How to Freeze Food Properly


In many ways, the freezer is the closet thing we’ve got to a time machine. It can stop bread from going moldy. It can make summer blueberries last until fall. It can take tonight’s leftovers and transform them into next month’s Tuesday dinner when you don’t have time to cook. But how do we get the most from this magical appliance? What are the big dos and don’ts? In Modern Freezer Meals, Ali Rosen shares a slew of freezer-friendly, flavor-forward recipes—Ricotta Gnocchi! Breakfast Sandwiches! Brownie Thins!—and in the excerpt below, she answers some FAQs to lead you toward freezer bliss.

Can I refrigerate before I freeze?

Absolutely! You want to make sure you are freezing things only when they are room temperature or cold, because the faster food freezes the more intact it stays. Just make sure to know what is surrounding your food. If you put something super-hot into the fridge next to milk and eggs, you might heat those up, so just try not to put anything too hot in the fridge.

Do I really need a freezer-safe bag or container?

Not necessarily. Freezer-safe is usually just about how porous the material is. If air can’t get in, it’s freezer safe, so if you have a resealable bag that isn’t labeled “freezer-safe,” you may just want to double up materials to be extra careful.

Can I put glass in the freezer?

Only if it says freezer-safe (usually tempered glass). Otherwise, it can crack and that’s no fun. Also make sure to remember that liquids expand, and glass has no wiggle room, so if you’re freezing in a freezer-safe glass container, you still want to leave a little room at the top.

I really don’t have time to cool my dish down. It won’t be that bad if I just freeze it, right?

Please, please, please don’t skip this crucial step. Nothing damages food more than going into a freezer hot. If you don’t have time, just stick it in the fridge overnight or for a few hours, then freeze it when you do have time.

I want to stop wasting plastic bags and wrap—does anything else work just as well?

The only downside is cleanup, but otherwise there are tons of products that work just as well (if not better!) than single-use plastic. Many of the silicone bags and covers on the market are freezer-safe and very flexible and easy to use. Beeswax wraps are also good, but they are still a bit porous, so you may want to use another container around them if you are worried about air getting in. I am a huge fan of tempered glass containers as well because they can go straight from the freezer to the microwave or oven, which is usually easier than a disposable item anyway.

My food now has freezer burn. Is it still safe to eat?

Freezer burn doesn’t make food go bad; it just makes it taste less appealing. You get freezer burn typically from food not being wrapped securely enough in an airtight container, so oxygen dehydrates the food. But you can still eat it and it certainly won’t hurt you. If it’s possible to cut the “burned” piece off, that usually helps a lot with flavor.

If I leave something super long in the freezer, is it bound to get freezer burn?

Not necessarily. If something is stored properly (no air getting in and staying at a consistent temperature), it only very gradually degrades. If you put in a few more minutes on the front-end of your storage plan, you can keep things for much longer than expected. If you are planning to do a longer storage, I would wrap in heavy-duty wrap, then put it in a container or bag for double the protection.

My food keeps getting freezer burn even though I stored it properly!

Check the temperature of your freezer. If it’s not at or below 0°F, you might have a problem. Also make sure not to store anything too long in the doors of your freezer and try to not keep the freezer door open very long when you open it. Even a short time “outside” can start to defrost food, allowing it to then get freezer burn when the door closes again.

What do I do if I didn’t write the date and I have no idea when I froze something?

Just use the best tools in your arsenal: your eyes and nose. If something was frozen properly it should be fine for a fairly long time, but there will be warning signs if something has gone off. Discoloration and freezer burn are usually the first clues, then if it smells off once it starts to defrost. But in general, as long as something has stayed frozen, it can’t hurt you. (It just probably won’t taste as good.)

I should have defrosted overnight but I didn’t. What do I do?

There is no magic solution to forgetting to defrost. But to speed it up, put whatever food you are defrosting in a totally sealed container or bag (so absolutely no water can get in), then submerge it in a bowl of cold water. Don’t try to be clever and defrost in hot water—you can semi-cook the outside and bacteria can start to grow if you aren’t careful.

Do I have to defrost everything?

No! In fact, most of the recipes in this book don’t need to defrost before cooking. Defrosting inevitably adds moisture back into your food and it can sit and get soggy. Oftentimes you are better off just cooking straight from frozen. So, unless the recipe specifically encourages it, I usually don’t bother.

Why does the outside cook faster than the inside when reheating?

The most common reason for this is not storing your dishes in individual servings. If something is frozen as a giant block of ice, it takes much longer to heat up. If you did store your food in individual servings, try to stir it or break it apart in the middle of cooking. If you can’t do that, or you are cooking meat, make sure your temperature isn’t too high. You want to give it a more even heat.

Why is my pasta or food getting mushy when I reheat it?

There are two typical culprits. The first is overcooking it to start with. Pasta, lentils, crispier vegetables, and any other more delicate food needs to be frozen when just slightly undercooked (or al dente). Remember, every dish has residual heat, so if you remove your pasta when it tastes perfect in the pot, it’s going to be soggier by the time it fully cools down. Remove your food from the heat before it is completely cooked, and you should save a lot of headache.

The other mushy culprit is often not storing items in individual servings. The more food that there is to reheat, the longer it will take and the more the heat can overcook your food. So, make sure to start it off right before it goes in the freezer and you shouldn’t have trouble!

Why does my food taste blander when it comes out of the freezer?

Freezing food can dull its flavor, so I often add a bit more salt if something doesn’t taste quite as good when it comes out of the freezer, and that usually brings it back to life.

Excerpted from Modern Freezer Meals by Ali Rosen (Skyhorse 2021). This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate and Skimlinks affiliate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

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