2021 has been full of life changes that have kept Philip and I hopping all year long! In a blink of an eye, hunting season is upon us, and extra freezer space is at a premium! Philip and I combined our households this year. We had a couple of scares where we thought we lost a freezer. That leads to a frenzied redistribution of the food to save it. When we moved, we opted to downsize our freezer use from 5 to 4. All of these led to disorganized chest freezers that are a nightmare to deal with. We moved the freezers full. We didn’t remove anything for the move, we just unplugged and rolled into the trailer.
As head chef, I desperately needed to organize our freezers and figure out exactly what we have. Ideally, I would have tackled this project long before hunting season, but here we are, smack dab in the middle of the season.
Challenges to Organize our Freezers
Organizing the freezer is challenging! How do you organize it best so that you can find what you want without digging to the bottom? Can you create a system you can maintain? How can you ensure that you use the oldest foods first? I tackle all these questions and hope that I have developed a system that I can maintain. Most importantly I want to ensure we make the best use of the food we have so we minimize waste. Wasted food is wasted money and I like to be a good steward of all our resources. Here are some helpful freezer organization tips to help you organize your freezer.
Group Like Items
To make it easiest to find what I want, I have grouped like items together. Philip helped me a few weeks ago, by doing some of the heavy lifting. He tried to put like meats in the same freezers. As I dug in, I found more lingering packages that needed to be sorted through and adjusted.
For those of you who raise your meat or hunt, you realize the challenge of large amounts of food coming in all at once that need to be stored. In hunting season, we hope to get enough venison for ourselves, and we also like to bless our parents with meat for their freezers too. We have enough space that I was able to designate an entire freezer specifically for venison, one for poultry, and one for pork.
Your needs may be different than ours. While you may not need a separate freezer for poultry, you might have a designated shelf in the freezer designated for poultry. Possibly that’s still too big a scale, maybe you need designated baskets on a shelf to create different zones. Regardless of the size of your storage needs, separating items into groups is a great way to help you manage your food wisely.
Use Containers to Organize the Freezers
No matter the type of freezer you have plastic containers, baskets, or bags can help you organize the food in your freezer storage. Even in the RV’s smaller freezer, I use plastic baskets to organize the food and make it easy to find what I need. The RV freezer is above my head, I can pull out the entire basket, retrieve what I want, and return it to its place. The best part is nothing shifts when the basket is removed.
The two chest freezers have baskets that slide across the top. I used this to separate the oldest meats into groups and can easily find what I am looking for. Since they are at the top of the freezer, this gets used before the newer meats that are below in the bottom.
We use paper grocery bags to organize the meat. This satisfies two needs; it allows us to separate the food by date and it also provides an extra layer of protection against freezer burn. We fill a paper grocery bag half to three-quarters full, fold down the top, and tape it closed. We then label the outside regarding the contents and date with a permanent marker. I did general categories in each bag rather than specifics. Some bags contain only ground meat. Others include steak, roasts, and backstraps. Others might be labeled by the type of sausage: sweet Italian, breakfast links, or sausage patties.
You would think this would go without saying, but from the evidence I found in our freezer, it’s not. With some products, I believe we think that the contents are obvious. I found a bag of tomatoes. While the contents are in a clear freezer bag, the frozen tomatoes look a little different than what the fresh tomatoes looked like. It took me a minute to figure out what it was. I also likely had intentions of using it sooner. I’m pretty sure these tomatoes are from the summer before last, so obviously time got away from me.
I think the real problem with labeling is we just get in a hurry. Keeping an organized freezer, or any organization in our home is intentional. Organization doesn’t just happen; it requires that I am intentional every time I put something in the freezer as well as every member of the household.
Inventory the Freezer
While I was organizing the freezer, I did keep an inventory. Some very specific, the oldest venison bags I inventoried exactly what was in each bag. For the newest bags, I just kept a general description. My intention was to type it up so I could keep track of our food. After more thought, I have decided not to even type it up. Let’s be real friends, I don’t believe I will maintain the freezer inventory. Should I? It might very well be a good idea, but practically, I’m giving myself permission to let it go. Do you keep an inventory of the contents of your freezer?
The Nitty Gritty: The Venison Freezer
The venison freezer is our largest deep freezer and is a chest freezer. I’m not a huge fan of chest freezers, but I was pleased with how this freezer came together. Using paper grocery bags, I finished bagging up the meat by year. The newest addition to the freezer had been laid out on a shelf to freeze, Once the raw meats are solid, we transfer them to the bags for storage.
I cleared out most of the freezer, using coolers to store meat while I took my time to get it organized. Also, I vacuumed the bottom before loading it back up. I put the newest meat, harvested in 2021, together at the bottom. I intentionally left a hole for one more deer to be added to this year’s harvest. Besides that, I put the bagged meat for 2020, as that will be the next bag to be used. That filled the entire bottom of the freezer.
The last space on the bottom of the freezer is above the motor. This section is not as deep as the rest of the freezer. On that shelf, I added a small basket for all the pressed venison patties. While processing venison, we press, season, and freeze individual venison patties. These are a great option to make for a quick meal.
The remaining section is the top layer of the freezer has four sliding freezer baskets that completely fill the space. I don’t have room to slide them, but I must remove one wire basket to be able to access the bottom. This is my working venison supply. I can feel free to pull from any of the meat in these baskets, knowing it’s the oldest meat that we have. The few odd dates and mystery meat packages that I found are at the top so we will use them first. One basket is full of ground venison, which we use frequently and is easily accessible.
More Challenging: The Poultry Freezer
The poultry freezer is also a chest freezer and I found it much more difficult to organize. The venison freezer is full of evenly wrapped rectangular packages in different sizes organized by date, so it was easy. The poultry freezer has a much larger variety of meat and odd-shaped packages. Our chickens were all butchered within 2 weeks of each other, so basically one date range. The turkey also was mostly butchered at the same date range. The challenge is being able to access the different kinds of meats when needed.
There are a few nonpoultry products in this freezer. The rabbit is together in a bag in this freezer. I also have some of the poultry by-products in this freezer as well. We saved all the livers and hearts for bait. After my recent dehydration project for animal treats, we’ve decided to go ahead and process that meat for animal treats.
I make my own broth and have saved all the chicken necks from butchering. Additionally, I have three chicken carcasses that I saved after piecing out the chickens for other meals rather than baking whole chickens. However, I have plenty of canned chicken broth on the shelf, so I have not made this project a priority.
Storing Whole Chickens
Unlike clean packages of wrapped meat, whole chickens take up a lot more space in the freezer. They also create dead space between each bird that can’t be filled with something else. Whole chickens don’t fit well in baskets because of the sheer size of our birds. They are also slightly rounded, so when you pull one out, the frozen meat surrounding them shifts. For the most part, the whole chickens line the bottom of the freezer. That’s the easiest place for them to stay put! I put a few up higher that will be easy to get to when needed. This freezer will certainly require a bit more digging to find some types of meat. Still, I have a clearer understanding of the different types of foods we have which makes a big difference to reduce food waste.
We will be raising broilers again in the spring. I am going to consider putting a wood frame and divider in the freezer to better organize the whole chickens in the spring. I’ve seen this in other freezers of homesteaders I admire and think it might be a good solution. It creates a barrier that would separate the chicken from the other meats that store easier in baskets or bags. The whole chickens may shift when removing one, but they would at least be contained in one section of the freezer.
Upright Freezer Number 1: The Pork Freezer
Like the poultry, the pork in our freezer is from a single-date range. We butchered our last pigs the same day. We have a variety of meats that are separated into sections on the shelves. I much prefer an upright freezer to a chest freezer; the shelves make it easy to create sections. Baskets can be added for ease of access. I did use a couple of baskets to put like products together and make it easier to get what I need without having all the bags shift.
At this point, we have mostly sausage left from our pigs. I purchase pork chops and pork tenderloin when I find them on sale, as pork is one of my favorite meats. When purchasing large packages of meat, I break the packages down into meal-sized portions in Ziploc bags. Freezer bags freeze flat which makes organization in the freezer much easier. I usually stack them, but some home cooks put the plastic bags standing upright into a basket and pull the basket out for easy access.
Since the meats I purchase, don’t typically remain in the freezer for long, it’s not necessary to wrap them in freezer paper. My butchering supplies are not easy to get to as needed, so I generally only pull them out when we are meat processing.
Extras in the Pork Freezer
Since I have extra room, I did add the store-bought frozen vegetables to this freezer and some homemade freezer meals that I have made. As empty-nesters, I frequently make a family-size portion of food during meal prep and freeze the premade meals for trips or quick meals on a busy night.
I kept a section of all the ice packs that we have. These are used for injuries but also for packing coolers when we travel. I found a few mystery food items. Quite a few bones, that I will need to find out what Philip’s purpose for saving. Likely saved for bone broth. I usually just use chicken broth when the broth is needed, but a nice bone broth would be a nice alternative.
Upright Freezer Number 2: A Hodge Podge
The final freezer is more like a family freezer with a hodgepodge of items. I tried to group like items together to make things easy to find. I have the vegetables that we harvested from our garden as well as fruits that we have purchased or picked locally.
There is a variety of homemade goods that I saved the extra for later meals. We have the top of our wedding cake that we are saving for our first anniversary. This was carefully frozen, then wrapped in plastic wrap, and freezer paper, and frozen in a bowl using the lid as the plate. Did you miss the pictures of our Valentine’s Day Wedding? See the amazing winter wonderland at Kowalski Mountain here.
I do have a partial shelf designated for fish and seafood. We harvested our own shrimp in the St John’s River read about how we catch the shrimp here. We have some fish that we caught ourselves as well as some purchased fish.
Finally, I have a shelf of things that hunters keep in their freezers. If you’ve been married to or know a hunter, you know exactly what I’m talking about!
What About You?
How’s your freezer looking? Do you feel like your freezer is a pit where well intentions get buried? Join me in this #fallpantrystockup and take the first step in taking control of your food storage. Spend an hour or two and organize your freezer in a system that works for you. Pro Tip: Find the oldest products and move them to the top of your menu. Wasted food is wasted money!
Finally throw out foods that are freezer burned. Forgive yourself, as we all know life happens and our good intentions don’t always come together into action. The next step is to make a plan of how you will keep your freezer organized for the future. This will help you best use the food you have and save money.
Enjoy this tour of our Freezers!
The first few minutes of the video are a bit fuzzy, Hang in there…..
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.