Many of us, especially those who are ButcherBox members, have a freezer full of the various meats we’ve purchased or had sent to use each month. Too often, when in the midst of frenetic lives, we forget to plan meals or, worse, don’t remember to defrost the meat we had planned to use for a weeknight meal.
Whether it’s feeding a hungry family, trying to squeeze in a meal before the next life or work obligation, or just plain being exhausted at the end of a long day, it is our modern default to find comfort in the ease of takeout rather than cook the food we already have. If you add dealing with a frozen cut of meat — and the need to defrost it before being able to cook it — it is no wonder why more and more people are continuing to turn to takeout. As a recent UBS report suggests, the current growth of online ordering, delivery apps, and other factors will lead to the takeout business growing from a $65 billion industry today to $365 billion in a little more than a decade.
But takeout has some major drawbacks, besides being unhealthier than a home-cooked meal, it is also far less economically sound to skip cooking at home. A recent study by Vitagene found that it costs between $1,000 to $1,400 more per year to get takeout versus cook at home in cities like New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, and more.
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 chicken, beef, and pork from frozen, but doing so still results in properly-cooked, juicy chicken or tender steaks or delicious pork chops.
You can cook from frozen, here’s how
Cooking from frozen is not only easy, but it also leads to chicken, steak, or pork that often tastes as good or the same as defrosted meat.
Here’s Chef Yankel’s technique for easily cooking a steak from frozen. First, run your meat in a bowl under some cold water while preheating your oven to 400°F and your pan with some cooking oil at high heat — a cast-iron pan works best. 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 (Check here for meat temperatures). Let the steak rest for five to eight minutes and then slice against the grain for a delicious, tender steak.
For more details and to watch Chef Yankel walk you through these steps, check out the video below:
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, but don’t cook below 350°F.
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.
What you need to know
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 is 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 it comes to an Instant Pot, however, a lot of websites say it is safe to cook from frozen, pointing to the manufacturer’s guidelines. The Instant Pot, when used properly as a pressure cooker gets meat to the ideal cooking temperature.
Another key is to make sure you use a meat thermometer or instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the meat to make sure it has spent enough time to be fully cooked.