Sunday, November 8, 2009

Freezing Meat

I love buying in bulk; especially meat.  It is so much cheaper that way, and it provides a great addition to your food storage.
This is my number one choice when it comes to freezing meat.  I started doing it a few years ago.  I wanted a system that would allow me easy access to individual serving sizes, save me a ton of space in my freezer, didn't cost a lot of money, was easy to rotate, and would prevent freezer burn even after months of storage.  This is what I came up with...

The first step is to get organized; don't just come home and shove everything into the freezer - that pushes old stuff to the back, leaves the new stuff in the front, freezes things in odd shapes, and nothing is labeled or packaged correctly.  If you don't have time after putting all of the other groceries away, stick it in the fridge - hamburger will last 1-2 days before it needs to be used or frozen, and other meats last up to 5 days.
It might seem like a lot of work at first, but in the end it will save you time, space, and money.

Materials Needed: 
- sandwich baggies (snap and seal)
- quart sized freezer bags
- gallon sized freezer bags

Getting Started:divide meat into serving size portions

The main concept is to put individual serving sizes into one sandwich bag.  4 sandwich bags will fit into one gallon bag.  Multiple gallon bags can be stacked on top of each other, or placed upright in your freezer.

For example:
- After buying hamburger, I divide it into individual 1 lbs. baggies, (which is the amount that most recipes call for).  Each pound is put into 1 sandwich bag.  I prefer the snap and seal sandwich baggies - they keep all juices in the bag when defrosting, which saves on cleanup. 

- Be sure and squish the meat into the corners, pressing all of the air out, and forming an even square (when everything is even, it helps when you defrost - no cooked corners and frozen middle).  Getting rid of all the air will prevent freezer burn.

- After all of my baggies are formed and sealed, I put 4 into a gallon ziplock: be sure and suck all of the air out of that bag as well.  Everything should be air free and compact, as shown below.
- Label the gallon bag, and put the date on it.
- Repeat with remaining baggies.

This same concept works with almost all types of meats:
Personally, I do this with my hamburger, chicken breasts, boneless chicken thighs, chicken chunks, Italian and regular sausage, pork chops, cooked ham, stew meat, etc.
I always put 2 chicken breasts per bag (even 2 large breasts will fit if bones are removed) - and everything else I use in 1 lb. portions, since that is what recipes commonly call for.  If you only cook for 1, you can freeze 1 breast per bag, etc. - use portions that you commonly cook with.
For larger cuts of meat, like steak, I use a quart size freezer bag.  I also use the quart bags when freezing meats with marinade - just take it out to defrost and it is ready by dinner time.  Depending on what I have planned for meals, I will put 1-2 steaks in each bag; enough for one dinner. 
 For roasts, bacon, or anything too big for a quart bag, I keep it in the original package, and put it in a gallon freezer bag.

 Storing:
 Since everything is the same size, it easily stacks on top of each other or will fit upright.  As you can see, I can easily fit 40+ lbs. of meat in less than half of the space in my little freezer; still leaving plenty of room for everything else.
If you have a side to side fridge/freezer, after freezing on a level surface, bags can be stacked like a file in one of the drawers, standing upright.
If you have an extra freezer in the garage, this allows you to have small portions of each type of meat in your immediate freezer, with replacements in the extra one.

Use and Shelf Life:
When you need meat, simply take one baggy out of the large ziplock, seal it up again, and put it back.
Gallon bags with only 1 or 2 small portions inside can be packed together on top of full bags to save space and ensure that they get used first.

Double bagging, along with removing all of the air will provide an excellent shelf life.  My meat easily lasts over 6 months using this method.  It always come out tasting fresh - and I never get freezer burn!  We recently had a roast that was over 12 months frozen, and it was delicious!


Rotating:
It is important to rotate all of your food storage; meaning you eat the oldest thing first.
After I empty a gallon bag, I wash it out, fold it up, and put it under my box of gallon bags.  That way, I know what types of meat I need, and how many pounds to get to restock my supply (and not overstock my freezer).  Just be sure to scribble out the old date and write the new one.  (Bags should not be reused if they have holes or are noticeably worn - I can use mine 2-3 times before throwing them out).

When you buy meat again and package it the same way, take the old bags out of the freezer, put the new ones in, and place the old back on top.  That way the oldest meat is always on the top, and everything rotates through.

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