Ace in the Hole: How to Freeze and Reheat Barbecue
Involuntary confinement. And that means very voluntary cooking and grilling. One of the best ways to find certainty in these uncertain times is to know you have lots of comforting food in the freezer.
Normally, we champion foods grilled and smoked fresh. But these are not normal times, and when you fire up your grill or smoker, it’s good to make and freeze extra food for days when you’re not motivated to cook, or even to give to a friend, family member, or neighbor you know would enjoy a special meal.
The good news is that many barbecued foods lend themselves well to freezing. (See our suggestions below.) Thawing and reheating is easy, too, but do require a few tricks, and below, we’ll share our secrets.
We’ve also included a few dishes you might not normally think of freezing. The first is Steven’s honey beer pizza dough, but nothing could be more welcome when the urge for homemade grilled pizza hits.
The second is fire-roasted peppers and chiles, because, well, they have so many uses and can be real time-savers.
So the new order of the day: grill it or smoke it. Then freeze it and reheat it. Enjoy it while waiting for better days to come.
Freezing and Thawing Barbecue
The key to successful freezing is to protect the food from oxygen. For best results, we recommend a countertop vacuum sealer like the FoodSaver or another brand. Handheld versions can be found for less than $30. Alternatively, portion the food into sturdy resealable plastic bags, removing as much air as possible before zipping the bags shut. Freeze flat for more efficient storage and shorter thawing times.
Homemade barbecue sauces and marinades can be frozen in ice cube trays, then popped into resealable plastic bags for longer-term storage.
Be sure to label the food along with the date with an indelible marker.
To thaw, place the frozen food (still enclosed in plastic) in a pan or bowl in the refrigerator. Allow 1 day for every 4 pounds of meat, less for vegetables or fruit—a few hours. (A 12-pound smoked turkey, for example, will take at least three days to thaw, while a package of pulled pork might take a few hours, at most.)
If you’re in a hurry, you can submerge the package (make sure it’s leak-proof) in cold water, changing frequently. Or thaw and reheat by submerging the package in simmering water on the stovetop.
We do not recommend thawing in the microwave as the results tend to be uneven.
For best results, bring a pan of water to a simmer on the stovetop. Submerge the frozen or thawed food (encased in a vacuum-sealed bag or a resealable plastic bag) in the water until it is thawed and at your preferred serving temperature. Add warmed barbecue sauce, broth, or water if the food seems dry.
Thawed barbecued meats can also be reheated in a low oven (225 to 250 degrees) with a bit of liquid and wrapped or covered tightly with foil until hot.) See specifics below. A sous vide system, which relies on circulating hot water, can also be used to reheat sealed packages of food. (See the manufacturer’s instructions.)
Some people reheat barbecued meats (especially pulled pork) in a slow cooker. Unfortunately, this exposes the meat to the danger zone (40 to 140 degrees F) for several hours. In our opinion, the meat also loses much of its flavor. A friend refers to it as “spiritually depleted.”
Below are some good candidates for freezing and reheating along with instructions.
Freezing and Reheating Ribs
Let barbecued ribs cool to room temperature, then vacuum seal or wrap tightly in two layers of heavy-duty foil (enclose completely). Freeze for up to 3 months.
To reheat, thaw in the refrigerator. Open the top of the foil and add a small amount of liquid, such as broth, beer, apple juice, or water. Recover the ribs with the foil. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees, or set up your grill for indirect grilling and heat to 250 degrees. Heat the ribs to a serving temperature of 165. If desired, unwrap them and brush with barbecue sauce. Broil or grill for a few minutes per side (watch carefully) to set the sauce.
Get the Recipe: St. Louis Ribs With Vanilla-Brown Sugar Glaze
Freezing and Reheating Brisket
For the best results, do not slice the brisket before cooling and freezing. Cool the juices and skim off the fat. Transfer to a separate container. Tightly wrap the brisket in two layers of heavy-duty foil and/or a sturdy resealable plastic bag. Freeze the meat and juices for up to 3 months.
To reheat, thaw the meat and juices in the refrigerator. Place the meat in a roasting pan just large enough to hold it. Pour the reserved juices over the meat, then cover tightly with foil. Heat in a 250 degree oven until the meat reaches 165 degrees. Serve with the juices or your favorite barbecue sauce.
Slice or chop and use in sandwiches; shred and add to jalapeno poppers; use as a base for hash; add to soups; add to omelets, quesadillas, pizza, salads, or nachos.
Get the Recipe: Vietnamese Crispy Brisket Salad
Freezing and Reheating Pulled Pork or Chicken
Thaw the meat in the refrigerator, then reheat, if desired, in simmering water on the stovetop. If the pork or chicken seems dry, add a small bit of liquid to the meat before simmering.
Use in sandwiches; use as a filling for omelets, burritos, or quesadillas; top nachos or pizza; make egg rolls.
Get the Recipe: Smoked Chicken Nachos
Freezing and Reheating Meatballs
Thaw smoked or barbecued meatballs in the refrigerator or in a water bath as described above. Use on sandwiches or combine with tomato sauce and serve over spaghetti.
Freezing and Reheating Chiles and Peppers
Peel any blackened skin off chiles or peppers. (Don’t worry about getting every last bit off; wear gloves if the chiles are hot.) Slice into strips, then freeze in individual resealable plastic bags.
Use in chili, soups, and stews, in pasta dishes, or on salads or sandwiches.