The minute some of you start reading this, I know what you are thinking. You can’t DO that, Marie. It’s not safe. It’s not … well, it’s just not ALLOWED.
A reader asked me how to deal with an already frozen whole deer leg when she doesn’t have a pressure canner or even any large pots.
Is there any solution at all?
Keep It Frozen
While it’s not a perfect solution – eventually you’re going to have to thaw it and eat it – keeping a large chunk of meat frozen – like a whole, frozen leg of venison – until you have everything gathered and prepped means that it’s safely preserved. For now.
In the winter, that can mean storing it in a plastic bin outside if you don’t have a chest freezer.
Find a Butcher
Butchers have wonderful equipment that allows them to cut right through bone and frozen meat. If you can find a butcher who will do it for you, have the wide part of the leg cut up into steaks, or cut the leg into two roasts. The top one will be more tender than the lower one. Either pot roast it with low, moist heat, cut it into stew meat, or grind it up.
Or maybe it’s a turkey you’re trying to deal with. They can cut those up, too.
Cut It Up and Re-freeze
Yes, you can.
I promise I would never lie to you about this. It is perfectly safe to refreeze thawed meat as long as it was thawed properly and recently.
Here’s something to keep in mind. If the meat in question was bought at a grocery store, it has probably already been frozen and thawed between slaughter and purchase. I remember finding that out, many years ago, from a butcher. It is actually rare to find “never been frozen” meat at the grocery. Therefore most people who take meat home and freeze it are actually re-freezing it.
If the meat in question is game, or has been slaughtered locally, you can likely find out if it has been frozen and thawed. If it hasn’t, then you are only thawing/refreezing once.
Defrost the meat in the refrigerator – NOT in cold water or in a microwave – and cut it off the bone as soon as it is thawed enough. Meat is easier to cut if it is still partially frozen, which is best if you plan to refreeze the meat. If you have a pot big enough for the bone, definitely make broth. Otherwise, make someone’s dog very happy.
Repackage the meat in smaller amounts and wrap carefully for freezer storage. The lower on the leg you go, the tougher the meat will be.
I find that stew beef chunks are very versatile. This is a great opportunity to add marinades to the bags.
Gimme Some Marinades
Okay, here are three good ones. Just mix up enough to gently coat your meat, toss it back into the bag and pop it in the freezer. When you want to cook, don’t even thaw – just dump it into the crockpot or roasting pan and cook it low until done.
Once you have the idea of how this works, have fun. Barbecue sauce is good on its own, as is Italian salad dressing.
Lemon and Garlic – mix 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 3 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and some pepper.
Mustard and Garlic – mix 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 3 tablespoons mustard (Dijon is nice!), 2 tablespoons lemon juice.
Rosy Sauce – This is really easy. Mix 1 part cranberry sauce and 2 parts tomato sauce. It tastes amazingly good for such simple ingredients. And yes, I’ve frozen it, so I know first hand that it works.
Cut It Up, Cook and Refreeze
It is safe to freeze cooked meat that was previously frozen. That is, once you thaw and cook meat, you CAN safely freeze it again.
In fact, if you have thawed it in cold water or in the microwave, you really must cook it before freezing it again.
And don’t ask about thawing it on the counter because that’s just a recipe for disaster.
Don’t do it.
Concerns About Re-Freezing
There’s actually a valid reason behind the myth that frozen meat can’t be thawed and refrozen. That’s because bacteria can start growing on your meat when you thaw it. And if you thaw and refreeze and thaw again, the theory is that you have even more bacteria.
But the USDA, who always errs on the side of caution, has clearly stated that it is safe as long as you thaw the meat properly.
So don’t thaw your meat on the counter where it can grow bacteria, and don’t let it sit around until it starts to go green.
Do not allow frozen food to become warmer than 40F/4C unless it is being cooked. That’s very important. (And remember, no more than two hours in the danger zone of 41F/5C – 140F/60C .) Do not ever, ever refreeze foods that have developed a bad odor or have become slimy (particularly poultry, pork and lamb).
And if you have any doubts about the safety of the food, toss it. Nothing is worth food poisoning.
Please do not thaw and refreeze seafood. It spoils far too quickly.
How Long Do I Have?
If the frozen meat is properly thawed and then kept at refrigerator temperatures (that is, less than 40F or 4C), you can expect to keep ground red meat, stew meat or poultry for two days, and bigger cuts like roasts, chops and steaks for three to five days after thawing.
After The Second Freeze
Make a note on any refrozen foods “Use as soon as thawed”. When you remove your repackaged meat from the freezer, treat it as extra-perishable. Cook it immediately. Use it up completely within twenty-four hours. This means packaging it in portions that will produce few leftovers.
And then go get a pressure canner. 😀