The slow cooker is a genius invention that doesn't just make the best pot roast, but also works to save time and money for busy families that put dinner on the table every night. However, you can't just toss anything into your slow cooker, shut the lid, and set it on High. Today Food recently dug into the question on all of our minds: Can you put frozen chicken in your slow cooker?
To begin, it's important to note the difference between a slow cooker, like a Crock-Pot or the Pioneer Woman models, and an Instant Pot. While an Instant Pot has slow cooking functions, it also has pressure cooking functions, which is totally different when talking about food safety. So, where does the USDA stand on using frozen chicken in your slow cooker?
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On the Food Safety and Inspection Service website, it clearly states that one should "always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker," and even reiterates that point again in the Reminders section. Their concerns stem from food safety. Quin Patton, a former food scientist with PepsiCo, told Today Food, "It is safe to cook a frozen chicken in a slow cooker. You just need to make sure the internal temperature gets up to 165 degrees at some point during the cooking process."
Because 165 degrees is the minimal temperature to ensure your poultry is safely cooked, it's important not to let your chicken hover in the danger zone of warmth where bacteria can easily grow without being killed off in the cooking process. Food-borne illnesses like Salmonella can spread quickly in your Crock-Pot chicken recipe if the internal temperature hovers between 40 and 140 degrees as this is when bacteria is most likely to quickly grow.
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Interestingly enough, Today Food found that slow cooker manufacturers commonly encourage users to cook frozen meat in their slow cookers. One Crock-Pot manual encourages adding 1 cup water when cooking frozen chicken. When it comes to Instant Pot, it's fine to cook frozen chicken on the pressure cooking setting by increasing the cooking time, but important to remember the bacteria that can grow in the slow cooker setting.
Despite the conflicting opinions, it is best to follow the USDA guidelines and avoid putting frozen chicken breasts into the slow cooker as a time saver. It can throw your plans off track when you realize that you never thawed out those breasts for your slow cooker chicken recipe, but it's not guaranteed that those skinless chicken breasts will reach a safe temperature to kill bacteria, especially on the low temperature setting. The almost zero prep time and the fact that you can cook boneless skinless chicken breasts without thawing may sound like a home cook's dream, but if you want to avoid risking the whole family feeling sick, stick to a different method of cooking your frozen chicken. If you plan on shredding it, stick it in a pot of chicken broth and cook it until done, then shred.
The next time you forget to defrost that chicken for chicken tacos, enchiladas or other slow cooker recipes, just remember that going meatless is always a great idea when you're in a pinch.
This post was originally published on March 21, 2018.