Freezer storage is a little bit art and a little bit science, with some good sense and nifty tricks mixed in. These handy tips will help you get your freezer organized and keep your food from getting freezer burn (or being lost in the icy depths until there’s no hope of rescue). Plus, we’ll give some guidelines on what food you should and shouldn’t freeze in the first place.
Thank goodness the freezer is not a window into someone’s psyche, right? Many people’s are so packed with food you can barely close the door, much less know what’s in there. Once inside, you’ll probably find half-eaten bags of freezer-burned tater tots, rock-solid ice cream covered in crystals, and plenty of other sad specimens.
Even if you haven’t descended into freezer hoarderville, you could no doubt do with a little advice on keeping stuff orderly and tasting good in there. If you’re curious about how to avoid freezer burn, what to freeze and not freeze, and how to freeze it, read on.
Freezer Burn Be Gone
Here are a couple ways to ensure your food doesn’t get burned:
Keep Your Freezer Cold Enough
Duh, did you say? If the temperature of your freezer is inconsistent, foods will thaw and refreeze, promoting freezer burn (which happens when ice crystals migrate to the surface and food gets dehydrated). A cold freezer will freeze food fast and strong. Make sure the door seals properly, and keep the temperature at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
Keep a Lid on Things
Basically, don’t keep opening stuff up and resealing it. Exposing frozen food to air is another cause of freezer burn. Freeze things in serving-size portions and in air-tight containers. Freezer bags and heavy-duty freezer-safe containers are your friend. Make sure the bag or container edges stay dry to create a tight seal. And for bags, leaving a little air in them helps give room for expansion as food freezes, but you should press out most of the excess air.
Stasher Reusable Silicone Bags, $9.99-$19.99 from The Container Store
These are a great alternative to the usual plastic freezer bags, and they're dishwasher-safe.
Know What’s in There (Everywhere)
This rule applies not only to the freezer in general but to all the containers inside it.
Consider Keeping a Running Inventory
Irma S. Rombauer, in “Joy of Cooking,” recommends keeping an inventory of what is in your freezer. That seems extreme. But seriously: You should know what is in there, and resist the urge to hoard. Try to think strategically about shorter-term meal plans. Rather than “I may need this some night,” think more like “I will need this next week for dinner.”
If that sounds unlikely, at least keep a list of what exactly is in the far reaches of your freezer so you don’t forget and buy even more—or let anything languish too long, because after a while, quality does start to degrade. You can do it on paper or use a note-taking app like Google Keep.
Related Reading: 13 Make-Ahead Meals You Can Freeze
Label Everything That’s Not in Its Original Package
You can clearly see a bag of frozen berries for what it is, but if you separate chicken breasts into freezer bags (which you should), or dump leftovers into an airtight container, it’s easy to forget when you actually put something in the freezer, and sometimes even what it is. To avoid uncertainty, label freezer bags with a Sharpie: write down what’s inside and the date you froze it; you can even add notes on reheating it. If you have reusable freezer bags, keep a roll of masking tape in your junk drawer and use that as a temporary label with all the pertinent details. Use the tape trick for labeling other reusable containers too.
Erasable Food Storage Labels, $9.99 from The Container Store
These require a bit more care but are a longer-lasting option you can write on again and again.
Related Reading: The Best Way to Clean Plastic Containers
Be Strategic About How You Store Things in the Freezer
Avoid jamming things into your freezer willy-nilly, like half-eaten baking dishes of lasagna loosely wrapped in foil. This is how things start to get stinky and out of control. Take the time to move your leftovers to the aforementioned freezer-safe containers. If the freezer does get stinky, purge, clean, and start over. See this video for tips on freezing specific things like meat, stocks and soups, and berries:
What Food Can You Freeze?
You can freeze a lot of things, including milk and eggs if you need to, but there are right and wrong ways to treat each one; when it comes to things we freeze most often, here are some ground rules:
Freeze these in small containers or ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop them out of the containers/ice cube trays and store the cubes in freezer bags. When you want a little sauce or stock, pull out just the number of cubes you need.
Souper Cubes Extra-Large Silicone Freezing Trays with Lids, 2 for $42 from Food52
For larger portions of soup and stock, try these lidded trays.
Freeze solid in the cooking pan, then remove by tapping out or dipping the pan in a hot water bath. Store the solid mass in a freezer bag. When ready to reheat, remove the item from the bag, place it in the original pan, and heat. Pies in aluminum pans can stay in them and be double-wrapped, then baked straight from frozen. (In fact, anything bready or doughy can go straight from the freezer to the oven or pot; no need to thaw first.)
These go rancid very quickly, so freeze them in air-tight bags or containers to prevent spoilage; remove the amount of nuts you need and let them come to room temperature before using. (Nut oils are also best stored in the freezer.)
Cut bread into serving portions and wrap it first in freezer plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil. Use within two to three weeks.
Roll the raw dough into a 1-1/2-inch tube and wrap it in freezer plastic wrap, then aluminum foil. Or scoop it into balls, freeze on a baking sheet, then store them in freezer bags. When unexpected guests or late-night cravings arrive, cut a little off the tube or grab a frozen cookie dough ball and pop it into the oven.
Portion excess tomato paste out by the tablespoon and freeze solid. Then store in a freezer bag for use later.
Homemade Baked Goods
Brownies, banana bread, pound cakes, and anything without frosting will keep for about three weeks. Let them come to room temp before serving. If you’re freezing pancakes, separate each with a piece of parchment paper to avoid them fusing together.
All-purpose flour can stay in the pantry, but whole-grain varieties that contain the germ can go rancid quickly if stored in a warm place for too long. Same goes with almond flour. Freeze them in large, zip-top freezer bags.
Wrap in freezer plastic wrap, then foil, or place in a plastic bag with the air pressed out. Keep in the coldest part of the freezer. For an upright freezer, that’s along the walls. For a chest freezer, it’s at the bottom.
Lay berries on a baking sheet in a single layer without touching, freeze them solid, then store in a freezer bag; that way you can take out only what you need.
Related Reading: The Best Ways to Cook Frozen Vegetables & Use Frozen Fruit
If you have ripe (or overripe) bananas, you can simply stash them whole in the freezer until you want to make banana bread. Or, peel and roughly chop them first. If you plan to make banana ice cream, peel and cut into small pieces that will easily blend in your food processor.
Fresh Herbs (as a Last Resort)
The flavor of herbs changes when frozen, but if you want to stash extra fresh herbs in the freezer, try this trick: Place them in ice cube trays and cover them with olive oil. Once frozen, pop them out and store in a freezer bag until you need them.
What Not to Freeze
Some things are better off not being frozen, though even then there are some exceptions.
Anything Containing Eggs, Mayonnaise, Sour Cream, Heavy Cream & Fresh Cheeses, Like Cream Cheese
When frozen, these will either separate or become watery. If you freeze a blended sauce or creamy soup, however, you can blend it again to emulsify once it’s thawed and heated up.
They won’t have their original crisp when reheated.
Fruits with a High Water Content
Think: fresh strawberries. They will become limp when thawed. However, that won’t matter as much if you’re using them in smoothies, sauces, jams, or scones. See our ideas for freezing summer fruits.
Vegetables with a High Water Content
These include summer squash, eggplant, mushrooms, and celery. As with watery fruit, they will become limp when thawed. Either chop the veggies into small pieces so they freeze quickly, or cook them to remove the water before freezing.
Soups and Stews That Contain Potatoes
The potatoes can brown and become mushy when frozen. Instead add them raw to thawed stews and soups, and cook them as you reheat.
Header image courtesy of The Container Store