Your freezer can be much more than a repository crammed full of the odds and ends and leftovers from your kitchen. Knowing what to freeze and how to freeze it will save you time and money.

Chris Kimball of Cook's Illustrated magazine says that, above all, there are two key things that will extend the life of your freezer's contents: keep the freezer as cold as possible and properly wrap food for storage. Beyond that, it helps to know something about the freezer itself and how to best utilize the space available.

  • Temperature: Get an inexpensive refrigerator/freezer thermometer and keep an eye on the temperature. Food experts say a freezer should be zero degrees Fahrenheit or colder at all times.

  • Air Flow: The vent in the back wall allows efficient air circulation. Keep food away from this vent.

  • Shelf Space: Use portable wire cabinet shelving to increase the skimpy shelf space in many top-mounted freezers. Ensure maximum air flow and quick, thorough freezing by not overcrowding food on the shelves.

  • The Coldest Spot: The rear center is the coldest spot in a freezer. This is the place to store your ice cream maker's canister so it's thoroughly frozen and ready for the next batch of homemade ice cream!

  • The Warmest Spot: In most freezers the door shelves are the warmest spot. Keep frequently used items and foods like bread, butter and nuts here.

Refrigerator Defrosting:

Frozen poultry and meat should be defrosted in the refrigerator, never out on the counter, for safety. Microorganisms can start growing in frozen meat left on a counter to thaw in as little as 2 hours. But refrigerator thawing means you have to plan ahead. Here are approximate defrosting times for common foods:

Thin steaks, chops, chicken breasts 8 to 12 hours
Thick steaks, chops, bone-in chicken parts 24 hours
One pound ground beef, casseroles 24 hours
Whole chickens, turkeys, roasts 5 hours per pound