Can you can cook ground beef, freeze it, thaw it, then freeze it again? The answer is yes, provided the meat has been safely handled along the way.
There are two caveats, though: One, the quality of ground beef diminishes with freezing and thawing, so expect a somewhat mushy and not particularly flavorful product in the end. Two, if you reheat the ground beef after the first thawing, don't refreeze it; the final product will be pretty unappetizing. Instead, after defrosting, separate the cooked ground beef you intend to use and return the unused portion to the freezer immediately.
In the future, avoid the extra hassle and loss of quality by freezing cooked ground beef in separate individual-sized servings.
Freezing Cooked Ground Beef
The first concern is that you get the cooked ground beef safely frozen the first time around. Store ground beef in the fridge and cook it within one to two days of purchase. Raw or cooked, meat must never be left out at room temperature for longer than two hours. Once the cooked ground beef cools to room temperature, freeze it promptly.
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To prevent freezer burn (which results from contact with air), freeze the cooked ground beef in a vacuum-sealed freezer-grade bag. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, press as much air out of the bag as you can while closing it.
Also, remember not to handle the cooked ground beef with the same spatula or other kitchen implement you used on the raw meat, and don't put it on the same cutting board, plate or other surface. While freezing prevents new bacterial growth, it only temporarily inactivates bacteria that's already present.
Thawing Ground Beef Safely
Technically, frozen cooked ground beef stays safe to eat indefinitely. But because its quality goes downhill over time, it's best to use it within three to four months.
When you're ready to reheat and eat it, use one of three ways to safely thaw ground beef. However, all these three methods are not created equal.
- Put it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. It may take less time, depending on how much beef you're defrosting and how tightly it's packed, but this is the best method for minimizing loss of moisture and flavor in the cooked ground beef. And it's still nice and cold once it's thawed, so the unused portion will refreeze quickly, which also helps minimize the loss of quality.
- Submerge it fully in cold water in its tightly sealed freezer bag. Put a large bowl in the sink and submerse the package of cooked ground beef, making sure no water can get in. This can take half an hour to a few hours, again depending on the quantity and how tightly it's packed. Replace the water with new cold water every 30 minutes. This is much faster than fridge thawing, but the meat loses a bit more moisture and flavor. However, it's still pretty cold, so the leftovers still refreeze efficiently.
- Use your microwave's defrost function. This is by far the fastest way of thawing ground beef, but it's also definitely the least preferable method. It doesn't take longer than a few minutes, but the meat loses a good deal of moisture and flavor, and it's likely to get somewhat rubbery. Also, this method starts to heat the meat, so you need to cool it again before refreezing, and you can expect the refrozen portion to be fairly lousy when you get back around to it.
Refreezing Cooked Ground Beef
There's not really anything new to worry about at the time of a second freezing. As with the first time, the cooked ground beef should go into the freezer at room temperature or colder and always within two hours of being at room temperature. Store it in an airtight freezer bag.
For as little quality loss as you can hope for, don't give the refrozen meat a new three- to four-month window. The beef's life didn't reset when you thawed it, after all. Subtract the time the cooked ground beef already spent in the freezer the first time around from this period, and aim to use the meat within whatever time is left.
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in a few casual and upscale restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.