Can You Defrost Meat on the Counter? The Truth Revealed!

In a rush to defrost your meat for dinner? You might be tempted to take it out of the freezer and leave it on the counter. But can you safely defrost meat on the counter, or does it pose a risk for foodborne illness? Let’s reveal the truth about defrosting meat on the counter.

What Happens When You Defrost Meat?

First, it’s important to understand what happens when you defrost meat. When meat is frozen, the water inside the meat freezes into ice crystals. Defrosting is the process of melting that ice and turning it back into liquid water.

There are three safe ways to defrost meat:

  • Refrigerator
  • Cold water
  • Microwave

The FDA does not recommend defrosting meat on the counter because it can cause the meat to enter the danger zone.

What is the Danger Zone?

The danger zone is the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F where bacteria can grow quickly and cause foodborne illness. When meat is left on the counter to defrost, the outside of the meat will reach room temperature before the inside is fully defrosted. This means that the meat is sitting in the danger zone for too long, allowing harmful bacteria to grow.

Why Shouldn't You Defrost Meat on the Counter?

Defrosting meat on the counter is not recommended for several reasons:

  • Increased risk of foodborne illness
  • Potential for cross-contamination if meat juices drip onto other surfaces or foods
  • May cause the meat to spoil if not cooked immediately after defrosting

Additionally, the FDA recommends that food should never be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. This time frame is reduced to one hour if the room temperature is above 90°F.

What Are the Safe Ways to Defrost Meat?

As mentioned earlier, there are three safe ways to defrost meat:

1. Refrigerator

The refrigerator method is the safest and most recommended method for defrosting meat. Simply place the meat on a plate or in a container and put it in the refrigerator. It may take several hours or even a day or two for larger cuts of meat to fully defrost.

2. Cold Water

The cold water method involves submerging the meat in cold water. This method is faster than defrosting in the refrigerator, but requires more attention to avoid the water from getting too warm. Change the water every 30 minutes until the meat is fully defrosted.

3. Microwave

The microwave method is the quickest way to defrost meat, but can also result in uneven defrosting. Follow your microwave’s instructions for defrosting meat and be sure to cook it immediately after defrosting.

How Long Does it Take to Defrost Meat?

The time it takes to defrost meat depends on several factors, including:

  • The size and thickness of the meat
  • The method of defrosting
  • The temperature of the meat and the environment it’s in

As a general rule of thumb, it takes 24 hours for every 5 pounds of meat to defrost in the refrigerator.


In conclusion, defrosting meat on the counter is not recommended due to the increased risk of foodborne illness and potential for cross-contamination. The safest ways to defrost meat are in the refrigerator, cold water, or microwave. Remember to always cook meat immediately after defrosting and to never leave food out at room temperature for more than two hours.


  • Can I defrost meat on the counter if I’m in a rush?

    No, it is not recommended. Use the microwave or cold water method instead.

  • Can I defrost meat by leaving it in the sink?

    No, this can increase the risk of bacterial growth and cross-contamination. Use the cold water method instead.

  • How long can I leave defrosted meat in the refrigerator?

    It is safe to store defrosted meat in the refrigerator for up to three days before cooking.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *