How to Thaw Chicken Safely, According to Our Test Kitchen
Got chicken on the menu but it's frozen? Here's how to (and how not to) thaw your frozen chicken.
There's a right way and a wrong way to do most things in the kitchen, but the stakes are particularly high when it comes to thawing chicken. Why? Uncooked chicken can harbor bacteria that can grow to unsafe levels if the thawing process takes too long. If chicken is on the menu but it's frozen, there are ways to thaw the chicken safely (and quickly!). Here are the do's and don'ts when it comes to thawing chicken.
DO thaw it in the fridge
The easiest way to thaw chicken is to simply move it from your freezer to your meat drawer. Chicken breasts or thighs will take about a day to defrost completely, while a whole chicken can take three or more (depending on the size). While this is the easiest way to go, it takes the longest and requires some forethought. If time is not on your side, there are ways to speed up the process.
DO thaw it in cool water
Chicken will thaw faster if it's submerged in water. A package of chicken breast or thighs can thaw in a couple of hours in a bowl of cool water kept on the counter or in the sink. There are a few things to keep in mind if you're thawing chicken this way: The water should be kept cool (below room temperature), which will require changing out the water every 30 minutes or so as it warms up. Also, the chicken should be left in its packaging. If there's a puncture or tear in the packaging, be sure to thoroughly clean the bowl or sink used for defrosting after you're done.
Do thaw it in hot water
If you really need to defrost your chicken quickly, you can defrost it using hot water (around 102°F). While this method is the fastest (around 10 minutes or so), there are some caveats. This method only works for chicken breasts or thighs that are 1 inch thick or less. Anything thicker, and the outside surface will get too warm while the inside will remain frozen. And with all defrosting methods, it's best to cook your defrosted chicken right away, but with this method it's particularly important since you are bringing the meat (albeit temporarily) into the danger zone. The "danger zone" is classified as temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees where bacteria grow most readily. (So no changing the menu once the chicken has defrosted!).
DO NOT thaw it on the counter
It may seem like a good idea, but the truth is, thawing your chicken on the counter is not safe. The defrosting process takes too long, with the exposed meat lingering in the dreaded danger zone longer than it should.
DO NOT thaw it in your microwave
Yes, most microwaves come with a handy-dandy defrost button, but that function is best left to other things. The microwave will defrost your chicken unevenly, heating up some parts while leaving other parts still frozen solid.
DO NOT cook your frozen chicken while it's still frozen
You may be tempted to throw your frozen chicken right in the pan, but don't. The outside will cook quickly, while the inside will remain frozen. By the time you reach the recommended internal temperature for cooked chicken (which is 165°F), the outside will be overdone.