Exactly How to Freeze Everything

Beat freezer burn and bring order to your own icebox with these tried-and-true techniques.

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: BravissimoS/iStock

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: William Reavell/Getty

Photo By: cirano83/iStock

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: TKphotography64/iStock

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: Kate Mathis

Photo By: NighthawkFotografie/iStock

The Ice Age

Freezing big orders and leftover ingredients is second nature to the chefs in Food Network Kitchen. "Not only does it help cut down on food waste, it helps with our bottom line," says Sous Chef Miriam Garron, who trains everyone to check the freezer before putting in a shopping list. The same holds true for home cooks: Having a well-stocked icebox is the ticket to fast weeknight meals and impromptu entertaining. "Preventing freezer burn is half the battle," says Garron. "You have to wrap things well if you want to use them later." Here's how the chefs in Food Network Kitchen keep their chicken cutlets and casseroles frost-free and organized.

It Starts With the Right Container

Wrap food tightly with plastic wrap, waxed paper or foil — and do it twice — before placing in a resealable freezer bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible; if you have a vacuum sealer, all the better. Stowing food in a baking dish or jar? Make sure the container is freezer-safe. And place a piece of wrapping directly on the surface of casseroles, soups and other foods that could be exposed to air to protect them from freezer burn. Leave headspace for foods in jars and cartons; as stock other liquids freeze, they expand. Last but not least: Label everything with the date and what's inside. Spaghetti sauce and tomato soup can look frustratingly similar after a couple of months on ice.

And Keep Defrosting in Mind

How you defrost something depends on the urgency. Here are the Food Network Kitchen-preferred methods: Thaw food over a day or two in the fridge, or place it in a resealable bag in a bowl of cold water, changing the water often and never leaving the food out for more than two hours at a time. The microwave is a last resort — use it only for foods where doneness isn't an issue; this move is not for steak or chicken.

Chops, Steaks, Cutlets and Deli Meat

If you're freezing for more than a few days, remove the meat or poultry from the store packaging, wrap it twice with plastic wrap, waxed paper or foil, then place in a freezer bag, squeezing out as much air as possible. (Or, use a vacuum sealer, if you have one.) Vacuum-packed cold cuts can go straight into the freezer. Counter-sliced portions should be wrapped tightly in plastic, waxed paper or foil and placed in freezer bags.

Fish and Shellfish

For whole fish, steaks and fillets, follow the same method as for meat: Remove the fish from the store packaging, wrap it twice with plastic wrap, waxed paper or foil, then squeeze out the air or use a vacuum sealer. Shrimp can be frozen raw or cooked: Make sure to pat them dry before placing in a freezer bag. Oysters, scallops, mussels and clams should be removed from their shells before going into freezer bags with as much air removed as possible.

Dairy

Transfer to freezer-safe containers, leaving some headroom for expansion. Ice cube trays are also handy: Freeze solid in cubes, then transfer to a freezer bag for just-right portioning. Half-and-half and light cream don't fare as well in the freezer, so stick to the fridge.

Cheese

Wrap blocks twice with plastic wrap, waxed paper or foil, then place in a freezer bag. If you don't plan to use the entire block at once, cut the cheese into smaller portions to grab as you go. And don't forget the rinds! Keep a freezer bag for Parmesan ends to pop into sauces and soups. But skip cottage cheese and soft cheeses like ricotta and mozzarella — they don't freeze well.

Eggs

Whole eggs won't survive the freezer, but whites do surprisingly well. Make sure to leave some headroom in the container.

Fruit

Spread berries and grapes on a baking sheet and freeze solid before transferring them to a freezer bag. Follow the same technique for larger fruits like peaches and apples, but slice them and remove their pits or cores first. Puree melons before freezing to use in smoothies and aguas frescas. Bananas should be peeled before going straight into a freezer bag. To avoid fruit turning icy, make sure to pat it dry before freezing. And keep in mind that fruits lose their crisp-tenderness after freezing. Plan to use them in dishes where their soft texture won't matter, like blended drinks.

Vegetables

Blanch vegetables like green beans, broccoli and asparagus and pat dry before stowing in freezer bags. Dark leafy greens — kale, spinach, chard — should also be par-cooked, then wrung dry before storing. Do not freeze tender greens like lettuces. Winter squash (peeled, seeded and cut up) and ginger can go into bags and frozen raw. Like fruit, vegetables also lose their crisp-tenderness after freezing. Plan to use them in dishes where you want a soft texture , like casseroles and soups.

Herbs

You can freeze herbs flat on a sheet tray before wrapping and stowing them in freezer bags. Or, chop them up and freeze them in ice cube trays with a little water; remove them to freezer bags when frozen solid. Tender herbs — think basil, tarragon and oregano — can also be blended with olive oil into a paste and frozen in ice cube trays. Transfer to a freezer bag and add to sauces and marinades as needed.

Casseroles

Cool your meal to room temperature (no rushing!). Make sure you've used a freezer-safe baking dish, or transfer the casserole in portions to resealable containers that can withstand the cold. (Some make-ahead cooks prefer using foil pans because they can go straight into the freezer.) Tightly wrap casserole pans with at least two layers of plastic wrap, and add a final layer of foil before placing in the freezer.

Soups, Sauces and Stews

Cool to room temperature, then transfer to airtight containers with ample headroom for expansion. Or transfer to freezer bags in single-serving portions and freeze flat on a sheet tray; once frozen, the slim envelopes are easy to tuck into narrow spaces in the freezer and defrost faster than pint-size chunks.

Rice and Grains

Cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container or freezer bag.

Dough

Wrap dough tightly with plastic, waxed paper or foil before transferring to a freezer bag, bearing in mind that some yeasted doughs don't bake up quite as light and fluffy after freezing. Portion drop cookies on a sheet pan and freeze before transferring to a freezer bag for bake-on-demand treats.

Tortillas

For homemade tortillas, slip waxed paper between each one before wrapping tightly and placing in a freezer bag. This is also handy for store-bought tortillas if you know you won't be using the whole stack at once. Otherwise, wrap them together tightly and place in a freezer bag.

Bread and Baked Goods

Wrap whole loaves twice in plastic wrap before placing in a large freezer bag. Baked items like muffins and scones can go right into a freezer bag; try to remove as much air as possible.

Compost Scraps

If you're wary about holding onto those carrot tops on a Monday when the farmers market compost drop-off isn't until Saturday, designate a scrap bag (preferably resealable) for your freezer. Use it to stow peels, trimmings, coffee grounds and egg shells odor-free until the weekend.

Coffee

If you'd like to save a bag of coffee long-term, you can toss it in the freezer. But really, for the best flavor, you shouldn't freeze it at all — especially the bag you use every day. Moisture is the enemy of fresh coffee (so you shouldn't put it in the fridge either). Opening and closing a frozen bag daily only invites the accumulation of condensation.