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How To Defrost Chicken

Freezing chicken is a great way to save it to use later, but how do you defrost chicken? There are a few ways to do this depending on how much time you have and if you want to use it right away or keep it in the fridge for a couple of days.  

Raw chicken breast on parchment paper with other ingredients.

How to defrost chicken 

There are three main ways to safely defrost chicken so you can eat it for dinner or lunch.  

Thaw in the refrigerator

The best way to thaw chicken is in the refrigerator. This method requires you to plan ahead from 24 hours up to overnight. It’s the slowest method but the safest since the temperature stays well within the safe zone. 

Place the chicken in an airtight bag or on a plate when you thaw it in the refrigerator. This ensures any juices that leak out won’t go all over the shelf and contaminate other items. 

Store it on the bottom shelf, so it doesn’t drip onto other food.   

Defrost in cold water

The second best way to defrost chicken is by putting it in a zip-top bag in a bowl with cold water. You can do this in a large bowl, cooler, or sink. 

Be sure to cover it completely with cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. The water must stay cold so that the chicken doesn’t get above 40°F. 

It takes two to three hours for a whole chicken to thaw, depending on how big it is and if it’s bone-in or boneless. It takes 30 minutes to an hour for individual pieces of chicken.   

Defrost in the microwave

The third way to defrost chicken is in the microwave. It’s the fastest, but the least safe since the chicken has a higher chance of reaching the temperature danger zone, which is between 40 – 140°F. 

To defrost this way, use the defrost function on the microwave and heat for short bursts of time. Cut large pieces of chicken into smaller pieces and remove any pieces that are done defrosting before the larger pieces. 

Watch for warm spots that will turn white while heating, and pause the microwaving if the chicken starts to cook while defrosting. Look out for signs that the chicken has gone bad.  

Cook from frozen 

Yes, you can cook chicken right from the freezer, depending on the cooking method you use. It will generally take 50% longer on average. 

Some cooking methods you can use are in the instant pot, sous vide, or poaching. 

Don’t use the slow cooker because it will be in the danger zone for too long to be safe to eat. 

How to defrost ground chicken 

Thaw ground chicken so you can use it in your meal by using a cold water bath, the microwave, or allowing it to thaw in the fridge.  

If you use the microwave, break off pieces as they thaw and place them in a separate bowl, so they don’t start cooking. 

This allows the middle to continue defrosting without cooking. 

Be sure to know how to tell if ground chicken is bad.

What’s the fastest way to defrost chicken? 

The fastest way to defrost chicken is in the microwave, while the longest way is in the refrigerator. Just like you would reheat a rotisserie chicken.

If you defrost it in the microwave, you need to keep an eye on it so that the chicken doesn’t start to cook in spots. 

If it does, put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes and then continue defrosting in the microwave on low. 

The best way to freeze chicken 

When you buy chicken in bulk or have extra from the package and want to save it for later, freezing is the best option. 

The best way to freeze chicken pieces is to wrap each one individually in plastic wrap, place them in an airtight freezer bag, and then put the whole bag in the freezer. 

Double wrapping them like this will help prevent freezer burn so they last longer. 

It also allows you to remove one piece at a time rather than needing to defrost an entire bag of stuck-together chicken when you only need some of it.  

Defrost chicken safely   

Chicken transfers bacteria easier than other meats, which means you need to pay special attention to keeping your hands, tools, counters, and equipment clean. Here are some things to watch out for when handling chicken. 


  • Don’t leave chicken on the counter to thaw.
  • Don’t use warm or hot water to defrost. 
  • Don’t wash raw chicken. 
  • Don’t use the same sponge to wash your equipment or tools.   


  • Always wash your hands before touching anything else with warm to hot soapy water to avoid cross-contamination. 
  • Always use a separate cutting board.
  • Always wash your hands, board, knife, temp gauge, counter, microwave, and plate, with soap and water.  

When it comes to defrosting chicken, it’s important to be able to identify signs of spoilage in frozen foods. In my comprehensive post, I’ve also covered valuable insights on how to tell when frozen foods have gone bad. Feel free to refer to it for detailed information and guidelines on maintaining food safety and quality while defrosting chicken and handling frozen foods.


After freezing the chicken, you can keep it in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to wrap it in plastic wrap and then place it in a bag to prevent freezer burn. 

Yes, but make sure the package is sealed, and the water is cold for safety. 

This depends on the method you use and how many pieces you have or how big the chicken is. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours or overnight. 


Once you know how to defrost chicken, you’ll be able to save this tasty bird to eat later and avoid waste. 

You can thaw it in the refrigerator, cold water bath, or microwave. 

Each option has its benefits and downsides depending on when you need it thawed, how much there is to defrost, and if you have the time to actively work on thawing it. 

With these three methods, you’ll be eating chicken for dinner in no time.

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