Can You Cook Frozen Hamburger Meat? The Complete Guide

Summertime is hamburger season, am I right? Hot weekends barbequing with friends and family, enjoying cold drinks and good food. Summer is awesome. It’s too bad it only lasts for a few months each year – unless you’re lucky enough to live in Southern California or somewhere else that has great weather all year long. But, jealousy aside, no matter where you live, disaster can strike. This particular disaster is forgetting to defrost your ground beef the night before your big barbeque. 

However, don’t fret! Just because you didn’t defrost the hamburger meat in time doesn’t mean the party is ruined. Since it’s frozen it may limit how you can cook the ground beef and how long it’ll take to cook. But, it’s certainly not the end of the world. Because yes, you can definitely cook frozen hamburger meat!

Let’s get into what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes it to cooking frozen hamburger meat. 

Risks of Cooking Frozen Hamburger Meat

If you cook frozen ground beef correctly, there isn’t anything that you should worry about. There are plenty of ways to cook it that are perfectly safe. However, there are some precautions you should take and methods of cooking and handling to avoid. 

The biggest risk when it comes to hamburger meat is when it’s been exposed to harmful bacteria. This can happen in two ways. First, if the ground beef has been in the “danger zone” (temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for too long. The second way is if it’s been exposed to bacteria when the meat is ground.  Of course, it’s nearly impossible for the hamburger meat to never be in the danger zone, but it should be limited to as little time as possible.

Also, cooking hamburger meat slowly, whether in the oven or slow cooker, puts the meat at risk of spending too much time in the danger zone, which creates the opportunity for bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria monocytogenes to grow. 

These harmful and illness-causing bacteria can also infect the meat when it’s processed. In this case, it can even be on the ground beef if you have handled it correctly. To prevent infection, it’s best to avoid eating burgers rare or medium rare as the bacteria may still be present because the burger isn’t fully cooked through. It doesn’t have to be a hamburger either, it can be any case in which the ground beef isn’t fully cooked. So it’s important to fully cook ground beef. 

While it shouldn’t be undercooked or cooked too slowly there are still plenty of ways that are fine to cook hamburger meat like in an instant pot, sous vide, or on the stovetop if it’s done properly. 

Best Ways to Cook Frozen Hamburger Meat

If you’re going to cook frozen ground beef then here are some of the best ways to do it. Don’t stress if you don’t have time to defrost it!

Sous Vide

Using a sous vide is a simple method to cook frozen hamburger meat. All you need to do is first make sure that the ground beef is in an airtight bag so it’s not sitting directly in the water with the sous vide. Then, place the bag of hamburger meat in a pot of water, and make sure that it’s fully submerged in the water. Finally, start cooking it with the sous vide for two hours at 137 degrees Fahrenheit. 


You can cook frozen hamburger meat just as you would as it’s defrosted – pretty much. The only differences are that you use a little bit of water and it takes a little bit longer!

So, to do it, pour about an inch of water into a large pan or skillet and then add the frozen ground beef and turn to medium/medium-high heat. Then, once the water simmers, the meat will start to brown. As it continues to brown, scrape off the browned layer to reveal the uncooked parts. This allows for the layers underneath to cook as well. As you continue to brown the beef, make sure to add more water as you go to make sure the bottom of the pan is always covered. 

After the ground beef is soft enough, break it apart and stir, cooking all of the pieces equally until it’s fully browned and cooked. 

If you want to season the ground beef, you should add seasoning when it’s soft enough to fully break apart. And if you want to cook vegetables with it to enhance the flavor then you should add aromatic vegetables like onions or garlic (or whatever suits your dish) while it’s still a little bit frozen, just before it’s soft enough to break apart. 


This is hands down my favorite way to cook frozen hamburger meat. The drawback is that it pretty much is only good if you’re cooking hamburgers or other large pieces of ground beef like a Salisbury steak. Also, it may not be the right weather to get the grill out. But, if it works for you, I’d highly recommend it. It’s pretty simple to cook frozen hamburger meat on the grill as well. 

To do it, preheat the grill to medium or medium-high and wait for about 10 minutes or for the thermometer to reach the desired temperature. Then, place the hamburger meat on the grill. Turn the patties every 3-5 minutes. They should be done after about 20 minutes of this to ensure that the inside has been fully cooked. But, you should double-check. Use a meat thermometer and make sure that the interior temperature of the hamburgers is at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. 

If you’re grilling hamburgers then you should add a bit of salt and pepper to the patties before and during the grilling process. 

Instant Pot

While grilling may be my favorite method because of the smoky flavor and charred, crispy coating on the outside, using an instant pot is a close second. If you can’t grill or don’t want to for whatever reason, cooking frozen ground beef in an instant pot is a great way to do it. This is because it keeps the hamburger meat moist, cooks it thoroughly, and does it quickly. 

To get the best results when cooking frozen hamburger meat in an instant pot, use the steam setting. To do this, place the desired amount of ground beef on a steamer insert, or trivet. Then, place a cup or so of water in the instant pot and insert the trivet with the beef on it. Don’t use more than four pounds of ground beef at a time, however. This is too much, and you may risk it not cooking thoroughly. Then, close the lid and cook at high pressure for 25 minutes. 

Voila, in only 25 minutes you can have cooked ground beef to use however you wish!

Pressure Cooker

This method is pretty similar to the instant pot as it uses a similar cooking method – trapped steam. However, a pressure cooker is used on the stove rather than being a unit in itself. 

Place the ground beef on a steaming rack – similar to the trivet in the instant pot – and add about one cup of water to the pressure cooker. Cook on high heat for about 25 minutes. And like with the instant pot – don’t try to cook more than four pounds at a time.

Worst Ways to Cook Frozen Hamburger Meat

I already mentioned a couple of ways to avoid cooking frozen hamburger meat – oven and slow cooker – but let’s look a little deeper and see what other ways you should avoid cooking frozen ground beef. 


It can be tempting to try to cook frozen hamburger meat, particularly if you’re short on time. But I really recommend resisting the urge. While it can technically work to cook it so it’s safe to eat, pretty much everything about the ground beef will be horrible – the taste, texture, and appearance. If you’ve defrosted ground beef in the microwave (which is fine, by the way) and you accidentally did it too long, you’ll notice the difference in color and texture near the edges of the meat. You don’t want this to happen to the whole thing! 

The results that you get from the microwave are not nearly as good as when you cook it in some of the ways I previously mentioned. 

Slow Cooker

Cooking a chunk of hamburger meat very slowly is a bad idea. Since it’s being cooked for such a long time, it allows for bacteria to grow since parts of the meat will stay in the dangerous temperature zone too long. 

But, using a slow cooker is great if the ground beef has already been defrosted. For example, I love making chili in a slow cooker with defrosted ground beef. It’s a hands-off meal that tastes great!


Lastly, don’t use an oven when cooking frozen ground beef. While you can cook it quicker to avoid the problem of the slow cooker, you may have a very burnt chunk of hamburger meat by the time the center is defrosted. The point being, it’s very difficult for the beef to safely cook without overcooking the outside. 

Also like the slowcooker, it’s great to cook defrosted ground beef in the overn like in the case of meatloaf, but make sure it’s been defrosted! 

How to Defrost Frozen Hamburger Meat

There are a few different ways that you can defrost frozen hamburger meat depending on how much time you have. 

In the Fridge 

The best way to defrost frozen hamburger meat is the tried and true method of leaving it in the fridge overnight (or longer depending on how much meat your defrosting).

This is by far the safest way that also keeps the ground beef in the best shape. If you forget about it, no big deal. It can last in the fridge for a 3-5 days if it’s stored properly. Also, you don’t have to worry about it starting to cook like in the other methods. However, as it takes much longer, it’s not the most convenient method. 

Using Cold Water

Defrosting frozen hamburger meat in cold water isn’t quite as quick as the microwave but it’s a good middle ground between the two other methods.

To do it, simply submerge the ground beef in cold water. The beef should be completely sealed to avoid water getting in with the beef. Check the water periodically. It should be changed about every 30 minutes. The water needs to be cold. If it’s warm, then you risk the defrosted parts being exposed to bacterial growth.

Continue changing the water until it’s fully defrosted. Cook the ground beef immediately after it’s thawed. 

In the Microwave

Lastly, the quickest method is defrosting hamburger meat in the microwave.

Similar to other foods, defrosting ground beef in the microwave is a good option if you’re in a hurry. It gets the job done but you risk parts of the beef cooking when other parts are still frozen. This is particularly the case when you’re defrosting large chunks of ground beef.

To do it, use the defrost setting and follow the instructions about weight, food, etc. But if your microwave doesn’t have this setting, lower the power to 30% and start the microwave. Rotate or flip the ground beef every 2-3 minutes. For 1 pound of beef, it should take about 2-3 minutes per side. 

How to Tell if Hamburger Meat Has Gone Bad

It’s pretty easy to tell if hamburger meat has gone bad. Like with other raw meat, you’ll generally be able to tell by the texture, color, and smell. If you’re not sure, you can look at the expiration date to be safe.

Bad ground beef will turn brown or gray. Also, it will be slimy or sticky and have a putrid smell if it’s bad. However, if it’s frozen it won’t have the same indicators as technically it will be safe as long as it’s been kept frozen. But it will lose its quality after two to three months.

So, enjoy your hamburger meat as soon as you can!