I am a freezer hoarder. I can admit that here, right?
My freezer is jammed to the gills -- and not only with normal things like frozen fruit and chicken sausage, but also with the random bits of food that one tends to collect as a professional food writer and recipe tester. (Witness: several cups of unused rugelach filling, enough frozen whipped cream to last for months, and more Thanksgiving turkey than you need to know about.)
This is all to say that I have learned a trick or two regarding Freezer Tetris and how to maximize space.
Since I had a few batches of pressure cooker beans in urgent need of freezing, I thought I'd share my favorite way to freeze soup, beans in their cooking liquid, and broth to both save space and make my weeknight meal prep a little easier.
Here's the scoop: freeze them flat. Get yourself some sturdy zip-top freezer bags and fill them up. Press out as much air as you can, place the bags on a baking sheet or the floor of your freezer, and freeze.
Once frozen, the flat, stiff rectangles of soup, beans, or broth (or any liquid-y foods, really) can be left stacked, like t-shirts, or stored upright, like books on a shelf.
The advantage is that flat things take up way less space in a freezer than a bunch of odd-shaped containers, plus it's usually easier to find exactly the soup or beans you want for your dinner without digging into the deep and mysterious recesses of your freezer.
Since they're relatively thin and have a lot of surface area, flat frozen foods also thaw much more quickly than food frozen in solid bricks.
I acknowledge that this method requires a certain amount of faith, especially when it comes to concerns about bursting or leaking bags. Here are a few tips to help with that:
Use good-quality freezer bags: Make sure the box actually says "freezer" on the label. These bags are sturdier and made of thicker plastic than the bags meant for sandwiches. Also, I think it's worth it to buy good-quality bags from a brand that you trust. I generally use quart-sized Ziploc freezer bags.
Don't overfill the bags: Liquids expand as they freeze, so be sure to leave a little extra room to account for this. In a quart-sized bag, I usually put only two to three cups of food. In gallon-sized bags, I put about three quarts (12 cups) or so.
Don't stack bags more than 3 or 4 high. I've admittedly never fail-tested this, but more than four stacked bags makes me worry that the weight of the bags on top might cause the ones on the bottom to pop.
Freeze on a rimmed baking sheet: This is just a precaution in case any bags do end up popping or leaking. The baking sheet will keep the mess contained and is much easier to clean up than the floor of a freezer. I usually use a jelly roll pan, which is smaller than a full baking sheet and easier to fit in the freezer.
Additionally, a baking sheet makes it easy to freeze foods flat anywhere in the freezer, not just the floor. I often rest the baking sheet on top of other foods, close to the top of the freezer.
One other tricky moment is filling the bags. How do you get the food inside the bag without making a gigantic mess on your counter?!
My usual method for this is to place the bag upright in something tall and fairly skinny, like a quart-sized fluid measuring cup. Hold the bag open with one hand and use your other hand to carefully fill the bag using a measuring cup. You may still get some dribbles here and there, but at least they're contained inside the measuring cup.
When it comes time to thaw your food, I recommend putting the frozen bag inside another container and thawing in the fridge. The bag isn't likely to leak, but as it thaws, the food will lose its shape and it's good to keep it contained. Since the bags are so thin, the food generally thaws quickly overnight or while you're at work.
If I'm doing a quick-thaw in the microwave, I start out thawing the food, still in the plastic bag, on a dinner plate. Once the food is thawed enough that I can break it into a few pieces or wiggle it out of the bag, I transfer it to a bowl to finish microwaving.
And that's it! Give it a try next time you need to freeze soup, beans, or broth! Once you freeze flat, you'll never go back.
How to Freeze Soup, Beans, and Broth
Fill the freezer bags:
Place one of the freezer bags in the 4-cup measuring cup or other container. Use one hand to hold the bag open (or use a canning funnel) and use your other hand to fill the bag using a measuring cup. Remember to leave a little room in the bag to allow space for liquids to expand as they freeze.
Press out all the air and seal the bags:
Press out as much air as you can from the bags; I often use a straw to suck out as much air as possible. Seal the bags and label them with the contents.
Freeze the bags flat:
Stack the bags (no more than 4 high) on the baking sheet. Place in the freezer and freeze until solid.
Store the bags:
Once frozen, you can remove the baking sheet and store the bags however you like. It's likely that the bags have conformed to each other as they froze; gently pull them apart if needed.
When ready to thaw:
To thaw overnight or during the day in the fridge, place the bag in a Tupperware or other container to hold the bag as the food thaws. To thaw in the microwave, place the bag on a dinner plate and thaw in bursts until you can break the food apart or wiggle it out of the bag. Transfer the food to a bowl or other container and finish thawing.