The Worst Way To Defrost Your Steaks Is Sadly The Easiest

Have you ever got home after a busy day, and then realized the steaks you had planned for dinner are still sitting in the freezer? It's incredibly frustrating, and it can be tempting to still try to defrost them quickly anyway, rather than put them in the refrigerator and have to wait another day for them to thaw. But if you're considering the microwave as an option, this could be a culinary mistake.

There's no doubt that it's quick and easy to defrost steak using the appliance, as it only takes around eight to 10 minutes to thaw a pound of meat. And the microwave is also a safe method of defrosting meat such as steak, according to the USDA. The problem, however, is that the microwave can actually start to cook the beef as it thaws, even on the defrost setting, which can alter its appearance as well as its texture. 

When you've gone to the trouble of choosing the perfect steak at the store, you don't want to risk turning an expensive piece of protein into something unpleasant-looking or tough. Luckily, there are several other ways you can still enjoy a steak dinner, even if you forgot to thaw the meat first.

Defrosting steak in the microwave alters the color and texture

A lot of microwaves have a defrost setting specifically designed for thawing food. This setting means the power of the appliance is reduced to more like 20% or 30%, rather than cooking at full 100% power. But defrosting steak using this quick method can reduce its natural juiciness, resulting in a tougher, drier, or more chewy piece of meat once it's fully cooked.

If some areas of the meat begin to cook when it's defrosting in the microwave, it will also start to change color. This can result in an unappetizing gray hue to the steak. Since some parts of food can warm up more quickly than others in the appliance, it can increase the risk of the steak cooking unevenly or overcooking when you come to sautee or grill it, too.

If you do decide to use the microwave to defrost steak in a pinch, it's important that the meat is then cooked straight away, according to USDA safety guidelines. This is because as the beef warms up and parts begin to cook, there's a risk that bacteria can start to multiply. But there are better ways to thaw frozen meat, so if possible, save the appliance for defrosting other items such as vegetables or sauces instead.

The best ways to defrost and cook frozen steak

For the best results, it's worth defrosting steaks in the refrigerator. It requires a bit of planning, as it can take around 24 hours for the meat to thaw, and even longer (up to 36 hours) if it's a thicker cut. But the meat will remain at a safe temperature as it thaws, and retain more moisture for a juicier steak.

If you want to eat it sooner, you can defrost steak in cold water. Place the meat in a leakproof zip top bag, and submerge it in a bowl of cold water, changing the water every half an hour (per the USDA). A smaller piece of beef weighing a pound could be thawed in around an hour, but longer for larger cuts. Do not be tempted to use hot water to speed things up, or to defrost the steaks on the counter, as this can increase the risk of bacteria multiplying once they reach over 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Alternatively, you can actually skip the defrosting step altogether. Tests show that meat cooks better straight from the freezer, remaining juicier and with less chance of overcooking. The steak will take around 50% longer to cook from frozen; try starting it in a skillet to brown the meat, then transferring it to the oven until it reaches the desired temperature. Even Alton Brown's perfect steak starts out frozen – should you need any additional reassurance.