The Simple Secret to Safely Cooking Meat From Frozen—Whether It's Steak, Chicken, or Pork
Sometimes, we nail it: we've meal prepped, chilled the wine, and get dinner on the table before anyone asks (read: whines). Other times, life happens. It's 7 pm, you're exhausted from a long day at the office, and just as you start to cook you realize you forgot to defrost dinner. If forgetting to take your chicken breasts out of the freezer instinctively makes you want to call up the local pizza joint, don't. One of the most common misconceptions about meat is that cooking from frozen doesn't work and leads to an inferior tasting result. Both of these assertions are wrong.
Not only can you cook beef, chicken and pork from frozen, it also results in properly-cooked, juicy chicken, tender steaks or delicious pork chops. When done right. We tapped Chef Yankel, the lead chef at ButcherBox, to get his expert advice on the best (and safest) ways to cook meat from frozen. Turns out, it's surprisingly simple.
Chef Yankel's technique for easily cooking a steak from frozen is to place your meat (in its packaging) in a bowl and run it under some cold water while preheating your oven to 400°F and your pan with some cooking oil at high heat in a cast-iron pan. You can then remove your steak from its packaging, coat with salt and pepper and sear on one side in the pan for three minutes. Flip the steak and place the steak—oven-safe pan and all—into the oven for 15 minutes. When you remove the steak from the oven make sure it has reached the desired internal temperature. Let the steak rest for five to eight minutes and then slice against the grain for a delicious, tender steak.
Cooking frozen chicken breasts or whole chicken is a bit more of a challenge. It is not recommended that you grill or sauté frozen chicken—for a number of reasons—and you are going to get a much better outcome by baking or simmering frozen chicken in some kind of sauce. The key to cooking frozen boneless chicken breasts, chicken thighs, or wings is to cook it twice as long (or more) as you normally would at a slightly lower temperature than you would for unfrozen poultry. Just don't cook below 350°F for safety.
For pork, you can cook from frozen on the stovetop, grill or oven, but you must follow similar cooking time rules as chicken and beef. Cook for twice as long as you normally would and at above the same temperature threshold as chicken.
While cooking from frozen is simple and doesn't compromise taste, there are a few very important things to be aware of when cooking meat directly from the freezer.
- First and foremost, you should never cook frozen meat in a slow cooker or crockpot. Whether it's beef, chicken or pork, cooking frozen meat in a slow cooker can cause it to spend too much time at a temperature at which dangerous bacteria can grow, no matter what temperature it gets to eventually. According to the USDA, you should always thaw meat before slow cooking it. The potential for frozen meat to stay in what is called the "danger zone" — between 40°F and 140°F — for too long while cooking. Staying in the danger zone for a longer period in a slow cooker allows bacteria, such as salmonella, an environment to grow before reaching the temperature when it is normally killed.
- When you remember to take your meat out of the freezer, the safest way to thaw frozen meat is in the refrigerator. Generally, an average size cut of meat takes a day to fully defrost in a refrigerator. Larger cuts or whole birds (like a turkey) take about 24 hours per five pounds to thaw.
- It is not recommended that you defrost meat by leaving it out at room temperature on the kitchen counter, because you shouldn't leave meat out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. This will bring it to the "danger zone" temperatures where bacteria can form. The same is true of thawing with hot water.