When you defrost bacon (or any meat, for that matter), you have to watch out for the temperature “danger zone.” Didn’t know thawing was such a perilous business; did you? When meat is held between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria multiplies so rapidly that in two hours – or one hour at 90 to 140 degrees F – it becomes so contaminated that even fully cooking the food often won’t protect you from foodborne illness. There are only three safe ways of thawing bacon that don’t lead to potentially dangerous bacteria growth.
Defrosting Bacon in the Refrigerator
Putting frozen bacon in the refrigerator for about 24 hours is the optimal way to thaw it. Defrosting time varies some by the quantity of bacon, how densely it’s packed, the exact temperature of your fridge and other factors.
This method takes the longest of the three, but it has several benefits that make it the first choice for thawing bacon:
- It results in the least loss of moisture, flavor and texture quality in the bacon.
- You don’t have to use it right away; raw or cooked, it’s fine in the fridge for up to seven days.
- If you end up not using it within seven days, it’s fine to refreeze it without cooking it first.
- It’s entirely hands-off on your end; just stick it in the refrigerator, and you’re done.
Thawing Bacon in Cold Water
If you need to defrost bacon in about 30 minutes to two hours rather than a full day, you can do so by submerging it in a cold-water bath. But because of the time it spends in the temperature danger zone, it must be cooked right away, even if you’re going to refreeze it.
Put the bacon in a leak-proof package. If it was frozen in airtight manufacturer packaging, your own vacuum-seal packaging or an airtight freezer bag, you can use that. Fully immerse it in a large bowl or pot of cold tap water and replace the water with new colder water every half-hour.
Defrosting Bacon in the Microwave
It’s safe to thaw frozen bacon in the microwave. This method is a lot faster than the other two, but that’s all it has going for it. It’s definitely the least desirable option in terms of the quality of the finished product and flexibility. It partially cooks the bacon, meaning you’ll end up with unevenly cooked rashers and probably some chewy areas. It also means you have to cook the bacon immediately, including before you refreeze it.
If you trust your microwave’s defrost function, use that. Some are more reliable than others. Otherwise, zap the bacon at 50% power. A few pieces should only need around 20 seconds. For larger amounts, thaw little by little, checking the progress frequently and removing defrosted pieces as they’re ready (assuming you’re not just cooking the bacon fully in the microwave – you’ll get crispier, tastier results in a pan or the oven).
How Not to Thaw Frozen Bacon
Because of the whole temperature-danger-zone thing, there are a few ways of defrosting meat that people are sometimes tempted to try but not safe. This includes leaving it out at room temperature. It takes hours to thaw this way (longer than submerging it in cold water because water conducts heat better than air). Also, never thaw bacon in warm or hot water rather than cold water.
Cooking Frozen Bacon
For the record, you don’t have to defrost bacon before cooking it. If you toss it in the pan or into the oven on a baking tray (or into the microwave, if you must) still frozen, it thaws and starts cooking quickly. It’ll just need about 50% more cooking time, which doesn’t amount to very much – considerably less time than defrosting in the fridge or a bowl of cold water.
If you like the idea of cooking without thawing, freeze individual slices, so you don’t end up with one big hunk of frozen bacon. Spread the rashers out in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze them. Then seal them up in an airtight package, and they won’t stick together, which means you can remove individual slices as needed for cooking. This is also helpful even if you intend to defrost it before cooking but might not want to use all the frozen bacon at the same time.
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.