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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.
We guess you love eating chicken just like we do, don’t you? After all, it’s healthy and easy to cook. Moreover, you can roast, grill, bake, smoke or fry your chicken seamlessly, just the way you like it.
With that said, you probably have loads of chicken wings, breast and thighs stashed in your freezer and perhaps you’re planning to cook them tonight - but the only thing holding you back is the thawing process.
Fortunately, we are here to help…
Defrosting chicken might seem like an easy task at first, but the truth is that it’s not. You have to remove the bird from the freezer and wait for hours on end until the ice melts away.
As if that is not enough, the situation may become more complex, especially if you are expecting guests for dinner, yet the ice does not seem to thaw away. In such a case, you may have no other choice but to cook your chicken just the way it is.
However, cooking frozen chicken is somehow unhealthy - the inside of the bird may not cook well, or worse still, it may trigger the growth of harmful bacteria. If possible, always defrost your chicken before cooking.
So what is the best way to defrost chicken?
Submerge the chicken in cold water
The best and easiest way to defrost chicken is by giving it a cold bath! The process involves placing the chicken in an airtight bag and submerging it in cold tap water to allow it to thaw.
Here is a step by step guide on how to go about it:
1. Place your chicken in an airtight Ziploc bag to prevent water from getting in, and to keep bacteria at bay during the defrosting process.
2. Find a clean mixing bowl or a food-grade container that is large enough to accommodate your chicken.
3. Fill the bowl or container with cold tap water (Never use hot or warm water). Ideally, the temperature of the water should be below 40°F to prevent the growth of bacteria.
4. Insert the sealed chicken in a container, and make sure the bag is fully submerged. The top of the chicken should be below the water level - to ensure the whole chicken is thawed.
5. Next, set a timer and change the water after every 30 minutes or so. As the chicken thaws, the water will become warm, subsequently slowing down the defrosting process.
6. Alternatively, turn on the tap to run a trickle of cold water on your chicken. This will ensure that the water remains cold and clean during the entire process.
7. Once the chicken is ready after defrosting, cook it immediately. Never refreeze the chicken before cooking.
Unfortunately, the above method may take longer than expected - your frozen meat may be ready within 1 to 4 hours, depending on its size.
One pound of frozen chicken takes about an hour to defrost, while 3 pounds of chicken will take 3 hours or more.
However, if you are not in a hurry, and can spare one or two hours, then submerging your meat in cold water is clearly the best way to defrost your chicken. Sounds good, right?
Defrost in the fridge
This method is by far one of the best and safest ways to defrost chicken, as it does not expose your food to warm temperatures. Since your chicken remains in the fridge throughout the entire process, it is less likely to become susceptible to bacterial contamination.
What is even more amazing is that defrosting in the fridge is less hands-on. This means you don't have to change the water every few minutes during the thawing process.
Nevertheless, this method takes a bit of time than other defrosting techniques. Besides, it requires some planning before you can hack it successfully.
Averagely, defrosting a full chicken using this method could take anywhere from 12 hours to 24 hours. However, this depends on the size of the bird.
Here are the steps on how to defrost your chicken in the refrigerator:
1. Remove the chicken from the freezer and place it in a food-grade container, plate or bowl.
2. Place the bowl on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator (away from other foods) to prevent cross-contamination.
3. Ideally, you should leave the chicken to defrost overnight. However, the time required to defrost depends on the size of the bird. One pound of chicken usually takes 5 hours to defrost in the fridge, thus thawing a whole chicken could take more than 24 hours.
4. Check whether the chicken is defrosted by examining its cavity - it should be squashy, with no icy crystals. If ice particles are still present, it means you need to defrost the chicken for a longer period.
5. Remove the chicken from the fridge once it is fully thawed. Be careful not to rip the pieces apart since the chicken is still squashy and soft after defrosting.
6. You can store the thawed chicken in the refrigerator for up to 2 days after defrosting. However, we recommend you cook the defrosted chicken immediately to avoid possible food poisoning. It's as easy as that!
Use the microwave
Another way to defrost your chicken is by tossing it into the microwave and setting the machine to begin the thawing process.
Many microwaves have a “defrost function” that works by defrosting all types of frozen meat automatically. You just need to press the defrost button and select the type of meat you want to thaw.
Using the microwave is the quickest way to defrost your chicken as it only requires 5 to 10 minutes to thaw the meat. This comes in handy if you have unexpected guests or you want to make a quick, ‘unplanned’ chicken dish.
However, you must remain extra vigilant when using this method - leaving the chicken in the microwave for too long could be disastrous, since the chicken might thaw and burn or become unsafe to eat.
Then again, you have to cook the chicken immediately or run the risk of bacterial contamination.
Here are the steps on how to defrost your chicken in the microwave:
1. Unwrap your chicken
2. Place the chicken in a microwave-safe bowl or container to prevent the juices and melting ice from dripping on the appliance.
3. Place the bowl on the microwave rotary plate and switch the setting knob to ‘defrost mode.’ Set the microwave timer to 2 minutes and monitor the entire process.
4. Thereafter, remove the chicken from the microwave and cook immediately.
Perhaps the only concern about using a microwave is the safety of your food. Some scientists argue that the waves originating from the microwave can cause potential harm to your health.
The good news is that this is all but a myth. Microwaves are extremely safe to use. You just need to make sure you place your chicken in a microwave-safe bowl before starting the defrosting process.
However, in order to prevent bacterial growth on your chicken, you are advised not to let the chicken defrost in the microwave for too long.
For best results, do not defrost a whole chicken in the microwave, since some parts of the chicken may thaw while others may remain frozen.
As a result, you may be tempted to extend the thawing, which may affect the texture of your chicken - and that’s not what you want to achieve, right?
With this in mind, make sure you cut the chicken pieces before freezing in the fridge, as this will make the defrosting process easier when using a microwave.
Defrost using hot water
Using hot water is not as effective as the other methods of defrosting. Besides, it creates a favorable environment for bacteria to thrive. Nonetheless, you can get away with this safely without poisoning your food.
Here are the steps:
1. Remove your chicken from the freezer and place it in a large food-grade container
2. Add hot water to the container until it fills it halfway
3. Stir the water regularly to prevent cold spots and keep the temperature high while defrosting the meat
4. Monitor the temperature of the water using a calibrated cooking thermometer. Ideally, the temperature should be about 125°F
5. Remove the chicken from the container after 10 – 15 minutes, and cook until the internal temperature of the meat is 165°F
Using hot water is not the ideal way to defrost your chicken. After all, it exposes your food to bacterial contamination. Moreover, this method is somehow ineffective since it defrosts the outside part of the meat while leaving the inner part, particularly the thigh bone, still frozen.
For these reasons, we do not recommend using this method. You should only use it if you have no other alternative.
Cook the chicken frozen
In the unlikely event that all the above methods fail to deliver desirable results, then you may have no other option but to cook the chicken frozen. This is the ideal alternative if you have no time to thaw.
While cooking your chicken frozen will save you a step, it will take 50% longer than the usual cook time, for already thawed chicken. For instance, if you were to simmer your defrosted chicken for 30 minutes, it will take 15 minutes more to simmer frozen meat.
Fortunately, this method works well with recipes that require slow-cooking techniques. It is ideal for dishes such as curries, soups and stews, but doesn’t work well with baked or sautéed recipes.
Therefore, if you want your chicken brown and crispy, then cooking it frozen is not the appropriate way to go about it.
How to tell that the chicken is defrosted properly?
Sometimes it could be hard to tell whether the chicken is defrosted fully by just looking at it.
To establish if your chicken is defrosted properly, cut a small slit on the breast, thigh or any other meaty, fleshy part. Then, insert your finger and feel the flesh. If the meat is soft with no ice crystals, then it’s fully defrosted and ready for cooking.
The presence of ice crystals only indicates that you need to continue with the defrosting process.
Safety tips for defrosting chicken
Your health and safety are of the utmost importance when defrosting chicken. In any case, the process of defrosting could be risky if you expose your food to bacteria and disease-causing pathogens. With this in mind, you should take extra precautions in preparing your food to safeguard your health and wellbeing.
The following are a few points to consider when defrosting chicken:
Take Away: Here is what you need to know
The quickest way to defrost chicken is by using a microwave, while the safest method is to defrost it in the fridge. You can also thaw your chicken in cold water or decide to cook it as it is.
Now that you know the best ways to defrost chicken, you do not have to worry if you get unexpected guests or if you want to make ‘quick’ meals - you can use any of the above hacks to defrost your chicken quickly and swiftly just in time for lunch or dinner.
If your done defrosting then you can try out our chicken wing recipe. It will make for a delicious dinner.
So what are you waiting for? Try these tips today and let us know how it goes.