You’re standing in front of the fridge, then freezer, and are trying to come up with something to make for dinner. Chicken! You’ve got a huge bag in the freezer. Boom. Problem solved. Except… it’s frozen.
Now, you’re left there standing with chicken on hand wondering what’s the safest way to defrost frozen chicken? You’re not alone. I get this question all the time!
With the popularity of these healthy chicken dinner ideas, comes an immediate need to use and cook chicken! And, depending on the amount of time you have, here are 3 safe and USDA-approved ways to defrost chicken that work more quickly than letting them thaw in the fridge overnight.
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Having a weekly meal plan delivered to your inbox will prevent the “what’s for dinner” dilemma, and most importantly, the step-by-step meal prep sheet will tell you exactly when to take the chicken out to thaw.
Depending on the time of day you’re reading this, you might think about simply leaving it on the counter to defrost while you go about your day- DON’T!
Leaving chicken at room temperature can be unsafe and cause illness, so it’s not a good idea.
And for those of you reading this 2 hours before dinner, relax, I’ve got a solution for you too! But if you find yourself with zero minutes left before you need to cook that frozen chicken, it can be done!
If you’re still here, it must mean you have at least a little bit of time before your family wants to eat dinner. Here are the three safe ways to thaw frozen chicken for dinner tonight.
Table of contents
- How to Defrost Chicken
- How to Cook Frozen Chicken Breasts
- Best Method for Defrosting Chicken
- How Long Does it Take to Defrost Chicken
- The Fastest Way to Defrost Chicken
- Last Chicken Defrosting Tips
- Chicken Recipe Ideas
How to Defrost Chicken
Frozen chicken can be defrosted in the refrigerator, a cold water bath, or a microwave. Each method has its pros and cons, but in the end, you’ll have thawed chicken that’s ready to be cooked.
How Long Does it Take Chicken to Defrost
Chicken can take anywhere between 10 minutes and up to 36 hours to defrost, depending on how you thaw it out. Another thing that impacts how long it will take to defrost is whether the chicken is whole, the pieces are frozen together, or separated in a bag.
The table below shows approximate thawing times for chicken breasts, thighs, and mixed pieces.
|1 pound||fridge||up to 24 hours|
|1 pound||microwave||8 min on defrost|
|1 pound||cold water||1 hour|
|3 pounds||fridge||up to 36 hours|
|3 pounds||microwave||21 min on defrost|
|3 pounds||cold water||2-3 hours|
If you are defrosting chicken in the microwave, make sure to stop the microwave every 4 to 5 minutes to flip it so the heat does not cook it instead.
Defrosting Chicken in the Refrigerator
The safest way to defrost meat is by moving it to the refrigerator first, but that involves some planning in advance and can take up to 2 days, depending on how much frozen chicken you are trying to defrost.
- Allow up to 24 hours per 1 to 5 pounds of frozen meat.
- It’s best to keep the meat in the bottom drawer so that if anything leaks, it doesn’t contaminate food stored below it. If your chicken has already been unwrapped, place it in a bowl or pan to catch all the juices. Gross, right? But it’s one more thing to avoid a mishap.
- Refrigerators set at 35F take longer to defrost chicken than those set at 40F so check your fridge’s settings before you get started so you can know what to expect.
The defrosted chicken will remain safe for a day after it has thawed out and can be refrozen if needed, but there might be some loss of quality.
If you’re not cooking right away, store defrosted meats in the coldest parts of your refrigerator.
How to Defrost in Cold Water
Submerging your frozen chicken in a sink full of cold water is the best way to defrost chicken in water. This is the best method to defrost frozen chicken if you’re short on time.
- Place the meat in a leak-proof, zip-top bag to avoid the water getting in and making your meat soggy.
- Submerge your bag in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes.
- Small bags (around 1 pound) may take up to an hour. A 3 to 4-pound bag may take 2 to 3 hours.
Foods defrosted using this method should be cooked before re-freezing. You’ll want to cook your meat fairly quickly after defrosting, depending on how long your meat has been out of the fridge.
Partially Defrosting For Cutting Chicken Into Even Pieces
If you need to cut frozen boneless chicken breasts into smaller pieces, partially defrost using this method, remove from the bag, and cut.
The frozen core in the meat helps keep it from sliding around as you cut, allowing for neater, more uniform slices. Put the pieces back in the leak-proof bag, seal, and finish thawing.
Check the pieces, and change the water more often to defrost faster. Plan to cook right away after thawed because by opening the bag, you’ve introduced bacteria that could be breeding in there!
How to Defrost Chicken in the Microwave
Defrosting chicken in the microwave is the least ideal method because the meat gets heated unevenly. The waves of heat will usually hit different places of the chicken as during the process and it can cook some parts and others leave raw.
If you’re going to use this method, it’s best for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, don’t try it on whole chickens or skin-on and bone-in chicken. Here is how:
- Set your microwave to “Defrost” or 50% power to prevent the outside from getting cooked while the inside remains frozen. Times vary based on weight, but if you aren’t sure, defrost for 2 minutes, let stand for 1 minute, then check the progress. Repeat.
- If your frozen meat is in pieces, pause the defrosting every few minutes to break the pieces apart.
- If using this method, plan to cook immediately after thawing because parts of the meat can reach the “danger zone” temperature for breeding bacteria (between 40F and 140F).
Chicken defrosted using the microwave method should be cooked before re-freezing.
How to Cook Frozen Chicken Breasts
When there just isn’t enough time to defrost frozen foods, just remember: It’s safe to cook from the frozen state!
The cooking time will increase by roughly 50% over the recommended time for fresh or thawed meats.
Example: If it takes 30-40 minutes for raw chicken breasts to bake, expect 45 to an hour for frozen. To check for doneness, make sure to use a meat thermometer. A chicken breast is fully cooked when the internal temperature is 165F at the thickest part of the breast.
Best Method for Defrosting Chicken
Defrosting chicken in the refrigerator overnight and the cold water methods are the two methods that work best.
With both of these methods, the chicken meat defrosts evenly and you don’t have to worry about any part getting cooked or dried out as you do with the microwave.
How Long Does it Take to Defrost Chicken
Chicken can take anywhere from 2 days to 30 minutes to defrost, depending on what method you choose.
The refrigerator method can take up to 2 days, depending on how many lbs of frozen chicken breast you have.
The cold water method takes up to 1 hour per pound.
The microwave takes 10-20 minutes, depending on the amount of chicken.
The Fastest Way to Defrost Chicken
If you need chicken breasts right now, the microwave is going to be your best answer to get cooking right away.
Make sure you look at the chicken weight before adjusting the defrost settings on your microwave. The weight will determine how long the defrost cycle will run.
I only recommend the microwave method with chicken breasts since they have a relatively even thickness. Otherwise, microwaves are known to cook the thinnest part first while leaving thicker parts semi-frozen.
Last Chicken Defrosting Tips
We’ve discussed all the thawing methods, and now I leave you with a few tips for perfectly thawed chicken every time!
- Transfer the chicken from the freezer to the fridge the night before you plan to cook. Pro tip: set a reminder on your phone to do so, makes it harder to forget.
- Use thick, plastic zip bags for the cold water method.
- If using the microwave method, make sure to stop each minute and check the progress. If you see any white or opaque parts, it’s best to stop so the chicken won’t dry out.
Now that you know how to thaw it, be sure to grab one of these dinner ideas to make tonight!
Chicken Recipe Ideas
Chicken Dinner Ideas – If chicken for dinner is always a winner, you’re going to love this post filled with more than 50 chicken dinner ideas.
Buffalo Chicken – This easy buffalo chicken recipe is made in the slow cooker and is the best starter ingredients for quesadillas, dips, tacos, sliders and so much more.
Chicken and Spaghetti Squash – perfectly juicy chicken in a creamy and delicious sauce over a low-carb pasta option: spaghetti squash!