How to Safely Thaw Frozen Chicken

3 ways to thaw depending on size and cooking method

Raw chicken in roasting pan
Kirsty Begg/Stocksy United
  • 01 of 06

    How to Safely Thaw Frozen Chicken

    How to Thaw Frozen Chicken
    Illustration: Catherine Song. © The Spruce, 2019

    Frozen chicken is a convenient protein that takes a little forethought. The method you use to defrost should adhere to safety guidelines since raw chicken is prone to bacterial growth. How you thaw chicken can also impact the quality of the final dish. You may want to use different methods depending on whether you are thawing a whole bird or smaller cuts.

    In general, larger cuts of chicken, especially a whole chicken, should be thawed in the refrigerator. This is preferred to microwave thawing since the chicken can start to cook on the outside before the interior is thawed, and thawing in a bowl of water will take a very long time for a whole bird or large cut. However, smaller cuts (especially boneless cuts) can defrost using the water bath or microwave methods.

    Continue to 2 of 6 below.
  • 02 of 06

    Avoid These Thawing Methods

     Frozen chicken should never be thawed on the counter at room temperature or in a bowl of hot water. Leaving chicken to defrost on the counter or submerging it in hot water can cause bacterial growth and could make those who eat it sick. These other methods, if used properly, 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.

    Continue to 3 of 6 below.
  • 03 of 06

    Refrigerator Thawing

    Turkey in Refrigerator
    Michael Pohuski/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Thawing in the refrigerator is the most reliable and safe defrost method and it requires no hands-on attention. You do need to plan ahead, especially if you are thawing a whole bird or a large amount of bone-in pieces in a single package.

    Move a pound of ground chicken or a standard package of chicken breasts from the freezer to the fridge about 24 hours before you plan to cook it. Larger packages of chicken and thicker cuts will take longer, with a five-pound whole bird taking about two days to thaw. You can leave the thawed chicken in the fridge for an extra day before cooking if needed.

    Continue to 4 of 6 below.
  • 04 of 06

    Water Bath Thawing

    Turkey thawing in kitchen sink
    James Baigrie / Getty Images

    Frozen chicken can be thawed, either in vacuum-sealed bags or sturdy, leak-proof, zipper-top storage bags, in a bowl of cold water sitting on the counter. Do not use hot water. Besides possibly enabling bacteria to multiply, warm water will also start to “cook” the outside of the meat before the middle is thawed.

    If your cold tap water is relatively warm, as is common in the summer in some areas, add ice cubes to the water to bring the temperature down to where it feels pleasantly cool. Change the cold water every 30 to 45 minutes to make sure the water stays cold and use the thawed chicken right away.

    Using this method, ground meat will thaw in as little as an hour, a small package of boneless chicken will thaw in one to two hours, and larger amounts and bigger cuts may take a few hours. This method is not recommended for especially large cuts or whole birds.

    If you are thawing multiple pieces in a bag, use this method to speed up the process: Once the pieces have thawed enough to be separated, open the bag and pull the pieces apart. Then reseal the bag and return it to the water. Keep checking until the meat is thawed.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Microwave Thawing

    Woman cooking
    Tetra Images / Getty Images

    Some microwaves have settings that allow you to specifically defrost chicken by simply pressing a button. Read your instruction manual to see if your microwave has this setting and note special directions having to do with the amount of chicken and the type of cut.

    If you don't have a programmed chicken defrost setting, you can still use your microwave to thaw but it will require some extra 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 periodically, flipping and repositioning, especially if you don’t have a rotating tray.

    Even if you are 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 an ideal method and may result in some of the chicken being over-cooked and tough. Meat thawed in the microwave should be cooked right away.

    Continue to 6 of 6 below.
  • 06 of 06

    Cooking Frozen Chicken

    Pack of Two Frozen Chicken Breasts
    Steve Outram / Getty Images

    You can cook frozen chicken by following certain guidelines. The general rule of thumb is to add another 50 percent of cooking time to the time suggested in the recipe. For example, if a soup recipe calls for cooking it for 60 minutes, plan to cook it for 90 minutes.

    Certain cooking methods lend themselves better to using unthawed chicken, such as a long braise, slow cooking, or using the chicken in soups and stews. Other methods (like sautéing, roasting, or microwaving) can yield uneven results, with the outside of the chicken cooked more than the inside for a less-than-ideal texture. For instance, you won’t be able to get a nice caramelized exterior on a piece of frozen chicken if you sauté it, as the moisture in the chicken will be slowly released as it defrosts in the pan, preventing browning. Frozen chicken should never be fried.

    If you use frozen chicken in the slow cooker, it is safer to set it to the high setting to bring the temperature up faster so your dish is not in the temperature danger zone as long.