14 Freezer Cooking Tips you Never Knew About

By Lauren
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    Freezer meals are the best thing since the invention of the freezer. They make meal time prep shorter and easier, not to mention the money you'll save just by making crockpot freezer meals. If you're a beginner or a freezer cooking veteran, implementing these Freezer Cooking Tips have saved me time, frustration, mess, and money.
    I have been freezer cooking and developing entire crockpot freezer cooking meal plans for years now. I've really spent focused time making recipes that are easy, delicious, cost-effective, and of course “Freezer-Friendly”.

    I've learned some things along the way – things that you should do, and things that you definitely shouldn't do when freezer cooking. Oh, believe me, I've had the bottom of my freezer full of kinda-frozen-freezer-meal-mess from a bag that burst. I've experimented with freezing dairy and everything else you can imagine.
    freezer cooking tips

    Here's what I've learned that made all the difference:

    14 Freezer Cooking Tips you Never knew about

    1. The Bags Matter

    Not all gallon-sized storage bags are made equal. First off, the bags labeled “Freezer Bags” are made of a thicker plastic and usually have a higher quality zip closure. This is important. If you are cooking a full Freezer Meal Plan

    If you are cooking a full Freezer Meal Plan with 20 meals at once, you are going to be stacking the meals in your freezer, so that means the bags on the bottom could have up to 10 pounds of meals sitting on them. You need a quality bag to handle the weight until it is frozen solid.

    Not only that, if you remember from science class, liquids expand when they freeze, so if the bag has cheap seams and is made of thin plastic, you could end up with a mess. While in general, I am not a name-brand product person. The Ziploc brand gallon freezer bags or the top quality Glad brand freezer bags are worth the money – thicker plastic and a superior closure.

    2. Liquid-heavy Meals on Top

    If you are going to be making and freezing multiple meals at once, I always put the ones with the most liquid on the top, like soups and sauces. Meals that are predominately liquid placed on the bottom of your stack force the bag itself to handle all of the weight. If you put meat-heavy bags on the bottom, like ones with a pork loin, pork shoulder, chuck roast, etc. The protein in the bag will end up shouldering (pun intended) most of the weight, not the bag itself.

    Because, let's face it, even if you do buy the best bags on the market, sometimes there are flaws in the way they seal, the way you sealed them, or in the seams. It's unavoidable. This is just an added precaution to make sure you don't end up with a mess and lose a meal.

    3. Sharpen your knives before prep

    My husband is the one that cares if knives are sharp. I never really paid any attention, and then one day, Mark had enough. He went into a knife sharpening frenzy and sharpened every knife he could find in the kitchen. It was amazing! I didn't realize how much extra work and time I was spending trimming meat or chopping vegetables because I had a dull knife!

    If you are making a meal plan and are going to be trimming many different cuts and types of meat, it will save you so much time and energy in the long run if you sharpen your knives first. But, remember to be careful! Many people have gotten used to using knives in a specific way because they were dull, and now that your knife is sharp, it will slice through things unexpectedly easy, so watch out.

    Here's a great resource on maintaining sharp knives.

    4. Trim your meat first

    Now that your knife is sharp, remember to trim your meat before you put it in the freezer bag. “Future-you” will be so happy. It will be easier to trim on the front end, and it will make your meals less greasy because they were not cooked with extra fat.

    This is especially true with pork shoulders and chicken thighs. Depending on your butcher, Pork shoulder usually has a pretty thick fat cap on one side. Trim off most of it. It's ok if there is a little bit, but remember, whatever you leave on, you'll end up having to fish it out of your crockpot after cooking. With chicken thighs, take all the skin off and trim off the extra fat on the bottom. Cooking chicken skin in liquid always turns out… well, unappetizing. And it will render a lot of extra fat into your dish.

    5. Defrost meals on a Pan with a Lip

    Defrosting things from frozen means you'll get condensation on the bag. If you defrost your freezer meals on a pan or cookie sheet with a lip on it, you'll save yourself from a mess.

    6. Find a way to Hold Bags Upright.

    I have a set of these baggy racks. But honestly, they're a little pricey, and they aren't without their flaws. If you aren't up for forking over the extra cash, you can use a cardboard box (or 2, or 3) to hold up some of the bags next to each other. I've used a plastic bin before with great results. Basically, you just need a way for the bags to stay upright when filling them.

    7. The Order Matters

    Does it make a difference which order you put things in the bags? YES! It does.

    It will be way harder to balance a bag upright that is half full of liquid than a bag that has a base of meat and veggies in it first. Putting liquids in last will help the freezer bags remain more stable. I've put liquid in first before and I spent so much effort just trying to balance the bag so it didn't dump everywhere.

    I recommend using the following order to add ingredients into the freezer bags:

    1. Vegetables
    2. Spices
    3. Random or misc ingredients
    4. Protein
    5. Liquids

    If you're just starting to get into freezer cooking, I've got something that will make it SO easy. I'd LOVE to send you a FREE Freezer cooking Meal Plan! 10 super easy meals prepared in about an hour for $80! Sign up right below:

    8. Two Heads are better than one

    You can more than cut your prep time in half if you prep your freezer meals with someone else. Get your spouse to help, or if you're single get a friend to help and split the meals at the end.

    If you have someone to help, set up 2 prep stations. One of you – trim, cut, and prep all of the protein, and the other – chop, cut, and dice all of the vegetables. It'll go faster if you each stay on task and in one mode. Once all of the protein and veggies are prepped, split up the remaining ingredient types (refer to the list in tip #7).

    Make it fun. Put on some music, put on some comfortable shoes and clothes, and get at it!

    9. Food Prep Gloves

    Chopping lots of chicken, onions, peppers, and handling lots of spices can make your hands smell and feel less than amazing. Picking up a small package of disposable latex or nitrile exam gloves can keep your hands cleaner and you won't feel the need to wash your hands 18 times.

    10. More Measuring Spoons

    If you are going to be doing multiple freezer meals regularly, head over to the dollar store and buy an extra set of measuring spoons, dry measuring cups and a liquid measure or two. It won't set you back more than a few bucks. Now you and your meal prep partner won't have to share, and you'll have to do less cleaning in between.

    You obviously don't need to wash your measuring spoons between each spice, but sometimes you need a tablespoon of juice or soy sauce in a recipe and that won't mix well with dry ingredients right before or after.

    11. Put your Meat Cutting Board on a cookie sheet

    When you are opening and trimming lots of meat, it makes clean up and prep way easier if you place your cutting board inside a cookie sheet. Those juice troughs on cutting boards never seem big enough for me and then you still have a balancing act to perform to get them to the sink to drain them.

    If your entire cutting board is on a cookie sheet it really helps keep everything contained and keeps your counters cleaner. Once you're done with whatever meat you're cutting, you can easily move the entire cookie sheet over to put the meat in your freezer bags.

    12. Dairy – It can get weird…

    If you've ever frozen milk before, you understand what I'm talking about… it can curdle and get a little weird.

    Here's what's really going on: when milk is frozen, ice crystals form which break the membrane surrounding the tiny fat droplets. Then when it defrosts, the fat escapes from the droplets and floats on the surface. The longer it's frozen, the more ice crystals will form, and more fat droplets on the surface.

    It can also happen if milk is heated- for 2 reasons. Firstly, if the milk is heated too quickly or is boiling, it will separate. Or, if the milk becomes acidic, the proteins in the milk will bond with each other, causing curdling (this is why adding lemon juice to milk creates buttermilk). On another note – when milk gets old and starts to spoil it also becomes acidic. That's why spoiled milk is curdled… but curdled milk does not necessarily mean spoiled milk.

    Ok enough of the science. Here are best practices for using dairy in the slow cooker:

    1. Don't freeze it. Freeze all the other ingredients, and then use the dairy on the day you cook the meal.
    2. If you are cooking it in the slow cooker, make sure of the following:
      • make sure the milk is fresh (lower acidity)
      • only cook it on low.
    3. For best results, add the dairy only at the end.
    4. Use some cornstarch when following #3. It will give it a bit of richness and will all but guarantee it will not curdle at all.

    13. Put smelly stuff in a grocery bag

    Specifically – meat trimmings, onion pieces, and garlic pieces are very aromatic in the trash can. Work with a waste bowl or a cake pan next to your prep station and put all of your throw-aways in that. Then, transfer them all to a grocery bag and tie it up. If you aren't going to take your trash out right away, or it's a few days until trash pick-up and you're in the heat of summer. You're going to want to keep the stink down.

    Tie everything up in a grocery bag and then double bag it before you throw it away. You'll thank me later.

    14. Get the right sized Crockpot (or Instant Pot)

    With a crockpot, bigger isn't better most of the time. Generally, people think that if you get a larger crockpot, you'll have the option to make larger meals if you want. This is true. But that's where the benefit stops. I made this mistake the first time I bought a crockpot.

    Here's the thing: The magic of the crockpot is food cooking in liquid (also called braising). If your crockpot is too large, your meat will not be mostly covered in liquid. So the top portion of the meat will be steamed instead of braised and end up tough. Plus, the liquid in the crockpot helps to regulate the crockpot temperature. If there is only a shallow amount of liquid in the bottom, you'll get some burning around the edges of the crock because it will get too hot.

    Unless you feed an army regularly, you probably won't need the bathtub-sized 18 qt slow cooker. For a family of 6, a 5 qt crockpot is PLENTY big enough. I actually recommend a 3 or 4 qt round crock as the best size. And if you are feeding a ton of people, using 2-4 qt slow cookers will actually be better than one giant 8 qt slow cooker.

    BONUS: You Won't Remember

    Label all of your freezer bags before you fill them, and don't think you'll remember what's what when you finally go to cook that freezer meal in a few weeks. Label all of the bags and make sure you know where your cooking instructions are beforehand. Some meals take longer than others to cook so make sure you know if you have enough time to make that particular meal before you thaw it.

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    Whether you're a Freezer cooking beginner or veteran, implementing these Freezer Cooking Tips has saved me time, frustration, mess, and money.

    COMMENTS

  • This is very helpful, Lauren. Thanks! I have a question. Perhaps you’ve covered this elsewhere. But how do you become competent with knives? As in knowing which ones to buy, which ones to use for what, and how to cut, chop, pare, etc. properly? I feel my lack of skill and proper tools keeps me limited.

  • When filling bags, I put my gallon bags in empty #10 cans, and my quart bags in quart jars. Then I can fold the edge of the bag around the top of the can or jar. This does 2 things–holds the bags up so they are easy to fill, and keeps the zipper free of food so it’s easy to zip closed. It’s also basically free.

  • Also, I generally freeze my bags flat, but if I am planning something for a specific cooking method (Instant Pot or crockpot) I will freeze the bags as flat as possible IN the pot I plan to cook in, or in something with the same diameter. (Then remove from the pot and store in the freezer so the pot is usable.) That way it can go straight into the correct pot when I pull it out to use it.

  • Hi Lauren!
    Thanks for the freezing tips, I figured out some of them but you had a few others that will certainly help us! I have a tip you didn’t put in the list, that you might want to consider. Drying off the freezer bags really good right before you put them in the freezer. OMG!! I didn’t do that the first couple of times and some of the bags had liquid (or condensation?) on the outside of the bags and when I tried to take the bag out of the freezer they were stuck together!! That was NOT fun let me tell you…lol I had to thaw BOTH BAGS to get them “un-stuck” and another time I ended up trying to pry them apart with a knife…well….that was a mess I never wanted to repeat! And, of course, that last one was a bag with a large amount of liquid in it, at least it was when I started, by the time I’d finished going at it with the knife most of the liquid was on the counters and floors…while trying to get it into the sink. Yeah, that wasn’t fun at all. Now, right before they go into the freezer I take paper towels and dry them GOOD, stack them and flatten them according to the way I want them sitting in the freezer and in they go! Makes things much easier for me anyway. 🙂

    Thanks for all you do!

  • These were really good tips for me, as I’m having to prep and freeze meals for a very restrictive diet for a gut infection at the moment. I’m putting mine in glass Pyrex containers, with everything already cooked, and then defrost/heat up in microwave! The hardest thing is getting the plastic top off before putting in microwave when it’s frozen! 🙂
    Sharon

  • I’m trying to reduce my plastic use (particularly disposable one-time use). What do you think will work instead? Maybe glass mason jars or freezer-friendly tubberware.

    • Hi Ally, those two solutions will work… but still not quite as well as freezer bags. I totally understand trying to reduce waste though!

  • I’ve always wondered about freezer vs storage bags. I always thought it was a marketing flaw to make more money but that is good to know about what kind to use.

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