August 27, 2002

We freeze all the meat we buy at the grocery store. This creates a problem, because we usually forget to put stuff in the fridge to thaw in the morning for dinner that night. For the longest time we'd stick the microwave on DEFROST for 7 minutes and nuke whatever we wanted until it was thawed. Anyone who's ever done this knows what ends up happening is you get a defrosted center, but it cooks the outside edges, which is gross. It also pulls juice out of the meat, which makes it not taste as good.

Sometimes all it takes is a single line in a book to get the creative juices flowing. At one point in Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food, he mentions a quick way to defrost is to put the item in cold, circulating water. He mentioned how well a shower worked, but I didn't want to waste that much water. Besides, for just two people, we rarely need to defrost more than a pound of meat at once, usually half that.

So I pulled a $7 mop bucket out of the closet. We had one of those cheapie "mood" fountains sitting on top of it, so I grabbed that too. One quick cleaning of both items later, and I had myself Defrost-o-Matic Mark 1. Fill the bucket with water, drop the whole fountain in (the pump was permanently attached to the ceramic bowl), then put the frozen meat in a ziplock bag and drop that in too. Swear to god, in 5 minutes it'd defrost a whole pound of hamburger meat without cooking the edges or altering the flavor. It was quicker than the microwave.

There were two problems with Mark 1. Firstly, the fountain itself took up a lot of space, and second the pump eventually stopped up and wouldn't move any water. So we thought, "what moves a lot of water and is cheap and easy to find?" Yup, fish tank pump.

One trip to the pet store later and I had myself a $19.95 "aquaclear mini" pump and filter. This is the kind designed to sit on the top edge of the tank, with the pump assembly sitting outside and a long tube extending into the water. The thing mounted beautifully on the lip of the bucket, and now I had the entire bucket to use. 1 pound of hammer-solid frozen chicken thawed in 6 minutes! When I was done, I just dumped the water , dropped the pump into the bucket, and stuck it all under the sink. Setup and takedown in minutes!

So, to build yourself a Defrost-o-Matic, go out and buy 1 standard 14qt mop bucket and the cheapest top-tank water filter you can find. Mount them together and enjoy quick, easy, environmentally-friendly defrosting! My cost: $26.95 (although technically the bucket was free, since we already had it).

Say woo-hoo! :)

Posted by scott at August 27, 2002 11:04 AM

eMail this entry!

I may play a geek in cyberspace, but you are a new breed of geek........ (ready???)


Posted by: Jim S on August 28, 2002 04:43 PM

Alton Brown is the first kitchen geek, I am but a poor imitation. :)

Posted by: scott on August 28, 2002 04:46 PM

FYI, the pump is unnecessary. You don't need circulating water, you just need a larger volume of water. The phase state change of ice to liquid has some amazing properties. It's like a glass of icewater, if it's 90% ice and 10% water, the ice won't melt very quickly, but if you get a bigger glass and add a lot more water, the ice melts more quickly. You can transfer large amounts of energy from the water to the ice, the more water, the quicker it melts. I first saw this trick on the Julia Child show, she says just fill your sink with cold water, toss the meat in a ziploc bag, then drop it in the sink. If you're really in a hurry, you can refill the sink again with more cold water, but it really doesn't speed things up very much (trust me on this, I've been doing this for years, I've timed it).
Oh, BTW, those new high-tech ceramic flat-top stoves have a high thermal conductivity, they're great for thawing meat. I can lay down a couple of frozen chops on my stovetop and they're thawed in 30 minutes.

Posted by: Charles Eicher on September 5, 2002 08:50 AM

While this may be true, circulating the water certainly makes it go a lot faster.

The whole thing works because water is an extremely good thermal conductor, and it can also absorb a lot of energy. By moving the water mechanically, you increase the amount of thermal energy that can be transmitted dramatically.

I actually have experimental proof of this. With Mk I, I could point the water jet directly at the meat but with Mk II the water circulates in a different pattern. Mk II defrosts things much more slowly, enough that I'm casting around for a Mk III solution.

Also, I only have to fill the bucket with ~ 1 gallon of water. Filling the sink would take a lot more.

Posted by: scott on September 5, 2002 09:15 AM

Hint: the reason you use cold water is because hot water has extra pipe-sludge in it (don't ask), but if you're using a ziplock bag, there's no need to worry about the water quality. Use hot water! (and no, it doesn't need to circulate. But if you want it to, forget the Aquaclear - you can get a much stronger powerhead for $20 than a power filter. A powerhead is just a pump, without filter-related accoutrements and accessories).

I usually just put my chicken in a bowl of hot water about 10-15 min before I'll want to cook dinner.

The other way (total time: 0 minutes) is just to transfer the meat from the freezer to the fridge on the previous day. You have to think ahead, but it takes no extra time and no extra equipment. (The better solution is less fun. That's always how it is).

For smaller items, like a mouse you're feeding to a pet snake, microwave a bowl of water and drop the mouse in. I'm sure this applies to human food somehow. (can you tell I used to work in a pet store?)

Posted by: beth on January 26, 2003 07:59 AM
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