As much as I love wild game parties, I don’t miss the daunting task of putting them together. Food prep – including thawing game for various preparations – had to be planned and ultimately choreographed just right.
Sometimes a package of game meat would be thawed and not used, which I promptly put back into the freezer to use at a later date. Sometimes, though very rarely, a package would be left unused in a cooler of melted ice.
I mention this because I’ve been asked by more than one reader a simple question: Can hunters refreeze thawed game meat? Is it safe? Does it affect flavor?
Most chefs and other culinary experts strongly advise hunters to steer clear of the practice, although, they say, it’s safe to do so if the game meat in question was thawed in a refrigerator or in cold water.
“If you leave meat to thaw you run the risk of a bacterial explosion and that’s something you want to stay away from,” said Hank Shaw, author of several books on cooking wild game and fish and proprietor of the award-winning blog, Hunter Angler Gardner Cook. “The best way to thaw meat is slowly in a refrigerator. If you’re in a hurry, you can submerge it in cold water. Not warm water, but cold water.”
Most culinary experts say that game meat that’s been left out at room temperature for a long period of time should consider it spoiled and discard it.
“I would not freeze it again,” Shaw said. The problem with refreezing thawed meat in general, Shaw said, is that it loses flavor and oftentimes texture. When meat freezes, he said, the moisture in it expands and forms ice crystals, which punctures the fibers of the meat.
“When you defrost it, those crystals thaw,” he said. “Anybody who has thawed meat knows you get a bunch of moisture. That’s actually cellular fluid.” It’s not just fluid loss at this point, Shaw said. It’s flavor loss, too.
“Then think about doing this process twice,” Shaw said of freezing meat twice. Bottom line: The meat will be tougher and have less flavor.
Still, he said, refreezing thawed meat is far better than throwing it out. Such game meats can be easily salvaged and are perfect candidates for chili and stews and other gentle, slow-cooking methods (braising) that incorporate other ingredients such as dry spices, chilies, and fresh herbs to enhance the flavor of your dish.
Shaw said hunters should refreeze thawed game meat as soon as possible and mark the package accordingly, so you know it’s been thawed and refrozen.
“You don’t want to let it sit in your refrigerator for days on end,” he said. “If you have a chest freezer, which most hunters do, put it at the bottom of the freezer where it’s coldest and freezes more quickly. The slower meat freezes, the larger the icy crystals that form. You want to stay away from that.”