Learn how to defrost chicken quickly and safely with these methods, including the microwave, cold water, and even, my favorite, safely defrosting chicken in hot tap water. Yes, really!
When it comes to defrosting chicken fast, it first of all depends on the size of the chicken pieces that you’re starting with. If you’re starting with a whole frozen chicken, which is pretty large, defrosting isn’t going to happen very fast no matter what you do. When starting with a bunch of chicken pieces that are frozen together, that can take a bit of time too, but not too bad. If, however, you’re starting with chicken that has been frozen individually, like chicken thighs or breasts, there are great ways to thaw it quickly.
First, I’ll be explaining how to prepare raw chicken for the freezer so that you can thaw it more quickly, and I’ll also explain what to do if your chicken was not frozen in that way. Then, I’ll explain the different methods and I’ll let you know which are quickest and which are hands-off.
- Preparing Chicken for the Freezer
- Fastest Way To Defrost Chicken
- Different Ways To Defrost Chicken
- Defrost Chicken in the Fridge
- How To Defrost Chicken in Cold Water
- Defrost Chicken in the Microwave
- How To Defrost Chicken in Hot Water
- Short Podcast Episode On Defrosting Chicken
- How to Defrost Chicken Fast Instructions
Preparing Chicken for the Freezer
If your chicken is already frozen, skip down. If you’ve got fresh chicken that you want to freeze so that it will thaw more quickly, read this section since preparing your chicken will save you time.
When you bring fresh chicken home from the store, try to remember to remove it from the styrofoam and throw out the moisture pad from underneath. That extra packaging often freezes onto the meat and prevents that side from defrosting as easily, so removing it ahead of time puts you at an advantage when you’re ready to defrost.
For whole chicken: Remove the giblets and anything else that is on or in the chicken. Then freeze it in a ziptop bag.
For chicken pieces like thighs or breasts: You want to freeze them so that they are not stuck to each other. They will thaw much more quickly this way. The easiest way to do this is to put a ziptop freezer bag onto a large freezer-safe plate or tray. Then put the chicken pieces into the bag in a single layer, making sure that the pieces aren’t touching. Put the bag on the plate into the freezer. Once the chicken has frozen, you can remove the plate and the chicken will stay separated.
If you have a lot of chicken pieces, freeze them directly on a tray lined with wax paper or parchment paper, in a single non-overlapping layer. Once they’re frozen, transfer them to a ziptop bag. They will stay separated from each other from then on even if they’re touching, so long as they stay frozen. If they thaw a bit and refreeze, they could stick together.
Fastest Way To Defrost Chicken
It depends on the size and type of chicken how quickly it will defrost. For chicken pieces that were frozen separately, my favorite method is to use hot tap water. It’s actually totally safe to do so. I give the info on how to do this safely below.
The microwave, detailed below, is also a quick option, but I don’t like it as much since it often starts to cook the outside bits of the chicken before the middle is fully thawed. Using water works much more evenly.
If you have a whole chicken or chicken pieces that were frozen together, cold water in the sink is my go-to. It will take longer than the microwave but is more even. One trick to speed things up is to check on it often and see if you can break the pieces apart. Once they come apart, you can use the hot water method and then it’s really quick. Similarly, you can defrost chicken pieces in the microwave until they come apart and then do the hot water or cold water methods.
Different Ways To Defrost Chicken
Here are the detailed explanations for how to defrost chicken. Note that according to the USDA, it is not ever a good idea to try to thaw chicken at room temperature. That allows the chicken to be at an unsafe temperature, the danger zone, for too long, which leads to bacterial growth. Instead, you’ll see that chicken should be defrosted either in a cold environment, or using heat but quickly.
Defrost Chicken in the Fridge
One of the safest ways to defrost chicken is in the fridge. It takes the longest but is the safest, and it results in evenly defrosted meat. This method is hands-off and it doesn’t matter what kind of packaging the meat is in, so if you didn’t move the chicken to a ziptop bag and just froze it as it came, this method will work for you.
With the chicken still in your ziptop bag or in its original packaging, remove it from the freezer and put it on a big dinner plate, large bowl, or food storage container and into the fridge. The plate/bowl is just to make sure no condensation or drips get on anything else in your fridge.
This method can take up to 24 hours for a package of chicken pieces or for a whole chicken, but once you move it to the fridge, you don’t have to think about it again until you’re ready to cook.
When I’m planning ahead, this is my favorite method because it’s so hands-off.
How To Defrost Chicken in Cold Water
Thawing chicken in cold water is the second slowest method, and it also results in evenly defrosted meat. This method is mostly hands-off. It works best if the chicken no longer has its original packaging and has been transferred to a ziptop bag. This is simply because the original packaging (like styrofoam and absorbent mat) can be frozen to the chicken, which adds defrosting time. Similarly, if the chicken is frozen stuck to each other, that adds time as well. But, it will work no matter what kind of packaging the chicken is in and no matter how it was frozen together.
To defrost chicken in cold water, they need to be in a securely sealed bag, whether the meat is still in the original packaging or not. This is so that no water gets to the chicken. So start by putting the meat (or the meat and its packaging if the packaging is frozen to it) in a ziptop bag, if it isn’t already.
Fill your kitchen sink or a large pot with cold water and add the meat in its bag. If the original packaging was frozen to the meat, you can open the ziptop bag periodically to see if you’re able to remove the frozen packaging. Once you do, the temperature of the water can get closer to the meat and it will defrost more quickly.
If you’re thawing a whole chicken using this method, every 30 minutes or so drain the water and add cold water. This is just to make sure that the water temperature remains safe.
This defrosting method takes about an hour for a package of chicken thighs or breasts. It will take 2-4 hours for a whole chicken, depending on the size. Therefore, it requires a little bit of thinking ahead. It is mostly hands-off though, if you don’t have to worry about the packaging.
Defrost Chicken in the Microwave
Defrosting chicken in the microwave is the quickest way to go but it’s not hands off and it doesn’t defrost the meat evenly. I typically dislike this method because I don’t like the texture that the cooked bits of chicken end up having.
Note that I do not recommend defrosting a whole chicken in the microwave. It’s too big and thaws too unevenly. If you’re in a hurry and you have a whole frozen chicken, I instead recommend that you simply cook the chicken straight from frozen. It’s actually safe and very easy to do.
Now, while defrosting chicken pieces in the microwave is the quickest of the methods, it’s not my favorite. The reason I don’t like this method is because the meat along the outside defrosts sooner than the middle, and then those edges start cooking.
The way that I’ve adjusted for this is to only microwave the chicken for a minute at a time using the defrost setting, and then rotate the chicken pieces before doing another minute. Continue until the chicken is fully thawed. This allows the microwaving to be happening more evenly. You still may get some of it starting to cook as it thaws, which is why this is not my favorite method. If this starts to happen, you could finish the defrosting in one of the water methods. If I have chicken pieces that are frozen together, I will often start in the microwave until I can separate them. Then I will use the hot water method below.
The microwave method does take monitoring, but it can get you working on dinner in about 15 minutes even if you just took the meat out of the freezer.
How To Defrost Chicken in Hot Water
Defrosting chicken in hot water is the second quickest method, it’s mostly hands-off, and it defrosts the meat fairly evenly (or, at least, it doesn’t cook any of the meat while other parts are still frozen). This is totally my favorite method!
This method is only for chicken pieces, not whole chickens. And, you can only use this method if the chicken pieces were frozen separately, not frozen together in a clump, or stuck together.
The general wisdom used to be that using hot water to defrost meat or poultry was dangerous because bacteria can grow too easily at the higher temperatures. This is true but recent studies have found that it is safe if the meat is only in the hot water for a short time. I try to keep it below 30 minutes but have heard that an hour is safe. If you are immuno-compromised or unsure, please don’t try this method. Using hot water to defrost meat must be done carefully and is at your own risk.
It’s important for this method that the chicken pieces were frozen individually without the packaging and are not all clumped together. Otherwise they will take too long to thaw and that is dangerous. Similarly, to prevent the bacteria growth, the hot water method can only be used with a smaller amount of chicken, so that it only takes a short amount of time. You don’t want to use a lot of frozen chicken pieces because they will drop the water temperature to too low, and then the chicken won’t defrost in the allotted time, and you enter that danger zone. I only use this method for 6 chicken thighs, 4 chicken breasts, 20 chicken wings, or 4 chicken leg quarters.
To defrost in hot water, you’ll fill your sink or a large pot with hot tap water. Sealed in a ziptop bag, submerge the chicken into the water. It can be helpful to use a heavy plate or pot to keep it submerged and surrounded by water. Within 30 minutes, you’ll have defrosted chicken ready to go! If it’s not thawed within 30 minutes, drain the water from the sink and use cold tap water until the chicken is thawed.
You must cook chicken that is defrosted using this method immediately. If there was any bacteria growth, you want the meat to immediately hit high heat so that it gets killed. Transferring the chicken to the fridge afterwards would give any bacteria a chance to keep growing. So, be sure to cook the chicken immediately to an internal temperature of 165F right inside the middle of the chicken. I like to use an instant read thermometer to be sure the chicken is at a safe temperature.
Short Podcast Episode On Defrosting Chicken
Listen to learn how to make this recipe, along with some great tips from Christine:Print
- 6 frozen chicken thighs that were frozen separately (not in clumps) (or up to 4 chicken breasts, 4 chicken leg quarters, or 20 wings, frozen separately)
- Fill your sink or a large pot with hot tap water.
- Sealed in a secure ziptop bag, submerge the chicken into the water. Top with a heavy plate or something similar to keep it submerged and surrounded by water.
- Within 30 minutes, you’ll have defrosted chicken ready to be made into a delicious meal.
- Cook the defrosted chicken immediately.
This post originally appeared in August 2020 and was revised and republished in June 2023.