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Defrosting chicken safely raises a lot of questions. To start, never thaw chicken in hot water on the counter! That would increase the risks of bacteria and foodborne illnesses. Here is all you need to know about how to defrost chicken safely.

First, chicken should never be left out to thaw or defrost on the counter at room temperature. It should also not be defrosted in a bowl of hot water. The following methods allow you to thaw chicken and keep it out of the “danger zone,” which is 40 to 140 degrees. That is the temperature zone that allows bacteria to grow.

In general, larger cuts of chicken, especially 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.

Can You Cook Frozen Chicken?

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

FAQs

Is it bad to thaw chicken in hot water?

Yes…please do not do that! Defrosting chicken in hot water can cause bacteria to form. Also, thawing chicken in hot water can cause the outside of the chicken to start to “cook” before the inside is thawed. Even if the bacteria doesn’t pose a problem, the chicken will end up cooking unevenly.

How do you thaw ground chicken?

Place the ground chicken in the fridge and allow to thaw overnight. Make sure there is a bowl or plate under the chicken to catch any drips as the chicken thaws. You can also thaw frozen ground chicken in a bowl of ice water, which will take about 2 hours for a pound of ground chicken.

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. 

Can I refreeze chicken once it has been defrosted?

If the chicken was fresh when it was frozen and it was defrosted in the refrigerator, then yes, it can be refrozen. However, if you defrosted the chicken using the cold water method or the microwave then it should be cooked immediately. Once the chicken has been cooked, it may then be refrozen.

The Best Way to Defrost Chicken

This is the most reliable and safe method to defrost chicken, 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. It might not be the fastest method, but it is the safest.

How Long Does It Take to Defrost Chicken in the Fridge?

It depends on the size of the pieces. 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. A bunch of bone-in pieces or a 5-pound bird might take 2 days. Make sure to keep the chicken in a bowl or pan to catch any drips as it thaws.

How to Thaw Chicken Fast

To defrost chicken quickly 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. Make sure the chicken is submerged. You can place a heavy plate or bowl on top of the chicken to keep it under the water. Also, you might put a can of beans or tomatoes on the plate or bowl to weigh it down.

Do NOT defrost 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. The running water flows over the chicken into the sink until the chicken is defrosted. This is effective and safe but a pretty big waste of water, so I don’t recommend it.

How Long to Defrost Chicken in Water?

You can quickly thaw ground chicken (or turkey) in a bowl within 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.

How to Defrost Chicken in the Microwave

It is safe to thaw chicken in the microwave, but it’s not the best option. Some microwaves have settings that allow you to defrost or thaw chicken (and many other ingredients) by simply pressing a button (the defrost setting). Read your instruction manual to see if your microwave has this kind of capacity. Note any special directions having to do with the amount of chicken and the type of cut.

How Long to Thaw Chicken in Microwave?

Thawing your chicken in the microwave will require some attention on your part. Set the microwave to defrost, and check every few minutes to see when it is defrosted 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.

How Soon Should You Cook Chicken After Thawing It?

You can leave refrigerator-thawed chicken in the fridge for up to 3 days before cooking. The amount of time defrosted chicken can be held in the fridge depends on how fresh it was when it was frozen. Chicken thawed in cold water or thawed in the microwave should be cooked right away.

What Is the Safe Internal Temperature for Chicken?

However you cook your chicken, you want to make sure it gets to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. This is the safe internal temperature whether your chicken was previously thawed or not. 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 handful of degrees after you take it from the oven, grill, or pan. You might want to take it from the heat when the thermometer reaches 160 degrees and then watch the temp climb to 165.

Also see: How to Safely Thaw Frozen Meat and How to Thaw Shrimp.

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How to Safely Thaw Frozen Chicken

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 2 hours
Total: 2 hours 5 minutes
Servings: 4 People
Here is the safest way to quickly defrost frozen chicken!

Equipment

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound boneless chicken pieces or ground chicken

Instructions 

  • If the chicken is not in a sealed package, place the chicken into a sturdy airtight zipper-top bag.
  • Place the sealed bag of chicken in a bowl of cold water. Make sure the chicken is submerged. You can place a heavy plate or bowl on top of the chicken to keep it under the water. Also, you might put a can of beans or tomatoes on the plate or bowl to weigh it down.
  • Let the chicken sit in the cold water for 1 to 2 hours, until defrosted. 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.

Video

Notes

How to Defrost Chicken in the Fridge
This is the most hands-off way to defrost chicken, but it takes longer. 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. A bunch of bone-in pieces or a 5-pound bird might take 2 days. Make sure to keep the chicken in a bowl or pan to catch any drips as it thaws.
How to Defrost Chicken in the Microwave
Some newer microwaves have settings that allow you to defrost or thaw chicken by simply pressing a button. Read your instruction manual to see if your microwave has this kind of capacity. Otherwise, thawing your chicken in the microwave will require some attention on your part. Set the microwave to defrost, and check every few minutes to see when it is defrosted properly. Move the chicken around in the microwave, especially if you don’t have a rotating tray. Chicken and all meat thawed in the microwave should be cooked right away.

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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Comments

  1. I have a package of 10 chicken legs that were frozen, until they were put on the counter top at roughly 2pm. It is now midnight, and after I shower, I plan to cook the chicken and eat it. I want to go ahead and take my shower now in case I get really sick and have to go to hospital, at least I’ll be freshly showered. Wish me good luck!

  2. Thank you Katie Workman this is exactly the information I was looking for. Have a great day.
    Sincerely, Tim V

  3. After, I my frozen -4 chicken legs, been thawed in the fridge., over 1 day. It’s still a little frozen.
    So I put them in my convection oven, on about 15 minutes. on each side. Then They are completey
    thawed. Then immediately, I use my convection bake setting, at 350 degrees F( just guessing).
    Then start out with 30-45 minutes convection baked time. Then I closlely watched the chicken. And
    then add additional 5 minutes. So the total cooking time, was around somewhere 55-60 approx.,
    And let the chicken cool for a couple of minutes. And then, eat right.
    The chicken legs was well cooked(I don’t have therometer), and taste good. Also the chicken legs was still steaming, while eating. So the question is: Is is proper to use the convection oven- using the defrost function. And then convection baked right away?? Or just thaw the chicken in the fridge
    only, for 2 days instead?

    1. Sounds like you found a good
      Solution! And cooked them right away which prevented bacteria issues.

  4. I have 8 frozen chicken bone-in thighs. I want to BBQ them tonight, it’s 10am now. I was going to thaw them is a ziplock bag in cold water and would like to rinse, pat dry and let marinate in BBQ sauce for 3-4 hours before BBQ them. Can I do this? If not, what would you recommend. Thanks

    1. sorry for the delayed response! I hope you went ahead and did it – it is a fine approach!

  5. What exactly do you put the chicken breasts in when thawing in the fridge? I have a big bag of frozen chicken and only want to defrost a couple pieces. Do I re-weap in plastic? Put in a bowl? Both? Thanks!

    1. you can do either! best not to refreeze chicken though, so if you can separate the pieces you want to defrost easily and keep the rest frozen that’s best. You can deforst them in a covered bowl (plastic wrap of a dishtowel) or rewrap them or put them in a zippertop bag.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. @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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/dining/a-hot-water-bath-for-thawing-meats-the-curious-cook.html

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