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Can I put raw ground beef in a slow cooker?

Using a slow cooker is a convenient and hands-off way to cook meat dishes like stews, chilis, and sauces. However, there has been some debate around whether it’s safe to cook raw ground beef in a slow cooker. In this article, we’ll provide a thorough answer to the question “can I put raw ground beef in a slow cooker?” by looking at food safety considerations, tips for safely cooking raw ground beef in a slow cooker, and some recipe ideas.

Is it Safe to Put Raw Ground Beef in a Slow Cooker?

The short answer is yes, you can safely cook raw ground beef in a slow cooker as long as you follow a few guidelines. According to recommendations from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), raw ground meats like beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) to kill any potentially harmful bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella.

A slow cooker is certainly capable of bringing ground beef up to temperatures beyond 160°F when set to high heat and cooked for the full duration of time. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure the beef reaches 140°F (60°C) within 1-2 hours, before bacteria has time to rapidly multiply.
  • After reaching 140°F, continue cooking on low or high until the full cooking time is complete to allow the meat to cook through to 160°F.
  • Don’t remove the lid frequently, as this will increase cooking time.
  • Cut beef into smaller pieces no more than 1-inch thick to facilitate thorough cooking.

Tips for Safely Cooking Raw Ground Beef in a Slow Cooker

Follow these tips for safely cooking raw ground beef from start to finish in your slow cooker:

  • Pre-brown the beef. Browning the beef before adding it to the slow cooker will help it reach that safe 140°F temperature more quickly. Just sauté the beef in a skillet over medium-high heat until browned.
  • Layer ingredients properly. Place vegetables and other aromatics on the bottom of the slow cooker, then raw beef, and finally the sauce or liquids. This allows the meat to heat through faster.
  • Minimize air pockets. Fill the cooker as much as possible to limit air circulation which can lead to uneven cooking.
  • Cut meat into small pieces. Cutting raw beef into 1-inch chunks or smaller will make it easier for the meat to cook through fully.
  • Cook on high for recommended time. Cooking on high heat for the full time specified in a recipe (generally 6-8 hours) is important for meat to reach safe temps.
  • Check temperature. Use a food thermometer to verify the internal temperature of beef reaches 160°F once cooking time is complete.
  • Avoid lifting the lid. Don’t remove the lid while cooking to allow the slow cooker to reach maximum temperature.

Potential Risks of Undercooked Ground Beef

Consuming raw or undercooked ground beef comes with health risks mainly from bacteria like:

  • E. coli. A common cause of food poisoning that can lead to severe diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. Certain strains can potentially be life-threatening.
  • Salmonella. Another bacterial culprit of foodborne illness that causes nasty symptoms like fever, diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain.
  • Campylobacter. This bacteria is found in the intestines of animals and causes diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and nausea when ingested.
  • Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria infection causes fever, muscle aches, gastrointestinal symptoms, and is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Properly cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of at least 160°F destroys these bacteria and protects you against foodborne illness. Use a calibrated meat thermometer to verify doneness when cooking ground beef.

Slow Cooker Beef Recipes

Once you know the ground rules for safely cooking raw ground beef in a slow cooker, there are tons of delicious recipes you can make! Here are some top-rated options:

Classic Beef Chili

This hearty beef chili loaded with tomatoes, beans, peppers, onions, and a homemade blend of chili seasoning is a perfect cold weather meal. Serve topped with cheese, sour cream, and avocado.

Beef Stew

Tender beef, carrots, potatoes, and celery simmered in a savory gravy makes for the ultimate comforting beef stew done easily in the slow cooker. Serve with crusty bread.

Beef Stroganoff

Strips of beef and mushrooms cooked in a creamy, garlic-infused stroganoff sauce served over egg noodles for a deliciously nostalgic meal.

Bolognese Sauce

A rich, meaty bolognese sauce with beef, tomatoes, red wine, and warm Italian seasoning that can be tossed with pasta for dinner or stuffed into lasagna later.

Beef Tacos

Flavorful shredded beef filling cooked with onions, chili powder, cumin, and garlic is ready to be served in warmed tortillas and topped with all your favorite taco toppings.

Tips for Adapting Slow Cooker Recipes

Many slow cooker recipes may instruct you to cook vegetables and meat together from the beginning. But for food safety, it’s best to modify recipes when cooking raw ground meat by:

  • Browning meat first before slow cooking.
  • Placing vegetables and aromatics in first, beef in the middle, and sauce/liquids on top.
  • Adding dairy ingredients like milk, cream or cheese towards the end of cooking.
  • Taking the temperature of meat and cooking for the full recommended time.


At the end of the day, the answer to “can I put raw ground beef in a slow cooker?” is yes, you can! As long as you take care to prepare and cook the beef properly, it’s a totally safe method that takes advantage of the hands-off convenience of a slow cooker. Browning meat first, layering ingredients correctly, minimizing air pockets, cutting into small pieces, cooking on high heat the full time, and verifying temperature are keys to success. Follow our tips and recipe ideas for safely cooking delicious beef dishes in your slow cooker any night of the week.