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Why are certain methods better than others for thawing meat?

Two primary aims when thawing are to minimize damage caused by the ice crystals melting in the meat and to avoid bacterial contamination as the meat's temperature rises. However, the cook faces what seems to be a contradiction. On the one hand, rapid thawing causes more of the meat's juices to be lost and more deterioration in texture. On the other, rapid thawing - if done properly - reduces the threat of bacterial contamination.

The problem can be resolved by transferring the meat from the freezer to the refrigerator, where the temperature is high enough for the meat to thaw and cold enough to allow the process to progress at a slow pace while preventing bacteria in and on the meat from increasing dangerously. Thawing in the refrigerator can take as little as several hours for a thin steak or as much as several days for a colossal turkey.

Sometimes the cook does not have the time to defrost meat in the refrigerator and must leave it out at room temperature. This usually doesn't present a problem if the meat is a thin cut, because the time it takes to thaw is not long enough to pose a health risk. But the surface of a thick piece of meat will completely thaw long before the inside and therefore affords ample opportunity for bacterial growth. If the meat must be defrosted quickly and is a little too thick to risk thawing at room temperature, place it in a tightly sealed waterproof bag and leave it in a tub or sink filled with cold water.

Wherever you choose to thaw meat, keep it securely wrapped as a precaution against moisture loss and contamination from the environment. It is not recommended to thaw meat (especially a thick cut) in a microwave oven. The meat's exterior will be mushy and over-cooked long before the meat's interior begins to thaw (a microwave oven can heat molecules in the liquid, but not the solid, state).

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