How to Thaw Chicken Safely

Have you asked yourself what is the safest way to thaw chicken? Over time, I’ve had a lot of community members ask what is the proper way of thawing chicken. Today, we are going to cover those options.

how to thaw chicken safelyWhile the MOMables meal plan helps you with the menu, recipes, and some of the planning, sadly, we can’t actually prep and cook it all for you. There are however, built-in kitchen tips and time-saving ideas to help you along.

Since we aren’t all as organized as the Chief Mom here (har har!), some of us might be faced with a situation where we need chicken breast for dinner tonight, but only have frozen chicken. Did I mention that we need it tonight?!

While it might be tempting to leave it on the counter to thaw while you go about your day, leaving meat at room temperature can be unsafe and cause illness.

Here are the three safe ways to thaw frozen meats!


The safest way to thaw meat is by moving it to the refrigerator first, but that involves some planning in advance, and can take days depending on a few variables.

  • Allow up to 24 hours per 1 to 5 pounds of frozen meat.
  • Some areas of the fridge stay colder than others. The warmer zones are the front and middle, but it’s best to keep meat in the bottom drawer so that if anything leaks, it doesn’t contaminate food stored below it. If your meat has already been unwrapped, place it in a bowl or pan to catch all the juices.
  • Refrigerators set at 35F take longer to thaw than those set at 40F.

Fridge-thawed items remain safe for a day or so and can be refrozen if needed (but there might be some loss of quality). If you’re not cooking right away, store thawed meats in the coldest parts of your refrigerator (the back of the top shelf where the cold air is blown in and also the bottom drawer).

Cold Water

This is the best method to thaw frozen meats if you’re short on time.

  • Your meat must be in a leak-proof package or baggie (zip-top bags work great). The air-tight bag is needed to prevent bacteria around your kitchen from leaking in and also 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 packages (around 1 pound) may take up to an hour. A 3- to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours.

Foods thawed using this method should be cooked before re-freezing. You’ll want to cook your meat fairly quickly after thawing, depending on how long your meat has been out of the fridge, but thawing in cold water is safer for a little longer than meat just left at room temperature.

MOM Tip: If you need to cut frozen boneless meats into smaller pieces, partially thaw using this method, (thaw enough that there is less than 30 to 60 minutes needed to finish thawing), 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 thaw faster. Plan to cook right away after thawed because by opening the bag, you’ve introduced bacteria that could be breeding in there!


This is the least ideal of the “safe” thawing methods because the meat gets heated unevenly. This method is not considered safe for whole chickens.

  • 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, you must plan to cook immediately after thawing because parts of the meat reach the “danger zone” temperature for breeding bacteria (between 40F and 140F).

Foods thawed using this method should be cooked before re-freezing.

Cooking from Frozen

When there just isn’t enough time to thaw 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.

**Perishable foods should never be thawed by being left on the counter or in hot water, and should never be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

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About Kendra Peterson

Kendra has two daughters on a gluten free, dairy free, and dye free diets. She cooks meals that don't come from a can, boxed or with unidentifiable ingredients. She makes miracles with the random veggies she gets from her CSA box and can be seen pulled over at the park or library feeding her kids food packed in lunch boxes. You can also find her making fun waste-free lunches on her blog, Biting the Hand That Feeds You.