Defrosting Chicken the Safe Way

Chances are, you're here because you're having chicken for dinner tonight. Are you staring at frozen chicken that looks like it came from the last great Ice Age? 

Well, you're not alone. Lots of people faced with the task of making chicken for a meal have walked into the kitchen only to realize to their dismay that the chicken due on the dinner table in about an hour is encased in a block of ice.
Three Methods 
There are three ways of defrosting chicken safely. The first is the quickest way, but is only recommended if you are cooking it immediately afterward.

The Microwave - fastest method of defrosting chicken

If your microwave has a auto-defrost setting, you can use this for defrosting chicken. Times can vary depending on the power of your microwave. Again, this is the fastest way of defrosting chicken, but it can cook parts of the meat as it thaws. This method is not recommended for whole chickens. 

  • Remove the bird and put it on a microwave-safe dish. this will catch any of the juice of the defrosting chicken.
  • Set the microwave for defrost, following any instructions from your microwave. (If your microwave doesn't have an auto-defrost setting, see below.*)
  • Carefully monitor the defrosting chicken. Many microwaves are not as reliable when it comes to thawing and some cooking can occur on the edges of the meat.
  • Halfway through the defrosting, rearrange and turn the defrosting chicken.  
  • Cook immediately - never store poultry defrosted in the microwave uncooked in the refrigerator because some heating will have occurred that is favorable to the growth of harmful bacteria. 
*If your microwave doesn't have an auto-defrost setting, Start off slow.  See my handy Chicken Defrosting Calculator below!

  • Change the power setting to 30%. 
  • Set the time for short intervals, like a few minutes at a time and check the defrosting chicken for hot spots.
  • Turn and rearrange as needed.
  • Cook immediately.  

Cold Water Bath - 2nd quickest way of defrosting chicken

If cold water defrosts fast, hot water must thaw faster! Wrong!
Only use cold water! Hot water will probably cause the out layer to rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (the danger zone for bacteria) and leave the center frozen. Cold water immersion allows the defrosting chicken to gently thaw over the course of a few hours.  Whole birds as well as parts may be thawed with this method. Do not use sink for any other reason when defrosting chicken in it. Check out the  Chicken Defrosting Calculator at the bottom of the page!

  • Fill sink or a very large bowl full of cold water.
  • Make sure the bird is tightly wrapped in original packaging so that no water leaks in. It's always a good idea to use a layer or two of plastic wrap or press-seal plastic bag in addition to the original packaging.
  • Immerse the defrosting chicken full in the cold water.
  • Partially empty the water and replace it with fresh cold water periodically as the bird thaws. You can leave a small stream of cold water running continuously, just make sure you have the sink draining some, or you'll have a bigger problem than a late dinner!
  • Cook chicken immediately. Poultry defrosted this way may have reached temperatures over 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so it shouldn't go into the refrigerator.
  • Wash sink out with hot, soapy water for sanitary purposes.

Refrigerator Method - Safest, but slowest way of defrosting chicken

If you've really planned ahead, this is the best way of defrosting chicken, whether it be whole bird or breast. It really is the recommended way, but not everyone plans meals out this efficiently - I don't! The 
key here is time, about 5 hours per pound. Whole birds should have no ice lining the inside of the body cavity. Count on about 2 days for an average whole bird and overnight until dinnertime the next day for parts or boneless breasts. 

  • Keep whole bird or parts in original wrapping if desired.
  • Always use a large tray or plate underneath to catch any dripping juice. Do not use paper towels or newspaper. Juice will still get on your shelves and/or your other food! Yuk!
  • Unlike other methods of defrosting chicken, the Refrigerator Method allows you to store your poultry for 1-2 days after thawing. Make sure you cook no later than this. 

Use This Handy Chicken Defrosting Time Calculator to calculate defrosting times.

How Much Does Your Chicken Weigh? (pounds)

Microwave Method
based on 1000 watts at 30% power

Defrosting time needed:

Cold Water Bath Method

Defrosting time needed:

Refrigerator Method

Defrosting time needed:

Next: Do's and Don'ts for defrosting chicken