How to Defrost Frozen Chicken: The Fastest and Safest Methods

frozen chicken in a packet

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We have all been there – due to some emergency or another, it comes around to dinner time and we realize that we forgot to pull some chicken out of the freezer.

Before you decide to order takeout you should now that there are ways to defrost chicken – fast!

Let’s look at your options, and we promise you will have a chicken dinner on the table, cooked to perfection, right on time, (or perhaps just a few minutes late).

The 3 ways to defrost a chicken

1. Hot water bath

The hot water bath is the best method if you need to defrost thin pieces of chicken (an inch or less thick) in a hurry and it’s really quite simple.

Here’s how to do defrost chicken in a hot water bath:

  • Fill a bowl with hot water from the tap.
  • Check the temperature of the water with a meat thermometer. You want it to be around 140°F (60°C).
  • Submerge the frozen chicken in the water bath
  • Stir the water periodically to keep cold water from settling around the chicken.
  • Your chicken should be thawed in under 30 minutes.

You might be worried that sitting your chicken in a bath of warm water would result in the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. There’s really no need to worry though. There have been many scientific studies on the subject.

But a word of caution: this method is only suited to thinner cuts of meat, up to about an inch thick. 

Thicker cuts, or a whole bird, will take longer to thaw, and this does allow enough time for bacterial growth. 

By sticking to thinner cuts, and cooking them as soon as they are thawed out, there is not enough time for the bacteria to grow.

The trick to this method is the speed at which the meat thaws.

A couple of things to keep in mind: The chicken must be wrapped up in a leakproof, plastic bag. The thickness of the plastic will affect the time it takes to thaw.

Also, the hot water bath will work best if you give the water a stir every now and then to stop cold pockets of water around the frozen meat.

Interestingly, according to the studies which have been carried out, thawing your meat this way will not impact taste and texture. So if you choose not to tell anyone that you forgot to take out the chicken, no one will ever know…

2. Cold water bath

If you remembered a little earlier in the day that you forgot to take out the chicken, a cold water bath is also a great option. 

Just like the hot water bath, it simply involves placing your wrapped up chicken in a tub of water, but this time, cold water from the tap.

You can expect this method to take longer, again depending on the amount of chicken and how thick the packaging is. 

Change the water in the bath regularly, or leave the tap trickling over the bath to keep the water cold. 

3. Defrost in the fridge

This is probably the method you already know about, but you do need to remember the day before you need your chicken for it to work!

Place your chicken in the fridge and let it thaw out over the next 18 – 20 hours. You can leave it in the fridge for up to 2 days, especially if it is a whole bird, it might need the extra time. Just make sure you cook it within 2 days of putting it in the fridge.

This method ensures that the meat will never enter into the danger zone of bacterial growth. 

While it takes some forward planning, this is the least hands on method, just stick the chicken in the fridge and forget about it until it is time to cook. 

It is also the only safe method you can use for a whole bird.

Remember to put it on the bottom shelf of your fridge so that any juices that may form don’t drip down and contaminate the food underneath.

What NOT to do: leave the chicken on the bench to thaw

As tempting as it is to just plonk your chicken on the benchtop to let it thaw, this leaves it wide open for bacterial growth. 

The danger zone for such growth is between 40°F and 140°F (5°C and 60°C). 

While the water bath method places the chicken in this temperature zone, the meat is not left long enough in this temperature range for the bacteria to grow.

That’s why it is important you cook the meat immediately after thawing it using a water bath.

However, leaving your meat on the countertop not only leaves the meat smack bang in the middle of that temperature range, but it will also have to sit there for long enough for bacteria to multiply.

Cooking straight from frozen

There is another option that is often overlooked – just cook it straight out of the freezer!

This will work best for dishes that require slow cooking, like a curry or a stew.

Either way, you will need to add another 50% cooking time on top of what the recipe states to make sure everything is cooked all the way through. 

Tips for thawing chicken

  • Hot and cold water baths are only suitable to use when thawing thin strips of chicken, up to about an inch thick.  For whole chickens, thawing in the fridge is recommended.
  • Never refreeze chicken that has been thawed – it must be cooked.
  • Especially when cooking straight from frozen it is safest to check the internal temperature of the chicken with a meat thermometer. This is also best practice when you are cooking chicken which is thawed to make sure it has been cooked to a safe temperature.
  • Avoid thawing in the microwave. This method all too often leads to chicken that is dry, with some portions partially cooked while other sections are still frozen. It also requires checking every 30 seconds or so – trust us, it’s not worth the hassle.
  • When defrosting in water, hot or cold, make sure that the meat is always fully submerged. You may need to pop some kind of heavy kitchen implement on top of the meat to keep it underwater.

Wrapping it up

Forgetting to thaw the chicken does not spell the end of your dinner plans. If you are cooking thin strips, you can have them thawed in under 30 minutes using one of the water bath methods, and if you are planning a comforting, slow cooked curry, then you can just cook that chicken straight from the freezer!

The most important thing to keep in mind is food safety, which means thawing on the countertop is out, and that once your chicken is thawed, there is no turning back – you will be having chicken for dinner tonight!

What did you think of our tips for thawing chicken? Let us know in the comments section below. And if you found this article helpful, be sure to share! 

Joe Clements

Joe Clements

As the son of a vegeterian, I grew up dreaming about meat. Now as the founder and editor in chief of Smoked Barbecue Source I get to grill, barbecue and write about meat for a living!I'm sharing everything I learn along the way on my journey from amateur to pitmaster.
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