Freezer Cooking with Ground Beef

I did my freezer cooking day a couple weekends ago.  I had intended to get together with some family to do it but when that didn’t work out I decided to post it all here.  This way anyone who would like to follow along can plan their own day of cooking.

I started with 20 pounds of our homegrown frozen ground beef. Contrary to modern food safety practices I thawed it by starting with a bowl of hot water, setting the plastic bagged packages in it, and leaving the whole thing out of the counter for several hours.  I set it up before I left and stuck it in the fridge when I got home about 6 hours later.  A few hours later I pulled it out of the fridge and the meat was mostly all thawed enough to be workable.  I would not feel comfortable thawing at room temperature during the summer: our kitchen that day was about 60-62 degrees F.  Do it your own way.

Another thing… I would not recommend buying fresh beef from the grocery store, freezing it, then thawing it to use for freezer cooking.  Either get your meat direct from a farmer so it is frozen as soon as possible (shameless plug: BeckerFarmsMI.com) or plan your cooking day around a sale and buy all your fresh ground beef at the grocery store just before using it.

Here are some supplies you may need:

  • Foil pans
  • Tin foil
  • Plastic freezer bags
  • Marker for labeling
  • Bread pans
  • Paper grocery bags
  • Food processor

Here the thing about supplies: please, please do not feel like you need to go out and buy a bunch of special stuff just to do freezer cooking.  This can be as simple or sophisticated as you want.  Buy freezer bags on sale with a coupon.  Better yet, save the plastic bags out of cereal boxes (that you buy on sale with a coupon).  Cut up those bags and use them to wrap your meals in, then layer the top with cut up paper grocery bags or store brand tin foil.  Stack meatballs in mason jars and cover with tin foil, or look for those plastic freezer jam containers and used Tupperware at garage sales.  Plan ahead to save the most $$$.

You’ll want to pick out your recipes ahead of time and double check that you have all the needed ingredients.  Be flexible.  For example, I didn’t want to use up all my saltines so I rounded them out with some fresh bread crumbs made in the food processor.  Figure out how many recipes you want to make, how many pounds each recipe calls for, and then how many pounds you need.  Or, start with how many pounds you have and go from there.  I had 20 pounds available and still left about a half dozen in the freezer in case something comes up that I want them for.

Here’s the breakdown of what I did with 20#:

Feel free to get a lot fancier.  I like to keep these basics on hand.  They leave you with many, many meal possibilities, especially the meatballs and precooked beef.  For more ideas visit Food.com and search for things like “freezer recipe, freezer cooking, OAMC (once a month cooking), make ahead, etc.”

Prepare your ingredients first.  If you’re using onions get the job of chopping them up out of the way.  I use my mini food processor.  Chop up garlic and any veggies you’re adding.  Break up your crackers or chop up some bread crumbs.  Set all your seasonings out on the counter with your measuring cups and spoons.

Rearrange your freezer and make room in your fridge in case you need to stick some meat in there temporarily.  You’ll need room in your freezer to sit pans or cookie sheets flat while things flash freeze.  For me this meant putting a few things from the freezer in a cooler for a few hours (nothing too perishable) so I could have shelf space available.  Once you’re all done you’ll be able to package up your meal and cram them in but the cookie sheets do take up an odd space for that short time.

Decide on the order of things.  I made the meatballs first so the cookie sheets could be rotating through the oven and freezer since that takes the most time and space.  Next, I mixed up the meat loaves because I used the same bowl and mixer blades.  Those went right in the freezer in bread pans to flash freeze.  Then, I made up the hamburgers, again in the same bowl and with the same mixer blades.  I stopped short of making the actual patties and instead covered the mixture in the bowl and refrigerated it.  I actually stopped there for the evening and just finished cooking, flash freezing, and packaging the meat balls and meat loaves as the night went on.  The next day I browned up the remaining beef, and flash froze and packaged it. My cookie sheets were available again so I used them to flash freeze the hamburger patties out of the mixture in the fridge.  It was easy to work on the patties while occasionally stirring the ground beef in the skillet.

Obviously you’ll have to adjust your own order of things depending on your recipes and time schedule.  Think of what pans you’ll need, cooking times, and which recipes need a lot of attention and which have a lot of hands off time.  Experiment, you’ll figure out what’s most efficient.

If you have any questions I’ll try my best to answer them.  Or, if you have done your own freezer cooking feel free to share your tips, experiences, and recipes.  Enjoy!

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