University of Missouri Extension

GH1504, Reviewed July 1997

Quality for Keeps: Freezing Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs and Dairy Products

Barbara J. Willenberg and Karla Vollmar Hughes
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Freezing is an excellent method of preserving animal products. Follow these basic guidelines to make freezing simple and effective:

Red meats (beef, veal, lamb or pork)

If you are inexperienced, have a professional meat cutter slaughter your animal, cut it into serving pieces and quick freeze it for you. If you want to do everything yourself, refer to MU publication G2208, which covers home slaughtering and processing of beef.

Freeze meat in meal-sized packages. Use a container or wrap that is moisture/vapor proof. Remove as many bones as possible because they take up freezer space. Prevent off-flavors by trimming excess fat, which will become rancid. The store wrap on purchased meats is not meant for long-term freezer storage. Meat frozen in store wrap will suffer freezer burn in a few weeks. This means that air dries the meat and causes loss of flavor. Rewrap or overwrap purchased meats that will be kept frozen longer than two weeks. When packing several cuts in one package, put two layers of freezer paper between the pieces. This makes it easy to separate pieces for fast thawing. Meats can be wrapped using either the drugstore wrap or the butcher wrap. Illustrations in the printed guide show how to use these wraps.

Special considerations


Although chicken and turkey are by far the most popular types of poultry eaten in the United States, duck and goose offer tasty alternatives. Select plump, unblemished and odorless poultry for freezing.

Choose poultry according to your use. Tender young birds are best for roasting, frying and broiling, while the more flavorful older birds are best for braising or stewing.

The best buys are always whole birds. Although parts are more convenient, you are paying someone else for cutting up the poultry. Money can be saved by purchasing whole birds and learning the simple task of cutting them up yourself. (See "Cutting a chicken" section below and illustration in the printed guide.)

Freeze poultry in the form you intend to use it: whole, halved or cut up. When freezing cut-up pieces, put a double layer of freezer paper between pieces or halves for easy separation and faster thawing. When packaging pieces, arrange them to form a compact, square, flat package so that they will stack better in the freezer. Package and freeze giblets separately because they have a shorter shelf life and cannot be stored as long as light or dark meat.

Because of the irregular shape of poultry, freezer bags are easier to use than wrap. It is important to get all the air out of freezer bags in which poultry is stored. Even small air pockets can cause freezer burn. The best way to get out most of the air is to plunge the bag into a pan of water to force all the air to the top. Quickly twist the top end and seal.

Store wrap on purchased poultry is not meant for long-term freezer storage; poultry frozen in store wrap will suffer freezer damage (burn) in a few weeks. Rewrap or overwrap purchased poultry to be held longer than two weeks. Commercially wrapped frozen poultry, such as turkey, does not need to be rewrapped.

Do not stuff poultry before freezing it. During freezing and thawing, food poisoning bacteria can easily grow in the stuffing. Commercially stuffed frozen poultry is fast frozen under conditions that cannot be duplicated at home.

Cutting a chicken


Fish deteriorates rapidly and should be cleaned and frozen soon after it is caught. If you cannot freeze fish right away, pack it in crushed ice until it can be frozen.

Wash fish in drinking quality water, and remove scales by scraping fish gently from tail to head with dull edge of knife.

Remove entrails after cutting entire length of belly from vent to head. Remove head by cutting above collarbone. Break backbone over edge of cutting board or table.

Remove dorsal, or large back fins, by cutting flesh along each side and pulling fin out. Never trim fins off with shears or a knife because bones at the base of fin will be left in fish.

Wash fish thoroughly in cold running water. Fish is now dressed or pan dressed, depending on size. Large fish should be steaked or filleted for easier cooking.

For steaks
Cut fish crosswise into 3/4-inch thick steaks.

To fillet
With a sharp knife, cut down back of fish from tail to head. Then cut down to backbone just above collarbone. Turn knife flat and cut flesh along backbone to tail, allowing knife to run over rib bones. Lift off entire side of fish in one piece, freeing fillet at tail. Turn fish over and cut fillet from other side.

Fish are categorized as either fat or lean fish based on the amount of fat in their flesh. Fat fish includes varieties such as mullet, mackerel, trout, tuna and salmon. Lean fish includes flounder, cod, whiting, redfish, croaker, snapper, grouper, sheepshead and most freshwater fish.

Before freezing, fish need to be pre-treated to improve the quality of the stored fish. Fat fish should be dipped for 20 seconds in an ascorbic acid solution made from 2 teaspoons of crystalline ascorbic acid to one quart of cold water to decrease rancidity and flavor change. Lean fish may be dipped for 20 seconds in a brine of 1/4 cup salt to 1 quart of cold water to firm the fish and decrease drip loss on thawing.

Fish may be frozen using any of these methods:

Wrap fish in moisture/vapor proof wrapping using the drugstore wrap. Place a double piece of freezer paper or wrap between fish in a package to make separation easier.

Place fish in a shallow metal, foil or plastic pan; cover with water and freeze. To prevent evaporation of the ice, wrap the container in freezer paper after it is frozen.

Ice glaze
Place unwrapped fish in the freezer to freeze. As soon as it is frozen, dip fish in near freezing ice water. Place fish again in the freezer a few minutes to harden the glaze. Take fish out, and repeat the glazing until a uniform cover of ice is formed. Wrap the fish in moisture/vapor proof paper or place in freezer bags.

Fish roe (eggs)

Roe is even more perishable than the rest of the fish. It should be frozen separately.

Thoroughly wash each set of roe from extremely fresh fish. Pierce the covering in several places with a sterilized needle. Give all roe (from lean and fat fish) a 20-second dip in 2 teaspoons crystalline ascorbic acid dissolved in one quart of cold water to lessen the chance of rancidity and flavor change during storage.

Wrap each set of roe in plastic film wrap for easy separation when frozen, smoothing out all air. Pack in flat layers in rigid freezer containers, seal and freeze. Use roe within three months.

Game birds

Quail, dove, duck, geese, pheasant and other game birds should be bled, gutted and chilled as soon as possible after shooting. Remove excess fat on wild ducks and geese since it becomes rancid quickly. Freeze the same as for domestic poultry.

Small game

Rabbit, squirrel and other game should be skinned, dressed and then chilled as soon as possible after shooting. Refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours until meat is no longer rigid. Cut into serving pieces or leave whole, depending on how you intend to use it in meals.

Large game

Deer, moose, antelope and other large game can be handled for freezing like any other meat or carcass. Trim and discard bloodshot meat before freezing.

Thawing and preparing meat, poultry and fish

Table 1
Poultry refrigerator thawing guide

Chickens 4 pounds and over 1 to 1-1/2 days
12 to 16 hours
Ducks 3 to 7 pounds 1 to 1-1/2 days
Geese 6 to 12 pounds 1 to 2 days
Turkeys 4 to 12 pounds
12 to 20 pounds
20 to 24 pounds
Pieces of large turkey (half, quarter, half breast)
Cut-up pieces
Boneless roasts
1 to 2 days
2 to 3 days
3 to 4 days
1 to 2 days
3 to 9 hours
12 to 18 hours

Some meats, such as large roasts, should be at least partially thawed before cooking to prevent them from becoming overdone on the outside before the inside is cooked. Meat, poultry or fish to be floured or breaded before cooking should be partially thawed so the coating will stick to the surface.

Useful guidelines for cooking frozen meat


Eggs can be stored for 2 to 3 weeks covered in the refrigerator, so freezing is usually unnecessary. If you have an excess of fresh eggs, however, freezing is the best way to preserve them. They cannot be frozen in the shell because expansion of the white and yolk will cause the shell to break. Hard-cooked eggs cannot be frozen because the white becomes rubbery. The recommended length of freezer storage for frozen eggs is 9 to 12 months.

Select fresh, chilled eggs and break each separately into a clean saucer. Examine each egg for freshness and remove any pieces of shell before mixing with other eggs. Freeze eggs in amounts that will be used in recipes. Add sugar or salt in proportions given below according to the kind of recipe in which eggs will be used. For example, add salt to eggs for scrambling and sugar to eggs to be used in desserts. It is necessary to add sugar or salt to whole eggs or yolks before freezing to prevent gumminess.

A convenient method of freezing whole egg mixture is to measure 3 tablespoons of egg mixture into each compartment of a clean ice tray. Freeze until solid. Remove frozen cubes, and package in moisture/vapor proof containers, seal and return to freezer immediately. One cube of the egg mixture equals one whole egg.

Thawing and preparation
Frozen eggs should be thawed in the refrigerator and used within one to two days. They can be used exactly like freshly broken eggs in baked products, casseroles or egg dishes. Be sure to account for the extra sugar and salt added to the eggs before freezing.

Approximate equivalents for large eggs

Dairy foods

Freeze only high quality butter made from pasteurized cream. Mold into squares, patties or other desired shapes. Use moisture/vapor proof freezer wrap or containers to keep butter from absorbing odors and to prevent freezer burn. Butter in its original carton can be overwrapped. One-pound blocks can be cut into smaller portions that can be used in a short time. Wrap tightly in moisture/vapor proof wrap, label and freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator and use within a few days.

Process and natural cheeses such as Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, Swiss and brick freeze well.

Frozen cheese has a tendency to dry out and become crumbly, so use in cooking for best results.

Cottage cheese
Only uncreamed (dry) cottage cheese should be frozen. Creamed cottage cheese is mushy after freezing.

Thaw all forms of cheese in the refrigerator and use within a few days.

Freeze only pasteurized cream containing at least 40 percent butterfat. Cream can be frozen whipped or unwhipped; however, it often does not whip after being frozen. Freeze dollops of sweetened whipped cream on a baking sheet. When frozen, package in freezer bags. To thaw, place on dessert just before serving.

To freeze liquid cream, heat it to 170 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes. Add 1/3 cup of sugar for each quart, pour into rigid containers, leave headspace, seal and freeze. Liquid cream that has been frozen is suitable for use in cooking or in coffee. Thaw in refrigerator and use within a few days.

Ice cream
Commercial ice cream can be stored in the freezer for several months. Cover with plastic wrap or foil after each use to prevent it from drying out or becoming gummy. For longer storage, repackage in moisture/vapor proof freezer containers, or overwrap with freezer bags. See MU publication GH1505,Freezing Home-Prepared Foods, for information on homemade ice cream.

Only pasteurized milk should be frozen. Pour into moisture/vapor proof containers and leave adequate headspace. During the freezing process, the water in milk rises to the surface and forms ice. This affects the flavor and appearance of milk, and it is difficult to thoroughly remix the water and milk solids after thawing. Milk that has been frozen can be used for cooking and baking. Thaw milk in the refrigerator and use within a few days.

Flavored yogurt freezes better than plain yogurt. When thawed, plain yogurt may taste more acidic. Package in freezer containers, seal and freeze.

Dairy products that do not freeze well

These products separate and/or become mushy after thawing:


GH1504 Quality for Keeps: Freezing Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs and Dairy Products | University of Missouri Extension

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