Learn how to defrost chicken safely, quickly, and easily! Check out the 3 methods that work and learn what doesn’t work at all!
It’s important to defrost chicken the correct way to avoid bacteria growth. Cutting corners and being impatient could cause you and your family to feel sick! Luckily there are several ways you can thaw chicken without inviting all that bacteria to dinner as well.
How to defrost chicken safely
The key to keeping chicken safe is to limit the amount of time it spends between 40 and 140 degrees F. This is the “danger zone” when bacteria grows and grows, potentially putting you and your family at risk. Because of this, the safest possible way to thaw chicken is in the refrigerator.
How long does it take to defrost chicken in the fridge?
This isn’t a quick method, but obviously the particular cut of meat you’re defrosting will determine the time you need to wait. A 5-pound whole chicken can take as long as TWO days in the fridge, but smaller cuts or boneless cuts will take less time.
How to speed up the defrost
- Take the frozen chicken out of the package. If it’s too frozen to do this, place the package in cold water for 30 minutes to thaw it a bit, then transfer to the fridge.
- Place chicken pieces (or whole chicken) on a baking pan with a rack in a single layer, not touching. This extra air flow will speed things up.
- Put the chicken in the warmest spot in your fridge. For many, that means the bottom. Just make sure it’s not on that super cold top shelf!
One huge benefit to defrosting chicken in the fridge: You can refreeze it if necessary! Because the chicken wasn’t in the “danger zone,” it would be safe to return the chicken to the freezer if you realize you don’t have time to cook it after all.
How to defrost chicken fast
Everyone wants results as quickly as possible, especially if you’re stomach is already growling! To thaw chicken quickly, you have two options: a water bath or a microwave. Don’t spend your money on one of those defrosting trays–I’ll explain why those don’t work below!
How to defrost chicken in a water bath
You can safely thaw frozen chicken by submerging it in cold water. You don’t want super cold water, but you certainly want it colder than room temperature. Leave it in its package or place it in its own sealed plastic bag. Place it in a bowl large enough to fit your package, then fill with cold water. If necessary, place a heavy baking dish or something on top of the chicken to weigh it down and keep it submerged.
As your bag of chicken sits in the water, the temperature of the chicken will rise while the temperature of the water will decrease (because the chicken is like ice cooling it off). Every 30 minutes or so, dump the water and refill with fresh water. You can estimate you’ll need about 30 minutes for every pound of chicken you’re defrosting.
For example, a pack of chicken breasts will be ready in half an hour, but a 5 pound chicken will need about 2.5 hours. Separated pieces will thaw quicker than a large frozen mass, so freeze your chicken individually on a sheet pan before bagging to save time later.
FAQs about water bath defrosting
Can I defrost chicken in the microwave?
Yes, it is possible to defrost chicken in the microwave, but there are some important factors to consider. The “thawing” process in the microwave is actually just cooking. So if you over-do it or don’t pay attention, you’re going to get some rubbery, overcooked, dry chicken. It’s best to only use this method if you plan to cook the chicken immediately because some parts of the chicken will be in the “danger zone” temperature range quickly, so the longer it takes for you to fully cook the chicken, the more time bacteria is growing and multiplying.
To thaw chicken in the microwave, take the frozen chicken out of the package and place it on a microwave-safe plate. Put it in the microwave and cook on the defrost setting for 2 minutes per pound. If you don’t have a defrost button, simply cook at 30-50% power for 2 minutes per pound. It’s important to never try to thaw chicken at full power–This will straight up cook the meat, and it will not be pleasant.
After each minute of defrosting, stop the microwave and flip the chicken. If your microwave tray doesn’t spin, turn the plate as well to promote even warming. If you see any white spots forming, stop the thawing process as this indicates the chicken is cooking in that spot.
Can I defrost chicken using a defrosting tray?
You’ve probably seen products called defrosting trays. These are metal (usually __) trays that are shown to thaw ice cubes at a rapid pace. The metal tray is good at conducting heat, so when the room-temperature surface meets a 32 degrees ice cube, things heat up quickly! On a commercial this looks great, but naturally you assume this means it’ll quickly bring your frozen chicken to room temperature. Unfortunately, it won’t work the same way, and thawing chicken on a defrosting tray is not considered safe practice.
Do defrosting trays work on meat?
When ice is thawing on this tray, the surface touching the tray melts into water. This leads the “new surface” (or formerly the inside of the ice cube) to meet the metal tray, causing it to melt as well. This continues on and on until you’ve just got a wet tray.
Well, place a steak on the tray. The room-temperature tray meets the 32 degree surface of the steak. The temperature of the surface begins to rise, thawing it and bringing it closer to room temperature. What happens then, though? The surface doesn’t melt away, so the inside of the steak never touches the metal tray. It just slowly comes to room temperature on its own, just as it would if you placed it on the countertop.
The defrosting tray method is not measurably faster than sitting meat out on the counter. This means the surface of the chicken sits for hours in the “danger zone,” growing bacteria. There’s a chance that very thinly sliced steaks or pork chops could possibly thaw quickly enough to stay safe, but they would likely thaw quicker and more safely using the water bath method.
Chicken Defrosting Tips
- If you’ve breaded and frozen chicken tenders before cooking, try cooking those straight from frozen! Thawing may cause the breading to become soggy, so it’s usually best to simply cook as directed, just add a few minutes to the frozen version.
- Make double use of your thawing time–Freeze chicken in marinade so that it soaks up the flavor as it defrosts! This helps put a flavorful dinner on the table quickly.
- If chicken pieces froze into a large clump, take time to carefully separate the pieces as the surface area thaws. This will help the center of the mass to defrost quicker.
How to Defrost Chicken
How to Defrost Chicken in the Fridge
- Remove chicken from freezer and place on a plate or in a bowl. Place in fridge until thawed throughout.
How to Defrost Chicken in Water
- Remove chicken from freezer and place in bag or leave if in a thin, plastic package already. Submerge bag of frozen chicken in cold water, using a heavy object to keep it underneath the surface of the water.
- Every 30 minutes, dump the water and replace with fresh cold water until chicken is thawed throughout.
How to Defrost Chicken in the Microwave
- Take frozen chicken out of packaging and place on a microwave-safe plate lined with paper towels. Heat on "Defrost" setting for 2 minutes per pound. If you do not have a defrost setting, heat at 30-50% power.