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Freezing foods is an excellent way to preserve them without losing nutrients. The same goes for buying frozen foods. Having something in the freezer at all times is a smart move and can be a lifesaver in many different situations.
Let’s say you got home late from work and are without a dinner plan, or your friends decided to drop by, and you have nothing to serve. The easiest solution is to grab something from the freezer and let it cook while you take care of yourself or tend to other household duties. But can you do that without thawing the meat first?
Pressure cookers are a game-changer because they save energy and time, cook without monitoring, and don’t make the kitchen a total mess. Better yet, being able to cook frozen foods safely is a major selling point of many pressure cookers.
So, yes, you can pressure cook frozen meat, but there’s a caveat.
Pressure cooking frozen meat can be tricky. And while you can safely pressure cook some frozen meats, there are a lot of factors and risks you need to consider first. Read on to find out everything you need to know before you put a frozen piece of meat in the pressure cooker.
What Is Pressure Cooking?
Let’s start from the beginning – what is pressure cooking?
As the name suggests, pressure cooking is a food preparation method such as baking and frying, where the food is cooked under high-pressure steam. You need to trap water or another cooking liquid in a sealed container to produce steam, i.e., the pressure cooker.
Since the pressure cooker is a sealed vessel, meaning no air can get in or out, it allows the steam to build up, creating a high-pressure environment. The high pressure created inside the vessel raises the boiling point and temperature well above 100 °C (212°F). But what does this have to do with cooking the food faster?
The amount of heat that transfers to the food depends on the maximum temperature at which the liquid boils because liquid water cannot be at a higher temperature than its boiling point. In other words, higher pressure equals a higher boiling point of water, which allows a higher temperature to be reached and results in much more heat transferring to the meat. And, more heat inside the food means it will be done much quicker.
Food Temperature and Pressure Cooking
Okay, so now that we got science out of the way, what conclusions can we make about how the initial temperature of the food might affect the cooking process?
It’s not just the temperature of the food that affects the cooking process; it’s the water as well. If you add cold water to the pressure cooker, the cooking time will be longer. This is because the pressure cooker will need more time to bring the water to boil and start cooking. The pressure cooker will get up to pressure sooner if you add hot water.
We can apply the same logic to food as well. The colder our food is when we put it in the pressure cooker, the longer it will take for the pressure cooker to reach the temperature needed to cook the meat thoroughly.
Because of this, pressure cooking frozen meat can take up to one-third more than the normal pressure cooking time. The exact time depends on the size of the meat as well.
If you cut the meat into small pieces, then the pressure cooker will be able to heat up the food faster. The larger the piece of meat is, the more time it takes for the heat to reach the needed temperature to process meat safely. On top of that, larger pieces of meat increase the chances of uneven cooking where the surface is almost burnt, while the core is undercooked.
As a rule of thumb, a single block of frozen steak that’s at least 1-inch (2.5cm) thick will need double the amount of cooking time compared to frozen ground meat.
Verdict: Is It Safe to Pressure Cook Frozen Meat?
Yes, it’s perfectly safe to pressure cook some frozen meat without thawing first. In a way, the pressure cooker will do that for you. However, because of how pressure cookers work, putting frozen meat inside the vessel will delay the time needed for the pressure cooker to get up to pressure and reach high temperatures.
Size also matters in this case. Pressure cooking larger pieces of meat, or even a whole chicken or turkey, will significantly prolong the cooking time. To give you an example, if you were to pressure cook frozen ground meat, it might take 5 minutes, but pressure cooking frozen steak that’s 1-inch (2.5cm) thick will take at least 10 minutes.
Cooking large pieces of meat or a whole chicken or turkey is not recommended. First, large pieces of meat take more time to be cooked thoroughly from the inside. During this time, the outside is exposed to high heat and can easily burn, while the inside is still thawing. Second, uneven cooking affects the flavor and can be a health risk. Still, you can do it with some practice.
Drawbacks of Pressure Cooking Frozen Meat
While you can pressure cook frozen meat, the real question is whether that’s a really good idea. With everything that we said, is it worth it to cook frozen meat in a pressure cooker without thawing it first?
The answer depends on what type of meat you plan to pressure cook. If we’re talking about ground meat or very small chunks of meat, then pressure cooking them while frozen will only add a few more minutes to the whole cooking process. Plus, changes to the taste will be relatively the same for small chunks – unless you’re a real foodie that enjoys fresh food.
That being said, freezing can damage the texture of the food due to ice crystals forming inside the cells. Meat is especially susceptible to texture degradation, and the effect will be more noticeable in large pieces of meat.
On top of that, pressure cooking large pieces of meat takes more time, so the convenience of having a meal in 5 to 10 minutes is not really an option in this case. And rushing can lead to undercooking, which can be a health risk.
Finally, pressure cooking means you can’t check the food or add seasoning while the food is cooking. Large pieces of meat retain a lot of water that will be released during cooking. And not being able to adjust the seasoning can result in very watery and soft meat that lacks flavor.
Consider these limitations when deciding your next meal and plan accordingly.
How to Pressure Cook Frozen Meat
Since pressure cooking frozen meat is not the same as pressure cooking fresh meat, here are a few pieces of advice that will help you make a delicious meal.
First, adjust cooking times! According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), cooking frozen meat will take around 50% longer than the time needed to fully cook thawed or fresh meat and poultry. The same rules apply when pressure cooking, but the size and amount of food affect the time significantly. The Instant Pot official web page has a cooking timetable with detailed information about time per size of meat. These times are a good guide, but you’ll probably need to experiment and see what works best for frozen vs. fresh meat.
Second, cut the meat into small chunks whenever possible. Even if you’re working with larger pieces, always think about how you can cut each piece within the limits of your recipe.
Third, fully submerge the meat in water. While it’s best to follow the recommended amount of water for frozen meat, if you do not have official recommendations from the manufacturer, a safe bet is to fully submerge the meat in water or other liquid to prevent uneven cooking. Steaming or braising frozen food without water can lead to undercooked areas, which is a health risk.
Fourth, always use a meat thermometer that you can insert into the center of the meat to check whether it is fully cooked on the inside.
And last but not least, experiment with seasoning as it probably won’t be the same as seasoning fresh chunks of meat. It’s best to follow recipes that detail how to pressure cook frozen meats.
Pressure cooking frozen meat is safe and doable, although a little bit tricky. We tried to explain the science behind pressure cooking because this will give you a better idea of why some limitations or recommendations exist. Plus, you’re more likely to resist the temptation of trying to pressure cook frozen meat the same way you would fresh or thawed meat.
The most important thing you need to remember is that the size and amount of frozen meat you want to pressure cook may prolong cooking times. If you adjust the cooking time depending on these two factors, you can pressure cook safely and without much fuss.
Remember that freezing affects the texture and taste, so adjust your recipes accordingly.
Follow our recommendations and advice to make sure the outcome is a delicious meal that you can enjoy when you need it. Plus, with a bit of practice, we promise that your friends and family won’t be able to tell whether you used fresh, thawed, or frozen meat.