frozen ingredient to the point where it is no longer frozen, but ideally not yet in the 40 ° to 145 ° F danger zone (that is the temperature range in which bacteria that can lead to foodborne diseases are most likely to produce.) We want to thaw, not reheat ingredients that we want to continue cooking with instead of reheating them and eating them right away.

Pulling and thawing (defrosting the refrigerator)

The most controlled and accurate way to thaw something is to put the dish or ingredient from your freezer into your refrigerator and wait. We call this the “Pull and Thaw” method. This ensures that the temperature of the food never exceeds that of the refrigerator, keeping the item below the threshold of the danger zone at all times. But it is also the longest thawing process. In our experience, it takes at least 24 hours for a previously frozen recipe or dish to thaw in the refrigerator. Often in other recipes you will find instructions that say you can thaw something “overnight”. In our home, 8 to 12 hours was rarely enough time to completely thaw frozen food.

It is easy to avoid the time investment as long as you plan ahead. Try to get used to pulling what you need and putting it in the refrigerator about two days before cooking. Your foresight leads to the best quality and safety in your dish.

Thawing the countertop

We do not recommend leaving frozen food to thaw at room temperature. Thawing most frozen foods at room temperature takes several hours. This means prolonged exposure in the hazardous area as the temperature of the item rises. The only exceptions are less perishable items that you could keep on a counter anyway, such as bread, breadcrumbs, muffins, cookies or pie dough. But even if the item takes longer than 2 hours to defrost, it is best to put it in the refrigerator.

Thawing cold water

Let’s face it: sometimes we forget to pull our frozen ingredients in time to thaw them in the refrigerator. Sometimes we need to thaw something quickly! In these cases, the next best approach is a cold running water bath. To do this, place your packaged ingredient in a large bowl or other container, or even in a clogged sink, and let cold water pour over it slowly and evenly until it thaws. While this process is much faster than defrosting in the refrigerator, it is not exactly quick – expect 20 to 30 minutes for most items. This method is preferred by the health department (at least here in North Carolina where we live) but is not ideal from a water conservation perspective. You can also try the water bath method: immerse the packaged product in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes until the food is thawed.

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