William spent 20 years working in engineering. In his spare time, he loves writing about food and cooking.
How to Store, Thaw, and Slice a Bagel
Okay, now, how silly can we get? Who doesn’t know how to thaw and slice a bagel? The answer is an amazingly large number of normal people! Go ahead and ask 10 of your friends—I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t get 10 different answers. One answer will surely be “take it out of the freezer and set it on the counter for 15-20 minutes.” Correct (sort of). But let’s take a step back.
Proper Bagel Storage
You bring home a bag full of fresh warm bagels. Yum! You take one (or two) out and eat it with your favorite topping. Personally, I like to simply load it with Philadelphia brand cream cheese (and I mean load it, at least ¼” thick, ½” is even better. Double yum.) But what about the rest of the bagels?
Separate them into two groups:
- Those you will eat within 48 hours.
- Those you will eat beyond 48 hours.
Group One: Double-bag (see instructions for storing fresh bagels below).
Group Two: If you’re going to store them for more than 2 days, freezing is the only way to go.
How to Freeze Bagels
According to an old bagel-baking friend, you have two options here. I’ve tried it both ways and don’t see a difference (paper vs. plastic) when freezing.
Option 1: Wrap in Paper and Plastic
- Place the bagels (unwrapped) in a heavy paper bag.
- Place the paper bag of bagels in a heavy freezer-quality plastic bags. Better yet, use two plastic bags.
- Get out as much of the air as possible when sealing.
- Place the bag(s) into the freezer. They’ll be good for several weeks.
Option 2: Individually Wrap in Plastic
The other method (and the one I personally prefer) is to wrap each bagel individually in plastic wrap and place all of the wrapped bagels into a heavy plastic freezer bag.
Should you slice the bagels before freezing?
I leave them whole, although some people like to slice the bagels before freezing them. I’ve found that this tends to increase the risk of freezer burn (which, of course, is really freezer drying). Leaving the bagels whole exposes less surface area to the cold, thereby minimizing freezer burn. By the way, this is also why I don’t ask the bagel shop to slice the bagels for me. Now if I’m taking the bag to the office or intend to eat them right away, I’ll probably let the shop slice them; otherwise, never.
How to Store Fresh Bagels
This is a little trick an old bagel-baker told me years ago.
- Wrap bagels in a paper bag. Take the bagels you will eat within 48 hours and place them back into the paper bag. The paper bag is important for some reason. I don’t profess to understand why, but the old bagel-baker insisted that this is the only way to store them, and my experience has proven him correct.
- Place the paper bag in a heavy plastic bag (like a freezer quality zip-lock bag). Push out as much air as possible and be sure the plastic bag is sealed tightly.
- Eat these bagels within 48 hours. But even after two days, the bagels will remain almost as fresh as the day they were baked.
Bagels that have been frozen obviously, need to be thawed prior to eating. (Unless you have a pet that loves hard chewy things, like our 12-year-old Great Pyrenees dog, Belle, who loves to chew on a frozen bagel! But that’s another story.)
Slow Method: One easy way to thaw a bagel is to simply set it on the counter for 20-30 minutes and let it thaw. But if your life pace is anything like mine, who has time to wait 20-30 minutes watching a bagel thaw? In this “Now” society, we need it quick.
Quick Method: Yep, reach for the microwave oven. Careful! This is where many a fine bagel has been ruined. I’m not a baker but I understand that bagel dough is very high in gluten. Gluten tends to harden when reheated. The result can easily be a “tough” bagel. Yuk. Ruined. Here’s the trick: Nuke it as little as possible.
The Best Way to Microwave a Bagel
- Place the plastic-wrapped bagel in the microwave oven for 12 seconds at full power.
- Turn it over and heat for another 10 seconds.
- Let it set for another 30 seconds to allow the temperature to moderate.
- Unwrap the bagel and slice (carefully!). You will have a slightly warm bagel, soft and chewy, almost as good as the day it was baked.
- After slicing, you can top it with your favorite topping or, if you like a toasted bagel, drop it in the toaster, browning it to your liking.
Note: Microwave ovens vary in power, so you may need to adjust the time up or down slightly, but don’t overdo it! Better to err on the low side and then zap it for another 4-5 seconds if needed.
A friend who worked in a busy New York City Emergency Room told me that the number one injury on Saturday and Sunday mornings is a “bagel cut.” I’m sure there’s a fancy medical term for it, but it’s a lateral laceration across the palm of the hand. Ouch! My friend said it’s so frequent that there’s even an insurance code number for it. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds reasonable.
A disclaimer: The author is not a medical professional nor is he a professional butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. If you choose to use any of the suggestions herein, you do so entirely at your own risk. Be careful! First of all, a child should never, never, never be permitted to slice a bagel.
Second, if at all possible use a mechanical bagel slicer. They’re not expensive, they’re easy to use and are generally safe, at least safer than using a knife. The guillotine-style slicers are the safest. Amazon has them for from $7 for a cheap plastic job to $37 for commercial grade machine. You can buy a decent one that will give you years of good service for about $20. They’re well worth the investment!
Finally, if you insist, you can slice it with a knife. Use only a sharp knife, preferably a serrated one designed for slicing bread, and use it only in a way that keeps your hand and fingers out of the way. You can buy a good bread knife for $10-$20. Never, ever, use a dull knife. They are the most dangerous.
Now, (the really important part) do not, never, ever, forever, do not cut the bagel by placing the bagel in the palm of your hand and slice downward toward your hand. Never. This is how all those “bagel lacerations” end up in the local ER. Here’s one safe method for cutting a “whole” bagel (below I’ll describe an alternate method, cutting it first in half).
Safest Method for Cutting a Whole Bagel
- Place the thawed bagel on its edge on a non-slip cutting board. Grasp the bagel from the top.
- Place your sharp bread knife, facing downward, between your hand and the bagel. Carefully saw back and forth lightly until you’ve cut through the crust of the bagel.
- Now you can increase the pressure just slightly and continue sawing back-and-forth, letting the knife do the work. All the while you’re keeping your hand and fingers out of harms way. (A common mistake many make when cutting bread-like products is pressing down too hard. It’s more effective to use a sawing motion back-and-forth with just a very light downward pressure. Let the knife do the work.)
- So now you’re slicing your bagel downward, away from your hand and with fingers safely out of the way. Slice the bagel all the way through down to the cutting board.
- One final caution: When slicing the bagel as I’ve described above, grip the bagel firmly enough so that it doesn’t tilt from side to side, thereby increasing the risk of injury. This is yet another reason for using just light pressure on the knife.
Alternate method: An even safer way is to first cut the whole bagel in half, then slice each half as I’ve described above, placing the “flat” part of the bagel on the cutting board. You end up with four pieces so this method isn’t the best if you’re building a sandwich but, otherwise, they all taste the same.
Sharp knife + proper technique = the safe way to slice a bagel. Spread the word to all your bagel-eating friends! Send them a copy of this article (or send them the link); it’s for their safety!
Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy your delicious bagel!
Here are some common questions about bagels.
Can you freeze bagels?
Yes, and this is the best way to store them if you don't plan on eating them within 48 hours. Simply wrap them properly (see above) to maintain flavor and moisture.
What's the best way to defrost a bagel?
The best way is to simply let it thaw on the counter for 30 minutes. The fastest way is to microwave it for as little time as possible (see instructions above).
More Bagel Expertise
Questions & Answers
Question: Can you refreeze a bagel?
Answer: Absolutely! I buy bagels a distance from my home by the dozen. To freeze I wrap each bagel in aluminum foil and place them in a zip lock freezer bag. I find they hold up well for at least a couple months.
Question: Can I put a frozen bagel in a ziplock bag and leave it at room temperature for two days.? Will the condensation get it moldy?
Answer: Not recommended. As a bagel or any similar product thaws much moisture is released. If it is not permitted to escape the texture of the dough will likely be negatively affected. It is safer to keep the bagel frozen and thaw with a VERY brief visit to the microwave (NO more than 20 seconds.). Alternatively, leave the bag slightly open while the bagel thaws.
Question: What’s the best way to slice a frozen bagel?
Answer: There is no practical way to slice a frozen bagel. Although a friend of mine suggested using a band saw but I do NOT recommend trying that.