Kitchen Hacks

Contrary to Internet Reports, You Cannot Defrost a Steak in Five Minutes

September 26, 2016

If you listened to Food Network, Tasting Table, Business Insider, Lifehacker, Delish, or Women’s Health Magazine, you might expect to be able to defrost a steak in five minutes, sans electricity and bacteria spreading.

The hack—originally shown on CTi, a Taiwanese cable TV network, in 2014—sounded like the key to a brighter, shinier life, the deceit needed to impersonate those successful people who remember to move meat from the freezer to the fridge in the morning without calendar, text, and alarm reminders.

The original video of the hack has been deleted, but the method, largely without detail, has been widely written about. It goes like this:

  • Get two aluminum pans.
  • Put one on the counter upside down.
  • Put your frozen steak, still wrapped in parchment or foil or plastic wrap, on top.
  • Put the second pan on top, right side up.
  • Fill the top pan with water.
  • Wait five minutes. Defrosted steak!

The science behind the method makes sense: Aluminum is a great conductor of heat, so it absorbs the heat in the room and transfers it to whatever it’s touching (here: steak). The top, weighted pan pushes down on the steak so the meat has more direct contact with aluminum.

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Top Comment:
“I usually use the microwave (very carefully) if I'm in a real hurry, but you can speed things up a lot with a fan- just place the wrapped meat on a cooling rack or something similar and set the fan on it, blowing both over and under- it will defrost several times faster than if just left to sit.”
— Smaug
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But reports on the hack say the steak can only be maximum one centimeter thick even though screenshots of the video show a steak that might be closer to an inch. It’s unclear what temperature the water should be, or if it matters—or if the steak can have a bone in it. Given such shaky data, I had to test it all. Remember, this hack could change my life.

The Tests

I tried four different steak thicknesses ranging from 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) to an inch. I tried one with a bone. I tried warm and cold water. I couldn’t really change the temperature in my apartment, but know that it was hot (humid, sticky, without relief from air conditioning).

The butcher said the 1/4-inch spider steak was so thin, it would defrost in half an hour out on any counter, so I had high hopes this hack would deliver a defrosted steak in 5 minutes. But sadly, unfortunately, it didn’t—my wee spider steak defrosted in 25 minutes between two aluminum pans (who can I trust?!).

The problem seemed to be that the steak wasn’t perfectly flat, which can happen depending on your cut or how the steak freezes in your freezer, so the parts touching the top pan could defrost while the interior and the lower exterior parts couldn’t.

Next I tried a 1/3-inch top round, which really would be my dinner that night (so it needed to defrost in 5 minutes). Two hours later, I could cook the steak (so you can imagine how the two thicker steaks went). The flatness of the steak didn’t seem to be a problem here. Instead, I think it might’ve been that the aluminum pans got really cold from the steak. I’m not sure how much heat it was absorbing.

That said, I defrosted a steak in two hours. It’s great to know I can do that now. If I wasn’t expecting it to happen in 5 minutes, I would’ve been pretty happy with the situation. So while this hack doesn’t deliver on its unreasonably optimistic promise, I would still do it! Beef can be for dinner in 2 hours, which certainly beats forgetting, again, to set out the frozen steak before work.

Tell us: What's your go-to method for defrosting meat?

6 Comments

isw September 27, 2016
Sous Vide that puppy -- thaw it and cook it at the same time. Unlike nuking, it's impossible to overcook bits on the corners, too. (Nearly) full-surface contact with a circulating warm-water bath should give you just about the fastest *controllable* way to do it.
 
Chip September 27, 2016
My go-to method is to put the steak in the fridge the night before I cook it. Works every time.
 
Smaug September 26, 2016
I usually use the microwave (very carefully) if I'm in a real hurry, but you can speed things up a lot with a fan- just place the wrapped meat on a cooling rack or something similar and set the fan on it, blowing both over and under- it will defrost several times faster than if just left to sit.
 
Olivia B. September 26, 2016
I know I'll be an adult when 1) I own a nice rug and 2) I remember to defrost meat in advance. I never, ever, ever remember. I usually put it in a ziplock and put it in a bowl of room temperature water, and then change the water out every so often once it starts to get chilly. Then I get really impatient, and do all manner of things that are probably not FDA-approved.
 
Liz D. September 26, 2016
I nuke it a bit to get it started, then set (wrapped still) it on my stone countertop, which seems to absorb the cold from the meat (or transfers heat to it). <br />
 
aargersi September 26, 2016
Our method works GREAT and I am 100% sure nothing could go wrong. 1) make sure it is completely sealed 2) throw it in the pool 3) remove when defrosted which is typically a bit before you actually remember<br />AND now no-one will ever eat freezer meat at my house again. Heh