How to Thaw Frozen Chicken Safely


Chicken is healthy, versatile and an extremely popular choice for everyday cooking. If you’ve got some chicken sitting in your freezer, here are three options for thawing it safely.


(1) Thaw Chicken in the Refrigerator

This is the easiest method for defrosting chicken — but it also takes the longest amount of time, so you’ll need to plan ahead.

·   Keep the frozen chicken in its original, unopened wrapper and place in a container or tray that will prevent the chicken juices from dripping on other foods.

·   Place the frozen chicken in the fridge — be sure your refrigerator temperature is set at 40 °F or below.

·   You’ll need to allow about 24 hours to thaw one pound of frozen boneless chicken breasts or other chicken pieces. If you’re thawing a whole frozen chicken, it will take bout 4 to 6 hours per pound of chicken being thawed.

·   How long does it take to thaw frozen chicken in the fridge? Approximate times:

Time to thaw a whole frozen chicken in the fridge:

- 5 pounds:   24 hours
- 10 pounds: 2 full days

Time to thaw cut-up frozen chicken (including frozen chicken breasts) in the fridge

- Half a pound:  12 hours
-1 pound:         24 hours
-2 pounds:        2 full days

Do you have to cook the frozen chicken as soon as it’s thawed? No — as long as the chicken was thawed in the refrigerator. Chicken that’s been defrosted in the refrigerator can be kept for an additional 1 to 2 days in the fridge before cooking.

Another plus of thawing chicken in the refrigerator: If your plans change and you decide not to cook the chicken at all, you can safely refreeze the defrosted chicken within 1 to 2 days (although there may be some loss of quality).


 (2) Thaw Chicken in Cold Water

You can defrost your frozen chicken much faster in cold water. But compared to refrigerator thawing, the process will require a lot more attention on your behalf.

·   Make sure the frozen chicken is in a leak-proof package or plastic bag.

·   To thaw the chicken, submerge the bag in cold tap water — never use warm or hot water, as that can cause the outer layer of the food to heat up to a temperature where harmful bacteria begins to multiply.

·   Change the water every 30 minutes, to ensure that it stays cold enough.

·   Using this thawing method, it will take about 30 minutes for each pound of chicken you need to defrost.

How long does it take to thaw frozen chicken in cold water? Approximate times:


Time to thaw whole frozen chicken in cold water:

- 5 pounds:   2.5 hours
- 10 pounds: 5.0 hours


Time to thaw cut-up frozen chicken (including frozen chicken breasts) in cold water:

-1 pound:           1 hour or less
-3 to 4 pounds:   2 to 3 hours


If you’ve used the cold water method to defrost your chicken, you’ll need to cook the chicken as soon as it’s completely thawed.

You shouldn’t refreeze raw chicken that’s been defrosted in cold water. Once you’ve cooked the chicken, though, you can then refreeze it, if you wish.


(3) Thaw Chicken in the Microwave

If you’re really short on time, you can defrost chicken in the microwave.

·   Check your owner’s manual for the minutes per pound and the power level to use for thawing.

·   Remove all outside wrapping.

·   Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that might leak.

If you defrost your chicken in the microwave, you’ll need to cook it immediately after it’s thawed.


How Not to Thaw Your Frozen Chicken

You should never thaw a frozen chicken on the counter at room temperature or in hot water. Under either of those methods, the outer layer of the chicken can sit between the bacteria-breeding temperatures of 40°F and 140 °F for too long to be safe.

Can You Cook a Frozen Chicken?

Yes — you can cook your chicken directly from the frozen state. It'll take longer, but you can still end up with a tasty chicken. See this article for detailed advice on how to cook a frozen chicken. 


Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service Web site for more information on safely defrosting chicken.

Related Articles:
Do You Have to Thaw Frozen Chicken Before Cooking It?

How Long Can You Leave Frozen Chicken in the Freezer?

How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last?



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