How long can you freeze meatballs? (+3 thawing methods)

In this article, we will answer the question “How long can you freeze meatballs?”. We will also discuss the benefits and drawbacks of freezing meatballs, and how to freeze and safely thaw them.

How long can you freeze meatballs?

Cooked meatballs can be safely stored indefinitely when kept at a constant temperature of 0 °F (-18 °C) or lower, as freezing inhibits microbial growth activity that leads to spoilage. However, for optimal quality, it’s recommended to use them within 3–4 months of freezing (1,2).

Raw meatballs, on the other hand, should ideally be consumed within 1–2 months of freezing. While they remain safe to eat beyond these timeframes, the extended storage may affect their texture, flavor, and quality (1,2).

What are the benefits and drawbacks of freezing meatballs?

The benefit of freezing meatballs

  • Freezing can extend the shelf life of meatballs, allowing you to store them for months without significant quality loss (1,3).

  • Freezing slows down microbial activity, maintaining their safety and preventing microbial spoilage (1).

  • Meatballs’ texture, flavor and nutritional content are also preserved by freezing (1).

  • Freezing can also be a convenient way to prepare large batches in advance.

Drawbacks of freezing meatballs

  • Freezing can lead to the formation of ice crystals within the meatballs, which can damage the cellular structure, resulting in texture changes (1,4). 

  • Meatballs can also have freezer burn, especially if they are not properly wrapped or sealed (5). 

  • Additionally, freezing can somewhat change meatballs’ flavor, due to the process of lipid oxidation, which is not stopped during freezing just slowed down. This process breaks down the fat in meatballs through oxygen exposure, leading to the formation of off-flavors and rancidity (6).

How to freeze meatballs? 

Freezing raw meatballs

To freeze raw meatballs, begin by forming the meat into evenly-sized balls. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or foil. Place the raw meatballs on the tray, ensuring they are spaced about 1 inch apart to prevent sticking during freezing. 

Then, transfer the tray to the freezer and pre-freeze the meatballs for approximately 5 hours; this step prevents them from sticking together and maintains their shape.

Once pre-frozen, transfer the meatballs into an airtight container with a tightly sealed lid and place it in the freezer at 0 °F (-18 °C) for long-term storage. This method preserves the integrity of the raw meatballs and ensures they remain in good condition until you are ready to cook them (1).

Freezing cooked meatballs 

To properly freeze cooked meatballs, ensure they have cooled to room temperature, which usually takes around 7–10 minutes. Allowing them to cool helps release any trapped steam within the container during freezing.

Once adequately cooled, transfer the cooked meatballs into a suitable storage option, such as an airtight container or a durable freezer bag, and label them for easy identification (1).

Finally, place the well-sealed container in the freezer, maintaining a temperature of 0 °F (-18 °C). This way, you ensure that your cooked meatballs maintain their quality and taste when you decide to use them later (1).

How can you safely thaw frozen meatballs?

Thawing in the fridge 

According to the USDA, thawing in the fridge is the safest method for thawing meat or any meat-related food product, whether cooked or not. But you have to be patient about this (7).

Transfer the frozen food to the refrigerator and allow it to thaw for several hours or overnight. This gradual thawing at a controlled temperature helps prevent bacterial growth and maintain meatball quality (7).

Thawing under cold water 

Dip the freezer bag or container with meatballs under cold running water, and change the water when it becomes too cold or after 30 minutes to maintain a safe temperature (7).

Once fully thawed, cook the meatballs as soon as possible to the temperature of 160 °F to ensure they are safe to eat (8).

Thawing in the microwave

If you need to thaw meatballs quickly, you can use the defrost function on a microwave. Keep in mind that some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook unevenly while you are defrosting, but the internal temperature probably has not reached the temperature needed to kill bacteria. Because of that, you have to cook immediately after the defrosting process to avoid bacteria growth and contamination (7,8).


In this article, we answered the question “How long can you freeze meatballs?”. We also discussed the benefits and drawbacks of freezing meatballs, and how to freeze and safely thaw them.



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USDA. Freezing and Food Safety. 2013.


Garden-Robinson J. Food Storage Guide Answers the Question: How long can I store. North Dakota State University Extension Service, 2013. 


USDA. Freezing and Food Safety. 2013


Zhu Z., et al. Measuring and controlling ice crystallization in frozen foods: A review of recent developments. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 2019, 90, 13-25.


Schmidt SJ, Lee JW. How Does the Freezer Burn Our Food?. J Food Science Education, 2009, 8.