How to Safely Defrost Chicken

Whether you have a day, a few hours or just minutes before cooking.

April 17, 2020
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raw chicken

raw chicken

Photo by: Eleonora Galli / Getty Images

Eleonora Galli / Getty Images

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By Katherine Lok for Food Network Kitchen

Winner, winner, chicken dinner. At least that's what you thought until you realized your chicken is frozen solid. There are right and wrong ways to defrost poultry, so before figuring out a Plan B dinner, here are the best methods for defrosting chicken safely.

Thawing in the Fridge

Thawing chicken in the fridge is the best and safest way to defrost it, but it requires about a day of planning ahead, so if you need a faster solution, skip ahead. The day before you plan to cook your chicken, transfer it from the freezer to the fridge to let it thaw slowly, for at least 24 hours. Make sure to place the raw chicken in a rimmed container or bowl, ideally at the bottom of your fridge to minimize risk of drips onto your other food as it thaws. Defrosting your meat like this will ensure it stays fresh in your fridge for an additional 1 to 2 days, but once it's thawed, it cannot be refrozen unless you're planning to cook it in a liquid like a stock, soup or stew. Refreezing thawed meat breaks up the protein cell structure and creates unwanted extra moisture, resulting in poor flavor and texture.

Thaw in Cold Water

If you only have a few hours to thaw your chicken, you can use the cold-water method for same-day defrosting. According to the USDA, you should never thaw meat at room temperature or in hot water. As soon as meat reaches 40 degrees F, it enters the food "Danger Zone," where bacteria can multiply and make it unsafe to eat — this can happen if it's been sitting at room temperature for over two hours. Raw meat left out for too long has the potential to cause foodborne illness if it's not properly cooked (poultry needs to have an internal cooked temperature of 165 degrees F), and there's also a chance for cross-contamination with other foods you may set on your kitchen counter.

Follow USDA guidelines and place the frozen chicken in a leak-proof plastic bag submerged in a large bowl filled with cold tap water. The chicken should always be sealed well before coming into contact with water; never leave a bowl of raw chicken in water in your sink, as this will contaminate the entire area and the meat will end up absorbing some of the water. Change out the water every 30 minutes until your meat is fully thawed — a 1-pound package of meat could take about an hour or less, while a larger package weighing 3 or 4 pounds could take more than two hours. Remember not to refreeze unless you plan to cook the meat before sticking back in the freezer.

Defrost in a Microwave

This method is the quickest way to thaw your chicken, but that doesn't mean it's the best. Microwaving food tends to create hot spots, so your raw meat might be warmed through in some parts and still frozen in others, causing it to enter the "Danger Zone" temperature range (40 to 140 degrees F). Make sure to cook it immediately after thawing in the microwave and to only refreeze once it's been fully cooked.

Just Cook It Frozen

If you're pressed for time, you can skip the thawing and cook frozen chicken in soups and sauces over the stove, just make sure to account for cooking times being about 50 percent longer. You can also cook frozen chicken in an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, but stay clear of slow cooking as it will create the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Try these quick and easy recipes for Instant Pot Lemon Frozen Chicken with Orzo and Instant Pot Frozen Chicken Teriyaki with Rice and Broccoli or throw your frozen chicken in an air fryer to cook in less than 30 minutes.

For more guidance and a handy video tutorial, you can refer back to Food Network's step-by-step guide for defrosting meat and watch how it's done in action.

Recipes to Try:

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