How to Thaw Frozen Chicken Safely

What’s the safest way to thaw frozen chicken? I’ve gotten this question a lot when sharing all my chicken recipes. So today, I’m sharing three safe and easy methods to thaw chicken.

Let me guess, you planned on making the delicious Pizza Chicken for dinner tonight but only have frozen chicken. Did I mention that you need it tonight?!

While the MOMables meal plan helps you with the menu, recipes, and most of the planning, sadly, we can’t actually prep and cook it all for you.

We can still help you with these kitchen tips and time-saving ideas to help you along, making sure all those dinner ideas get put to good use.

image: sliced raw chicken breasts on a cutting board

Depending on the time of day your reading this, you might be tempted to leave it on the counter to thaw while you go about your day- DON’T!

Leaving chicken at room temperature can be unsafe and cause illness.

And for those of you reading this 2 hours before dinner, relax, I’ve got a solution for you too. Let’s get to it!

Here are the three safe ways to thaw frozen chicken

How to Defrost chicken

Depending on how much time you have, frozen chicken can defrosted in the refrigerator, a cold water bath, or microwave. Each method has it’s pros and cons, but in the end, you’ll have thawed chicken that’s ready to be cooked.

Thawing Chicken in the Refrigerator

The safest way to thaw 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. 

  • 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 thaw than those set at 40F so check your fridge’s settings before you get started so you can know what to expect.

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.

How to Thaw in Cold Water

A water bath is the best method to thaw frozen meats 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 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.

For Cutting Chicken into Pieces

If you need to cut frozen boneless meats into smaller pieces, partially thaw using this method, (there should be 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!

Thawing Chicken in the Microwave

This is the least ideal of the “safe” thawing methods because the meat gets heated unevenly. It’s best used for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, don’t try it on 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, plan to cook immediately after thawing because parts of the meat can reach the “danger zone” temperature for breeding bacteria (between 40F and 140F).

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

image: two cooked chicken breats on a white plate

How to Cook Frozen Chicken Breasts

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.

Example: If it takes 30 minutes for raw chicken breasts to bake, expect an hour for frozen.

Which is the Best Method for Thawing Chicken

Personally, the refrigerator and cold water method work the best, and I’m certain many other sources will agree.

The chicken thaws perfectly 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 Thaw Chicken?

Depending on which method you use, chicken can take anywhere from 2 days to 30 minutes to thaw. 

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 Thaw Chicken

If you’re in a bind and need chicken breasts NOW, the microwave is your best bet.

Make sure you know the amount of chicken since it will affect the amount of time it needs in the microwave. You will also need to pay more attention to the chicken, checking every few minutes to see if it is thawing correctly and evenly.

I recommend this method with chicken breasts only 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 Thawing Tips

We’ve discussed all the thawing methods, and now I leave you with a few tips for perfectly thawed chicken everytime! 

  • 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 chicken dinner ideas to make tonight!

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About MOMables - Laura

Mom to 3 kids, obsessed with coffee, meal planning, and helping you cook fresh meals for your family fast!