Can You Smoke Frozen Meat? How Safe is It?

December 5, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Based on my experience freezing and smoking meats, the answer to the question “Can you smoke frozen meat” is, always thaw before smoking. If the meat is still rock-solid frozen, that’s a no-go

The thing is, if you smoke meat that’s still deep in the frost zone, you’re asking for trouble. I’m talking about the “danger zone,” as the USDA puts it, which is between 40°F and 140°F. This is where harmful bacteria can still reside in the meat. I’ve been in that tight spot before, trust me. You’re all pumped up to start smoking or cooking, and there’s your meat, sitting there like a rock in the freezer. Stick around so we can discuss this further and get into specific meat types. 

can you smoke frozen meat

Why You Shouldn’t Smoke Frozen Meat in a Nutshell

Well, before you fire up the smoker and cook meat that’s frozen, here are the top reasons why you shouldn’t smoke completely frozen meat: 

The Smoke Flavor Won’t Get in

First off, don’t even think about smoking frozen meat. Why, you ask? Well, for one, you won’t get a good result. Meat in a completely frozen state is stubborn meat – it won’t cooperate because it’s in a preservation state. You always want that smoky flavor to work its way in. The only way to get that is to thaw that meat out first.

It Won’t Cook Evenly 

When you smoke meat, you want it to cook evenly, right? A completely frozen food won’t. The outside might be well-done and the inside less than rare. That’s because the frozen meat, while in the smoker, will thaw first before it starts the smoking process.

The outside finishes thawing first, then the inside. Hence, the uneven cooking. You’ll most likely end up with a charred outside and a raw inside unlike when you have fresh meat that’s thawed or has not been frozen. Not exactly the BBQ masterpiece you had in mind, huh?

It’s NOT Safe!

Finally and what matters most, there’s safety to consider. When you smoke frozen meat, it’ll take forever to get up to a safe or desired temperature. Bacteria will have a field day in that danger zone as the USDA mentioned. And nobody wants a side of food poisoning with their BBQ.

So, make sure you thaw meat in the fridge before you even think about smoking it. Give it time to get to room temp, rub it on, and then introduce it to the smoker. Your taste buds will thank you and you won’t be rushing to the bathroom later.

Chicken Quarters on the Flaming Grill

Can You Smoke Partially Frozen Meat? 

If your meat’s still a bit icy, wait until it thaws out completely. Even a touch of frost can mess up your meat masterpiece. The right meat for your smoker is one that’s at room temperature (that’s around 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit). So, the more frozen your meat is, the less tasty it will be. When you smoke frozen meat, those protein fiber cells have to deal with way more freezing water. The ice crystals end up tearing up the protein fibers and leaving your meat high and dry. So, always let it thaw out completely.

Smoking Frozen vs. Thawed Meat: An Experiment

To settle this debate, I put a cut of chuck roasts to the test. I cut it into two equal halves. I had one comfortably nestled in the refrigerator, while the other had been deep-frozen. I aimed to find out if that frozen ribs, brisket, or chuck roast from your freezer could still turn into a smoky delight.

Setting the Stage

I started by giving the meats some seasoning. A binder, like mustard, might have helped the spices adhere better in the frozen one. But I decided to go all natural. 

I kicked things off by placing both halves in the smoker. The left side belonged to my frozen contender. 

On the right, I had its thawed counterpart, which had spent quality time in the fridge, also already seasoned to perfection. I maintained a smoker temperature of 225°F, the Texan way, patiently awaiting the moment both chunks hit the 165°F mark before wrapping.

Comparing the Results

Fast forward to the end of the cooking session, the temperatures surprised me; both chunks reached around 180°F almost simultaneously. But here’s the kicker… 

The frozen half turned out to be a tough, dry meat with no even texture internally. Also, it didn’t have that fall-apart tenderness I crave. 

On the flip side, my room-temperature meat was like a dream come true. It practically disintegrated and fell apart at every little pressure. Unlike the frozen one, this smelled like a well-seasoned and smoked meat. It was perfect all-round.

The Verdict

So, what’s my final word on this showdown? If you’ve got a frozen brisket or any meat, do yourself a favor and let it thaw properly, either in the fridge or at room temperature. You’ll thank me when you sink your teeth into that melt-in-your-mouth texture. On the other hand, if you’re up for a challenge with a chewy twist, then, by all means, keep it in the freezer. 

In the world of smoking meat, experimentation is key, and while smoking frozen meat is technically doable, you won’t get the best result.

Raw Pieces of Meat on the Grill with Thyme

What Frozen Foods Can You Smoke? 

None. You shouldn’t smoke any frozen food, not even veggies or fish. But if you’ve got something small, like meat cubes or sliced fish, it’ll thaw out faster in your smoker. And that’s a good thing because you don’t want your piece of meat hanging out at lower temperatures for too long.

Can You Smoke Frozen Chicken? 

Since I talked about smaller frozen pieces of foods being more smokable, is it possible with frozen chicken thighs, wings, or breasts? The answer is no, don’t do it! Poultry dries out faster than beef or pork cuts because there is not as much fat marbling. So, the result is probably going to be worse than the one from my experiment. 

The USDA gives a warning about smoking frozen meat or poultry, which we’ve already covered in this article. However, my main concern isn’t just about following rules. Nope, it’s about that chicken drying out when it’s time to say goodbye to the smoker, especially with these smaller pieces.

So, while you can technically smoke frozen chicken, just be ready for the potential dryness. It even gets better here since poultry cuts thaw faster. So, thaw first, then smoke it.  

How Do You Defrost Chicken Quickly?

When you’re racing against the clock, instead of using the fridge, toss that bird or meat in cold water for about an hour or until it completely defrosts. Make sure you change the water every 30 minutes until complete thawing. This trick will speed up the thawing process without letting the meat get warmer than 40°F for too long.

Now, if your chicken isn’t all sealed up in a vacuum-sealed bag or any old plastic bag, do yourself a favor and pop it into a Ziplock freezer bag before dunking it in the water. 

Can You Freeze Smoked Meat? 

Yeah, it’s allowed! You can freeze meat you just smoked. Smoked meat can hang out in the fridge for about four days, no problem. But if you want to keep them for the long haul, like three months long, the freezer’s your best option.

Now, here’s the pro tip: if you want to freeze it for long, wrap that meat up real good. And if you’ve got a vacuum sealer, even better! Suck out all that air, because less air means your meat stays fresher in the deep freeze. 

Smoked Chunk of Meat Placed on Parchment Paper


To wrap things up, the short answer is always to thaw your meat before smoking. A good internal temperature for your meat before smoking is the room temp – 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s too cold or frozen, not only will you end up with dry meat, but you’re also playing a risky game with your health.

Your meat stays too long in the danger zone and chances are bacteria may grow in it before it actually starts cooking. And if you don’t cook your meat well, you’re not doing yourself any good. So, play it safe, thaw that meat properly, and keep the good times rolling!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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