Guide to Freezing FoodNov 10, 2020
Freezing food is one of the easiest methods of preservation for the homestead. Due to the small learning curve this is an easy way to preserve food. Additionally it does not require a huge investment in equipment. Furthermore, modern refrigerators are already equipped with small freezers. However, if you really want to store a decent amount of frozen food, invest in a chest freezer.
Many types of foods are amenable to freezing. It is simply a matter of proper packaging and sometimes a little pre-freezing preparation. Freezing foods is likely the least labor intensive method of food preservation. That is the advantage. However, there are also disadvantages.
Most methods of food preservation have a limited shelf life and this includes freezing food. This is especially true of meat. If you have ever tried to eat a piece of meat that has been in the freezer for 2 years you know what freezer burned meat tastes like. It is still edible but not very palatable. In my experience, game meat keeps much longer in the freezer than supermarket meat.
One of the distinct disadvantages of freezing food is that it obviously requires electricity. Therefore, if you loose that electricity for days you run the risk of loosing all of your frozen food. I’ve seen this happen to many, many people. However, there is a way to have the best of both worlds.
To have the best of both worlds when freezing food, set up a freezer that runs off the grid. I prefer the SunDanzer, which I highly recommend. For example, when my inverter for my solar array was out for servicing, I did not have any AC electric for 3 weeks. But my SunDanzer freezer and refrigerator runs directly off of DC power. Consequently, I still had functional appliances. More on this in the chapter on high efficiency off-grid appliances.
Table of Contents
Benefits of Freezing Food
Ability to buy in bulk. I have always been in the habit of purchasing items that are on sale. This is especially true for some of the more expensive cuts of meat. I wait until they are half price and I stock up. In addition to that, I purchase larger quantities of necessities at a food warehouse which saves a tremendous amount of money. Personally I purchase meat, nuts, grains, coffee, cheese, and even bread in bulk and the excess is stored in the freezer.
Ability to cook in bulk. When you are cooking meals, get in the habit of cooking large portions. The left overs can go into the freezer. Frozen food makes quick and easy meals and saves you from cooking every night. If you are buying in bulk then cook in bulk.
Preserve your extra garden produce. Many veggies are amenable to freezing. If you enjoy gardening most likely you have extra produce. Take advantage of this and use your freezer. In additional to this, visit the local farmers market and take home extra produce for the freezer.
Take advantage of hunting and fishing. Nothing is better than preserving the extra goods from a fishing or hunting trip. I recently had a successful elk season and put 160 pounds of meat in the freezer. That is more than enough to last for a year.
Freezing food saves time going to the supermarket. Buying in larger quantities prevents unnecessary trips to the supermarket. This becomes especially important if the supermarket is difficult to access or is some distance away. My nearest supermarket is 20 miles away, which means a 40 mile round trip. Consequently, I buy in larger quantities and store the excess in the freezer. This prevents me from almost never leaving home specifically to go to the supermarket.
25 Tips for Freezing Food
1) Chill foods before freezing. Placing hot food in the freezer will increase the internal temperature and cause the freezer to work harder. Cool foods in the refrigerator overnight before placing in the freezer.
2) Freeze foods in appropriate portions. It is important to freeze foods in portions that will provide one or two meals. Otherwise the left overs may sit in the refrigerator and go to waste. Freezing food in single portion meals is a great way to have a grab-and-go lunch on a busy day.
3) Package foods in proper containers or wraps. Use freezer bags, freezer wrap, or plastic containers for packaging. Remove as much air as possible. Vacuum sealing works even better. Proper packaging will prevent freezer burn.
4) Pack it flat. Place items in freezer bags and flatten them. This will save a considerable amount of space in the freezer. In addition to this, it makes freezer organization much easier.
5) Keep similar items together. When freezing food, get in the habit of organizing similar items together. This makes it much easier to find things that are needed to prepare a meal.
6) A full freezer is more economical to run. A full freezer requires less air circulation in order to maintain a proper temperature. If you have a lot of empty space in your freezer, then freeze some water bottles. Also, when packaging foods, make sure the containers are a consistent size and shape. This will help to maximize your use of freezer space. When freezing foods try to keep the freezer about two thirds full.
7) Do not refreeze foods. Once foods are completely thawed they should not be refrozen. Contrary to popular belief, freezing food does not kill bacteria. Once thawed, that bacteria can start to multiply. See the additional explanation under Common Myths About Freezing Food.
8) Keep your freezer at the proper temperature. Make sure your freezer is set at 0 ℉. This will help to retain color, texture, and flavor of the frozen food.
9) Freeze only fresh food. Aging left overs may not be the best food to freeze. Once thawed, they are still aged left overs. Freeze things while they are still fresh.
10) If in doubt, throw it out. This is best practice for any home preserved food. Wasting a small portion of food is a far better idea than running the risk of food poisoning.
11) Label each food item.
Food often changes appearance once frozen. Consequently, it can be difficult to determine what something is unless it is properly labeled. Take the time to label things appropriately. Purchase a couple of markers. Mark uncooked food in red and cooked food in blue. Use abbreviations for food identification. For example use a “C” for chicken, “P” for pork, “F” for fish, “B” for beef, etc. Keep it simple and use a labeling system that is easy to remember.
12) Keep the freezer free of ice crystals. If ice crystals build up in the freezer, this reduces the efficiency. This is more of a problem in older freezers.
13) If you loose power, do not open the freezer unless you have to. Without electricity, most frozen food will remain safe for 24 to 72 hours. Keeping the freezer closed will help to maintain a proper temperature. This is when a chest freezer is more efficient. As a general rule, top loading freezers maintain a more consistent temperature. This is because the cold air does not escape as easily when the door is opened.
14) Rotate food regularly. Use frozen food once or twice a week to make a meal.This is a great way to keep food rotated properly.
15) Date each food item. Just like anything else, frozen food has a shelf life. Dating foods will help ensure proper rotation.
16) Glass jars can be used for freezing. If done properly, glass jars are perfectly safe for freezing food. Place food in the jar and leave about 2 inches of space at the top. This allows for expansion as the food freezes. Cool the food in the refrigerator overnight then place it in the freezer. Be sure that the jar is level and will not tip. Once frozen, close the jar with the lid and label it accordingly.
17) Freeze eggs in ice cube trays. This is a great way to take advantage of purchasing eggs in bulk. Eggs cannot be frozen whole while in the shell. The shells crack before the egg is completely frozen. Remove eggs from the shell and lightly whisk them until partially mixed. Pour the liquid in ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, remove the egg “cubes” and place them in a zip lock freezer bag. Each cube contains about half of an egg. They will keep for about one year.
18) Freeze whole grains. Grains are high in oil and nutrient content. Consequently they are more prone to spoilage. Freezing them will preserve them for months.
19) Use a thermometer to monitor your freezer temperature.
The temperature should be at 0 ℉. If you have a large chest freezer, place one thermometer at each end.
20) When freezing something for the first time, freeze only a small amount as a trial. Thaw it out, eat it and see if you like the results.
21) Limit the amount of seasoning. Spices have a tendency to change flavor when frozen. If you are cooking specifically to freeze the extra portions, limit the amount of spices. Once thawed, then add spices to the desired taste. If you add a lot of spices prior to freezing you may not like the end result.
22) Use a modern appliance. If your freezer is more than 20 years old, consider replacing it with a newer model. Modern appliances function much more efficiently.
23) Freeze loose food items on a tray before packaging. For example, berries and meatballs. Freezing them on a tray before placing them in a freezer bag keeps them from sticking together. Then you can easily take out small portions at a time.
24) Use a chest freezer if possible. If you have a stand alone freezer, a top loading chest freezer is much more efficient. Whenever the door is opened, very little cold air escapes. This greatly increases efficiency.
25) Place the freezer in a cool room if possible. It you are using a stand alone freezer, it will function much more efficiently if placed in a location with a near constant temperature. The cooler the better. This reduces the run time. Hence it will prolong the life of the freezer. A basement, spare room, or a storage shed is ideal.
5 Common Myths About Freezing Foods
1) Freezing food kills bacteria. Think again. Food naturally contains a certain amount of bacteria. Freezing food simply inactivates that bacteria. It does not kill anything. Once food is thawed, that bacteria can start to multiply. This is one reason that food should not be refrozen. It increases the risk of contamination.
2) Food can be frozen indefinitely. In general, no matter how food is preserved, it does not have an indefinite shelf life. This is especially true with freezing food. Continue reading for recommended storage times for freezing food.
3) Any food can be frozen. Foods, such as vegetables and fruit, with high water content are not suitable for freezing. A good example is lettuce. When frozen and then thawed, it turns to mush. See the list below on foods not to freeze.
4) Freezing food affects the nutrient content. Food preservation methods inevitably affect the nutrient content to some degree. But, the same is true for different methods of cooking food. Generally speaking, if food is properly prepared and frozen at peak freshness, there is little affect on nutrient content. Consequently freshly frozen fruits may be of higher quality than fresh produce on the shelf in the supermarket.
5) Food cannot be refrozen after it is thawed. Best practice is not to refreeze food once it is thawed. However, to say it is unsafe to do so is not entirely true. So, the correct answer is it depends. Some sources state that food can be refrozen as long as ice crystals are still present. This means it is not completely thawed. Other sources state that food can be refrozen as long as it has not been unrefrigerated for more than two hours. The truth is that even after the food is completely thawed, it can be refrozen whether it is cooked or not.
However, you have to consider a couple of things. Freezing does not kill the bacteria present in the food. Once thawed, that bacteria can start to multiply. Additionally, repeated freezing and thawing affects the texture and taste of any food. Bottom line, thaw and refreeze if you want or need to. But, use your best judgement and do so at your own risk. Due to these considerations, what I commonly do is partially thaw a large roast just enough to cut off a small portion. Then I put the unused portion back in the freezer.
What Not to Freeze
Freezing food has many advantages. However, some foods simply do not freeze well. Typically the consistency changes considerably rendering it inedibly. Also, there may be changes in the taste that are unpleasant. Here is a list of things not to freeze.
- Vegetables such as lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, melons, squash, citrus and anything else with a high water content does not freeze well. They simply turn to mush.
- Eggs left in their shells. Also, hard boiled eggs turn to rubber.
- Egg based products such as mayonnaise will separate and curdle.
- Cream cheese and yogurt go watery.
- Cottage cheese
Proper Defrost and When to Cook From Frozen
Best practice is to thaw frozen items by placing them in the refrigerator over night. Due to the near constant temperature, this ensures that the food stays cold enough to deter bacterial growth. Allow approximately 5 hours of defrost time for every pound of food.
Foods can also be defrosted in cold water or in the microwave. Additionally, you can use a grill for quick defrost. I commonly take a portion of meat out of the freezer and place it on the top rack of the grill with low heat. Due to the constant low heat thawing is much faster. I just turn the meat frequently.
Soups, stews, chili, thin fish fillets, thin burgers can be cooked while defrosting. Start the whole process on a low heat setting so that it will slowly defrost. Once thawed, start the cooking process. This is similar to what I do on my grill.
If food is left out on the counter top to thaw, there is a risk of contamination. This can happen because the outside portion of the food can be thawed and at room temperature while the inside portion of the food remains frozen.
Foods never to cook from frozen: Large portions of meat and raw poultry should not be cooked from frozen. If you do so, the outside portion of the meat may be well done giving the impression that the meat is well cooked. Due to insufficient internal temperature, the inside portion is typically undercooked or even raw.
Recommended Storage Times for Freezing Food
- Beef: steaks 6 months, roasts 6 to 12 months
- Pork: 4 to 6 months
- Lamb: 9 months
- Turkey and chicken, whole: 12 months
- Turkey and chicken parts; 4 to 6 months
- Ground meat and poultry: 3 to 6 months
- Sausages: 2 to 3 months
- Cooked meat and poultry: 3 months
- Lean fish (halibut, tilapia): 6 months
- Fatty fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon): 3 months
- Lobster: 12 months
- Oysters: 3 month
- Clams: 3 months
- Mussels: 3 months
- Shellfish: 3 months
- Cooked fish: 4 to 6 months
Dairy and eggs
- Butter: 8 to 12 months
- Margarine: 12 months
- Grated cheese: 4 months. You can freeze cheese in blocks. However, once thawed, it crumbles apart when slicing.
- Milk: 3 to 6 months
- Eggs out of shell: up to 12 months
Items not to freeze: buttermilk, eggs in the shell, cream cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, hard boiled eggs
- Fruit: 6 to 12 months
- Veggies: 6 to 12 months
Items not to freeze: Things with a high water content do not freeze well. For example, lettuce, melons, citrus, radishes, apples, and pears.
- Juice and juice concentrates: 6 to 12 months
- Milk: 6 to 12 months
- Prepared smoothies: 1 month
Items not to freeze: any carbonated drink, beer, wine, soda.
Bread, Grains, and Nuts
- Baked bread: 3 months
- Unbaked bread: 1 month
- Muffins: 6 to 12 months
- Cooked whole grains: 3 months
- Oats and Quinoa: 2 to 6 months
- Nuts: 3 months
Items not to freeze: uncooked grains, cereal, raw oatmeal
Desserts and Baked Goods
- Cookie dough (unbaked): 3 months
- Cookies (baked): 6 to 9 months
- Cheese cake: 6 to 9 months
- Fruit based pie (unbaked): 2 to 4 months
- Fruit based pie (baked): 6 to 9 months
- Muffins and breads: 6 to 12 months
- Pumpkin pie (baked): 2 to 3 months
Items not to freeze: cream pie, puddings
If prepared properly, herbs can be kept in the freezer for up to 12 months. However, they do require some special preparation. Blend the herbs into a pesto or add them to a little oil. Place this mix in an ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, remove from the tray and place in freezer bags.
If frozen from the raw form they will turn brown. Another good option is to simply dry them.
- Soups: 3 months
- Chili: 3 months
- Stew (beef, pork) 3 months
- Broth: 3 months
- Casseroles (cooked): 3 months
- Casseroles (uncooked): 1 to 2 month
- Frozen meals (commercially prepared): 3 to 4 months
- Waffles and pancakes: 1 to 3 months
Items not to freeze: deli salads such as tuna, egg and macaroni, salad dressing
Great Ideas for Freezing Food
One of the best ways to utilize your freezer is to simply make extra portions when you are cooking. Best of all the left overs can then be divided into one or two meal portions and frozen. This makes a great way to grab a quick breakfast or lunch on a busy day. Here are some good ideas to better utilize your freezer.
Smoothies bags: Mix together all of your favorite ingredients for a smoothie and place in a quart freezer bag. This will save you some time in the morning when you are in a rush. Add these ingredients to the blender, add the liquid of your choice and blend away.
Muffins: When you cook healthy muffins, make 2 or 3 dozen. Freeze them in quart freezer bags, which will hold about 4 muffins. These make great on-the-go snacks.
Unbaked dough: Everyone loves homemade cookies, fresh pizza dough, and fresh bread. However, if you are an avid chef, you also know that it takes some time to make fresh dough. So, when you are in the mood to make dough, make extra and then freeze it. When you want to use the dough for baking, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. Then allow it to sit out for at least one hour prior to use in order to come to room temperature.
Casseroles: Another way to utilize your freezer is with lasagnas and casseroles. Make a large dish on a Sunday when you have time and freeze the left overs. Thaw out for a quick and easy meal later in the week. Uncooked they will last about one month. Cooked they will last about 3 months in the freezer.
Breakfast sandwiches: Breakfast burritos are one of my favorite meals. Whip up a big batch and freeze them individually. Egg and sausage sandwiches are also a favorite. Due to the fact that these items can easily be thawed in the microwave on a busy morning they make a great addition to the freezer.
Soups and stews: Cook up a big batch of soup, chili, or stew and freeze the extras in small portions. These store well in the freezer. Additionally, this makes a great, easy dinner when you get home late. Chilis and soups keep especially well. So does beef stew. However, if you add potatoes to your stew, they often have a soft and granular texture when thawed.
Butter compounds: Take a stick of unsalted butter, soften slightly, then place in the blender with your favorite herb mix. Blend well. Place on a sheet of plastic wrap and form into a log and freeze. This is a great way to make quick garlic bread or have garlic butter for shrimp.
Meatballs: These are a must for a quick and easy pasta dish. Make extras, cool well, then place in the freezer on a tray. Once frozen, remove and place in zip lock freezer bags.
Additional Resources for Freezing Food
The Happy Money Saver has a great post on 15 Easy Freezer Meals
Dinner at the Zoo has a good post on 35 Easy Freezer Meal Recipes
Taste of Home has 150 Freezer Meal Recipes
Check out Southern Living for Freezer Friendly Recipes.
Betty Crocker has 47 Make Ahead Breakfast and Brunch Recipes
Additional Post of Interest
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