How Long Can Meat Defrost on the Counter?

by Charlie
Frozen meat on the counter

Have you ever wondered how long it’s safe to put defrosting meat on a counter at room temperature for? It makes sense to want to defrost meat this way as it is much faster than keeping it in a refrigerator, but equally, you need to ensure that whatever method you’re using is totally food safe and will not breed bacteria in the meat.

How long can meat defrost on the counter? Room temperature in most homes is around 40-100° F and meat should not be kept at this temperature for more than an hour. Thawing meat on the counter is not compliant with current recommendations and could lead to food-related illness if certain bacteria breed in the meat.

Why Isn’t It Safe to Defrost Meat on the Counter?

Many people do defrost meat on the counter, but because of the temperatures involved, this isn’t a safe method. Meat should not be kept at room temperature for more than about sixty minutes, or the safety of the food will be compromised. In winter, two hours may be safe, but in summer, an hour is the maximum.

Meat is a prime breeding ground for many kinds of bacteria that can cause sickness in people, and these bacteria thrive in warm conditions. If you leave your meat out on the counter, bacteria will start multiplying within the meat very quickly.

While some of these will be killed off by the cooking process, you also need to minimize how many grow in the first place, and that means correctly storing your meat at all times, including during the thawing process.

You should also avoid thawing meat in hot water. Some people recommend this because it’s faster than cold water and faster than leaving meat on the counter, but it is not a safe thawing method. It raises the outside temperature of the meat fast, while the inside is still frozen.

This high temperature creates a breeding ground for bacteria, and the meat is then not safe for consumption. If you want to defrost your meat, do not place it on the counter or in hot water.

How Should You Defrost Meat?

There are a few alternative options for defrosting meat. One of them is to place the meat in a refrigerator and allow it to slowly defrost while keeping the overall temperature low. Another is to place the meat in cold water, which again keeps the temperature low while allowing thawing to occur. A third alternative is to thaw the meat in the microwave.

Thawing meat in the refrigerator is the least hassle. You can simply place the meat in the fridge and allow it to defrost slowly. This can take a day or more, depending on the size of the meat and the type.

The advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require any work on your part, and you can refreeze the meat safely if you change your mind or find that you don’t need it.

You will also be able to keep the thawed meat in the refrigerator for a couple of days, whereas other defrosting methods do not allow you to re-freeze or store the raw meat safely.

Other defrosting methods do require more work, too. If you defrost meat using cold water, you will need to refresh this water every thirty minutes. If you microwave the meat, you should follow the directions given by the packaging, but you still need to be around to keep checking on and resting the meat.

Both the cold water and microwave methods raise the temperature of the outside meat too high for it to be safely re-frozen or stored. You will need to cook the meat instead of keeping it in its raw form to maintain food safety standards.

How Can You Defrost Meat More Quickly?

You can defrost meat quickly using the microwave or the cold water method; these will be much faster than allowing the meat to thaw in the refrigerator. If you have forgotten to take the meat out of the freezer in advance, you may need to use one of these solutions to bring its temperature up and ensure you can cook it in time.

Everyone knows the frustration of forgetting to take something out of the freezer in advance. Even with the best and most careful planning, it’s all too easy for this to happen, so these two methods come into their own then.

If you use them, you should cook the meat as soon as it has finished thawing. Don’t put it in the fridge at this point. Bacteria will have begun to grow on the surface of the food and while it won’t have had time to multiply much, it is present and will continue to breed and spread if the meat is transferred to the fridge.

Can You Cook Meat Without Thawing It First?

You might be surprised to learn that yes, you can. You do not have to defrost meat in order to cook it; you can just put it in your recipe straight away. However, it will need about fifty percent more cooking time, and may not be quite as good as thawed meat.

It can be difficult to achieve a good sear or a crispy skin on meat that has not been thawed properly, so it is best to defrost meat in advance if you can. However, if you’re really stuck and you don’t want to use a microwave or the cold water method, you can just start cooking your meat straight from frozen.

Be aware that you should not do this if you are using a slow cooker to cook your meat; the amount of time it takes to thaw before it reaches cooking temperatures will be unsafe.

Final Thoughts

Frozen meat that has been left on a counter for ten minutes or even half an hour should be fine to eat. However, if you leave meat out for longer, you should be very wary of eating it. Bacteria will spread fast, particularly in hot conditions, and the counter is not a safe place to thaw meat, even if you plan to cook it straight away.

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