Your freezer doesn’t have to be a wasteland for half-eaten pints of ice cream and freezer-burned Boston butt. Use these tips to make you a better—and smarter—cook.
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Busy cooks need all the help they can get. And the freezer is one of the best places to start; keeping a freezer and pantry stocked with quick-cooking ingredients and flavorful essentials can go a long way to keeping you ready to pull together fast meals at the last minute. Use these 10 freezer hacks to make you a better, smarter, and more efficient cook.

1. Freeze single-serve oatmeal

Steel-cut oatmeal is a creamy and hearty breakfast option, but it takes longer to cook than the sugar-loaded instant variety. Make a batch on the weekend, freeze in muffin tins, and pop them out into zip-top plastic bags or a lidded container to store.

When you’re ready to eat a serving, place into a microwave-safe dish and cook on half power five to six minutes or until thawed and warmed through. You can do this every morning while you’re getting dressed for a hands-off, hearty breakfast. Simply top with fresh ingredients and flavorings of your choice—fresh berries are always a good call, but cream and a drizzle of maple syrup are delicious, too.

2. Save herbs AND make easier pan sauces

When your parsley, oregano, or thyme is nearing the end of its fresh life, put it to good use by freezing it in ice cube trays with olive oil (or even homemade stock). Then, when you’re sauteeing chicken or cooking pasta, you can pop a cube or two out to make a fast pan sauce or instant pasta sauce. You can even thaw them for fast homemade salad dressing; just add a bit of vinegar and whisk until combined.

3. The same goes for wine

Have a bottle of vino you just can’t finish? (Yes, it’s a rare problem to have, we know, but it does sometimes happen.) Maybe you tried something new and didn’t love it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cook with it. Freeze leftover wine in ice cube trays for easy cooking portions with an extended expiration date. Next time you’re finishing off some steaks, toss a couple cubes into the pan with a little stock, butter, and fresh herbs, and reduce for a rich, effortless red wine sauce.

This is an especially great way to keep wine on hand for recipes if you don’t often have open bottles or want to avoid opening a whole bottle for just one recipe.

4. Freeze joe for better iced coffee

Regular ice cubes water down chilled or cold-brew coffees as they melt. It’s a shame to dilute the flavor of your favorite caffeinated drink. Instead, freeze leftover coffee in cubes and pop some into your glass before you pour on your joe.

5. Freeze yogurt for smoothies or frosty treats

Make your morning or post-workout fruit drink a bit frostier by freezing the yogurt ahead of time. When you add your frozen yogurt to the blender, they’ll blend with the fruit easily and they’ll help boost the chill factor.

If you want the good-for-your-gut probiotics of yogurt but can’t stomach the texture, try making frozen yogurt. You can freeze the yogurt directly in the container—it won’t expand much—and spoon in for a snack.

6. Make and freeze smoothies

Better yet, make the whole smoothie ahead of time, and freeze it into cubes. When you’re ready to slurp it up, pop the cubes into the blender and give it a whirl. The smoothie will be extra frosty and creamy thanks to the freezer stay, and you don’t have to worry with keeping fresh ingredients on hand every day.

7. Freeze cookie dough

If the temptation to eat a bit too much (or all) of a homemade batch of cookie dough is strong, make plans to freeze a portion of your dough for future sweet snacks.

Scoop the dough into cookie-sized balls and flatten slightly, to about half-inch thickness. Then freeze on cookie sheets for 24 hours. Pop each round into a bag, or stack them in a container with pieces of wax paper between each layer. Take out what you need as you want to bake them. It’s portion-control friendly and a great way to have homemade cookies on demand.

8. Freeze marinated proteins

Pull double duty with thawing meat by freezing it with the marinade. This way, you don’t have to thaw and then marinade before cooking; everything’s happening all at once. This saves you time and helps boost flavor.

9. Chop your own veggies for freezing

Keeping frozen onions and peppers in the fridge is a great way to have the ingredients you need for soups and sauces on hand at any point, You can certainly buy a bag at the store—they’re rarely more than $3 each—but you can also make your own (and use up ingredients) for easy meals.

Chop onions, peppers, celery, and any other ingredients you find yourself using regularly. Freeze flat on a sheet pan for 24 hours, and then pour the veggies into a bag or plastic storage container. Clean half-gallon milk jugs are a great option here because you can shake the frozen veggies to break up large pieces, then pour them straight into the pan.

10. Slice frozen proteins for ultra-thin meat

Love how thin the beef is in your favorite stir-fry? You can get the same quick-cooking slices by freezing the meat and slicing it about an hour into the thawing process. The frozen texture of meat is easier to slice then raw, and the pieces won’t lose their shape when cooking.

If you didn’t plan ahead, you can pop the meat into the freezer and let it get as frosty as possible (at least 45 minutes would be great) before slicing and cooking.

This trick is also true if you want to get extra thin slices of fresh mozzarella. Freeze the large mozzarella balls for 20-30 minutes, and then slice as thinly as you can get. It’s a great way to spread the cheesy love around pizzas or casseroles without adding too much topping.

By Kimberly Holland and Kimberly Holland