This is a question I often ask myself because I always get carried away when it comes to grocery shopping. I like to stock up on frozen meats (usually go for chicken breast/fillet/drumsticks, salmon, red snapper, dory fish, tilapia) so it makes it easier to prepare meals anytime.
While it’s convenient to prepare your meals ahead of time and have it ready to-go in your snack box, it’s also nice to cook a fresh meal ready-made hot, not microwaved. Hence, I keep a freezer stocked with frozen meats more than cooked food.
- A whole chicken is good for up to a year, but pieces—legs, wings, thighs—should be used within 6 to 9 months. For cooked chicken leftovers: 4 to 6 months.
- Fatty fish like salmon can be frozen for 2 to 3 months, while lean fish like cod or flounder will last up to 6. Cooked leftovers: 3 months.
- Ground meat (beef, lamb, pork) keeps for two or three months; roasts, steaks, and chops can be kept frozen for at least half a year. Leftovers: 2 to 3 months.
- Fruits and vegetables can be frozen 8 months to a year and still taste fine.
By the way, a food’s quality will decline faster if you don’t keep your freezer at zero degrees—cold enough to freeze ice cream rock solid. (Speaking of ice cream, it keeps for up to two months.) An appliance thermometer will help you monitor the temperature.
Freezing won’t kill bacteria, so use caution when it’s time to cook. Thawing foods in the refrigerator is wise because the temperature stays below 40 degrees, the point at which bacterial growth can really take off. Poultry and beef generally require a full day to thaw in the fridge; larger items, such as a frozen turkey, require one day for every five pounds, on average.
Mixed dishes containing meat may require slightly less than a day. (Vegetables can usually go directly from freezer to stovetop.) For the best flavor, most foods should be cooked immediately once thawed. Heat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees to ensure that you kill all bacteria; stews and soups should be brought to a boil.
(hat tip: Oprah)