How to Cook Frozen Chicken and Meat in the Instant Pot
It's dinnertime, and you forgot to defrost a protein. Don't panic: You can still have meat, chicken, or seafood fresh out of the freezer thanks to your favorite tool for hands-off, easy-to-put-together dinners. We're talking about the Instant Pot, of course. It can do it all, including cooking frozen meats completely through so that they are delicious and safe to eat.
You might not be able to use the exact same recipe or technique you originally planned on, but we're sharing tips for cooking frozen meats in your Instant Pot—including the cuts you can and can't work with. Heed our advice, and those last-minute meals will be so much better.
Choose Slow-Cooking Meats
Braised and ground meats do best when cooked from frozen (a steak, on the other hand, will get soggy and won't retain its texture). With that in mind, stews, chilis, and chicken soups will turn out well if you begin with frozen meat; just increase the cook time by about 50 percent.
Use Smaller Cuts or Chunks
"Smaller cuts of frozen meat, around 1 to 6 ounces per piece, work best," says Gill Boyd, chef-instructor of Culinary Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. Using smaller cuts, such as boneless, skinless chicken breasts, "will ensure the meat cooks all the way through in a timely manner."
Another way to promote even cooking? If you have a few minutes, let a protein, like a larger chicken breast or pork tenderloin, defrost in its package in a cold bowl of water (enough so that you can run a sharp knife in it to slice up the meat).
Plan and Cut Ahead
You can also plan ahead for cooking meat from frozen by cutting chicken, beef, and pork into smaller pieces before you freeze it. Packages of ground meat can also be frozen in smaller portions for smaller meals or quicker defrosting in the Instant Pot.
Ground Beef, Pork, Chicken, and Turkey
Have ground beef, turkey, pork or chicken in the freezer? Thse meat bricks cook surprisingly well in the Instant Pot. "Frozen ground meat can be used to make chili or Bolognese sauce," says Gill. He suggests defrosting the meat for three to five minutes in a microwave to help 1 to 2 pounds of ground meat cook more quickly.
Skip for Meatballs, Meatloaf, and Hamburgers
If you're looking to make meatballs, meatloaf, or hamburgers, cooking from frozen isn't for you. The meat will cook as it defrosts and won't stick together.
Small and easy to defrost, raw frozen shrimp is an easy protein to cook in the Instant Pot, straight out of the freezer. Try it in an Instant Pot Shrimp Boil or Pressure-Cooker Shrimp Bisque. Like anything cooked in a pressure cooker, dishes made from frozen shrimp will benefit from a fresh spritz of lemon or sprinkle of green herbs or microgreens when served.
Avoid Bone-In Cuts
Bone-in meats, like chicken drumsticks, take longer to defrost and generally will not be as structurally appealing (they will fall apart!) if cooked from frozen directly on the bone. Inside the pressure cooker, you'll be essentially cooking your soon-defrosted meat with giant, hard ice cubes, which isn't ideal.
There is an exception, however. If you want to cook meats that will tenderize and fall off the bone, like baby back or short ribs, you can start from frozen, says Gill. To do so, cut ribs into smaller pieces (about two to three ribs per rack) and rub with rib seasoning. Then, cook on high pressure for 30 minutes.
Cook Frozen Meat in Broth
Frozen food contains ice, which will melt and become water as it cooks. While some of this is released as steam, the rest will be retained in your food. So, instead of adding water to the Instant Pot when cooking meat or poultry from frozen on the pressure cooker setting, sub in broth (like chicken, beef or veggie, or even bouillon) to add flavor—and prevent the finished product from tasting watery.
Set Instant Pot to Natural Release
This is key for any frozen meat. Once cooking stops, your Instant Pot will slowly release pressure. And while this can take some time, it slows down the cooking and allows all the juices in the meat settle. Plus, experiencing a blast of steam to your face by trying to force the pressure to decrease too fast is unsafe.
Put a quick salad or appetizer together while the natural release kicks in, and soon you'll be feasting on dinner.
Use the Broiler
If you want your meat to have a charred or browned flavor, opt for a reverse sear or a broiled top. Once the meat is done cooking in the Instant Pot, transfer to a pre-heated sauté pan to brown it on the stovetop. Or, lay it in a single layer on a baking sheet to crisp up under the broiler for about five minutes—but watch it carefully and remove from heat when done.
As always, it's critical to check the temperature of the meats you have cooked from frozen in the Instant Pot to ensure each cut is cooked to a safe temperature for serving. That's 165 degrees for chicken and turkey, 160 degrees for ground beef, and 145 degrees for pork. You'll also want to cook frozen meat in the Instant Pot promptly, rather than letting it defrost at room temperature for any amount of time before the cooking process begins; this could lead to bacteria in your food.
Don't Use Slow Cooker Setting
Do not use the slow cooker function with frozen meat—only pressure-cooking will bring it to a safe temperature in a safe time period.