Should You Sous Vide Meat Before Freezing It or After?

One reason that sous vide dominates the catering industry is that it makes it easy to prepare foods ahead of time and reheat and finish them later.

Sous vide cooking is perfect for larger quantities of meal and food preparation, allowing you to make meals in advance, take advantage of seasonal sales and discounts, and extending the shelf life of your food.

But should you sous vide meat before freezing it or after? Which is best, and why? Let’s find out.

packet of frozen meat

Can You Sous Vide Frozen Food?

The short answer is yes, you can absolutely take foods directly from the freezer to the sous vide cooker and enjoy them with no loss of flavor or texture.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can sous vide food in its original packaging or that you can disregard food safety rules about how long food can safely be refrigerated or thawed between cooking and freezing.

See the tip section below for more details about how to sous vide frozen foods.

Freezing Meat: Should You Do It Before or After Sous Vide Cooking?

You can sous vide meat before OR after cooking it, depending on your needs and your situation.

How to Sous Vide Before Freezing Meat

To sous vide your meat before freezing it, follow these steps.

  1. Buy fresh meat.
  2. Cook it sous vide as you usually would.
  3. If necessary, portion your meat into your desired servings.
  4. Place your meat into airtight and freezer-safe containers.
  5. Cool it very quickly before freezing in a standard freezer. Place your containers in an ice water bath to quickly reduce the temperature before placing them in the freezer. Click here to learn how you can use your immersion circulator to chill food faster
  6. When you’re ready to eat your frozen meal, take it from the freezer and heat it normally using an oven, stove, or microwave.
frozen sausage and ham

How to Sous Vide After Freezing Meat

If you plan on freezing meat before sous vide cooking, follow these steps.

  1. Portion your meat and place it in airtight, freezer-safe containers (to save time, it’s a good idea to freeze meat in bags that are suitable for sous vide).
  2. Freeze it quickly. If you can, place the bags in a single layer in the coldest part of the freezer. If you have a freezer that is smaller or doesn’t have enough space, place your bags in an ice bath to bring the temperature down quickly.

When you’re ready to cook your frozen meat:

  1. Remove it from the freezer.
  2. You can defrost the meat before cooking it, which reduces cooking time and allows you to use standard sous vide recipes to determine the cooking time and temperature.

If you want to skip defrosting and sous vide from frozen:

  • Is the standard/fresh cooking time less than 2 hours? To sous vide most frozen foods, the rule of thumb is to add 50% to the standard cooking time. So, meat that would normally cook sous vide for 60 minutes should cook for 90 minutes when it’s frozen.
  • Is your standard/fresh cooking time longer than 2 hours? If your ordinary cooking time is longer than 2 hours, increase the temperature. Food should not be allowed to remain at temperatures below 140°F (60°C) for more than two hours. For that reason, you should increase the temperature on your sous vide cooker to get the internal temperature of your meat to 140°F (60°C) within 2 hours. Watch the thermostat on your immersion cooker and adjust it back down to the desired final temperature after two hours or after the internal temperature is high enough.

Note: immersion cookers can vary in how long they take to reach the desired temperature.

You may want to time your specific model, calibrating it with a second thermometer to verify how long it takes your sous vide cooker to reach safe temperatures.

food thermometer in piece of cooked meat

Sous Vide Cooking Meat Before or After Freezing: Which Is Better?

Generally speaking, it is better to sous vide foods before keeping them in the freezer to eat later. That way, you have already killed bacteria and pathogens, so your food will last longer when frozen and be safer to thaw and reheat later.

It also saves time and makes it fast and easy to heat the food whenever you want to eat it, with less fuss and bother.

Helpful Tips for Sous Vide and Frozen Foods

Here are some essential things to keep in mind when freezing meat and cooking it sous vide.

Label Everything

Labeling frozen foods not only keeps you organized, but it’s crucial for food safety. Note what the food is, whether it’s raw or cooked, and when it was frozen.

Be Attentive to Packaging

Some meats come already vacuum-sealed, so you may want to simply sous vide them in the package they came in.

Before doing this, inspect the bag thoroughly, ensure it’s tightly sealed with no leaks, and that the bag is sturdy and durable enough to withstand heating.

If the seal is glued, the bag isn’t suitable for sous vide. Look for the tell-tale crosshatch pattern of heat-sealed bags. Remove any labels or stickers on the packaging, as they will come off and clog your sous vide immersion circulator.

Most store plastic packaging is not designed to be heated and may have BPA or other chemicals that leach when heated.

For the most part, while you can use store packaging if it’s sturdy and tightly sealed, it’s best to repackage meat into sous vide bags before cooking.

Here are my 3 favorite sous vide bags:

Be Mindful of the “Danger Zone”

The “Danger Zone” is a temperature range of 40-140°F (4.4-60°C). Whether you’re cooking sous vide or not, it’s always important to remember that food should not be allowed to remain thawed and warm for long periods of time in the Danger Zone.

Heat foods quickly and cool them quickly to minimize the time in that temperature range.

In Summary

Sous vide and a freezer are a great way to minimize food waste and preserve freshness and flavor, and it’s not hard to sous vide frozen foods.

Generally speaking, it’s easier and safer to sous vide before freezing meat, but you can decide which works best for your needs.