The Best and Worst Way to Thaw Meat and Fish, According to Our Test Kitchen

Here's how to thaw meat safely and evenly.

Freezing meat is a great way to save money and trips to the grocery store. You can also buy meat and fish that's already frozen, which means you can have proteins on hand whenever you need them. When defrosting your dinner, keep in mind: you want to (a) thaw it evenly and (b) do it safely. Here are the two methods we use at EatingWell.

Correct Ways to Thaw Meat and Fish

Defrosting in the fridge

A slow thaw in the refrigerator is what the USDA considers one of the safest ways from a bacteria standpoint. Leave food in its packaging and set it in the fridge on a rimmed tray or plate to corral any juices. It takes 5 to 6 hours per pound for meat or fish to defrost, depending on how thick it is. I move food from freezer to fridge the night before I want to cook it—or a few nights in advance for something larger, like a whole chicken.

Thawing in a hot-water bath

Defrosting in cold water is faster than fridge defrosting, and is the standard quick-thaw advice. But new research has shown that using hot water (which the USDA does not currently recommend) is an even speedier and safe way to defrost smaller pieces of meat (an inch thick or less). A study published in the Journal of Food Science, for example, compared strip steaks thawed in the fridge as well as in hot water and found that both methods met USDA guidelines for food safety and had little impact on meat quality. (The protein thaws so quickly that bacteria don’t have enough time to grow.) Fill a large bowl with hot water—the temperature the researchers tested was around 102°F. Put the food in a sealable bag (unless it’s already in an airtight package) to keep the water out. Place it in the bowl and set a plate on top to keep it completely submerged. It should thaw in 10 minutes or so.

salmon steaks on a counter with ask the test kitchen logo

Methods for thawing meat and fish we don’t recommend

Don’t microwave meat or fish

It is safe to defrost meat and fish in a microwave, but we say skip it, since it can mess with texture.

Don’t thaw on the counter

Such a commonly used method—and such a no-no. Food left at room temp is a potential breeding ground for bacteria.

Don’t cook meat from frozen

While this is a fine method for fish fillets, meat may cook unevenly.

Got cooking questions? Email them to us at

Breana Killeen, M.P.H., R.D., is the Eating​Well Test Kitchen manager.

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