Slow cookers come with a lot of advantages, but they are not without their limits. For example, they should never be used to cook frozen foods, especially when it's meat, thick cut or otherwise. According to food safety experts, using a slow cooker to cook frozen meat can cause grave foodborne illnesses. Read on for the reasons behind this official statement.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), slow cookers' max temperatures generally reach between 170 and 280 degrees F (77 and 138 degrees C). That's high enough to kill most bad bacteria. However, the USDA still recommends thawing all foods thoroughly before placing them in a slow cooker.
The USDA recommends that any food you cook achieve a proper temperature outside the danger zone (above 140 degrees F/60 degrees C) within two hours. Unfortunately, frozen food, which starts at 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C), will take too long to come up to temperature in the low-heat slow cooker, so frozen meat will sit in the danger zone for bacteria growth for far too long to be considered safe.
All food headed for a slow cooker should be fully thawed in the refrigerator first, the USDA says, even for recipes that require long, slow cooking over several hours. They also suggest to still cook your meal on your slow cooker's highest temperature setting for the first hour.
Then you can reduce the heat to the desired level to finish cooking. This will ensure that your food reaches a safe temperature within a reasonable timeframe and keeps it out of the danger zone for bacterial growth. If you have commercially packaged frozen slow cooker meals, it is recommended that you follow the package directions carefully.
1. Place the meat that needs thawing in a zip-top bag with as much air pressed out as possible. Put the bag into a large vessel to hold it submerged with little extra space. Place the vessel in your sink, being sure it does not block the drain; elevating it on a wire rack can help with this. Fill the vessel with your coldest setting tap water. Weigh down the bag with a plate or other object if it wants to float; you want it fully submerged.
2. When the vessel is overflowing with cold water, reduce the stream to a thin trickle. You want the water running as minimally as possible but in a steady flow. This trickle of water and the constant overflow of the vessel will create convection of water around your frozen item that will speed up thawing tremendously while still keeping things at a safe temperature.
3. Depending on the size and thickness of the meat you are thawing, it can take as little as 20 minutes or up to an hour to thaw something completely. Solid large proteins, like whole chickens or roasts, will take the longest. After the first 20 minutes, check every 10 to 15 minutes to see if your food has thawed enough to proceed with your recipe.
Remember, thawing meats before cooking lowers your risk of food poisoning.