Can You Put Frozen Meat in a Slow Cooker? Here's What an Expert Says
We're all guilty of stocking our freezers with different meats to get us through the crisp months before grilling season returns. Our busy schedules and hectic lifestyles nowadays make quick, easy at-home dinners with little cleanup sound quite appealing, which is why many have turned to slow cookers to put delicious meals on the table fast.
Since the convenient electrical kitchen appliance is ideal for making soups, stews, and other comfort foods while you're at work or doing other things around the house, it's no surprise that people are curious to find out exactly how they can cook meat in a slow cooker since this time of year prompts more indoor cooking. We specifically checked in with Chef Melissa Knific of HelloFresh, who educated us on whether or not cooking frozen meat in a slow cooker is safe and ideal, while also suggesting the best types of meats to cook in one.
Here's everything to know about cooking frozen meat in a slow cooker.
Can you cook frozen meat in a slow cooker?
The answer to this question as a whole is no, but since the point of a slow cooker is to cook food over a longer period of time, it's no surprise that many think putting a frozen piece of meat in one would both defrost and cook it successfully. But Knific advises against it.
"I wouldn't recommend putting meat into the slow cooker frozen," she says. "It will certainly affect the timing and is also unsafe because meat won't come to the correct temperature quickly enough. Meat should be properly thawed."
The USDA's slow cooker cooking and food safety guidelines mimic Knific's suggestions by saying to thaw all ingredients prior. "Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker," the document says. "Choose to make foods with a high moisture content such as chili, soup, stew, or spaghetti sauce. If using a commercially frozen slow cooker meal, prepare according to manufacturer's instructions."
There is even a reminder on the document reiterating to "always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker," so you know it's serious.
What is the best way to defrost meat before putting it in a slow cooker?
Since we've established the fact that cooking frozen meat in a slow cooker isn't ideal, it's important to know the best ways to thaw meat before setting it in the pot and leaving it cooking for hours. According to the USDA, "perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. There are safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave."
Knific agrees that the best and safest way to thaw meat is in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
"It is not considered safe to thaw at room temperature because bacteria and such can grow and make you ill," the chef says. The USDA says that "as soon as raw or cooked meat, poultry, or egg products begin to thaw and become warmer than 40°F, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply."
To avoid bacteria potentially growing on the meat, Knific says to "take the meat out the freezer a day or two in advance to make sure it fully thaws." To prevent any leakage all over other food in the refrigerator, "you can place it on a rimmed baking sheet or in a bowl," she says.
What are the best kind of meats to cook in a slow cooker?
Now that we know fresh pieces of meat are better than frozen when it comes to a slow cooker, it's equally as important to understand which type of meats make for the best-tasting meal.
"The best meats for the slow cooker are tougher, fattier cuts. The long cook time allows tougher cuts to become tender, and the fattiness keeps the meat from drying out," Knific says, adding that you can cut off excess fat if you desire to avoid extra grease. "I like beef chuck, beef brisket, short ribs, pork shoulder, lamb shanks, and chicken thighs."
One of the best things about a slow cooker is how it's designed to be a hands-off cooking experience. That said, there's no need to put too much time into prepping the meat either.
"Marinating or searing isn't necessary—it will only increase your active cook time," she says. "Just make sure there is enough seasoning—salt and spices—on the meat when it goes into the slow cooker, as well as at least one cup of liquid to ensure the meat stays moist."
In addition to preventing bacteria, one of the biggest benefits of using fresh meat over frozen in a slow cooker is the fact that it cuts the cooking time almost in half. However, a slow cooker could still take up to eight hours for that perfectly shredded and tender meat result, so just try to be patient like you were in the defrosting process.
"Even if you're tempted, don't remove the lid!" Knific says. "It releases moisture and slows cooking time."