Get the tips and tricks you need for freezing pork chops successfully.
I'm not sure about you, but here in our neck of the woods, food prices have gone bananas. And not in a good way. More like the Gwen Stefani "this sh!t is bananas" way.
One important thing that I do to mitigate high food prices is to shop for sales, and when I see them, I take advantage. The next important step is proper preparation for long-term storage. A great deal isn't a deal if you can't make it last!
This how to freeze pork chops guide is dedicated to making it last.
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Tips + Tricks
No. 1 --> Stock only enough pork that you can eat within a reasonable timeframe. Cooked chops last up to 3 months in the freezer while raw pork chops can last 12, or even longer depending on the packaging method.
No. 2 --> Use a permanent marker to label your packaging. Nothing worse than doing all the work and having your label wiped off! I also prefer to write directly on the package whenever possible, this prevents a taped-on label from falling off or being ruined by moisture.
No. 3 --> Whether you're freezing cooked pork or raw chops, aim to get them into the freezer as soon as possible after cooking or purchasing. This helps to ensure high-quality pork goes into the freezer, making it more likely that high-quality comes out.
No. 4 --> Stick with thick-cut chops! They're better able to withstand the freezing and thawing process than thinner pork chops.
No. 5 --> The thawing process is just as important as the freezing process. Ensure you're defrosting frozen chops safely and properly to improve the quality post-thawing.
No guide to freezing food would be complete without a note on food safety. Food poisoning is no joke, and keeping your family safe from food-borne pathogens is an important part of food preservation.
Start at the grocery store: pack any raw pork, even though it's already packaged, into another plastic bag to help prevent inadvertent contamination of other items in your cart and fridge.
Keep it going at home: keep raw meats in the bottom of the fridge to prevent any potential meat juice from dripping down onto other items. Wash cutting boards and knives used with raw meat in hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher. Package your pork chops as soon as possible after bringing them home.
Don't forget the thaw: place the frozen meat in a bowl or tray to contain any juices that may escape the package during the process. This helps to prevent meat juice from contaminating the fridge and saves a big clean-up job!
Choosing Pork Chops
There are a few ways to ensure that your hard-earned money is going to buy high-quality products.
- Buy your pork chops from a reputable butcher, grocery store, farm, etc.
- Check out the meat; look for pinkish flesh that's firm to the touch
- Look for thick-cut pork chops that have a fat cap and slight marbling - but avoid overly fatty pieces
- Choose fresh, not frozen, pork chops for the best flavor
Why Freeze Pork Chops?
That said, proper preparation and packaging can extend the life of your frozen chops by two to three times the recommended 12-month freezer life.
Cooked Vs Raw Pork Chops
Most of the preparation steps involved apply to both raw and cooked pork chops. There are slight differences.
Cooked pork chops must be cooled in the fridge for several hours before being packaged either in a zip-lock style bag or vacuum sealed.
Raw pork chops must stay cold in the fridge until ready to be packaged.
Preparing Pork Chops For Freezing
There are a few different ways to prepare your chops for freezing:
Freeze in original packaging:
Raw pork chops can be frozen in their original packaging. This is the least desirable option for long-term storage unless they are cryo-packed. Freezing any meat in the plastic-wrapped styrofoam tray tempts visits from the freezer burn fairy.
I would use this method if you plan to thaw and use the pork chops within no more than 2-4 weeks, otherwise, there is too much air allowed around the pork chops to ensure a quality thawed product.
Packaged In Butcher Paper Or Ziplock Bags:
In these methods, the chops are removed from their original packaging and either wrapped in butcher paper or packaged into a plastic bag and then frozen. Generally, if you're packaging in one of these methods, you'll place a double layer of freezer or wax paper between each pork chop to keep them separated prior to packaging.
If you're looking to wrap your pork chops in butcher paper, look for the waxed variety, not the plain paper we use in the smoker! Sometimes waxed butcher paper is called freezer paper. Wrapping in waxed butcher paper works for raw chops, but skip this method if your chops are cooked.
To use this method, you'll place your raw pork chops in a stack on the waxy side of the paper, and then fold the paper around the chops to create a small package and secure it with tape before transferring it to the freezer.
If you're choosing to package your pork chops in plastic ziplock-style bags, you'll want to choose the heavier freezer-quality versions for the best results. The thicker plastic will resist damage from being banged around in the freezer than the thinner storage type. Zip-lock packaging will work with both raw and cooked pork.
Packaging pork chops in plastic bags is relatively easy, you'll want to fill the sink with a few inches of water, then lay the pork chops flat within the bag. Seal almost the entire zip seal and then, holding the zipper seal above the water level, lower the bag into the sink to remove the air from the bag. This is called the water displacement method and it's the safest way to remove excess air from a bag.
These methods are suitable for medium-term storage, in my opinion. I'd choose one of these if I was planning on storing my chops for 2-6 months, but not a whole lot longer.
Packed and Vacuum Sealed:
When vacuum sealing, the raw chops are removed from the original packaging and transferred to a vacuum seal bag before the air is removed and the package is frozen. If desired, you can separate the chops with layers of parchment paper, though I have never found that necessary.
While the start-up costs for a vacuum sealer are higher than a box of Ziplock bags or a box of freezer paper, I feel that this is by far the BEST method of freezing pork chops, whether cooked or raw. We have an Avid Armor USV32 chamber vacuum sealer, and believe it or not, buying bulk chamber bags is cheaper than buying zipper freezer bags!
Vacuum sealing is the best freezer packaging available, in my opinion. For multiple reasons, but most importantly, it protects my investments and results in high-quality thawed pork every time. Vacuum seal bags are thicker plastic, and able to withstand being beaten around in the freezer without being compromised. They can also go from freezer to sous vide!
Seriously, though, Kevy found a rogue pack of vacuum-sealed pork chops from the bottom of the freezer with the date November 2019 last week, thawed them, and threw them on the grill and they were tasty, tender, and juicy a whole 3.5 years later! If that's not proof, I don't know what is!
Labeling For Freezer Storage
One of the most important steps in the freezing process is labeling the packages prior to placing them in the freezer.
Each bag should be labeled with the date, the contents, and the quantity.
Ex. 2 Pork Chops April 24, 2032.
This step is important for more than one reason:
- While you may think this is silly, it helps make things a lot easier when you're asking the kids or others for help because they can easily identify what's in the bag.
- It helps to rotate the stock. Things get lost in the back of the deep freeze, with a clearly written date on each package, it helps to easily identify the oldest stock and to sort when you do your annual freezer reorganization.
- Takes the guesswork out of meal prep - are there 2 big chops in this bag, or 3?
Freezer Best Practices
- Arrange packaged pork chops in a flat, single layer to allow them to freeze quickly.
- Once completely frozen transfer the pork chops to the desired shelf or basket.
- Ensure the freezer stays at a consistent 0 degrees Fahrenheit (18*c) to keep foods safely frozen.
- Keep frozen meats, including pork chops in the coldest part of the freezer.
- Reduce freezer burn by packaging in airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags.
Thawing Frozen Pork Chops
This bears repeating, proper thawing improves the quality of the thawed food! And don't forget food safety when you're thawing - any time food comes into contact with temperatures between 40f and 140f, they're in the "danger zone" for food spoilage and pathogens.
Best Bet -> Longest Process
The best way to defrost pork chops is in the fridge. I usually take out my chops the night before we intend to cook them, but placing them in the fridge early in the morning also works.
If you're thawing pork chops in the fridge, they should be cooked within 2 or so days.
Next Best -> Shorter Time
If you don't have time for a long, slow thaw, the next best option is to submerge the pork chops in a cold water bath. If the chops are packaged in a styrofoam tray or butcher paper, they must be placed into a plastic bag before being submerged in cold water - remove the excess air via the water displacement method before placing in the water bath, or else they'll just float.
It is important to cycle out the cold water every 30 minutes during the thawing process to ensure the pork does not get too warm during the process.
If you're thawing pork in a cold water bath, it should be cooked immediately after thawing.
Least Desirable -> Quickest Thawing
This is the least desirable method when it comes to thawing anything. No matter how smart microwaves get, they just aren't all that good at defrosting things!
Microwave defrosting works great if you're in a pinch and need to get dinner on the table. It is my least preferred method because I find the quality of thawed meat that comes out of the microwave to be subpar.
Any meat thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately after thawing.
AVID ARMOR USV32 Chamber Vacuum Sealer: This is a beautiful piece of culinary machinery, and I've been putting it through its paces for almost 3 years. I cannot get over how much a CHAMBER VACUUM SEALER has improved my preservation. If you cook, hunt, or harvest a lot, you'll definitely be interested in this unit. Use the discount code CRAVE to save on your purchase!
Bar Style Vacuum Sealer: If a chamber vacuum sealer is not in the cards for you, consider picking up a barstyle sealer. A high quality bar sealer, like one from Avid Armor, is a great alternative. We used a suction vac sealer for years before we upgraded to a chamber vac.