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We have all been there, maybe you forgot to thaw out your meat or you decided last minute to fire up the smoker and the only meat you have is frozen rock solid. Whatever your situation is, you are reading this article for a reason, you have a frozen piece of meat and you are wondering if it is ok to smoke it from frozen.
Brisket, pork, and ribs can all be smoked from frozen. Chicken and Turkey should be thawed before smoking. According to the USDA, cooking frozen meat takes one and half times longer.
I noticed a lot of people asking if you could smoke frozen meat. This got me curious as to if this was possible, if it was safe, and if you could still get great results. After hours of research, here is what I found!
What Frozen Meats Can You Smoke?
|Type of Meat||Can You Smoke From Frozen?|
Smoking Frozen Pork, Briskets, and Ribs.
If you look long enough online, you will see many people who have smoked frozen beef with great success. While we always recommend smoking fresh meat, we also understand that things happen, plans get changed or someone forgets to thaw out the meat. Here is how to can smoke frozen beef with success!
How To Apply Rub When Smoking Frozen Meat.
Frozen meat can make it difficult to apply a rub. To apply the rub to a completely frozen piece of meat you will need to use mustard as a binder; however, for the best results you will want to thaw the surface of the meat first. You can do this two ways. The first, and preferred method, is to thaw the outside of your piece of meat before applying your rub. While you are getting your smoker fired up, have your meat thawing under cold running water. This will allow the surface of your meat to thaw enough to allow your rub to stick. Another easy way, is to apply the rub after your meat has had time to defrost in your smoker. After an hour on the smoker, remove it and apply your rub, then return it to finish cooking.
How Much Longer Will It Take To Smoke Frozen Meat.
When smoking frozen meat, the thicker the meat is, the longer it will take to thaw. Once the meat has thawed it will cook as normal. With smaller and thinner cuts of meat like ribs, it should add and hour or two to the cook time. Larger cuts of meats like brisket and pork shoulder will take much longer to thaw. Unfortunately, there is no data on this topic, so until I can run an experiment you will just have to give yourself ample time to smoke. The USDA states that cooking meat from frozen takes one and a half times longer, but that is based on smaller cuts of meat.
Won’t The Uneven Cooking Dry The Meat Out?
A common misconception is that smoked meat gets its juiciness from the water content in the meat; however, the juiciness we crave actually comes from the fat and collagen breaking down. When smoking frozen meat, we only have to worry about the outside drying out. If you are worried about the outside of your meat drying out, you can spray your meat hourly with an apple cider vinegar water mixture (1:1 ratio) and wrap it in tin foil or butcher paper once the internal temperature reaches 160°.
Will Smoke Penetrate Frozen Meat?
Smoke will not penetrate completely frozen meat, but once your meat thaws enough, it will start taking on the smoke from the wood. In fact, colder meat takes on more smoke than room temperature meat. I always get a better smoke ring when the meat goes on the smoker straight from the fridge. Knowing that the meat will take some time to defrost, you might need to add more wood throughout the smoke.
While you can still smoke frozen meat with good success, you will get better results when smoking fresh cuts of meat. We always recommend using fresh or thawed meat when smoking.
Why You Shouldn’t Smoke Frozen Chicken Or Turkey
While technically you could smoke a frozen turkey, doing so is a surefire way to producing completely dry and unappetizing turkey. And the same goes for smoking frozen chicken. Most of the meats we smoke are very tough and fatty pieces of meat. Smoking them low and slow allows the fat and collagen to break down and render it edible. The rendered fat is also what creates the juiciness we all crave. Turkey and Chicken on the other hand, are very lean pieces of meat and get their juiciness from the water content inside the meat. The juiciest turkey comes right on the edge of doneness and overcooking leads to a dry turkey.
So why is this important? Meat thaws from the outside in, meaning that when the outside layer is thawed and ready to be cooked, the inside of the meat is still frozen which leads to uneven cooking. When smoking frozen poultry, the exterior is going to reach 165° before the interior is even close to being done. Because all parts of a turkey or chicken need to reach a minimum of 165° to be considered safe to eat, the outer layer of your meat is going to be overcooked resulting in a dry and tough piece of meat. It is best to thaw out poultry before smoking it.
Is It Safe To Smoke Meat From Frozen?
I have had food poisoning before and that is something I never want to experience it again; Therefore, I have become a stickler for food safety and proper food handling. When I started researching the safety aspect on smoking frozen meat, I was disappointed in the search results. There was extraordinarily little information on food safety regarding smoking frozen meat and the information that was out there was contradicting itself.
So, lets break it down.
According to the USDA it is safe to cook meat from frozen. The discrepancy is when you slow cook frozen meat. As a general rule of thumb when slow cooking or smoking meat, your meat should pass through the danger zone (40°F-140°F) within 4 hours. The argument is that slow cooking frozen meat allows it to sit in the danger zone for too long allowing it to grow an unsafe amount of bacteria; however, here are two issues with this statement.
We Smoke With Intact Meat:
When smoking meat, we are almost always using what is referred to as intact meat. That is meat that is not mechanically altered, punctured, or injected. A whole brisket, a whole pork shoulder, and a rack of ribs are all considered intact pieces of meat. According to the USDA, harmful bacteria such as E Coli grows on the surface of intact beef, but not below the surface. Studies conducted by Beef Research and the Meat Industry Research of New Zealand, further support this claim. Meat below the surface of intact meat is considered protected because there is no pathway for the pathogens to reach the interior.
So using the information from the above studies, when smoking with intact meat, we should only have to worry about harmful bacteria growing on the outer 2 cm of our meat. With that being said, the outer parts of the meat will pass the 40-140-4 rule regardless if the meat started frozen or not.
The 40-140-4 Rule.
The 40-140-40 rule is a general food safety rule that states meat should pass between danger zone (40°-140°) within 4 hours to be considered safe to eat. Below 40°, the growth of bacteria is minimal.
So, even if the bacteria were to find its way underneath the surface of the meat, rapid bacteria growth would not happen until it reaches 40°. By the time our frozen meat reaches 40°, it is already considered thawed and would cook the same as a piece of meat that was thawed to start. Starting with a frozen piece of meat is not going to slow down the cooking process in the critical danger zone, which is why the USDA says its ok to cook frozen meat.
I am not a food safety scientist nor am I a medical professional so I cannot definitively say smoking frozen meat is safe. In fact, you should always error on the side of safety and only smoke meat that has been properly thawed. All I can do is present you with the information I have found and allow you to make your own decision.
Thawing A Pork Shoulder For Smoking.
The absolute best way to thaw frozen meat for smoking, is to allow your meat to sit in the refrigerator for a couple days. This requires you to plan ahead but it is the safest way, and the recommended method from USDA. When thawing frozen meat in the fridge, you can expect 4-6 hours per pound of meat.
Now if you want something quicker, put your piece of meat in a leak proof bag and rest it in cold water. Make sure to change the cold water every 30 minutes. It is essential that you use cold water to prevent bacteria from growing. Expect about 30 minutes per pound of meat when thawing using this method.
You may be tempted to leave frozen meat on the counter; however, this is a very bad idea. Leaving frozen meat to thaw at room temperature is going to cause the exterior of the meat to sit in the danger zone for too long. This allows harmful bacteria to grow rapidly, putting you at risk of getting a foodborne illness.
Can You Smoke Meat That Has Been Frozen?
You can absolutely smoke meat that has been frozen; however, for a better finished product, it is best to use fresh meat. When you freeze meet, the water inside the meat crystalizes and expands. This creates micro-tears in the muscle fibers. While this isn’t bad, it will slightly affect the quality of your finished product. Don’t let that deter you though, you can still create great food from frozen.