I’m one of those people who thinks that it’s better to overcook your chicken just to be on the safe side. If I have to add a little extra sauce to my dry chicken to guarantee I won’t get salmonella, well then so be it. I’d rather that than being sick.
Using the crockpot is one of my favorite ways to make chicken, but recently I wanted to put frozen chicken in the crockpot and let it cook for the day while I was at work. I told my friend this and she said I should be careful because cooking frozen chicken in the crockpot can be dangerous. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but I decided to look into it. It turns out, she’s right! There are some legitimate concerns when it comes to cooking chicken straight from the freezer using your crockpot.
According to the USDA, there’s a “danger zone,” which is the temperature range that is ideal for harmful bacteria to grow on food. Because you’d be letting the chicken sit on the counter in the crockpot all day thawing, there is a danger that it could contract some of these bacteria.
Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria (such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter) to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. This range of temperatures is often called the “Danger Zone.”
Never leave food out of refrigeration over 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90 °F, food should not be left out more than 1 hour.
- Keep hot food hot—at or above 140 °F. Place cooked food in chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays, and/or slow cookers.
- Keep cold food cold—at or below 40 °F. Place food in containers on ice.
If the USDA danger zone isn’t enough to convince you, their guidelines for using a crockpot specifically tel you to thaw meat and poultry beforehand.
Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. 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.
Despite the warnings from the USDA, the actual Crock-Pot company says you can cook chicken from frozen in their product, you just need to make sure you’re adjusting to add more cooking time like you would if you were cooking chicken from frozen in the oven.
“You can cook frozen meat in any Crock-Pot brand product, but suggested cook time may need to be increased,” a representative for Crock-Pot told Today. “We recommend that you refer to your product’s instruction manual as well for specific instructions and guidance.”
And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, Tom Super, SVP of Communications at the National Chicken Council, admits that even he cooks chicken from frozen in his crockpot.
“It is entirely safe to prepare frozen chicken in a slow cooker or crockpot as long are you are familiar with the make and model of the device,” Super told Today.
Quin Patton, a food scientist formerly with PepsiCo, told Today that cooking chicken in a crockpot is safe, so long as you heat it to the proper temperature.
“It is safe to cook a frozen chicken in a slow cooker,” he said. “You just need to make sure the internal temperature gets up to 165 degrees at some point during the cooking process.”
A spokesperson for the USDA does admit that their recommendations err a little more on the side of caution.
“Basically, our recommendations are a little bit more conservative just to make sure everyone is covered,” the spokesperson told Today.
Personally, I’ll be listening to the USDA so I can be as careful as possible to avoid any food-borne illnesses, but for those who are willing to take more of a risk, go ahead and cook your chicken from frozen right in the crock pot!