Freezers are great for providing freezing temperatures that a fridge just can’t provide, making it so that we can store some of our favorite frozen foods, like frozen pizzas and pints of ice cream. They also store meats and make it possible to eat them months down the line.

There are some downfalls, however, to the general concept of freezers. Case in point: freezer burn. You’ve likely experienced it at one point or another, disappointment washing over your face upon discovering a formation of ice crystals on the surface of your favorite ice cream or when finding that your once-expensive steak has become afflicted with a gray color and/or odd texture.

Before you toss out another item inflicted by the freezer-burn blues, take the time to learn about what causes it, how to prevent it and exactly how you can get rid of freezer burn in meats and other foods.

What Causes Freezer Burn?

Since the whole point of freezers is to ensure that foods don't go bad quickly, it can feel like quite the betrayal when the dreaded freezer burn sets in. When this happens, you might be wondering: What is freezer burn, and what causes it?

Simply put, freezer burn is caused by air exposure on food, which then leads to dehydration. There are a few different factors that cause freezer burn. One of the major ones is not storing your food properly, such as if you stored food in a container and the seal was broken.

Freezer burn might also occur if there wasn’t a tight enough seal surrounding the food you had wrapped. In both of these scenarios, what ends up happening is that water molecules find their way inside, causing ice crystals to form and thus dehydrating the food.

What Does Freezer Burn Look Like?

Unlike food that burns on the stove, freezer burn does not cause food to become blackened or charred. Meats, for example, show signs of freezer burn with a few indicators, all of which you can blame on oxygen molecules:

  • Gray and brown color
  • Leathery texture on certain spots
  • Overall dull appearance 

When it comes to freezer burn in chicken, things are a little different because the color might turn a white-pink instead of gray, and the bones may become darker. As for ice cream, you can spot freezer burn by the layer of ice crystals that form on top of the dairy treat.

What Does Freezer Burn Taste Like?

Although freezer burn is safe to eat, it doesn't mean that it will taste great. In fact, you can pretty much expect freezer burn to taste how it looks: grayish-brown, leathery and dried out. Think of it like this: Just as the overall appearance of meat inflicted with freezer burn becomes dulled, so will the taste.

How to Get Rid of Freezer Burn in Meat

Whether it's bacon, pork or steak, the best way to get rid of freezer-burn flavor in each of these meats is to cut off the freezer-burned pieces before or after cooking. Before is better, and as a plus, it saves you time while cooking.

However, just because you can rid some of the freezer-burn flavor doesn’t exactly mean that you should eat it. While it is safe to do so, nothing compares to fresh, sizzling bacon or a truly juicy steak that hasn’t dealt with freezer burn.

You can't expect chicken inflicted with freezer burn to taste all that great. If the freezer burned parts are not small, it might be better to just toss the whole thing out or at least use it as dog food.

How to Get Rid of Freezer Burn in Ice Cream

When you have a sweet tooth, nothing can be more crushing than swinging that freezer door open only to discover that your favorite tub of ice cream has the freezer-burn blues. Thankfully, it is possible to salvage this sweet treat.

  1. First, you can try removing the parts of the ice cream that contain frozen crystals. Doing so will help eliminate some of that freezer-burn taste.

  2. The best way to get rid of freezer-burn flavor in ice cream, though, is to make something new out of the ice cream. This means adding it to different delicious recipes such as banana pudding, French toast and milkshakes.  

How to Cook Freezer-Burned Meat

When dinner is required in a jiffy, and you’re left with only freezer-burned food, it’s tempting to want to dial that Chinese takeout place, but put that phone down because it is possible to still cook freezer-burned meat.

Start by removing the freezer-burned pieces with a knife or scissors. Before you fry up that pan or grill, also remove any skin on the meat since that's where a lot of the freezer-burn flavor comes from.

How to Improve Freezer-Burn Taste

For more expensive cuts of steak, for example, a dull flavor just won't do. You might want to go a little crazier than normal on the amount of seasonings you usually add. You could also use the meats for stews or soups since they will have lots of time to absorb other flavors when cooking.

No one likes freezer burn in the first place, so stop it in its tracks with these tips.

Tip #1 to Prevent Freezer Burn: Use Food Quicker

No duh, right? But when it comes to expensive cuts of beef such as filet mignon or prime rib, it's not exactly the best idea to let them touch the freezer in the first place. They are best cooked while still fully fresh.

Additionally, keep in mind that certain foods don’t do well with changes in temperature. In this way, it's best if you avoid letting food defrost and then popping it back into the freezer. This is definitely an excuse to eat that ice cream soon after you've brought it home.

Tip #2 to Prevent Freezer Burn: Store Food Properly

To help prevent freezer burn in ice cream, place a piece of plastic wrap between the lid and the container to prevent air exposure. Ice cream also benefits from being stored in the back of the freezer since warm air gets in every time you open the freezer door, thus causing a change in temperature in the foods closest to the door.

While plastic containers work well to store food in the freezer, especially when the lids are sealed airtight, plastic bags actually do a better job. Just be sure to remove any air from the bag before sealing the food. With cling wrap, ensure that the food has a tight seal before storing,

Tip #3 to Prevent Freezer Burn: Keep Your Freezer at Zero Degrees

Don't play your freezer's temperature control like a fiddle. Instead, keep it at around zero degrees Fahrenheit. By doing so, meat can keep indefinitely in the freezer, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, although a few months is probably best depending on the type of meat.

It might be a good idea to purchase a freezer thermometer to accurately measure the temperature.

About the Author

Sarah Kester

Sarah is a writer, editor and cat mom. Lover of wine, rom-coms, and all things self-care, she’s inspired by mindfulness and helping others feel balanced in their lives through meditation, self-love and self-care. After all, what's balance without Saturday morning yoga and green juice and a glass of rosé later that evening? She has written for The Greatest, Elite Daily, YourTango, Vital Proteins, among others. To learn more, you can find her at her website sarahkester.com.