I’m a firm believer that any meat bought from the local grocery store should be frozen at least 24 hours before cooking, especially red meat. I’m also someone who loses track of things in my freezer (who hasn’t found a stray pound of ground round). If you are like me, you probably have taken a piece of meat out of the freezer, wondered when you bought it, and then gave it the stink eye. Freezer burn is part of life, so what is it and how do we prevent it?
Freezer burn is usually identified by meat (although the same can happen to any food) that when removed from the freezer is covered in frost and has dry spots (sometimes the feared grey spots). So what happened to this meat, it didn’t look like that when it went into the freezer, last fall…
First, we need a little introspection, was the meat wrapped tightly when it was put into the freezer? When food is not wrapped tightly, water molecules can travel and end up freezing on the outside of the meat. These frozen water molecules become frost, drying out the food. This dryness is freezer burn and can develop in as little as a few weeks.
Another important event leading to freezer burn could be the temperature of the freezer itself. Freezers that have risen above the temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit are more likely to cause freezer burn.
Then there is time, how long was the piece of meat lying frozen in the freezer? If you said since a Bush was president, your freezer needs a good cleaning! Over time, water molecules will find their way out of the frozen meat, seeking a colder location in your freezer.
So what actually happened to the meat? Water molecules worked their way out the meat, to the surface. This also leaves an open space behind, where oxygen molecules make their way in. The water causes the frost, or ice crystals, on the surface of the meat. The oxygen changes the color and flavor of the meat.
It’s fairly well known that freezer burnt meat is safe to eat. However, it will taste bad, most people could probably identify freezer burnt meat by the smell, the rest will identify by taste. I personally don’t like to use freezer burnt meat and I try to keep track of the meats in the freezer to make sure that they are not aging more than 2 months and I always try to wrap the meats tightly to prevent air from getting to the meat’s surface.
I have heard stories of folks cutting off portions/edges that are freezer burnt, but I personally don’t practice that. I’m an all or nothing type of person, which is why I take care in packaging and tracking the items in my freezer as best as I can.