Freezer Burned Meat: What Do You Do With It?

Freezer Burned MeatWell, today is cleaning the freezer day. It’s been a while since this has been done, and believe me, it was due. I don’t know why we insist on saving the last drop of gravy or a few spoonfuls of vegetables, but we do. Very often they are freezer burned and unusable by the time we find them again.

What is freezer burn and why does it happen?

Freezer burn is a major culprit in frozen food becoming unpalatable. It will set in if:

  • Your freezer temperature fluctuates.
  • Food wasn’t stored in freezer-safe containers.
  • Food is left in longer than it should be.

All meats have limits as to how long they can be left in the freezer without some loss of nutrients.

Freezer burn is caused when food is damaged by dehydration and oxidation due to air reaches the product.

Meats and vegetables stored in a manual-defrost freezer will last longer than those stored in automatic-defrost freezers. That is because the temperature of a manual defrost freezer remains closer to 0 °F/-18 °C, while the temperature of automatic defrost freezers fluctuates during the defrost cycle. If you aren’t sure what your freezer temperature is, place a thermometer inside and check it every couple of hours throughout the day.

The good news is that freezer burn doesn’t cause illness. The bad news is that freezer burned food will look unappetizing because it loses color and shrivels up. It also just tastes “off” and will be bland and chewy. Depending on your circumstances, if times are tough, you may want to go ahead and use the meat regardless of the freezer burn.

How to package food to avoid freezer burn

Most of the packages of meat I bring home are in cellophane and black foam containers. These are not at all airtight and you will end up with freezer burn if the meat isn’t thawed, cooked, and eaten within a few short weeks.

To preserve the meat as long as possible, you have to repackage it. The method I use is to, first, wrap it in plastic wrap and then either put the package in plastic Ziploc-style bags, wrap in foil, or put in a storage container with a lid. Don’t forget to mark them. The better the packaging, the longer the meat will last.

If you have a Food Saver, you can also use it to seal your meats, cheese, cold cuts, fish or chicken. The plastic bags or roll of plastic for these food savers are expensive, but this is a very effective way to insure food remains fresh.

There are some containers you should not use. Don’t use non-freezer type containers, like the ones yogurt or cottage cheese come in. Don’t reuse plastic freezer bags even after washing, since bacteria can grow in the plastic from the meat juice while defrosting.

Using freezer burned food

If you can afford it, remove the freezer burned areas and discoloration with a knife before cooking. If you have to use the whole piece of meat, including the freezer burned portions, I recommend cutting the meat into small bite size pieces and let it slow cook. Make something like stew or chili. This will help to improve the taste and the texture as much as possible.

If it is too bad to use, never throw it out. It makes good dog or cat food. They’ll think it’s a treat! If they turn up their noses at it, well, be grateful you didn’t try serving it to your family!

As with any food you are storing, the best idea is to rotate and avoid the problems of freezer burned meats in the first place.

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16 Responses to Freezer Burned Meat: What Do You Do With It?

  1. Gloria says:

    Freezer burned meat that you don’t want to eat can be turned into thinly sliced and dehydrated dog treats (if you have a dog).

  2. Eric M. Jackson says:

    In attempting not to waste meat, the family dog is always more than happy to take care of any freezer burnt meat that we come across.
    He has also offered his services after we butcher any deer or elk. Any damaged meat we save and freeze for him. When we get a roast out, we cook a serving of this meat for him. Talk about one happy dog.

    • Dawn Wokson says:

      I hit a deer one year and the bad meat went to our dogs,along with freezer burned meat,and yep the Dogs and the cats love it.The chickens will even eat it if they can get it away from the cats

  3. Veteran Who Is Preparing says:

    About 20 years ago I read an article in a hunting magazine that talked about what to do with freezer burned meats. They recommended BBQ. Soak it in your favorite BBQ sauce and then grill or crock pot it. We’ve done it many times and the BBQ flavor covers up any off flavor from freezer burn. We usually put it in the crock pot for at least 5-6 hours. We do add a little water or tomato juice to the pot before we start it cooking. No problems with it being dried out then.

  4. GoneWithTheWind says:

    Make crockpot chilli. Cook the meat to doneness first either cut it up small before or after it’s cooked. You will not be able to tell it was freezer burned.

    • Dave Radetsky says:

      I wish this were true, but my wife can tell in a split second that freezer burned meat was used in crock pot chili. My attitude is that it’s not that noticeable and I’m cheap so I’ll eat it. She won’t touch it. I think a lot of this boils down to what people are willing to put up with to save a buck.

  5. Randy says:

    I’m a little late with this, having just discovered your website. My wife Karen and I cleaned out our chest freezer over the holiday and had about 4 gallons of freezer burned vegetables that we gave to the chickens (vegetable popsicles…they loved it), and about the same amount of meat products that we turned into dog treats. Not bad, for probably 5 years of neglect. I did find a freezer bag of asado (red chile & pork stew) that I had made in 2003. I couldn’t bear to throw it out and it was too hot for the dogs. I thawed it and ate it for lunch on two successive days. It was great. No difference from fresh that I could determine. Sometimes, it’s all in the eyes (or tastebuds) of the beholder.

    • Jean says:

      In your freezer for 12 years? I don’t feel quite so bad about the meat I found hiding in the back since last year.

  6. Jen says:

    We have several, freezer-burnt meats that I would love to find a way to feed my family, without everybody complaining. I have stew meat, pork chops, and pork sausage. Could anyone suggest some ideas for making these palate – tolerable, please?

  7. Paranoid says:

    Just used a big pork roast I found in freezer dated 2009. Cut off some of the fat that had turned yellowish, Pressure cooked it for 60 min, with some spices, decanted liquid removed fat then added : 2 cans diced tomatoes, garlic, onion chips. basil, oregino, Worcester sauce, hot sauce and some pork bullion. cooked for another 40 min then added carrots, potatoes and onions. made great stew. Next day added, canned corn and green beans,next day added more potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes. Just about gone, was huge shoulder.

  8. Tim says:

    I uncovered a fresh ham in the bottom of our freezer. Six years old and the vacuum sealed bag had been punctured. After thawing it out I cut off all the discolored areas. The remaining meat smelled fine. Not completely convinced how it would taste I cut off a few small thin pieces and fried them up. It tasted fine, so rather than use it for stew or chile I decided to roast it. It was good, not as good as fresh, but certainly not wasted. If in doubt cook a small piece or two and try it.

  9. James says:

    I have found that in the case of chicken, you can boil it to rehydrate it. It still loses some of its taste but if you put some chicken broth in with it it brings back a lot of the flavor. Then it can be used for chicken and rice of something of the nature.

  10. Katie says:

    I’m glad to hear that old, freezer burned meat is ok for dogs. I tried cooking and smothering it with BBQ sauce but I still could not stomach it. My husband was ok with it, but he’s lost his sense of smell, so he didn’t taste the bad flavor that made me want to spit it out. So, my dogs are going to be getting it boiled and ground up with a little rice and pumpkin. I hope they don’t feel the way I do about it.

  11. Minorkle says:

    I lost a 3 lb top sirloin steak in the back of my freezer. It had some freezer burn on the edges. I thawed it and marinated it with a store bought marinade for two days. I then put it on the BBQ. It tasted fine and the marinade helped re-hydrate the steak.

  12. Nenofatno says:

    I would like to know how to mask the old taste of ground pork when I cook it or what are the better recipes to combat that old taste in ground pork?? I can not find much info on ground pork.

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