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12 Grocery Items You Should Never Buy Frozen, According to Chefs

When it comes to these foods, fresh is always best.
FACT CHECKED BY Mura Dominko

From shortening the cooking process to helping consumers reduce food waste, there's a lot to love about frozen food. Grocery store freezers are teeming with seemingly limitless options, making it all the more attractive to buy frozen.

Yet, for all the benefits of frozen foods, certain choices are better than others—and this goes beyond their nutritional values. The freezing process can also alter the texture and flavor of foods, making them less enjoyable to eat than their fresher counterparts.

Before you peruse the glass-encased shelves packed with just about anything you could imagine, you might want to think twice before adding certain items to your grocery cart. To get the most out of your next meal, we consulted several chefs about which grocery items consumers should avoid buying frozen. Here's what they had to say.

TV Dinners & Prepared Meals

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Although these options are widely celebrated for being ready in just a few minutes, Florian Wehrli, executive chef at New York City's Grand Tier Restaurant, isn't a fan of them.

"No matter what they claim on the packaging, they are full of extra salt, saturated fats, and other preservatives," Wehrli tells Eat This, Not That! "And [on] top of all [that], I have never seen one that was appealing to eat."

As an alternative, the chef recommends packaging healthy and seasonal prepared meals into portions for a later date.

 10 Best & Worst Frozen Pasta Dishes on Grocery Shelves, According to Dietitians

Crepes and Waffles

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Heating up frozen crepes or waffles might get breakfast on the table quickly, but they're not ideal options, according to Artem Orlovskyy, executive chef at Lincoln Ristorante in NYC.

"When you cook batter and freeze it, things change and crepes or waffles become dry, and usually you have to add lots of maple syrup or fruit jam to make it edible," Orlovskyy says.

The chef's preference is opting for a homemade recipe instead. He recommends investing in a nonstick pan and practicing a recipe until it's perfected.

"Crepes and waffle recipes are simple. Don't make it complicated," Orlovskyy says.

Mussels

packed frozen mussels
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The next time you venture into your grocery store's seafood department, you might want to reconsider snagging that bag of frozen mussels.

"I made a mistake once and bought mussels in the frozen section at the supermarket," says Orlovskyy. "When I started cooking them, all of the water from the mussels [bled] out in the sauté pan. It was just a mess. Since then, I stay away from frozen mussels."

While availability may differ based on your location, fresh mussels are not hard to come by in many coastal cities. In New York, for example, Orlovskyy notes that fresh mussels are often sourced from Canada's Prince Edward Island and are "available at almost every supermarket."

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Steak

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Mussels aren't the only protein that can yield undesirable results when purchased frozen. For Shawn Matijevich, lead chef of online culinary arts and food operations at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), frozen steak can be problematic, too.

"It really destroys the texture of the meat," Matijevich says, noting that the ice crystals break open the meat's cells, causing water to leak out once thawed. "So, it's just not a nice, juicy product anymore."

The chef adds that the change in texture can be more noticeable with leaner cuts of steak, such as filet mignon, because they don't have as much fat to protect them. On the contrary, Matijevich says this textural issue may not be as prominent with a fattier cut like a ribeye.

Lean Protein

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In addition to beef, Matijevich recommends steering clear of other frozen lean protein options like fish, seafood, and chicken breasts.

"Anything that's really lean doesn't do well in the freezer," he says. Just like with beef, he says the freezing process breaks open the cell walls of protein, which causes water to leak. "So you wind up with something that's a lot drier than it would have been otherwise, so the texture's not great."

However, the chef notes that the dryness isn't as noticeable in proteins that have a higher fat content, such as branzino and Chilean sea bass.

 20 Best High-Protein Foods to Buy at Costco

Herbs

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Dana Bujalski, a personal chef for in-home meal prep, small parties, and cooking lessons, loves using herbs to liven up the meals she makes for herself and her clients. However, she wouldn't dare buy frozen herbs.

"I think herbs always accentuate your meals, especially when they're fresh. Personally, I don't even like dried herbs too much," she says. "Frozen herbs look like they are chopped up and then frozen into mini cubes. I've always wondered who buys them."

Don't want to spend the money on fresh herbs? Try growing them in your house so you can use them when you need to, Bujalski suggests.

Bread

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While frozen dough products might come in handy, Bujalski says she would avoid frozen ready-made bread.

"The consistency changes [when the bread is frozen]," Bujalski says. "If you're a bread lover, you can't get any better than fresh."

If you don't want to settle for store-bought frozen—or even unfrozen—bread, consider putting on your chef's hat and making a loaf of bread at home to satiate that carb fix. When the bread comes out fresh and toasty from the oven, smear a dab of butter on a thick slice, and savor that feeling of accomplishment.

 10 Best High-Fiber Breads, According to Dietitians

Strawberries

frozen strawberries
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Strawberries are considered in season from May through July. So, if you have a recipe that calls for strawberries, but they aren't in season, you might consider buying them frozen. Don't, says Susan Irbyalso known as the Bikini Chef—who trained with renowned chefs in Italy and France.

"The strawberries, because of their porous nature, become oversaturated with water and literally disintegrate when they're frozen," she says, "I don't recommend using frozen strawberries even in smoothies. Too much liquid and mush. The same is true for strawberry shortcake recipes. And that flavor . . . ugh!"

It's always a good idea to buy fruits when they are in season, strawberries included. But, if you still want to buy them or you have a bag of frozen strawberries already in your freezer, consider making a compote out of them.

"Compotes can be used to top pancakes or in plated desserts and trifles," says Sarah Hinderliter, chef-instructor at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. "Frozen fruits can also be cooked down and blended to be incorporated into mousses."

Scallops

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According to Irby, some frozen food producers inject water into the scallops to make them heavier. That means they can sell fewer in the bag for a higher price.

"Injected with water or not, scallops, in particular, retain water and, when cooked, reduce to sometimes half the size or more and can also become tough in texture," Irby warned.

Instead, buy fresh.

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Choux pastry desserts

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Choux pastry doesn't hold up well when frozen. Take cream puffs, for example. When baked, they develop an "airy crisp crust," explains Hinderliter, who is also the head pastry chef at her establishment, Sal's of Southern Pines. Once filled with whipped cream or diplomat cream (pastry cream with whipped cream), the pastry develops a soft, creamy—but still crisp—exterior. She says frozen cream puffs are "nowhere" near as good as fresh.

"Frozen cream puffs are a soggy, sad, chewy shell of what the true version should be," she says. "The shell and filling are a poor representation of cream puffs found in a bakery or made at home."

And that goes for any other dessert that uses choux pastry like éclairs.

Burger patties

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Frozen, pre-made burger patties may be tempting to snag at the store when preparing for a backyard barbecue. But, you should resist that temptation, says Adrian W. Corkill, executive chef and co-owner of City Post Chophouse in Georgetown, Texas.

"You can always buy freshly ground beef at the grocery store. The flavor is so much better than frozen," Corkill says. "Add your own seasonings and enjoy."

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Broccoli

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According to Irby, frozen broccoli is miserably mushy when cooked. Plus, she takes issue with the ratio of stems to florets in a bag of broccoli.

"The producers provide mostly stems in the frozen package," Irby says. "The stems are rubbery and poor quality."

Jessica Randhawa, head chef, recipe creator, photographer, and writer behind The Forked Spoon, went further by saying broccoli is a delicate vegetable that does "not hold up well in the frozen food chain." She notes that the cruciferous veggie loses a lot of its flavor when frozen.

The general consensus from these chefs is to always buy broccoli fresh.

This story has been updated to include additional entries, fact-checking, and new information.

LaRue V. Gillespie
LaRue V. Gillespie is a journalist, freelance writer, and content creator who has written about health/wellness, mental health, fitness, nutrition, beauty, and lifestyle for the last two decades. Read more about LaRue