Everything You Need to Know About Freezing Food

Created September 5, 2019
With our packed schedules and busy lifestyles, having a few emergency meals stowed in the freezer is practically a necessity. We asked the experts in the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens to give us a primer on which meals freeze best and how to freeze them for the best results maximum deliciousness. MORE+ LESS-

If you’ve ever been stumped on which foods to freeze and how exactly to freeze them, you’re in luck! Maggie Lyon of the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens is here to share her meal-freezing know-how. Maggie isn’t just an extraordinary recipe developer, she’s also a busy mom and an absolute master of meal prep, so these tips for preparing, storing and reheating your frozen meals aren’t just test-kitchen approved, they’re real-life approved too!

According to Betty Crocker recipe developer Maggie Lyon, freezing make-ahead meals is an easy five-step process that includes preparing a freezer-friendly meal, cooling the meal and popping it in your freezer. Once you’re ready to eat your meal, all that’s left is thawing and reheating! Read on for a breakdown of each of these simple steps.

Prepare meals that will freeze with ease.

One of the questions we get most frequently from our community members is whether a recipe will freeze well, and because of that, it’s also a frequent topic of discussion in the Test Kitchens. Through lots (and lots) of testing, we’ve found a rule thumb that’ll help you be able to tell at a glance whether a meal is freezer-friendly.

It’s best to avoid freezing low-starch, dairy-heavy meals. Starchy foods like noodles and potatoes help prevent dairy from separating and curdling. So while cheesy lasagnas and other high-in-starch casseroles are good freezer candidates, low-in-starch foods that also contain a lot of dairy, like creamy soups, aren’t great freezers. A couple of our favorite examples of cheesy casseroles that freeze beautifully are Make-Ahead Cheesy Southwest Chicken and Pasta Casserole or Make-Ahead Creamy Spinach Lasagna. Give them a try and you’ll see how great the results can be.

Cool now to prevent freezer burn later.

It’s the foe of every cook who wants to save time or get ahead by freezing food: freezer burn. Once it takes hold, your food just won’t reheat as well—the texture will be off and the flavor will be muted or funky.

To avoid freezer burn, cool food completely before freezing. If you place food in containers and seal them while the food is still hot, the steam that forms inside will freeze into ice, causing freezer burn, which in turn leads to a soggy result when you thaw and then make the meal. Ward off freezer burn by covering food with plastic wrap, venting it so that moisture can escape and cooling completely in the refrigerator—then placing it in storage containers.

It’s time to freeze!

Whether you’re freezing leftovers or a meal you’ve prepped for future use, the pros know that there’s a bit more to it than just popping it all in a bag and throwing it in the freezer. Learn these tips by heart and you’ll be that much closer to perfect results every time you freeze food.

Pack it how you’ll use it. Freezing food intended for individual meals or lunches in single-serving sizes will make it more convenient to defrost and serve later. Packing meals into smaller containers will also allow for rapid freezing and freezing food at peak freshness is key to better-tasting meals. So in the case of a complete meal, you’ll want to package it up for the freezer as soon as it’s cooled. Package up a batch of Make-Ahead Beef Burritos, so you can make dinner for 1, 4 or 8 in less than 5 minutes.

Choose your freezer containers wisely. Freeze food in durable, freezer-friendly containers made to keep moisture and pesky odors out. Freezer-grade resealable plastic bags are great for soups and stews, as they can be laid flat and neatly stacked. Freezer bags are also great for storing cooked poultry and cooked ground and shredded beef. You can freeze small portions of sauces and flavored butter in ice cube trays, then transfer to freezer bags. Plastic and glass containers with tight-fitting lids also make good freezer containers.

Freezer containers

A freezer thermometer will help you preserve your frozen pantry. Most food will freeze at 30˚F but should be stored at 0˚F or colder to maintain quality and taste. A trick to maintaining the temperature in your freezer is to keep it well stocked because frozen food will help maintain the temperature of the whole freezer. Yet another reason to have a steady supply of go-to frozen meals!

Most meals can be frozen for 2-4 months. If you are in and out of your freezer frequently, such as getting ice several times a day, it’s best not to store food for more than two months. However, if you have a chest freezer that mostly stays closed, foods will keep for longer. To maintain quality, cheesy dishes and meat-heavy dishes shouldn't be frozen for longer than two months. The two comfort food faves below are perfect freezer meals.

Thaw safely.

Food safety is a serious matter in the Test Kitchens, and we want it to be in your home, too. Knowing safe techniques for thawing your food will save you a lot of headaches (and stomachaches).

The safest way to thaw frozen meals is in the refrigerator. Refrigerator thawing keeps food at a safe and consistent temperature and is a good place to defrost foods that can’t be stirred like casseroles and other layered foods. The microwave is a quick way to thaw stirrable foods like soups and stews. When microwaving, transfer food to a larger container so you can stir without making a mess. Give it a try with One-Pot Cheesy Chili-Mac, a freezer fave that never fails to satisfy.

Reheat and eat!

Banish cold middles and dried-out edges from your experience of reheating freezer meals! Those pitfalls are common, but if you know the right tricks, they’ll never be an issue again.

The best way to reheat a frozen meal depends on the type of dish. The same logic for thawing frozen foods applies to reheating them. If it’s a meal that you can stir, like soups or stews, it's probably a good fit for the microwave because stirring throughout the heating process will allow for the food to heat evenly. However, if it’s a meal that you can’t stir, such as a casserole, opt for the oven. Whether you reheat in the microwave, on the stove or in the oven, always bring the internal temperature of the food to at least 165°F for food safety reasons.

If you want to know more about the best foods to freeze (and the ones to avoid) check out this handy guide.

Now that you know exactly how to prepare, store and reheat delicious freezer meals, put your knowledge to good use by trying a few of Betty’s best make-ahead recipes below. There’s no doubt your future self will thank you!