No matter how much money you have, you’ll find a way to spend it. The same principle applies to freezer space. And sure, a packed freezer runs more efficiently, but that’s not why I’m staring at an impenetrable wall of frosted mysteries. Like most people, my freezer is the graveyard of my kitchen.
I have, in the past, run a tight ship, famously maintaining an actual spreadsheet of frozen goods, organised by shelf. But like so many other things in this world, I was undone by the pandemic, packing in some extra goods with each trip to the store “just in case.” But as we approach the two-year mark, some of my stores are reaching an expiration date, and to be honest, I’m just sick of living with mystery meat.
Is organising your freezer sexy? Supes. It’s also going to save you a bunch of moolah and help you figure out what to eat next week.
When it comes to freezers, I’ve got real Champagne problems with not just your standard kitchen fridge/freezer, but also an ancillary freezer tucked away in a garage. I would, however, argue that having an organised icebox is even more important if you’re working with the small space afforded by your average kitchen fridge. So let’s get started. Here are your tools:
- Clear packing tape
- Gallon Ziplocks or a vacuum sealer
- Pad of paper
- White duct tape
- Frog tape
Start by emptying the war chest
Start by simply emptying your freezer onto the counter. This sounds simpler than it might be: Some packages might be frozen together, or you might find that something in your freezer leaked or exploded and covered much of your frozen trove in a layer of sticky orange juice. Both problems have the same solution: Rinse them off with cold water. The water will dissolve enough of the stick so you can break apart frozen packages by knocking them around in the sink.
Once you have everything out, start by organising things that you recognise into four groups:
- Additional ingredients, meaning anything else you’ve thrown in the freezer to store: butter, egg roll wrappers, extra pie dough, the pesto you make every summer but never use, and so on
- Frozen meals/anything ready to eat
Out of those items, do a sweep and toss anything that has freezer burn, is overly frosted over, or past its expiration date. Seriously, you are never going to use that half-empty, frosted-over bag of corn. The leftover cookie dough you packed away last year? It’s worm food now.
Take a real look at the items that are left. Can any be consolidated down to smaller bags? Are the bags still sealing? Is everything labelled correctly? Take the time now to re-bag, reseal, and relabel. The marker does a great job on fresh bags, but on frozen bags, use a slip of paper, write what’s in the bag, then laminate it using the tape, and slip it inside the sealed bag. Don’t just write what the item is — date it. Don’t bother using your sharpie on containers directly, it will wipe or freeze off. That’s why we have frog tape.
Now, make a list of what’s there on your pad of paper. (Three bags of peaches, four frozen steaks, one pound of chicken wings, etc.)
Figure out what’s left in your freezer
Survey what’s left — the things you can’t figure out what they are. Here, we rely on some deduction.
First, rinse off bags or containers with cold water, enough for the frost to disappear. This can help reveal what’s underneath. If you still don’t know what you’re looking at, try defrosting a small piece, if possible. I am notorious for throwing quarts of unlabeled stock into my freezer, but you can dig in with a spoon, microwave a small portion and solve the mystery. (Oh, hey, duck fat. I knew you were in there, somewhere.)
If it’s meat, you can shave off a small piece with a decently heavy chef’s knife and do the same. If you’ve got a mystery casserole or piece of dough, saw off a piece and throw it in the microwave. Once you’ve figured it out, label it, repackage, add it to the list and recategorize.
If, after all that, you’re still stumped by something and nothing short of defrosting it will reveal the mystery, then it’s time to do just that. It’s not like you were ever going to use it if you don’t know what it is. Defrost the sucker and use it tonight or tomorrow. Do not refreeze anything with meat or dairy unless you have put the item through a cooking cycle. For instance, if you defrost steak, and then make something with that steak, you can freeze the result. Everything loses some flavour in the defrosting-and-refreezing cycle.
Now it’s time to reload the freezer. First, clean the empty freezer using hot rags. If there are cracks in the plastic, use white duct tape to seal them shut. Make sure you clean the rubber seals really well, because that’s what actually makes your freezer work — being able to get a good seal. If the light in your freezer is out, take a moment to order a new one from a hardware store. They’re easy to replace.
Then, load back in. Create zones if you can, following those categories: frozen meals, meat/seafood, fruit/vegetables, and extraneous stuff. Extraneous stuff always seems to fit on the door.
Organise your freezer with a spreadsheet
If you do have an extra freezer, consider what you use one each for. For me, my tiny inside freezer is for staging — things that I use very often, or am about to use. The garage freezer is for bulk and long-term storage. When I grocery shop, I’ll load up a bag of what I brought home, bring it out to the garage freezer, and stock the inside freezer with what I’m going to use that week.
Take the list you made of everything in your freezer and load that sucker up into Google Sheets. Use that spreadsheet to shop from each week. (How often have you bought something that you already had in your freezer or let something in your freezer go bad? How many nights do you find yourself wondering what the hell you want to eat?) Start with the spreadsheet for ideas of what is already in your house. This will also help you shop more cost efficiently.
Is a freezer spreadsheet a bit much? Maybe, but consider this: You’re at the supermarket and find yourself inspired to make stuffed shells since the pasta is on sale. You reach for the ricotta, but you think you stuck some in the freezer a few months ago, and you’re not quite sure. You whip out your phone, check the sheet and confirm. (Did you just get an oxytocin hit? Because I did.)