How to Thaw Pork Chops Safely

Updated: Sep. 14, 2023

Does your freezer hold the contents for tonight's dinner? No worries, just follow these methods for thawing pork chops.

Whether you’re getting a last-minute request from the kids for a pork chop dinner tonight or you’re planning to cook one in the next few days, your biggest obstacle to getting food on the table probably has nothing to do with the actual cooking and everything to do with rummaging through your freezer to find those chops you bought a couple months ago. But no matter how delectable your recipe is, knowing how to thaw pork chops safely is really the most important part of the process.

“It’s important to remember that raw meat is an unfinished food, meaning it’s likely to be contaminated with bacteria, some of which could be harmful,” says Trevor Craig, food safety expert at Microbac Laboratories, Inc., a third-party testing company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that does food safety and quality testing.

Because of this, being cautious about how you handle raw meat and use it in your kitchen is very important. “Wash your hands and surfaces often, and be cautious with the water that touches these raw products because it can easily splash and leave droplets that can carry harmful bacteria around your kitchen,” Craig says. “Use clean tools when handling and don’t use them for anything else before cleaning them with hot soapy water.”

How Long Does It Take to Thaw Frozen Pork Chops?

The answer depends on the weight of the meat, as larger cuts are going to take longer. Because bacteria can multiply so rapidly in unrefrigerated food, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) says it’s unsafe to let food thaw at room temperature. If left unrefrigerated, some organisms can create toxins that will survive the cooking process even if the food is cooked to temperatures that kill the bacteria themselves.

As such, there are only three ways to thaw safely: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave. Thawing in the refrigerator can take a day or so for ground beef, stew meat and steaks, while bone-in parts and whole roasts may take two days or longer. Plan on one to two days for pork chops.

“Anything above refrigerated temperatures is going to be having the meat in the ‘Danger Zone,’ which is a temperature that is going to be supportive of the growth of bacteria, including dangerous bacteria like salmonella, listeria, or E. coli,” says Craig. If you don’t have time to thaw safely, consider cooking frozen pork chops in the Instant Pot instead (never cook frozen meat in a slow cooker).

How to Thaw Pork Chops in Cold Water

Craig says to place the sealed or unsealed (depending on the packaging) meat submerged under cold water, leave it there for about 30 minutes to an hour, and then replace the water with new cold water. Again, the size of the cut of meat and whether or not there’s a bone will determine how long it will take, but he says generally this can thaw a product in just a few hours. While you’re at it, learn how to make pork Milanese.

How to Thaw Pork Chops in the Refrigerator

“Typically the safest way to thaw is to let it thaw slowly over around 12-14 hours in the fridge,” says Craig, who also notes that it’s best to place the meat in a secondary container on a lower shelf in the fridge. This means that as the product thaws, it will collect any drippings and prevent them from contaminating anything else in your fridge. Your fridge should be at 40°F or below. Once thawed, you can make simple shake-and-bake pork chops.

How to Thaw Pork Chops in the Microwave

Microwaves differ but most have a defrost setting that provides guidance on length depending on the weight of the meat in question. “I would recommend also using a secondary container to prevent any drippings from contaminating your microwave,” suggests Craig. “And in most cases, you would unwrap the meat.”

Tips for Thawing Pork Chops

Never Thaw Pork Chops on the Counter or with Warm Water

“You should never thaw using warm water or just place the meat out at room temperature,” warns Craig. “This is likely to place the meat in a temperature that would encourage the heavy growth of dangerous bacteria.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), even though the center of the package may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter, the outer layer of the food could be in the bacteria-growing “Danger Zone,” between 40° and 140°.

Feel Free to Cook Frozen Pork Chops if Needed

Out of time for dinner and don’t want to risk an unsafe thawing option? You can cook pork chops from frozen, but it’ll take longer and the results may not be as delicious. “The general guidance is you’d have to cook it about 50% longer than you usually would,” says Craig. However, it’s important to note that the longer cook time from a frozen state may result in a less-desirable texture for those with picky palates.

Once Defrosted, You’re on the Clock

After thawing in the microwave or by the cold water method, the USDA says to always cook your food immediately (so don’t defrost it until you’re ready to start cooking). If you’re using the refrigerator to thaw your pork chops, they should remain safe to eat for three to five days.

Yes, You Can Refreeze Thawed Food in a Few Circumstances

Craig says it is possible to freeze thawed food, but recommends doing so as soon as possible after thawing. He would freeze again after a few days and not wait until the five day shelf life has passed. “It’s important to remember that freezing isn’t an actual ‘kill step,'” he says. “It won’t kill all bacteria.”

Also, refreezing can cause moisture changes in meat which might degrade the taste and texture when you are ready to thaw and cook it again.