How to Defrost Chicken

The best ways to thaw chicken whether you have a day, a few hours or just minutes to spare.

July 13, 2023

Related To:

raw chicken

Photo by: Eleonora Galli / Getty Images

Eleonora Galli / Getty Images

By Emily Saladino and 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 thaw poultry, however. Here's how to defrost chicken safely, and how long it takes for each method.

How to Defrost Chicken in the Fridge

The best and safest way to defrost chicken is to leave it in the fridge overnight. Unfortunately, this method is also the slowest and requires advance planning.

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.


Photo by: PhotoAlto/Milena Boniek/Getty Images

PhotoAlto/Milena Boniek/Getty Images

How to Defrost Chicken in Water

If you only have a few hours to thaw your chicken, you can use cold water to defrost it. Never thaw meat at room temperature or in hot water. According to the USDA, 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.

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.

How to Defrost Chicken 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.

Can You Cook Frozen Chicken?

You can cook chicken directly from the freezer if you're pressed for time, but the method matters. Cooking chicken from frozen works best when you're putting it into soups and sauces, and you'll need 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.

Food Network Kitchen’s Instant Pot Lemon Frozen Chicken with Orzo, as seen on Food Network.


Food Network Kitchen’s Instant Pot Lemon Frozen Chicken with Orzo, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet

Renee Comet

How Long Can Thawed Chicken Stay in the Fridge

Once it’s defrosted, chicken will be good in the fridge for up to 2 days. Store in an airtight container on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator to prevent what food safety experts call cross-contamination, or when bacteria travels from one food to another.

Can You Refreeze Chicken?

Technically, yes, you can refreeze chicken within 2 days of defrosting so long as its internal temperature wasn’t between 40 and 140 degrees F for two or more hours. However, refreezing thawed meat breaks up the protein cell structure and creates unwanted extra moisture, all of which has a negative affect on its flavors and textures. To get the best from your bird, plan to cook it either fresh or within a day of defrosting.

For more guidance and a handy video tutorial, check out Food Network's step-by-step guide to defrosting meat and watch how it's done in action.

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