How to Safely Thaw Frozen Chicken

frozen chicken breasts in a bag

Getting chicken (safely!) from a rock-hard frozen state to a thawed ready-to-cook state raises a lot of questions. Here is all you need to know about defrosting or thawing frozen chicken.


Chicken Parmigiana

Above: Chicken Parmigiana

Thawing Frozen Chicken

First, chicken should never be thawed or defrosted on the counter at room temperature or in a bowl of hot water. The following methods should allow you to thaw chicken and keep it out of the “danger zone” (40 to 140°F), which is the temperature zone that allows bacteria to grow.

In general, larger cuts of chicken, especially a whole chicken, should be thawed in the refrigerator.  If a whole chicken or a larger amount of parts are thawed in a microwave the chicken will start to cook on the outside before it defrosts in the middle.  And whole chickens will take a very long time in a bowl of cold water.  However, smaller cuts, and especially boneless cuts, do well with the cold bowl of water or microwave method.

Chicken with Arugula and Mustard Pan Sauce above: Chicken with Arugula and Mustard Pan Sauce

How Long is Frozen Chicken Good For?

You should use frozen chicken pieces within 6 months.  A whole chicken can be frozen for up to a year.  Wrap the chicken well in heavy duty plastic wrap, and then place it into a freezer proof plastic bag.  Press out all excess air, and then seal it.  If the chicken was very fresh when it was frozen, and you wrap it very well, it can last up to a few months longer. 

Refrigerator Thawing Chicken

This is the most reliable and safe method, and also the one that requires no hands-on attention.  But you need to plan ahead, especially if you are thawing a whole chicken, or a large amount of bone-in pieces in a single package.  It might not be the fastest method, but it is the safest.

How Long to Thaw chicken in the Fridge?

Even a pound of ground chicken or a couple of pounds of boneless chicken breasts will probably take up to a day to fully thaw in the fridge, and a a bunch of bone-in pieces or a five pound bird might take two days. You can leave refrigerator-thawed chicken in the fridge for up to 3 days before cooking.  The amount of time thawed chicken can be held in the fridge depends on how fresh it was when it was frozen. 

Air Fryer Buffalo Chicken Wings

Above: Air Fryer Buffalo Chicken Wings

Quick Thaw Chicken in Water

To thaw chicken when you are in a rush, place frozen chicken in a tightly sealed bag (either in vacuum sealed bags or sturdy, leak-proof, zipper-top storage bags) in a bowl of cold water.

Do NOT thaw chicken in hot water! It’s not safe.  Besides possibly causing bacteria to form, warm water will also start to “cook” the outside of the meat before the middle is thawed).  Some people like to place the sealed chicken in a bowl, and allow cold water to run over the chicken, filling the bowl and overflowing into the sink, until the chicken is defrosted.  This is effective, but a pretty big waste of water, so I don’t recommend it.

How Long to Thaw Chicken in Water?

You can thaw ground chicken (or turkey) in about an hour, a small amount of boneless chicken will probably defrost in 1 to 2 hours, larger amounts and bigger cuts may take a few hours.  

If you are thawing multiple pieces in a bag, once the pieces have thawed enough to be separated, open the bag, pull the pieces apart, then reseal the bag and return it to the water.  This will speed up the defrosting.  Keep checking until the meat is thawed.  Once the meat is thawed using this method you should cook it right away.

Chicken Tender Skewers with Spiced Curry Rub / Sarah Crowder / Katie Workman / themom100.comabove: Chicken Tender Skewers with Spiced Curry Rub

How to Defrost Chicken in the Microwave

Some newer microwaves have settings that allow you to defrost or thaw chicken (and many other ingredients) by simply pressing a button.  Read your instruction manual to see if your microwave has this kind of capacity, and note special directions having to do with the amount of chicken, and the type of cut.

How Long to Thaw Chicken in Microwave?

Otherwise, you can thaw your chicken in the microwave but it will require some attention on your part.   Set the microwave to defrost, and check every few minutes to see when it is thawed properly.  Move the chicken around in the microwave, especially if you don’t have a rotating tray.  Even if you are super vigilant, often the thinner parts of the chicken will start to cook a bit while the thicker parts are still thawing, so it’s not the ideal method for defrosting.

Chicken and all meat thawed in the microwave should be cooked right away.

chicken in a pan

Cooking Frozen Chicken

You can cook chicken in its frozen state.  The general rule of thumb is to add another 50% of cooking time from the time suggested in the recipe.  Certain cooking methods, such as braising, or cooking it in the slow cooker, or using the chicken in soups and stews lend themselves better to cooking frozen meat.

Other methods (like sautéing, roasting, or microwaving) may yield slightly uneven results or a less-than ideal texture.  It’s very likely that the outside of the chicken may cook faster than than the inside.

For instance, you won’t be able to get a nice caramelized exterior on a piece of frozen chicken if you sear or sauté it, as the the chicken will slowly release moisture as it thaws while cooking in the pan, preventing browning.  So best to defrost the chicken before cooking it using these methods, and pat it dry.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Above: Sweet and Sour Chicken

What is the Safe Temperature for Cooked Chicken?

However you cook your chicken, whether it was frozen or not, you want to make sure it gets to an internal temperature of 165°F.  The best way to measure the temperature is to insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken.  You should take into account carryover cooking, which is the fact that the chicken will continue to cook a bit after it leaves the heat.  So, the temperature will continue to climb a a handful of degrees, and you might want to take it from the heat when the thermometer reaches 160°F, and then watch the temp climb to 165°F.  

how do I thaw chicken/Greek Roasted Chicken Breasts / Sarah Crowder / Katie Workman /

above: Greek Roasted Chicken Breasts

Also see: How to Safely Thaw Frozen Meat.


How to Safely Thaw Frozen Chicken: Getting chicken safely from a rock-hard frozen state to a thawed ready-to-cook state raises a lot of questions. Here are the answers.

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12 thoughts on “How to Safely Thaw Frozen Chicken”

  1. Iain Henderson says:

    Submerging frozen items in a hot (roughly 100 to 120 degrees, i.e. tap) water bath can safely thaw them in 15 to 30 minutes.
    This is not hot enough to “cook” food and faster is better when moving food through the danger zone (39 to 140 degrees)

  2. Laura r. says:

    I bought 40lbs of chicken all frozen together.i want it to defrost so I can refreeze it. I did leave out on counter and was able to pull parts away and they were still frozen. Should I leave in fridge for the rest to defrost?

    1. Katie Workman says:

      Yes and as soon as possible!

  3. Lisa says:

    Contrary to information provided by the manufacturers of slow cookers (and to the not uncommon practice of cooking meat from frozen in a slow cooker), it is considered unsafe to cook frozen chicken in a slow cooker. This is because frozen chicken will spend too much time in the “danger zone,” when bacteria grows. Sure, you can use a meat thermometer to ensure the chicken reaches the safe temp of 165 degrees F but bacteria that grew — rapidly — while the chicken was in that unsafe zone may not be killed by that heat. The concern isn’t the appearance, taste or texture of the chicken, but the growth of bacteria and the consequential food borne illnesses.

  4. Denise Sherry says:

    This doesn’t help a bit. But, thanks. FYI, I’ve thawed chicken on the counter top for decades. Still waiting for someone to die.

  5. Theo says:

    Me too, like 40 something years

  6. Winston says:

    @denise That’s like saying if you’ve never gotten in a car accident you must not be a dangerous driver. Makes no sense and doesn’t discredit facts.

  7. Kate says:

    Regardless of whether or not someone’s gotten sick and died, it IS still growing bacteria when you do that, and there is a chance someone will get sick.

    That said, I’ve also been doing it for ages and never had issues. Doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe though, which I recognize

  8. Lorraine George says:

    I left 2 boneless chicken breasts on my counter and went to work for 10 hours. It’s room temperature. Can I still cook it or is it no good

    1. apologies for the delay, but I wouldn’t – I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to defrosting meat.

  9. SCV says:

    You talk about chicken breast, what about thighs and legs and the other parts that our the bones?

    1. In the fridge, bone-in pieces might take up to two days to thaw. Ground chicken and boneless pieces will thaw more quickly, whether you thaw them in the fridge or in cold water, and bone-in pieces or a whole bird will take longer.

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