Chicken is one of the healthiest meats to eat, but how do you defrost frozen chicken? It's easy to defrost or thaw chicken breasts and thighs to use for dinner any night of the week. There are three ways to safely defrost chicken that you need to know.
The 3 Safest Ways to Defrost Chicken
Retail chicken sales in 2019 in the United States were $13.9 billion (1). Needless to say, you probably have prepared chicken at home at some point in your life.
The easiest way to store chicken is by sealing it in an airtight bag and freezing it. Once it’s frozen, you need to know how to properly defrost chicken but don’t worry, it’s easy to do. There are three ways you can do this safely.
- Cold water bath
Defrost chicken in the refrigerator
The best way to thaw chicken is in the refrigerator. This method requires you to plan ahead from 24 hours up to overnight. It’s the slowest method, but the safest since the temperature stays well within the safe zone.
Be sure to place the chicken in an air-tight bag on a plate or in a bowl when you thaw it in the refrigerator. This will ensure any juices that leak out won’t go all over the shelf and contaminate other items. You also want to store it on the bottom shelf for this reason.
Defrost chicken in a cold water bath
The second safest way to defrost chicken is by submerging it in a cold water bath while in an airtight bag. You can do this in a large bowl, cooler, or sink.
Be sure to cover it completely with cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. It’s important that the water stay cold so the chicken doesn’t get above 40°F.
It takes two to three hours for a whole chicken depending on how big it is and if it’s bone-in or boneless. It takes 30 minutes to an hour for single pieces of chicken.
Defrost chicken in the microwave
The third way to defrost chicken is in the microwave. It’s the fastest but it’s the least safe since the chicken has a much higher chance of reaching the danger zone of temperature which is between 40 - 140°F.
To defrost this way, use the defrost function on the microwave and heat for short bursts of time. Cut large pieces of chicken into smaller pieces and remove any pieces that are done defrosting before the larger pieces.
Watch for warm spots and pause the microwaving if the chicken starts to cook while defrosting.
How to defrost ground chicken
Large pieces of chicken are thicker and take longer to defrost than ground chicken. To get ground chicken to cooking temperature, you can use any of these three methods. If you use the microwave, break off pieces as they thaw and place them in a separate bowl so they don’t start cooking. This allows the middle to continue defrosting at the same time.
DON’T do this
Chicken transfers bacteria easier than other meats which means you need to pay special attention to keeping your hands, tools, counters, and equipment clean. Here are some things to watch out for when handling chicken.
DON’T: leave it on the counter to thaw, use warm or hot water to defrost, wash raw chicken, or use the same sponge to wash your equipment or tools.
Always wash your hands before touching anything else with warm to hot soapy water so as not to cross-contaminate. Use a separate cutting board, wash your hands, board, knife, temp gauge, counter, microwave, plate, with soap and water as well.
Why safety matters
Chicken contains a number of bacteria that can easily transfer to other surfaces and get people and animals sick.
Keep chicken out of the danger temperature zone of 40° - 140°F and be sure to cook it so the internal temp reaches 165°F.
Some bacteria that raw (and cooked) chicken can contain are:
- Escherichia coli (E. coli)
- Listeria monocytogenes
- Campylobacter jejuni
- Staphylococcus aureus
Can I cook frozen chicken?
You might be wondering if you can skip thawing and go right to cooking the chicken. This is totally possible depending on the cooking method you use. It will generally take 50% longer on average, but some options you can use are instant pot, sous vide, or poaching. You shouldn’t use the slow cooker, however, because it will stay in the danger zone for too long to be safe.
How to defrost cooked chicken
After cooking chicken, you may find that you want to freeze it for later. You can easily defrost it in the refrigerator or the microwave. Be sure to use any cooked, frozen, then thawed chicken the same day. You can either it eat cold, right from the fridge, or you can heat it up. Be sure the internal temperature reaches 165°F before eating it, though.
Chicken is a delicious food that can be cooked in many different ways. If you plan on eating it, you’ll most likely freeze it at some point. In order to get it to cooking temperature, you can thaw it in the refrigerator, in a cold water bath, or in the microwave. Be sure it moves through the danger zone of 40° - 140°F as quickly as possible to avoid contamination. Wash your hands, tools, and equipment thoroughly with warm soapy water as soon as you are done touching raw chicken.