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How to Cook Frozen Ground Beef (Simple, Fast, & Safe)

How to cook frozen ground beef

Oh no! Did you forget to pull the ground beef from the freezer last night? Dinner is ruined! Just kidding. Here’s what to do.

Can you cook frozen ground beef?

Yes! There is nothing unsafe about cooking frozen ground beef. It takes a little more work to get to 160º and to get an even browning and texture, but it’s fairly easy. We recommend using a combination of steaming and sauteing for the best results.

Tips for cooking frozen ground beef

Cooking frozen ground beef isn’t rocket science, and you can’t really cook it “wrong”, but there are a few things to keep in mind for cooking it better.

Pick the right recipe

Unless your beef is already shaped into patties, cooking frozen ground beef usually involves breaking up the beef into pieces as soon as you can to ensure it cooks evenly. This means it doesn’t play nicely with burgers and meatballs. Instead, use frozen ground beef for recipes like chili, sloppy joes, tacos, and casseroles.

Defrost slowly

If you have time, use the fridge or cold water to thaw your beef (details below). That will get you the best results. If you don’t have time, then you can use the microwave on defrost at half power and flip every minute or so until it’s thawed. Make sure you cook it immediately if you go this route. You can also just throw it right in the pan depending on the recipe.

Anticipate longer cooking times

Throwing frozen ground beef in a skillet will take longer to cook than thawed. This is obvious, but know that this will affect your cooking times slightly, and you may have to stagger your vegetables and other ingredients differently than a recipe suggests.

Add some steam

Using a lid and a bit of water while cooking frozen ground beef down can help defrost and cook the beef more evenly.

Season after the meat is thawed

Most seasoning on frozen ground beef will either burn or fall off. Instead, wait until the meat has thawed enough to be soft before adding seasoning.

How to cook frozen ground beef

Here are three easy ways to cook ground beef straight from the freezer.


Start by preheating your skillet to medium heat. Add a tiny bit of oil to prevent sticking and wait until it shimmers. Place your block of ground beef in the skillet and cook for about 4 minutes, then flip it and scrape away the cooked beef. Keep chipping off meat until you can break it into small chunks like normal, and then add your seasoning and/or sauces.

Instant pot

Every Instant Pot comes with a trivet, which is the little rack you can place inside the main container. Put your ground beef on that to keep the meat separate from all the water and fat that will drain off while it cooks. Then seal it and set your pot to high for 20 minutes, with a 10-minute release. After it’s done, drain and season the beef before returning it to the pot on sautee mode to build more flavor and finish adding any additional sauces or flavorings.


We’re going to assume you are grilling frozen patties as opposed to a block. Cooking frozen ground beef on a grill is just as easy as a thawed burger. It just takes a little longer. As long as you cook it up to 160º, you are fine, and I’d season it after the first flip or as soon as both sides of the patty have thawed out.

Easy ground beef recipes (that work for frozen)

These are recipes that use ground beef, but for any of these you can just expect the sautee or bake part to take a little longer.

1. Instant pot bolognese sauce

You can easily make this recipe from The Spruce Eats with frozen ground beef by cooking the ground beef in the Instant Pot as mentioned above (20 minutes on high with 10-minute release), and then letting the vegetables saute a little longer before finishing them with the ground beef. After that, you just bring the meat and vegetables up with tomato and cream before stirring in the cooked pasta. Don’t forget to salt to taste and use a wine you would actually drink for the best results.

2. Ground beef enchilada casserole

Another easy and great one from The Spruce Eats is their ground beef enchilada casserole. All you have to do is take a little longer on the ground beef step and you’re set. Outside of that, the way to take this casserole from good to better is to not skimp on the quality of your ingredients. Get a nice, fresh onion. Use grass-fed, grass-finished ground beef. Buy real tortillas from a local shop or make your own. Obviously, there’s no wrong way to do it, but that’s the way I would!

3. Korean ground beef and rice bowls

This recipe from The Recipe Critic is simple and delicious. It’s rice, beef seasoned with soy sauce, brown sugar, and a few other ingredients, and some green onions and sesame seeds for garnish. I’d even swap out the ground ginger for fresh and add it in with the garlic.

And another thing: don’t add the garlic when you add in the frozen ground beef on this one or it will burn, but after it cooks down a bit add the garlic directly into some of the fat that has cooked off. Then incorporate that back into the meat.

4. Classic shepherd’s pie

Serious Eats’ recipe works with ground beef or lamb, and you can follow it step by step with frozen ground beef. Again, it just may take a little longer! Beef broth is best, but you can absolutely sub chicken or veggie if it’s all you have. There are a few other ingredients that make things better but aren’t required, such as gelatin, marmite, and bay leaf. It’s your dinner — dealer’s choice.

5. Nicaraguan minced meat (salpicon)

This is a delicious Nicaraguan dish that blends ground beef, onions, and bell pepper into a fine mixture with some nice seasoning lime. Serious Eats breaks it down for you in this great weeknight recipe. They recommend rice and beans as your sides but you could easily sub in anything you’d like.

Freezing ground beef tips

There are only a few rules to freezing ground beef, and they are all really simple.

  • Freeze the beef in portions you will reasonably use. When would you use a 5lb block of ground beef? Rarely, if ever! You don’t want to get stuck having to dethaw a ton of beef, so just freeze them in one lb portions.
  • Shape into patties or other desired shapes before freezing. Similarly, if you want easy burgers, make them into patties before freezing.
  • Avoid refreezing meat you’ve thawed when possible. Excluding if you thawed it in the fridge and it hasn’t been there for more than a few days. But if you counter-thawed it, go ahead and cook it.

Frozen ground beef FAQ

Here are a few questions we hear around the shop.

Should I let ground beef thaw before cooking?

For the best texture and cooking flexibility, yes. All you have to do is throw in the fridge in the morning and you’re set. If you have a little time, go for a cold water thaw. If you are super pressed for time, you can microwave thaw or just cook it direct.

Is it ok to thaw ground beef in hot water?

It’s preferable to use cold water to avoid the growth of bacteria [*]. Just place the ziplocked beef in cold water and swap the water every 30 minutes. The beef will be thawed in a few hours. If you are thinking about boiling frozen ground beef, you could, but you’re going to lose a lot of flavor and potentially cook the exterior while leaving the interior raw.

Can you thaw ground beef in the microwave?

Yup! It’s not ideal but you definitely can. Just put it on a plate, use the defrost setting, and cook it immediately after thawing.

How do you defrost ground beef last minute?

You can use the defrost setting on your microwave or just cook it directly in a pan.

Can you freeze and reheat cooked ground beef?

Absolutely. Just make sure to transfer it to the freezer before it sits on the counter for too long. Then just heat it up however you prefer.

The best frozen ground beef

No matter how good your recipe is or how skilled a chef you are, the difference between good and great food comes down to sourcing. Where you get your ingredients matters, and that’s particularly true of meat.

Grass-fed, grass-finished beef is better for your body, the environment, and your taste buds. There’s really no replacement, and if you haven’t experienced the difference, you should try it.

See what beef raised on the best grass in the world tastes like.

The bottom line on frozen ground beef

Frozen ground beef is really easy to thaw, but you also don’t have to. As long as you know your recipe will take a little longer and you cook it up to temp, you can cook ground beef straight from the freezer.

I prefer sauteing and/or steaming while breaking it up into pieces. If you want meatballs or any other custom shape, just thaw it in cold water or the fridge in advance.

Happy cooking!


Nathan PhelpsNathan Phelps

Nathan Phelps owns and writes for Crafted Copy, a boutique copywriting shop that finds the perfect words for interesting products. He is also an ethical foodie, outdoors-aficionado, and hails from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.