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How To Defrost Chicken

Thawing chicken isn’t complicated, but properly defrosting your bird will ensure you and your dinner guests enjoy the meal. Whether you have a few hours or days, it’s important to follow the right process for perfectly thawed chicken. Here we discuss how to defrost chicken safely with five different methods. …

Food Safety & Handling How To

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By Julie Harris - Registered Dietitian


Updated on

Thawing chicken isn’t complicated, but properly defrosting your bird will ensure you and your dinner guests enjoy the meal. Whether you have a few hours or days, it’s important to follow the right process for perfectly thawed chicken. Here we discuss how to defrost chicken safely with five different methods.

How To Defrost Chicken

Food Safety Importance

It’s nearly 5 pm, and you forgot to take tonight’s chicken out of the freezer. The last thing you’re thinking about is food safety and food-borne illnesses. Yet, the CDC estimates that food-borne illnesses cause 9.4 million episodes, over 50,000 hospital admissions, and 1,351 deaths per year. 

Although more people get food poisoning from produce, food poisoning from chicken is dangerous, as meat and poultry cause more deaths. 

The most common strains of potentially dangerous bacteria in chicken are: 


You can’t see bacterial growth and harmful bacteria. Taking the time to bring your chicken to the right temperature properly is the best way to prevent infection.

How Long To Defrost Chicken?

There is no simple answer to this question. It all depends on the various methods of defrosting chicken that we outlined below. Here we go over some of the fastest ways to defrost chicken with keeping your health and safety in mind. As with most things in life, the safest methods are not always the fastest way to thaw chicken.

Safest Method: How to Thaw Chicken in the Refrigerator  

Defrost chicken in fridge

The safest method to thaw meat is placing it in the refrigerator. It’s the least risky one because it eliminates you from doing any work. The refrigerator takes the risk out of your chicken breasts or thighs entering the Temperature Danger Zone. This thawing process takes time and involves planning. 

Check your refrigerator’s temperature to ensure it’s between 35 ° to 40°F. Keeping foods below 40°F slows down and prevents the growth of bacteria. 

Ideally, place your chicken on the bottom shelf or drawer so if any chicken juices leak, it doesn’t contaminate other food.  

Once you’ve thawed your poultry in the fridge, it is safe to remain there for 1-2 days. If you don’t use it before then, place it back in the freezer.  

This is the best way to defrost a whole chicken, even though it could take more than a day.

You can also feel confident that you’re serving quality chicken after thawing your meat in the refrigerator, as this defrosting method doesn’t lead to discoloration or any noticeable textural changes. 

How Long to defrost Chicken in Fridge?

The general rule is to allow 24 hours for 1 to 3 pounds of frozen raw meat. Larger bone-in pieces and full birds may take up to 48 hours in the refrigerator to thaw, while frozen chicken breast will take much less time. 

What About Chicken Breasts?

Since these cuts are smaller than whole chickens, they’ll take far less time. Planning ahead is still best. If you put it in the fridge overnight, the poultry will stay between the proper temperatures and have plenty of thawing time to be fully defrosted for when you’re ready to cook.

Quick Method: Defrosting in Cold Water that’s Changed Every 30 Minutes 

Thaw Chicken in Water

If you have less than two hours to thaw your meat, place your chicken (still inside its packaging) in a cold water bath. Use a thermometer to ensure your water is between 35 ° to 40°F. Ensure you submerge your entire chicken in the water. You can place a plate on top to weigh it down so it doesn’t float. 

The key to this method is changing the water every 30 minutes to prevent it from getting too warm. You should always avoid warm or hot water when working with frozen poultry. You want to change it instead of just adding more cold water just in case any chicken juices leaked into the bath water. 

This quicker method still takes a few hours and you need to remember to keep the water cold enough by changing it. But it’s quicker than the refrigerator method and still leads to no discoloration or quality issues. 

Cook your chicken right away once it’s completely thawed. It’s not safe to refreeze raw meat that has been thawed this way. 

Fastest (but lowest quality) Method: How to Defrost Chicken Fast in the Microwave 

Defrost Chicken in Microwave

Defrosting anything, including chicken, in the microwave is hands-down the quickest method. Like other methods, the time will vary depending on the size and cut of your chicken. Some people may choose this method to defrost skinless chicken breasts. I wouldn’t recommend defrosting a whole chicken in the microwave, as it will cause tough, rubbery chicken. 

Most microwaves have a defrost setting. You can use this, but don’t walk away and forget about it. If your microwave doesn’t have a defrost setting, use 50% power and short time intervals. Whichever way you select, check on your chicken frequently and turn it to help it thaw more evenly. 

The microwave method is convenient since it will quickly thaw chicken, but it will probably affect the quality of your meat. It may not be the ideal method if you’re planning a BBQ party to show off your new Grilled Chicken Shawarma recipe or BBQ Lollipop Chicken. But if you’re trying to feed your children on a busy weeknight, go for it. Just plan on cooking the chicken immediately after defrosting it. 

I’d also recommend cleaning the microwave after using it to quickly defrost chicken to remove any juices that may have spilled. 

Wasteful Method: Defrosting Chicken in Cold, Running Water 

Defrosting Chicken with Cold Running Water

Similar to the cold bath method, bringing your chicken up to temperature in cold water that’s left running uses cold water to defrost your bird. Instead of placing the chicken in a bath, this method uses water flowing over the chicken.

Although this cold water method prevents you from having to change the water, it uses a lot of water and doesn’t shave off that much time. 

Depending on how much meat thaws, a pound of chicken breasts may take less than an hour. I’d recommend using the bath method to get the same result (and support the environment). 

More expensive Method: Using a Defrosting Tray

In the 1990s, defrosting trays appeared on infomercials, promising boards that defrost meat in just a few minutes. Typically, the trays are made of a material that conducts heat rapidly, such as copper or aluminum. 

Defrosting Tray with Chicken

The law of thermodynamics tells us that two objects that are touching at different temperatures will try to become the same temperature. When the metal tray is placed in a room, the tray quickly becomes the temperature of the room, say 72°F. Place your frozen chicken on a 70°F tray and your chicken thaws out. 

Although the FDA approved these boards for quality standards, I don’t think they’re worth the money. Many reviews of defrosting trays say their chicken dries out slightly during the defrosting process from being exposed to the air, and liquid can pool onto the tray. I’d be concerned about food safety if you have left your chicken on the tray for over two hours. 

Defrosting Chicken Methods to Avoid

We should never place frozen meats on the counter to thaw. Leaving chicken at room temperature, which is in the temperature danger zone, can cause bacterial growth and illness.

Raw Chicken Breast On Counter
Do not leave chicken to thaw on counter top

Do not defrost meats on the kitchen counter.

Another method we do not recommend is using a bowl of hot water. Some professionals or online bloggers may recommend using a hot bath that’s exactly 140°F. They suggest that since the water is so hot the meat defrosts quick enough to keep the meat out of the danger zones. Yet, without using a thermometer and proper technique, this is a high-risk method that the FDA does not recommend. Plus, using this method may affect the color and quality of your chicken. 

Cooking Frozen Chicken 

If you don’t have time, water, or tools to thaw your poultry properly, you can cook your chicken straight out of the freezer. You will need to increase your cooking time by 50% and cooking chicken when it’s frozen doesn’t work with all cooking styles. Using frozen meat isn’t ideal if you want to get crispy skin, because the excess water prevents browning. 

It’s also more difficult to handle frozen chicken. Before cooking it, remove any packaging or wrappings before cooking. And you’ll want to remove the giblet pack from a whole chicken as soon as you can loosen it. 

Tips for Defrosting Chicken Safely

Patience is going to serve you well when thawing chicken. It’s important to follow the processes and time guidelines to ensure your poultry is held at safe temperatures. 

Prevent contamination by cleaning any areas that touched your uncooked chicken during the thawing process. Wash hands, dishes, tools, and countertops with hot, soapy water. 

Now that you have poultry ready to cook, try one of our chicken recipes. But whether you thaw it or cook chicken frozen, make sure you cook it to an internal temperature of 165°F.


Can I refreeze defrosted chicken?

That depends. If you thawed your poultry in the fridge overnight, the USDA says it’s safe to refreeze the meat. But if you left it on the counter to thaw, you should cook the raw chicken or toss it. Refreezing is no longer an option.

Does thawed chicken need to be cooked immediately?

No, poultry you’ve thawed or defrosted doesn’t need be cooked immediately as long as you used the fridge to get it to the right temperature. You should, however, use thawed chicken within 48 hours.

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