With so many people using their crock-pot slow cookers as mega time-savers, this question is a surprisingly hot topic out there on the Internet:
Can you put frozen meat in the crock-pot?
Our short answer … DON’T DO IT!
For those of you craving a little more detailed explanation, here’s the scoop …
We’ve read a lot of buzz about this issue, and even fielded a great question about it from a reader back on our post for 3-Ingredient Crock-Pot Chicken Tacos. So, we know there’s tremendous confusion and debate surrounding this topic, and we wanted to try to clear up some misconceptions and help direct you to safe, reliable information sources.
There are really two questions here: 1) Can a crock-pot cook meat from a frozen state? and 2) Should you cook meat this way?
If you’re like us, then you no doubt have heard people say that it’s perfectly ok to put stone-cold frozen meat directly into the crock-pot. Maybe you’ve even tried it (and lived to tell the tale!). You can certainly find a shockingly large amount of recipes online that call for frozen meat in slow cooker recipes.
So, yes … a crock-pot can cook frozen meat. It will work.
That’s really not the point, though.
The real issue is whether cooking frozen meat in the crock-pot is safe. Reputable cooking sites, cookbooks and food safety resources agree that it’s not a good idea. No matter how many people tell you they’ve done it without a problem, we still urge you not to try it.
For us, it’s just not worth the risk.
Why? Because slow cookers don’t reliably get frozen meat up to a safe temperature (above 140°F) evenly enough or quickly enough. Your meat will likely spend too much time hovering in the danger zone (from 40°F – 140°F), which opens the door for bacteria to flourish. Not yummy … or safe!
This can be a particular problem for people who are considered at higher risk for food-borne illnesses: older people, pregnant women, little kiddos, and people with challenged immune systems (groups which we’ve seen estimated as comprising approximately 20% of the population).
There are numerous issues that you may see people debating in online chats, which they feel can affect how quickly a crock-pot cooks frozen meat: what heat setting you’re using, how old your slow cooker is, what model it is, how big it is, how full your crock-pot is for any given recipe, what the temperature of the other ingredients is when you start cooking, how much liquid is in a recipe … you get the idea. There are way too many variables. And the bottom line is that there’s just no guarantee whatsoever that your recipe will turn out to be both delicious and safe to eat.
We’re not willing to take that risk with our families, and we certainly don’t advise you to take the gamble with your own loved ones.
Instead, thaw your meat over a day or two in the temperature-safe zone of your refrigerator. Or, if you didn’t plan far enough ahead (egads – we’ve been there!), use your microwave’s defrost setting to gently thaw your meat (check it and rotate it to avoid cooking some parts while others remain frozen), and then immediately transfer it to your crock-pot to get it cooking and rapidly up to a safe temperature.
That tiny little bit of extra effort can save you and your family from a miserable bout of food poisoning. We think that’s well worth it!
Now, we know there will be plenty of you who swear you’ve used frozen meat for years with no problem. (Remember – we said this is quite the hotbed of debate, and we’re expecting plenty of controversy.) But after Gretchen’s food safety courses in her master’s program, and Shelley’s experience in professional and cooking school kitchens, plus all of our research, it’s our firm conviction that you’re taking an unnecessary and avoidable risk. That’s why all of our slow cooker recipes call for starting with fresh or thawed meats, and we just want you to be fully educated about the issue.
If you’d like to read more, check out these resources:
Trying to Decide What to Make in Your Slow Cooker Next? How About …
- Crock-Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Healthy Crock-Pot Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches
- Crock-Pot North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches
- Crock-Pot Creamy Chicken Corn Chowder
- Crock-Pot Crazy Pineapple Chili
Attention Commenters (Update on 10/29/14):
Because we’ve begun to get many very detailed questions on this post, which require (and deserve!) thoughtful, longer, and more researched and detailed answers from us, our policy regarding comments on this particular post is different from all of our others. Comments on this post will be held in moderation until we are able to answer them as thoroughly and thoughtfully as we always strive to do. Your comments are so important to us and always appreciated! In the interim, you might also find it helpful to contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). The specialists there are friendly, helpful and very knowledgable! Thanks so much, friends! And keep those comments coming!