How to Thaw Chicken Quickly and Safely

Planning ahead and prepping is a secret to great cooking. But let us be real even with proper planning there are things you’ll forget to do. And you can either choose to fret over it or kick yourself or learn a few tricks and tips to make do with the available time, resources and ingredients. Out of the million things that can go wrong a common one is forgetting to defrost your chicken in time. The quickest workaround is to either completely take out chicken off your meal plan or order in some fried chicken. Wait, there is another option, learning to quickly but safely thaw your chicken, And hey, I am not going to judge you decide to get some fried chicken, but I do want to share a few tips here that have worked for me during a chicken emergency. While the best way to defrost chicken is to leave it in the fridge. If you are planning to cook it for dinner the next day, keep it in the fridge the night before. The fridge does not expose the chicken to warmer temperatures and eliminates the risk of bacteria growth. It is also fuss-free requiring no attention or intervention from you. Keep in mind to either let the chicken stay in its original packaging or place a tray to avoid any dripping and spoiling other foods. You can keep the fridge thawed chicken for 2 days and can also refreeze it if you change your meal plans. The only catch is to remember to keep the chicken in the fridge on time, maybe set a reminder on your phone.

Now onto the methods to defrost chicken when you have skipped or forgotten to defrost it on time. I have resorted to them time and again, resisting the urge to order thawed chicken.

Defrosting chicken with water 

How to defrost chicken in cold water 

When defrosting chicken with water the safest and the easiest way to defrost chicken with water is to use cold water. This will take a lot less time than defrosting overnight in a fridge. But you need to ensure that you keep the meat safe from bacteria growth and cook it right after it gets defrosted. When looking to defrost chicken faster I prefer this method over others. If you haven’t cut down the bird, do it before you start thawing but ensure you reseal the pieces in leak-proof bags. Goes without saying that smaller the pieces, quicker the thawing. Keep the following in mind and you will be ready to cook your chicken. The safety rules say that chicken thawed with water should be cooked immediately. It makes sense as the duration and temperature start becoming conducive to bacteria growth. A good idea is to start prepping and cooking the rest of the dish while the chicken gets thawed that way you will be ready to use the chicken right away.

  • Keep the sealed meat in a salad bowl or any other big bowl and fill it up with cold water. If your tap water is potable it is good to go, ensure that it is not warm. In case it is warm you can always add ice cubes
  • The water will tend to get warmer and hence you should keep changing it every 30 minutes. If changing the water frequently is not possible, then let the tap run trickle and place the bowl with the sealed meat under it. This will ensure the water keeps changing. Ensure that you keep the temperature below 40°f.
  • Each pound of chicken will take about an hour to thaw with cold water. In case you are trying to thaw the whole chicken it will take longer and thawing might not be uniform inside and out. Expect the process to take between 1 to 3 hours to thaw depending upon the size and quantity of chicken you are trying to thaw.

How to defrost chicken in hot water 

This method is gaining ground as it has got some validation from the US Department of agriculture. Though they do not recommend it officially. While it might be recommended to break down the chicken before thawing it in cold water,  it becomes absolutely imperative to do so when trying to thaw with hot water. As a bigger size of meat will take longer it raises the risk of contamination and bacteria growth considerably. Defrosting chicken with hot water takes significantly less time as compared to cold water. But you have to be really careful and not let the chicken sit too long at higher temperatures. Keep an eye on the temperature and the clock, follow these steps, and you should be ok.

  • When you defrost chicken in hot water always break down the bird into thin pieces and reseal it. Ensure that you make it airtight. If you are wondering how to defrost a whole chicken with hot water, my recommendation is to not use this method.
  • Similar to the cold water method, immerse the sealed meat inside the hot water. The temperature of the water should not go below 100°f. Higher the temperature, quicker the thawing. The sealed meat will tend to lower the temperature around itself faster, stir the water often.
  • Defrosting chicken breast about one-inch in size with hot water should take about 7-9 minutes. You might see the meat lose a bit of juice. But don’t worry as it will not make any noticeable difference to the taste.

How to defrost chicken in a microwave

Defrosting chicken in a microwave although a real quick method comes with its own perils as seen on this guide. It requires constant attention and some degree of experience as well. If not done carefully you run the risk of making your chicken dry and get contaminated with bacteria as well. Since thawing in the microwave exposes the chicken to temperatures that encourage the growth of bacteria, cook it immediately. Along with cooking the chicken immediately after thawing ensure that the internal temperature reaches 165°f during cooking.

  • Unwrap the chicken and place it in a microwave-safe container. Use a shallow container as it will help in heating the meat more uniformly.
  • Use the defrost setting on your microwave, use the manual to find out the recommended time (kudos if you have that manual or can find it in time). A safe bet is to defrost it for 2 minutes, take it out, check for cold spots and put it back. All microwaves these days have rotating trays but that might not ensure even thawing. So turn it around in the container and put it back.
  • Keep putting the chicken back in till you can’t find any cold spots, but make sure that it doesn’t start to cook. Even being this careful cannot ensure even thawing. As the thinner bits of meat will tend to thaw faster, and you run the risk of making the chicken become dry.

Cooking frozen chicken without defrosting

Yes, you are allowed to do it. But be prepared to give about 50% more time than you would do typically for the same dish or recipe. But this method is suitable for limited recipes only. It will be unsafe to cook a whole chicken unthawed. Avoid using the unthawed whole chicken in recipes that call for a slow cooker. It raises the risk of bacterial growth as temperatures will stay in the danger zone long enough to allow the bacteria to develop. I would not recommend using this method often. As it might impact taste.  A completely thawed chicken will be easy to cook evenly and will always taste better.

Parting tips on how to defrost chicken safely

  1. The danger zone promoting bacteria growth is at 40°f to 140°f. Never refreeze chicken thawed outside of the fridge. If you need to refreeze it always cook it first.
  2. Unless your recipe calls for it, break down the chicken before thawing irrespective of the method you choose. Reseal each piece properly before you set out to thaw them.
  3. The best method is to leave it in the fridge and give it ample time to thaw safely in the lower temperature. Not only is it safe you can refreeze the chicken if you don’t end up using it.
  4. When thawing with cold water keep the chicken sealed properly and keep changing the water every 30 minutes. When deciding between cold or hot water method, be partial to the cold water one.
  5. When defrosting chicken in a microwave make sure it doesn’t start cooking by taking it out after every 2 minutes. Also, check that defrosting has been done evenly by turning the meat before you put it back in.
  6. If you skip defrosting and go to cook the chicken straight away and do not go for recipes that involve a slow cooker to avoid giving bacteria a chance to develop.

The method you choose to defrost chicken will impact the taste. So if you forget to put in the fridge on time, be prepared to pay attention to the bird during thawing with other methods.