How to Flash Freeze Food for Easy Grab-and-Go Portions

Your next meal, snack, or single-serving dessert is just a quick thaw away.

Sometimes you need just a handful of this or a little bit of that: strawberries for a smoothie, a single hot dog to satisfy a hungry child, or a quick lunch to take to work. If you "flash freeze" small portions of food, that handful of berries or last-minute meal can be ready and waiting in the freezer.

So what is flash freezing? In the food industry—or on fast-paced cooking TV shows—this term means freezing foods at extremely low temperatures with circulating air. (It's also sometimes called "blast freezing.") This quick-chill method keeps ice crystals small, which prevents moisture loss in the food when it thaws.

For the home cook, however, the definition is different: Flash freezing refers to the practice of freezing individual pieces of food, usually spread out on a baking sheet to keep them from fusing together, then packing them in airtight containers for longer storage. This method allows you to thaw and use just the amount of food needed, rather than pulling out larger amounts from your freezer.

How to Flash Freeze Foods

To get started, you'll need a baking sheet or tray that fits in your freezer and freezer-safe containers or resealable bags. Depending on what you're freezing, you may need plastic freezer wrap or heavy-duty aluminum foil.

pan of raspberries
Marty Baldwin

1. Prepare Food for Flash Freezing

  • Most foods don't need to be washed before flash freezing. However, you should always rinse berries (or any fresh produce) and pat them dry.
  • If applicable, divide food into small, individual portions or pieces. This step makes sense for preportioned or easily divided foods, such as dinner rolls, chicken breasts, meatballs, and cooked meat loaf.
  • Place the food on a baking sheet or tray. Make sure the edges of the pieces do not touch, as this can cause them to fuse together while they chill. Freeze for 2 to 3 hours, or until firm.

Test Kitchen Tip: For easier cleanup, line the baking sheet or tray with parchment paper, waxed paper, or plastic wrap before adding the food.

frozen berries in freezer bags
Marty Baldwin

2. Seal or Wrap, Label, and Freeze

  • Remove the food from the baking sheet and wrap it in either plastic freezer wrap or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Alternatively, transfer it to resealable freezer bags or freezer-safe food-storage containers with tight-fitting lids.
  • Label the package using a wax crayon or permanent marker, indicating the name of the item, the quantity or size, and the date it was frozen.
  • Return the food to the freezer.

Test Kitchen Tip: Do not use foil to wrap foods that contain acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes or lemon juice, since acid reacts with aluminum foil. Instead, use plastic freezer wrap.

Foods That Can Be Flash Frozen

Whether raw or cooked, just about any food that comes in individual pieces (or can be broken/cut into individual pieces) can be flash frozen. The best candidates, however, are those foods that freeze well in general and are particularly useful in smaller portions. Here are some examples:

  • Fresh berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries
  • Individual portions of meats, such as chicken breast halves, steaks, and hot dogs
  • Cooked or uncooked hamburger patties, meatballs, and bacon slices
  • Fish steaks or fillets, shrimp, and scallops
  • Baked cookies, scones, and muffins
  • Baked bread slices, rolls, and biscuits
  • Unbaked bread dough, shaped into rolls
  • Shaped unbaked cookie dough
  • Individual slices of cake, fruit pie, or cheesecake

Foods That Should Not Be Flash Frozen

Because they lose flavor, texture, and/or overall quality when frozen, these foods won't do well with flash freezing:

  • Eggs in shells, whether raw or cooked
  • Cooked egg whites or yolks
  • Custard- or cream-based pies or other desserts with cream fillings
  • Cheese
  • Battered and fried foods
  • Stuffed chops or chicken breasts
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables: Most fresh fruits (with the exception of berries) and vegetables are not suitable for flash freezing. They may be frozen but require specific steps beforehand, such as blanching or packing in water, fruit juice, or syrup.
  • Soups, stews, and other soft or liquid dishes. (These are freezable, but are not an option for flash freezing since they can't stand on their own on a baking sheet.)
Pretty in Pink Smoothie
Blaine Moats

How Long to Freeze Flash-Frozen Food

According to the USDA, food stored at temperatures of 0°F or below will always be safe to eat. That's because freezing prevents the growth of the microorganisms that cause foodborne illness. However, after time, frozen foods might lose flavor, texture, or overall quality. We recommend sticking within the times suggested here:

Cooked Items

  • Baked cookies, slices of cake, fruit pies, quick breads, and yeast breads: 3 months
  • Individual slices of cheesecake: 2 weeks
  • Cooked meats, such as pork chops, chicken breasts, and meat loaf slices: 3 months

Raw Items

  • Berries: 1 year
  • Uncooked ground meat patties: 3 months
  • Uncooked fish and shellfish: 3 months
  • Uncooked steaks, chops, and poultry pieces: 3 to 6 months
  • Unbaked bread and cookie dough: 3 months

When ready to prepare or consume, thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator or microwave, never at room temperature (a few exceptions include breads and sweets that can safely be stored at room temperature). Inspired to go a step further? Make freezer-friendly family meals that are great for weeknight eating, and you'll have a dinner in a flash on busy evenings.

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