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

THK Frozen Meat in Crockpot 2

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.

THK Frozen Meat in Crockpot 1

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.

THK Frozen Meat in Crockpot 4

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.

THK Frozen Meat in Crockpot 3

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?

THK Signature Gretchen & Shelley cropped

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Comments

Is It Safe to Use Frozen Meat in Your Crock-Pot? — 40 Comments

  1. Okay — I’m one of those who has put frozen chicken in the crock pot for years. After reading this I will no longer do that. Why take the chance? But I have a question: In your article, you state, “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.” Instructions on many meat packages (especially big old Thanksgiving turkeys)say that you can thaw in a pan of cold water (which I’ve also done many times). It seems to me that “hovering in the danger zone” could also be problem using this method. What do you say? Thanks!

  2. I have thrown frozen chicken in a time or two. The last time I did it though, the chicken came out a grey color that I was scared to eat. Today I started googling, and found out it is indeed, not safe! I am glad to see articles clearly stating that this is not ok. There are so many freezer crock pot ideas that at least imply that it is fine to do this. I wish more people would get the correct info and put it out there along with their recipes!

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  4. This article makes it CRYSTAL CLEAR now. My mind set was always that my meat is always (temp)done and never did think about or have much knowledge about the danger zone. I thought that if it was at the right temp…we were good. I have even told people how easy it is to just open the pkg and throw it in the crockpot for the day. I know some of them have started doing this too! Geez!!! I just took my venison roast out of the freezer and will put it in thawed. Thank you so much for info. I will certainly start spreading the word!!

    • Hi Jennifer! Thanks for stopping by! We’re so happy you found us … and especially this post! It’s so important to get everything up to temp and out of that danger zone!
      Now, when you share your yummy venison roast recipe with friends, you can remind them to wait until the meat is thawed!
      Thanks for spreading the word! :D ~G&S

  5. If we should not use frozen meat in a crockpot, how would you adapt most of the recipes in the Crockpot Freezer Meals category that so many people are excited about it, including me? One thought I had would be to freeze everything in the recipe together but leave the meat separate.
    thanks

    • Hi Val! Thank you very much for your question! This is a great topic – and one that is often discussed!

      Several months ago, I actually called the USDA regarding this very issue! There just wasn’t tons of info out there, and I wanted to make sure that we were giving the absolute best info possible. Here’s what I found out: as long as the food is handled properly before freeing, and is totally and safely thawed before cooking it in the crock-pot, then it’s ok to freeze the meat and veggies together. The key is to thaw the food properly prior to cooking. (Several times throughout our conversation, the gentleman from the USDA re-emphasized the importance of thawing the food completely, safely and thoroughly before adding it to the slow cooker.)

      Hope that helps, and thanks so much for the awesome question! ~Gretchen

  6. I noticed nobody has replied in a long time but just wanted to add my comment! I am one of those who is frequently throwing frozen chicken in the crockpot and luckily nobody has ever gotten sick. I am not even sure what made me think to google it this time before I started my meal, but I’m glad I did! I have a toddler and would absolutely never consciously put her in harms way with my cooking. Thanks for putting this out there.

    • Hi Leslie! So glad you found us – and it seems like you read this post just in time!

      We love our families so much, and like you, want to provide the absolute best for them. Although many people think that it saves time to simply toss frozen meat into the crock-pot, it just isn’t safe. In order to make sure the meat properly gets out of the danger zone, only thawed meat should ever be used.

      I actually had a call with the USDA a few months ago, and they couldn’t stress enough the importance of never using frozen meat – it was said multiple times!

      Thanks for letting us know you found our post helpful – and now your sweet girl will happily enjoy a delicious dinner! :D ~Gretchen

  7. Hi, sorry if this question has been asked before. But I have just found some slower cooker recipes that freeze the chicken and vegetables together. So going off your advice to defrost, you would then defrost in the fridge. Do you think there would be a problem with the chicken and the vegetable in the same bag?
    Many Thanks
    L

    • Sorry just making sure I was clear. The recipe gets you to put raw chicken, vegies and a few other ingredients together in a container and then freeze. Then when you needed it, you would defrost the container in the fridge and then place in slow cooker with other ingredients as per instructions. I guess I am asking is it ok to have the chicken and the vegies in the same container in the freezer and then in the fridge.
      Thanks

      • Hi, Liesel! That’s a really excellent question! We wanted to do a bit of research and make sure we had solid sources to back up our answer before we responded to you … and we’ve gotta admit – it wasn’t easy to find reliable sources offering a definitive answer on this. But, we persevered and are excited to pass along what we found! Basically, as long as the food is handled properly and thawed completely and safely before cooking it in the crock-pot (as you said it would be), then it’s ok to freeze the meat and veggies together. The Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education addresses this briefly on their Be Food Safe web site. In addition, we called the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline and spoke to a very nice gentleman who confirmed this for us, as well. Again, though – the key is to thaw the food properly prior to cooking. (Several times throughout our conversation, the gentleman from the USDA re-emphasized the absolute importance of thawing the food completely, safely and thoroughly before adding it to the slow cooker.) Hope that helps, and thanks so much for the fantastic question! ~G&S

  8. This is by far the best-written article I have seen in many years. I took the food handler’s course and all the information you have covered in the article is spot on from the course. So glad to see somebody has a career that you love because you do it so professionally. (100 % accurate on information) Safe eating :)

    BTW, If you get sick from any foods prepared outside from your home, Please report it to the authorities. They send out a food safety inspector to the establishment to find out “Why” and “How” was a customer allowed to become ill.

    • Wow, Joanne! Thank you so much for all of your kind words! You made us blush! :)

      Thank you for sharing an extremely important tip about reporting being ill from eating out. Hopefully we will never need to worry about this, but it is a great reminder to keep in mind!

      Thank you, again, Joanne for the wonderful feedback! ~G&S

  9. Interesting article. However, I was wondering if it matters what type of meat you’re using. All the pictures seem to be of chicken, but what about beef, as that is safer to eat at lower cooked levels?

    • Hi Jacqueline! Thanks for the great question. Yes, most of our pics did have chicken in them – it’s what we had on hand that day! :)

      No, it isn’t safe to put any type of frozen meat (beef or chicken) in the crock-pot. This isn’t really a question of how well-done the meat will be, it comes down to how long the meat spends in the danger zone. While some people prefer their red meat to be more rare, the crock-pot won’t achieve this with frozen meat the same way a grill would with fresh meat.

      Simply stated, putting frozen meat into the crock-pot doesn’t let it heat up fast enough, and it will spend too much time in the danger zone – which is the range of temperatures between 40°F- 140°F. Based on the research I’ve seen, bacteria such as e-coli, staph, and salmonella can double in as little as 20 minutes when in the danger zone. So instead of acting as a cooking device, the crock-pot suddenly becomes a thawing device. With frozen meat, it could literally take hours to get out of the danger zone. This, of course, lessens the amount of time that the meat actually spends cooking. Additionally, the bacteria could spread to any vegetables or other foods you’ve added to the crock-pot.

      Our rule – be safe, and only used completely thawed meat! :) ~Gretchen

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    • Kelly, thanks so much for your comment! It’s interesting what a big issue this is! So many people just don’t realize the inherent risks here, but as a blog focused on helping people to feed their families healthfully, we realized it might help our readers if we addressed this issue, so they were at least aware of the risks. Hopefully it helped at least one person and kept an unsuspecting family from getting sick! We really appreciate your supportive comment – thanks for taking a moment to weigh in on the topic! :D ~G&S

  11. Thank you for this. I have taken multiple food safety classes and it is absolutely not okay! It is hard to convince people who have tried and never gotten sick.

    • Hi, Tara! Thanks so much for your vote of support here! :D I do agree – it seems like people who’ve tried it before don’t really want to hear that’s it’s not a great idea. They’re disappointed to find that their shortcut might not be such a good strategy after all. You know how we are at THK – we’re all about the shortcut and love a good time-saving strategy! But this just isn’t one we wanted our readers to try. Thanks a million for taking the time to weigh in on the issue. Hope you’re having an awesome week! :D ~Shelley

    • Thanks, Erin! It does seem tempting, but it’s totally not worth the risk! I really try to plan ahead, but sometimes those plans don’t always work out the way I had hoped. (Like when I forget to take the meat out of the freezer! It’s happened more than once!) But that’s when I have to come up with another idea – I just can’t gamble with my family’s health! Thanks for stopping by! :) ~Gretchen

    • Hi Tina! No – you aren’t the only one! We’ve actually seen quite a few recipes where it’s recommended to use frozen meat! It’s not a good idea – in fact it’s totally unsafe! We’re just trying to get the word out … and help our readers stay healthy! We’re glad you found this helpful! :) ~G&S

  12. I don’t even have a crock-pot and I think this is so interesting. I’m sure that with my cooking-skills everything is totally dead by the time I’m done with it, but it’s really nice to have someone bring this up! People should be more aware of what and how they cook. Thank you again, you’re two amazing mommies!

  13. My hubby is a food safety officer and he agrees totally with your article. The length of time a product is in the danger zone is the important factor. You could inadvertently be using your crock pot as an incubator of bacteria if the meal spends too long in the danger zone.

    • Thank you, Julie, for the wonderful comment! Wow, an incubator or bacteria – if that doesn’t stop people from putting frozen meat in the crock-pot, I’m not sure what will! In all honesty, thank you very much for taking the time to share this post with your husband! :) ~G&S

  14. Very informative! I don’t have a slow cooker but I have chopped up frozen chicken and tossed it in the soup pot. I never would have thought to do it but was told by a professional chef it was safe. Is there a difference between stove top or crock pot? I certainly don’t want to risk anyone getting sick…

    • Hi, Sharon! Great question! So, judging by what you’ve described with small, frozen cubes of chicken in a soup, it sounds like there’s one very important difference: timing. The big problem with using frozen meat in the crock-pot is the length of time that some or all of that meat may linger in the danger zone (by definition, a crock-pot is a SLOOOOW cooker!). It sounds like the difference with your soup scenario is that your small pieces of meat are going into a (probably already boiling?) environment in which they will very QUICKLY pass through the danger zone and come up to a safe temperature. If I understand correctly what you’ve described, then I would say that difference is very key to the safety of the method the chef taught you. Hope that helps! ~Shelley

  15. Great idea, ladies. I like this post idea of answering some important questions out there. Love your research. I, myself, do not do this but never really thought of why I didn’t :). But, now you have made me more aware of this issue. I offer my thanks for that!

    • Thanks, Lori! When we first received the question from one of our readers about using frozen meat, we realized there were probably a lot of other people wondering about the same thing! So glad you found this helpful! :D ~G&S

    • We really hope this info is helpful to everyone! We continue to see recipes that give instructions to just ‘toss frozen meat’ into the crock-pot … and it just isn’t good advice. We want to feed our families delicious foods that don’t take all day to prepare, but certainly aren’t willing to sacrifice food safety! Thanks for stopping by! :) ~G&S

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