Is It Safe to Use Frozen Meat in Your Crock-Pot?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

 Better Homes and Gardens Year-Round Slow Cooker Recipes by Better Homes and Gardens

• Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2 by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen

• American Heart Association Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook by the American Heart Association

• Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker Cookbook by Betty Crocker

• Cooking Light Slow-Cooker Tonight! by the Editors of Cooking Light

 USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Slow Cookers and Food Safety

• University of Minnesota Extension: Slow Cookers and Food Safety

• Ohio State University Extension: Reducing the Risk of Food Borne Illness

• Fix-It and Forget-It blog: Can you cook frozen meat in your slow cooker?

Trying to Decide What to Make in Your Slow Cooker Next? How About …

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!

91 thoughts on “Is It Safe to Use Frozen Meat in Your Crock-Pot?”

  1. Hi,
    Is it ok to take frozen joints out to thaw for say 1 hour just to help it along, and then put back in the fridge? Then maybe after say 6/7 hours, if it still needs to thaw, can you take out again for say another hour before putting back in fridge?

    Reply
    • Hi Matt! I see where you’re going with this idea … shortcutting things a bit but still trying to keep the time in the potential “danger zone” acceptable. Standard recommendations are that it’s just not considered safe to thaw meat on the counter (even though lots of people – like me – remember their moms doing that “back in the day”). We’re kind of splitting hairs here with your workaround idea. I think it’s best to take your idea up with a food safety professional, just to be absolutely sure. You can reach out to the folks at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) – they’re always super nice and really helpful! And if you have a sec to pop back here, I’d be really interested to know how they advise you on this! Good luck! ~Shelley

      Reply
  2. Thank you for the article! I’ve had food poisoning (nausea and bad stool) this morning, couldn’t figure out why.
    After reading, I realised I did reheat some frozen food on my slow cooker thinking it was safe (I have subpar immune system)

    Thanks for helping a newbie out

    Reply
    • Oh, I’m so sorry to hear you’ve got food poisoning – it really is terrible, especially a serious bout of it! I hope you feel much better as the day goes on! I’m so happy that this article was able to help you a little, but I just wish I could help you actually FEEL BETTER, too! Hang in there! ~Shelley

      Reply

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Updated on August 20, 2021