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.”
Which Types of Casseroles Freeze Best?
Pot pies, lasagnas, pasta casseroles, enchiladas, any kind of hearty casserole with meat and vegetables, like a moussaka. And while not technically casseroles, we have to mention chilis, stews and most soups (other than creamy ones).
What Casseroles Do Not Freeze Well?
Those with 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 usally fares just fine in the freezing and cooking process. Casseroles heavy on starchy vegetables, like potatoes, also tend to not freeze so well. The vegetables send to break down and become mushy or grainy when reheated.
How Do You Freeze a Casserole?
To make it easy to pop out a casserole from its pan, line the pan with foil so you can freeze it in the pan, then lift it out and store it in another freezer proof container.
If possible, slightly undercook a casserole if you plan to freeze it, so it finishes cooking when you reheat it. Casserole with meat, however, should technically be cooked through before freezing for safety reasons, though many of us have broken that rule (but technically…..).
Make sure your casserole is chilled or at least at room temperature before you freeze it. If your casserole has any garnishes, like parsley or scallions sprinkled on top, hold those back and add them when you reheat the casserole. Or if cheese is sprinkled on top at the end of the cooking process, save that for when you reheat the casserole.
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 bag 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 reheat. When you label your casserole, also write down which pan it should be reheated in.
Plastic (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 off the lid. But don’t leave too much room or you might risk freezer burn.
Freezer proof zipper top bags are also great if your casserole doesn’t have to hold it’s shape – make sure to press out any additional air before you seal it. Or as above – freeze the casserole first so it holds its shape.
The zipper top bag packages marked specifically for the freezer are thicker than regular zipper top bags, with studier seals, and definitely better for freezing. Freeze any food with the bags in their sides so they lay flat, which makes them easier to store, and also thaw faster.
You can also wrap a casserole very well with several layers of plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
If you have the space and can spare the baking dish, go for a baking dish with its own lock-on plastic lid (and again – make sure you have just a little bit of headroom between the casserole top and the lid.
How Do You Prevent Freezer Burn?
Freezer burn happens when air gets into contact with food. Make sure you leave a small amount of headroom in a container, or a tiny bit of extra space in a zipper sealed plastic bag for the casserole to expand slight when frozen, but no more than a little bit.
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 four 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 know 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.
How Do You Defrost—or Thaw—a Casserole Safely?
The best way is to place the casserole in the fridge for at least one day, but not for ore than two days. You can also defrost casseroles in the microwave if they are small enough to be able to rotate on the carousel tray which will allow them to defrost safely and evenly.
How Do You Safely Reheat a Casserole?
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 but add about 15 to 25 minutes. Otherwise most casseroles reheat well in an oven, in a pan loosely covered with foil. 350° F is a good general temperature to reheat casseroles.
The cooking time will vary a lot – if you are reheating it from a frozen state it might take a full hour. If the casserole has been defrosted it could take 20 to 30 minutes. When the inside of the casserole registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer it is fully cooked.
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.
Let it cool off. Place a large plastic cutting board over it and flip it upside down. Let gravity do the work.
gravity can certainly be a friend when it comes time to unmold a casserole!
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!
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!