A chest freezer can easily turn into a black hole of cold food. Here’s how to organize a chest freezer cheaply and simply!
If I go missing, I may have fallen into the chest freezer.
That’s how it used to feel every time I dug though the contents to find the elusive package of bacon at the very bottom. Then a couple years ago I got tired of digging and got serious about getting organized.
Chest freezers, though handy for penny-pinching food-hoarding folks like myself, are notoriously tough to organize. A chest freezer is essentially a deep hole. Some may be sold with a hanging basket for the top, but otherwise you’re on your own. I’m happy to say that organizing a chest freezer can be done. And it’s not hard or expensive.
Wait, should I get a chest freezer?
Do you like to prep meals in advance, stock up when there’s a sale, buy meat in bulk, or freeze lots of fresh-picked produce or homemade stock? Do you have a vacant spot in your basement or garage? A chest freezer could make your life easier–and help you save money.
Chest freezers are available in small/compact (5-9 cubic feet), medium (12-18), and large (18-plus), according to Consumer Reports. Ours is small (5 cubic feet) but still works for our family of four. We bought it at Lowe’s for about $150 ten years ago and it’s still chugging along (the brand is no longer available there, but it’s similar to this one). Keep in mind that a full freezer is more energy-efficient than a half-empty one.
Now let’s get organized!
How to Organize a Chest Freezer
1. Create categories that make sense to you: Group your frozen food in categories, such as ground meats, frozen veggies, prepped freezer meals, or jars of homemade soup or broth.
2. Place grouped items into storage bins that fit your freezer: Your freezer may come with one basket or bin, but you’ll need more. I’ve included some freezer bin ideas from Amazon at the bottom of this post. I actually rounded up bins we already had (and even a study cardboard box) from around the house. Your storage system just needs to work for you–it doesn’t have to look matchy-matchy or ripped from the pages of the Container Store catalog.
3. Arrange your bins in layers: The layer system is a game-changer if you have a chest freezer! Here’s how it works: You’ll set one or two bins/boxes on the bottom of the freezer, then set another layer of 1-2 bins on top of those, and another layer on top. (I arrange mine in opposing directions, but do what works for your space.) Then when you need something, you can simply remove bins neatly and easily instead of digging through a cold, messy pile. Pro tip: Put the most-grabbed items on top and the less-frequently-grabbed items on the bottom.
Here’s the bottom layer of our freezer (pork, steaks, plus a couple jars of broth and flaxseed):
Here’s the second layer (ground beef plus small steaks and a container of homemade stock):
Here’s the top layer (the hanging basket our freezer came with, with frozen fruits and vegetables and a few packages of bacon):
4. Keep an inventory: Chest freezers can easily fall victim to Black Hole Syndrome. So find a way to keep track of your stash, whether that’s a white board attached to the wall by the freezer, an app on your phone, or my free Freezer Inventory Printable.
How long does food last in the freezer?
When frozen, food can actually keep indefinitely. But the quality will be best if eaten within a certain timeframe. Here are some guidelines from FoodSafety.gov and the National Center for Home Preservation:
|FOOD||FREEZER STORAGE TIME (0 degrees or below)|
|Ground meat||2-3 months|
|Whole chicken||1 years|
|Chicken pieces||9 months|
|Soups & stews||2-3 months|
|Fruits & Vegetables||8-12 months|
How to defrost a chest freezer
If your chest freezer is manual defrost (and many are), you’ll have to DIY it. But it’s simple: When you see frost build-up along the sides, it’s time to defrost your chest freezer. I typically defrost mine about once a year, and it takes less than an hour. Here’s how:
- Empty the freezer, putting everything into your refrigerator’s freezer or into coolers
- Unplug the freezer and open the lid
- Allow the frost to melt or gently chip away at it with a plastic or wooden spoon (or my favorite kitchen tool The L’il Chizler)
- Wipe away any drips and debris
- Put everything back in!
Products to help organize a chest freezer