One of the ways that you can save money throughout the year is to invest in a deep freezer and pick up meat in bulk and freeze veggies and fruit when in season. But with a deep freezer comes the difficult task of keeping it organized so you can make sure you use those foods when you need them and before they go bad. I’ve tried several, several methods and ways to organize my deep freezer, each having it’s own negative outcome. Those thick milk crates? Way too heavy for me to lift! Just leaving every loose in the freezer? It became like a treasure hunt and often discouraged me from cooking as it took too long to find the right cut of meat! By far, this method I’m about to show you is my favorite.
Before you begin, you’ll want to find some high-quality containers to sort out your meat cuts. I found the ones pictured above at Target (I also saw them at Walmart) and they have worked really well for me for the last year. They often go on sale so if you aren’t in any hurry you may want to wait and save yourself some money. You’ll find them in the storage container area as opposed to the kitchen area of your store.
Our deep freezer has a deep “well” in the middle and then a shorter shelf-type area on the other side. I’ve found that I can fill the middle of the well with the larger containers and then slide the smaller ones down the other side and then a few on top. I also use the larger ones on the shelf area.
Before you organize, you must think about what cuts of meat you use the most/least. The ones you don’t cook too often will go on the bottom of the stacks. Things you use often you’ll save for the top.
I usually have 1/4 cow, 1/2 hog, a few whole chickens and some loose random items in my deep freezer. It just all depends on what time of year it is and what’s the latest I’ve had delivered by our farmer. (Don’t know where to look for a good farmer contact in your area? Try Local Harvest as you should be able to find a farmer and/or farmer’s market near you.)
Here’s how I sort them by cut:
6) On top of the ground hamburger are smaller containers of beef stew meat and cubed steaks. These fit nicely in those small containers so I keep them stacked on top (otherwise they throw the larger containers off balance!).
7) As you can see on the side with the smaller containers, there’s a gap between them and the freezer. This is where I’ll drop extra soup bones and whole chickens, if I am stocking up on them. I also store hams and/or turkeys there, too. I don’t cook too many per year so they fit nicely there.
8) Off on that “shelf” space, I use larger containers and I keep my pork here. I usually have pork chops and pork steaks in the bottom one and on top I’ll keep pork sausage, bacon, etc. as I use them more. I usually have my pork delivered when my beef is low and vice versa so I always have enough room to store them. Right now, I’m lower on pork than beef.
10) On top of everything, I’ll add small containers of fruit/veggies that are in season. We picked quite a few blueberries so that’s what I have there at this time. My other veggies/fruit are in our main freezer space along with our ice cream and such. I don’t use a lot of processed foods so I don’t need much storage space for those. I will shift any large containers left or right, as needed. When I decided to add the blueberries to this freezer, I shifted the ground hamburger over on top of the pork since there was room. That’s what’s nice about these large and small containers is that they really work well together as far as space and lots of options of how to stack them.
11) After you sort the meat cuts into the small/large containers (and before you stack them in your freezer), take a minute to jot down what you have on inventory. I went a step further and typed mine up in Excel and printed it with extra columns of gridlines. Now, when I take cuts out, I can cross it off and update the new total. I keep it safe in a little plastic bag with a hook. (Talk about re-using items–this bag came from a multi-pack of kids socks! I always keep things like that as you’ll never know when you can use them!!) My totals may not always be exact but at least I’ll have somewhat of an idea of what I have on hand.
Now there are times when I need meat cuts on the bottom of the freezer but it is so easy to take out the top containers to get to them. They are really light-weight and easy to put back in as they fit perfectly in there together—there’s no more throwing out your back trying to lift those impossibly heavy milk crate containers!
What it really comes down to is this–you need to organize your deep freezer in a way that works for YOU. It should be simple enough that you won’t be discouraged from cooking because you don’t have time (or energy!) to dig through your deep freezer.
And this should go without saying but….always make sure you rotate your stock of meats and use your oldest cuts first. When we are getting our next batch of beef or pork, I’ll take what’s left of the last batch and move them to my freezer that’s attached to my fridge. I then try to work my meal plans around those cuts of meat first.
And here’s a great tip for defrosting meats–always keep an 8×8 Pyrex type dish in your fridge so you can easily toss meats in there to defrost. (Just make sure you wash it in between uses!) I have been doing this for awhile and it saves me time from trying to clear space to make room for them. As soon as the dish is washed out, I put it right back in the fridge, empty and ready to be used again. Also, it’s always best to defrost your meats on the bottom shelf of your fridge so if they leak, they won’t drip all over your other foods!
I hope this helps you get your deep freezer more organized! I’d love to hear your tips of what you do to keep yours nice and neat!
Disclaimer: Please use your own judgment as to whether containers you use are safe for your freezer and foods. I am not saying these are the safest containers but just that I use them. Check your local stores for containers marked “freezer safe” if you are concerned about your food safety, etc. You might be able to find similarly shaped containers that are marked as such.