Fresh And Frozen Meat – Is There A Difference?

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Yes, the debate of the century! Which is better, fresh or frozen meat?

To clarify, fresh meat is any cut that hasn’t been processed in any way, including being frozen.

While frozen meat can be fresh, it still has been processed and changes the characteristics of the meat itself.

So, what’s the difference between fresh and frozen meat? And, which is the best? Well, fresh meat has a much firmer texture, better flavor, and carries more nutrients. Because of the ice crystals of frozen meat, the texture and flavor will not be as good, but the shelf life has been prolonged, which helps prevent food waste.

When it comes to which is best, it depends on your preference. Frozen meat is still better than rotten meat. But, when comparing which is better to purchase, fresh meat does contain more nutrients and will be of better quality.

Today, we will explore everything about fresh and frozen meat, including their physical and nutritional characteristics, how they are stored, and the best ways to cook each.

We will also look at some risks of each and ultimately, which form is the best to use!

Characteristics Of Fresh Meat

First things first, let’s look at exactly what qualifies as fresh meat. This category of meat includes any cut or piece that hasn’t undergone any processing.

This includes the use of preservation methods such as drying, smoking, and curing. It also includes flavoring techniques like marinating and salting, and finally, it includes any form of cooking.

This meat is completely fresh and has only been left to potentially age, but not to such an extent that it dries out at all. Fresh meat contains all of the original nutrients that the cut contains.

Now, technically defrosted meat is still “fresh”. However, it also still isn’t in a way. It has undergone some changes that altered the texture, flavor, and nutritional value of the meat.

So, when recipes or articles refer to fresh meat, it means completely unprocessed in any way.

Storage And Shelf Life

Fresh meat is highly perishable. It should always be stored inside of the fridge that has a temperature of roughly 32-40°F.

You should also prevent it from drying out, but not keep it inside an airtight container unless it has been vacuum-sealed.

Always keep the meat in its clean original packaging for as long as you can. If you don’t have the packaging anymore, then try and replicate it as best you can.

Otherwise, place the meat into a contaminant-free container and cover it with plastic or saran wrap.

If you absolutely have to, then you can place the meat inside an airtight container (we’d recommend this one). But, this may cause condensation to build up inside and change the quality of the meat.

You can also wrap the meat in some parchment paper or even baking paper. It will allow the meat to breathe and prevent it from drying out.

If stored properly fresh meat can last between 2-5 days. It depends mainly on how fresh the meat was when you originally purchased it and of course how well you stored it.

Remember, the warmer the storage temperature is, the quicker the meat will deteriorate. This is why frozen meat stays good for so long.

How To Cook Fresh Meat

Fresh meat can be processed in any way. It is the most versatile form of meat that you can find and is the basis for all other forms of meat.

So, when it comes to cooking, any method that will enhance the flavors and textures of the meat will work just fine.

Meat can be pan-fried, deep-fried, roasted, grilled, broiled, boiled, or steamed. Different cuts have different characteristics and naturally will require different cooking techniques to keep their nest qualities.

Let’s have a look at beef for example. Here are some of the best cooking techniques you can use for different cuts of beef.

Beef cutGrillingStewing/BraisingRoastingPan-frying
Rib roast

Ribeye steakx
Top round
Flank steakxxxx

Chuck roast
Shoulder roast

Now, here are some of the best cooking methods you can use for chicken (and most types of poultry).

Chicken cutGrillingDeep-fryRoastingPan-frying
Chicken breastx

Crumbed chicken

Chicken wingsxxx

Whole chicken


Characteristics Of Frozen Meat

Moving on to frozen meat, this category contains any meat cut that has been frozen or flash-frozen. These are both preserving techniques that are used to drastically extend the shelf life of the meat.

When meat is frozen, the extremely low temperatures change some structural elements in the meat itself.

The water in the meat freezes and forms ice crystals. These ice crystals break the firm fibers that are present in fresh meat.

So, once the ice crystals have melted (when the meat is being defrosted), it leaves you with a less firm cut of meat.

And, because the fibers have been broken, the meat cannot retain moisture as well once it is cooked and its natural flavors have also escaped. 

Storage And Shelf Life

Frozen meat should always be kept in a freezer that has a stable temperature of around -0.4°F. If the temperature fluctuates, it will cause the ice crystals to constantly change and ultimately completely ruin the meats’ texture.

You can store meat in the freezer inside of its original packaging or in a vacuum-sealed bag. Otherwise, wrap the meat in plastic or saran wrap. Cover it with a layer of foil that will provide extra protection against freezer burn.

And finally, always label your frozen meat. It’s often hard to make out exactly what cut has been frozen. It also helps to add the use-by date on the meat.

Frozen meat will stay “good” for up to 12 months. However, we highly recommend using it within 1-2 months.

The longer you store the meat, the lower quality it will ultimately be. So, especially for expensive meat cuts like fillet, you don’t want to ruin it and waste money.

How To Cook Frozen Meat

It is highly recommended to defrost meat before cooking it. This is because of the hazards associated with cooking meat from frozen.

Now, it’s important to note that it isn’t necessarily deadly to cook meat from frozen, but there are risks involved. Not to mention the effects it will have on the quality of the meat itself.

Defrosting meat before cooking allows the meat to uniformly cook once frozen. Otherwise, it starts cooking on the outside while the inside is still frozen.

This is risky because it allows harmful bacteria that are present to thrive in optimal temperatures and potentially become hazardous.

Furthermore, defrosting meat before cooking it will allow you to uniformly cook the piece, giving you an overall more appealing cut. One part won’t be overcooked while the other part is barely cooked. 

But, once frozen, you can cook the thawed meat in any way that you’d like. But, the flavor will lack a bit and the meat will generally be softer.

Is There a Difference Between Fresh And Frozen Meat?

As you can now see, there is a difference between fresh and frozen meat. While all fresh meat can be frozen, this preservation process does change the characteristics of the meat a lot. Let’s recap and compare the two side by side.

Physical Characteristics

Fresh meat hasn’t been processed in any way. For this reason, the meat is highly perishable but has very good qualities.

Fresh meat will have a very firm texture that can be processed to make juicy tender cooked meat cuts. Furthermore, it has an extremely pure and meaty flavor.

The color of the meat (while fresh and cooked) will also be much more appealing and bright.

Now, frozen meat on the other hand is meat that has been preserved through freezing. While this does extend the shelf life of the meat by several months, it does lower the overall quality of the meat.

The ice crystals that formed during the process break the meat fibers. This causes a major loss in flavor when the meat eventually defrosts.

It also affects the texture of the meat. Often, these meats will be tougher and less juicy once they have been cooked.

Nutritional Composition

Meat is generally a very nutritious ingredient. Naturally, some types will be healthier than others and have varying nutritional compositions. For example, fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, whereas red meat isn’t. 

But, the easier element to compare is how freezing changes the nutrient content, regardless of the type of meat you have. As we have mentioned, when meat is frozen, the ice crystals break the meat fibers.

When the meat thaws, the fibers cannot hold the nutrients that were present in the fresh meat. So, as the moisture escapes the frozen meat, so do the nutrients.

That being said, it is still one of the best preservation methods you can use that arguably retains the most nutrients of them all.

Cooking Techniques

While both fresh and frozen meat can be cooked in the same way, it is more the preparation techniques that will differ.

Frozen meat has to be completely defrosted before it is cooked using the method of your choice. This is because the meat will cook more evenly and carry fewer risks when doing so.

As we have explained, when cooking meat from frozen, it could cause rapid growth of harmful bacteria in the parts that aren’t cooked yet, while other parts are busy overcooking. These bacteria could potentially cause food poisoning.

SO, once properly thawed, you can cook the meat in any way. For fresh and frozen meat cuts, you have to look at the cut to determine what the best cooking technique will be.

You always want to try and retain moisture and juiciness in the cut. 

So, Which Is Better?

We always prefer using fresh meat that is high in quality. Fresh meat will have a better flavor and texture.

It cooks evenly and can stay juicy and rich when using the correct cooking techniques. Not to mention, it is the best form to get the nutrients from that specific meat type.

Frozen meat isn’t necessarily bad, and it does preserve the meat for much longer (which is the downside of fresh meat). So, it is a fantastic way to not waste fresh meat if you know you aren’t going to be using it.

But, it won’t have an equally good flavor or texture. And, you do lose a lot of the nutrients present in the meat.

That is where you have to choose an appropriate cooking technique to ensure it still is juicy. We like to slow-cook frozen meat cuts for long periods. This tenderizes the meat and keeps it juicy.

Choosing The Best Fresh Meat Cuts

Now, there are a few things you can look out for when choosing the freshest cut of meat. Now, naturally different types of meat will have different characteristics. However, the freshness is generally determined using the same signs. 

First, the meat should have a bright color. The older meat gets, the duller the color becomes. So, a bright color is what you are looking for, whether the color is beige (poultry), pink (pork), or red (beef and lamb).

Then, it should also not have any blemishes or blood. Sure, some meats will still have tiny veins inside that will bleed, but the meat shouldn’t be bloody.

Also, blemishes are a sign that the meat has aged and now easily bruise. It can also be a sign of bad quality meat or unethical farming.

Your fresh meat should also not have any off odors. If you smell any strange odors, but they don’t smell rotten, that is an indication that the meat is of bad quality.

When meat contains a ton of hormones (chemicals), they get that strange smell. The meat isn’t poisonous or harmful to eat, but it is lower in quality and wasn’t farmed properly. 

And finally, meat should have a firm texture. This goes for all types and cuts of meat. Meat that is old or is going off has a soft floppy texture because the fibers holding it together are deteriorating.

Choosing The Best Frozen Meat Cuts

Now, frozen meat can also be purchased. The biggest thing to look out for when buying pre-frozen meat is when it was frozen. Often, stores take massive changes with this and try to sell year-old frozen meat.

They also sometimes freeze nearly-off meat to try and make a couple of extra bucks. However, this carries major risks. 

So, ensure that the meat has been recently frozen and check the use-by or sell-by date.

Then, you can also look at freezer burn or frost crystals. These indicate that meat is usually old or wasn’t stored properly. That specific cut won’t be very good quality, will not have an appealing texture, and will be pretty flavorless.

You can also look at the frozen meat itself. It shouldn’t have noticeable bruises on its skin or have frozen blood on it at all. This is especially true for fish.

Bloody fish is not good and close to its expiry date. So, if it has frozen blood it indicates that the fish was almost off when it was originally frozen.

And finally, the package shouldn’t have holes in it. If the package is broken or pierced in any way, you should rather choose a different product. Any tears can introduce harmful bacteria onto the meat.

Yes, even at that temperature! Remember, the low temperature simply makes the bacteria dormant, it doesn’t kill them completely.

Related Questions

Now that we’ve gone over the differences between fresh and frozen meat, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!

Which meat cuts are the best to freeze?

We prefer freezing meat that will be cooked for long periods of time. This way, the texture changes won’t be noticed and the meat will remain juicy.

Bone-in cuts (like shoulder, legs, or ribs) also freeze pretty well. And finally, minced or ground meat products (including sausages) will hold up well.

What is the best way to thaw meat?

Always try and defrost meats slowly in the fridge (overnight if you can)! This way the ice crystals slowly melt and not as many nutrients, flavor, and moisture will leach out during this time.

You can also defrost vacuum-sealed meat in cold water or at room temperature, which shortens the defrosting time a lot.

How long do grocery stores keep meat?

Generally speaking, your average store will only keep fresh meat for 10 days. The meat is regularly checked to ensure it hasn’t gone off.

When stores sell expired meat and if someone potentially gets sick, it opens the store up to major lawsuits. So, they usually don’t even risk selling nearly expired meat.

If you’re interested in seeing a direct comparison of how fresh and frozen meat cook side-by-side, check out this video from Guga Foods!

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