How to Freeze and Defrost Casseroles

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Lasagna with pyrex tupperware

Look at you, thinking ahead! The mere fact that you are reading this means that somebody (you) is getting ready to prepare some dinner for nights to come, and that future you is surely going to look back at present you and think, “Thank you, you are a wonderful person, and I owe you one.” Or maybe you’re getting a head start on the holidays or a dinner party.

Whatever the reason, freezing casseroles safely so that they are perfect weeks or months later is easy. Just follow these basic guidelines, and no one will ever know it spent time in the freezer!

Beefy lasagna in a glass casserole pan.

Which Types of Casseroles Freeze Best?

Pot pies, lasagnas, pasta casseroles, enchiladas, and meat and veggie casseroles all freeze well. And while not technically casseroles, we have to mention that chilis, stews, and most soups (other than creamy ones) are all perfect for freezing.

What Casseroles Do Not Freeze Well?

Casseroles that don’t do great in the freezer contain a lot of cream or dairy, mayonnaise, and eggs. The exception to this seems to be macaroni and cheese, which freezes well, though the sauce can become a little grainy when it is reheated. Grated cheese usually fares just fine in the freezing and cooking process.

Casseroles heavy on starchy vegetables, like potatoes, also tend not to freeze so well — the potatoes can darken and turn mushy. The vegetables tend to break down and become mushy or grainy when reheated.

Creamy Four-Cheese Pasta in a yellow serving dish.
Creamy Four-Cheese Pasta

What Are the Best Containers for Freezing Casseroles?

The best of all possible worlds is to freeze a casserole in the pan you baked it in, and then pop it out and place it in a plastic container that is just the right size to hold it (it can’t be too big or you might get freezer burn), or a freezer-proof zipper top bags with all of the air pressed out.

Then, when you are ready to reheat it, remove it from the bag or container, return it to the original pan, and thaw it in the fridge or bake. When you label your casserole, also write down which pan it should be reheated in.

Plastic containers (look for BPA-free)or glass containers with airtight lids are great if you can spoon the food into them. You want to leave about 1/2-inch headroom between the food and the lid because the food will expand when it freezes, and you don’t want it to rise up and pop the lid off. But don’t leave too much room, or you might risk freezer burn.

How Do You Freeze a Casserole?

It’s smart to remove the casserole from the baking dish (so you don’t lose. the baking dish in the freezer for a few months!). To make it easy to pop out a casserole from its pan, line the pan with foil. Then cover the casserole with foil, freeze it in the pan, lift it out, and store it in another freezer-proof container or a large freezer-proof zipper top bag. Press out any excess air.

You can also wrap a casserole very well with several layers of plastic wrap or aluminum foil, in or out of the pan, before putting it in the freezer.

Make sure your casserole is chilled or at least at room temperature before you freeze it. If your casserole contains perishable foods like meat, then don’t let it cool at room temperature; instead, transfer it to the refrigerator to bring the temperature down quickly. This helps prevent harmful bacteria and also helps prevent larger ice crystals from forming, which can happen when warm food goes into a cold freezer.

Beef and Three Cheese Noodle Casserole in a baking dish.
Beef and Three Cheese Noodle Casserole

The zipper-top bag packages marked specifically for the freezer are thicker than regular zipper-top bags, with studier seals, and are definitely better for freezing. Freeze any food with the bags on their sides so they lay flat. This allows them to freeze faster, makes them easier to store, and also thaw faster.

If you have the space and can spare the baking dish, go for a baking dish with its own lock-on plastic lid. Again, make sure you have just a little bit of headroom between the casserole top and the lid.

Moussaka in a baking dish with a serving spoon.

How Do You Prevent Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn happens when air comes into contact with food. The idea is to minimize any extra space in a container so there is as little air as possible. So you want to fill containers pretty full.

However, liquids expand slightly when frozen. That’s why you want to make sure to leave a small amount of headroom in a container or a tiny bit of extra space in a zipper-sealed plastic bag for the food to expand slightly when frozen, but no more than a little bit.

Shepherd's pie on a table with a plate of shepherd's pie nearby.
Shepherd’s Pie

How Long Can You Freeze a Casserole?

Did you know I was going to say it depends? It does depend. Most casseroles will do quite well for up to 4 months — and I have definitely gone longer — especially when there is no dairy in a casserole.

How Should You Label a Casserole?

Excellent question, and good for you. I can’t tell you how many little bags and containers sit in my freezer filled with things I was certain I would remember freezing and knowing what they are. One is either pureed plums or beets; I’m just not sure.

Traditional masking tape with the name of the food and the date you froze it is great. If you are planning to freeze lots of things, splurge on some freezer labels. If you have specific defrosting and reheating instructions to add, add them!

Use as much tape as you need, and also use a Sharpie or other indelible marker (trust me on this — I also have a lot of faded writing on tape in my freezer). Many freezer-proof zipper top bags also have a white space for you to write on. I am a Sharpie addict — I use them for EVERYTHING.

White dish of Baked Pasta with Bolognese Sauce.
Baked Pasta with Bolognese Sauce

How Do You Safely Defrost a Casserole?

Never thaw frozen casseroles at room temperature, which would allow bacteria to form. The best way is to place the casserole in the fridge for at least 1 day, but not for more than 2 days. You can also defrost casseroles in the microwave if they are small enough to rotate on the carousel tray, which will allow them to defrost safely and evenly.

How Do You Safely Reheat a Casserole in the Oven?

In a perfect world, the recipe you are using has reheating instructions, but a good rule of thumb is to reheat the cooked casserole at the original baking temperature for about 15 to 25 minutes. Most casseroles reheat well in an oven in a pan loosely covered with foil. A good general temperature is 350 degrees F, but anywhere between 300 and 400 degrees should work.

Can You Heat a Casserole in the Oven Directly From the Freezer?

Yes, for the most part, you can move your casserole from the freezer to the oven. The cooking time might take a full hour, depending on how thick the casserole is and whether the casserole was baked before freezing or if it was frozen in an uncooked state.

When the inside of the casserole registers 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, it is fully cooked. You will likely want to cover the casserole with foil for the first half of the reheating and then take the foil off for the remaining time so the top gets browned. But that’s a judgment call!

You can also reheat casseroles in the microwave using the carousel tray. Make sure the tray can rotate in the casserole; if it’s too big, use the oven.

Spicy Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas in a baking dish.
Spicy Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas

Casserole Freezing Tips

  • Make sure your freezer maintains a temperature of 0 (zero) degrees F.
  • If possible, slightly undercook a casserole if you plan to freeze it so it finishes cooking when you reheat it. Casseroles with meat, however, should be cooked through before freezing for safety reasons.
  • If your casserole has any garnishes, like parsley or scallions sprinkled on top, hold those back and add them when you reheat the casserole.
  • If cheese is sprinkled on top at the end of the cooking process, save that for when you reheat the casserole.

12 Make-Ahead Casserole Recipes to Freeze and Defrost

Shepherd’s Pie / Carrie Crow / Katie Workman /
5 from 7 votes

Shepherd’s Pie

A savory ground lamb and vegetable pot pie loaded up with cheesy mashed potatoes is the ultimate Irish comfort food, and an amazing dinner to have tucked in the freezer.
View Recipe

Huevos Rancheros Breakfast Casserole / Katie Workman / / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen
5 from 2 votes

Huevos Rancheros Breakfast Casserole

Make this ahead for a great weekend brunch, or a fun breakfast-for-dinner moment, and defrost when you're ready to roll.
View Recipe

Spicy Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas / Mia / Katie Workman /
5 from 3 votes

Spicy Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas

When I make enchiladas, I like to make a double batch and tuck one into the freezer for another dinner the following month.
View Recipe

Salmon and Vegetable Biscuit Pot Pie Casserole
5 from 2 votes

Salmon Pot Pie

You can make the filling ahead of time and freeze it. Then, defrost in the fridge and top with the biscuits before baking.
View Recipe

Shortcut Moussaka / Sarah Crowder / Katie Workman /
3.67 from 3 votes

Easy Moussaka

The famous Greek-originated eggplant and lamb casserole, easily made ahead and frozen for a winter meal.
View Recipe

Classic Cheesy Beefy Lasagna
5 from 6 votes

Meat Lasagna

Lasagna is one of my favorite casseroles to make ahead and freeze. You can freeze it either unbaked or baked. If you want to bake it right from its frozen state, you can; just plan to add another 20 or 30 minutes or so to the covered portion of the baking time.
View Recipe

Creamy Four-Cheese Pasta
5 from 2 votes

Four Cheese Pasta

This version of mac and cheese freezes really well.
View Recipe

Cheesy Beef and Hash Brown Casserole
4.87 from 51 votes

Cheesy Ground Beef and Hashbrown Casserole

A casserole of juicy ground beef bound together with a creamy cheesy sauce is topped with crispy but tender shredded potatoes. Love those frozen hashbrowns as well!
View Recipe

Beef and Three Cheese Noodle Casserole
4.84 from 6 votes

Beef and Three Cheese Noodle Casserole

Another beefy cheese noodle casserole to keep in the freezer for a comforting dinner when you need it.
View Recipe
Bulgur Wheat, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Gratin
5 from 5 votes

Bulgur Wheat, Sweet Potato, and Black Bean Casserole

This bulgur wheat and sweet potato vegetarian casserole can be served as a colorful, protein-packed main course or a substantial side. Great to have on hand for the holidays!
View Recipe
Tamale Pie and greens on plates.
5 from 5 votes

Tamale Pie

Keep this ground beef and vegetable casserole with its crunchy-tender cornbread topping in the freezer for a Tex-Mex-inspired dinner.
View Recipe
Chicken Parmesan Baked Ziti
4.60 from 5 votes

Chicken Parmesan Baked Ziti

Baked ziti with chicken is a perfect freeze-it-and-defrost it meal. Defrost before baking, or add 20 to 30 minutes to the baking time if starting with a frozen casserole.
View Recipe

About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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  1. Hi Katie,
    Loved your ideas on how to freeze and reheat casseroles! Followed your instructions for freezing my lasagna in a glass dish. When it came time to “pop it out” it wouldn’t budge and I broke a utensil trying to pry it out of the dish. Do you have any tips or tricks on the best way to remove the frozen casserole from a glass dish?
    Thanks for your blog and all of your great recipes!

    1. HI! Wow, that’s a bummer! If you spray your dish with nonstick cooking spray it should pop out more easily,. Another thing you can do it to let it sit for 15 minutes or so at rom temp before popping it out – and definitely use a sturdy knife or spatula to urge it out!