How to Defrost Chicken [4 Safe Methods]

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Freezing your food can be an excellent way to keep it nice and fresh far past the purchase date. However, freezing your chicken comes with one distinct drawback- it can be a real chore to defrost. So, what are some safe ways to defrost your chicken?

There are only a few safe ways to defrost chicken. One is to defrost it in the microwave. Without a microwave, you can use the refrigerator or a bowl of cold water or simply defrost in the oven. All of these methods will safely defrost your chicken.

But what can go wrong if you defrost improperly? Why is proper defrosting so important? This article will explain how defrosting can go wrong and how you can defrost your chicken worry-free.

Dangers of Defrosting: Food-borne Illness

Alright, so we all know where illnesses come from. There are foreign contaminants (such as bacteria and viruses) that get into your body and start abusing the systems you use to keep yourself alive.

But did you know that chicken, when left out, provides an optimal environment for harmful bacteria to grow? Unpreserved food can fester with the following harmful organisms:

  • Salmonella
  • Norovirus
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Campylobacter

A scary list indeed. It gets even more frightening when you consider that, according to the CDC, 48 million get sick from food-borne illnesses in the US every year!

To keep you and your loved ones safe, make sure your food is well-preserved. Raw chicken generally lasts around 1-2 days in the fridge and six months in the freezer. Outside of these boundaries, you may be at risk.

Symptoms of food-borne illnesses are typically gastrointestinal. People exposed to harmful food-borne bacteria generally experience diarrhea/vomiting, abdominal cramps, nausea, and fever.

How Long Can Chicken Sit Out?

When food service workers get their health food handler’s cards, they are required to take a government-sponsored test with information about hand-washing, freezer regulations, and food spoilage.

On this test, as per FDA rules, people are usually taught the two-hour rule. This means that chicken should not be left unpreserved for any more than two hours. Outside of these limits, chicken should be tossed out.

However, the warmer the room, the quicker it spoils. It’s just common sense that chicken will spoil much quicker than chicken left in a room-temperature kitchen when left out in the sun on a warm day. If your cooking space is warmer than others, shorten the amount of time you leave your chicken out.

The danger with defrosting comes when this two-hour rule is disrespected. When you leave chicken on the counter – nothing to preserve it- you run the risk of cooking it more than two hours after it’s fully defrosted.

Maybe you forgot to check, perhaps you overestimated the amount of time it would take to defrost. Either way, what you have now is a product that could have been contaminated with harmful bacteria and illnesses.

For these reasons, you’ll want to use the defrosting methods below, which will keep your food fresh even after it’s defrosted.

How to Defrost Chicken

Method 1: Defrost in the Fridge

This method is probably the most time-consuming, but it will ensure that your chicken is fresh and safe to eat when you take it out of the fridge.

Putting your chicken in the fridge ensures that it will be safe to eat even after it’s fully defrosted. Think about the other foods in your fridge- do you ever fear an infection eating them? Of course not. Chicken in the fridge is just as good as fresh.

To defrost in the fridge, simply take your chicken, make sure it’s in a bag or some other form of packaging, and pop it into the refrigerator on a shelf below vegetables and other non-meat products. This will ensure that, if there are drippings from the meat, other foods aren’t contaminated.

Generally, you’ll have to wait 24 hours or more for food to defrost in the fridge, so make sure to put your chicken in about a day ahead of time. Having a meal schedule for your week can help you stay on top of this, so you always have great, fresh chicken ready to go.

Defrosting in the fridge also furnishes a few creative opportunities for opportunistic chefs. Although you shouldn’t leave your chicken in a tenderizing solution for 24 hours or more, putting it in something like yogurt or chicken will make the meat more tender and juicy.

Using this method, you’re sure to have good, safe chicken when you want it.

Method 2: Defrost in Cold Water

Defrosting in cold water is another excellent defrosting method that will take a lot less time than defrosting in the fridge. If you need chicken within the next few hours but aren’t necessarily in any kind of hurry, this method is best for you. Start defrosting a few hours after lunch to have good chicken for dinner.

In general, smaller packages of chicken will take just around or under one hour to defrost thoroughly. Defrosting bigger packages will usually take two-to-three hours. Make sure to monitor your chicken when using this method.

While your chicken is defrosting, it will be continuously dropping your cold water temperature, which will gradually slow the process. To prevent this, change out your cold water every thirty minutes. Doing so will keep your cold water from merely insulating the frozen chicken.

Performing this method with hot water could result in discoloration to the chicken’s outer layers, which will result in an uneven thaw and possibly rubbery chicken when cooked. Although it seems counter-intuitive, you’re going to want to use cold water.

According to the FDA, a one-pound bag of chicken will usually take around an hour to thaw. This is good for people who just want to make a meal for themselves and not for a family or a group of friends. It’s a relatively quick, safe method for defrosting chicken.

For larger bags- think 3-to-4 pounds, it could take up to 2 to 3 hours to fully defrost chicken. Just know what you want to cook ahead of time if you’re preparing a meal for a group of people.

Method 3: Defrost in the Microwave

Defrosting in the microwave is a defrosting method that will take less time but has a few drawbacks. Defrosting in the microwave can create an uneven cook, regardless of how well you cook it in the microwave. Despite the convenience, some prefer longer defrosting times to this method.

Today, many microwaves will have a defrosting button on the front that will automatically set your microwave to the right amount of time to defrost your chicken. If you’ve got one of these microwaves, simply plop your chicken in the microwave (removing and non-microwave-safe materials), and turn the meat over when your microwave instructs.

If you don’t have a defrost option on your microwave, you can still defrost chicken- you’ll just need to check it as you go. Defrosting without a defrost button consists of two-minute cycles of defrosting, after which you should check your chicken to see if the process is finished.

When you feel the chicken is soft all the way through, with no hard spots in the middle, you can take it out of the microwave and use it right away. Keep in mind- it is now raw chicken and shouldn’t be left out for any more than two hours, as per FDA rules.

Defrosting chicken in the microwave without a defrosting option does have a few disadvantages. For one, you might end up cooking the outside of your chicken while leaving the inside cold. You may also notice that chicken out of the microwave is sometimes drier than chicken defrosted other ways.

There’s a reason microwaveable foods always come with plastic coverings and still sometimes taste dry and textureless. The microwave has a nasty tendency to dehydrate foods.

Method 4: Defrost in the Oven

If you don’t want to take the time to defrost, period- you can always just defrost your chicken as you cook it. This method will make your cook time much longer, but there’s no danger associated with it (assuming you cook your chicken all the way through).

Simply take your chicken from its packaging, and put it in the oven. For cooking chicken in a pan, you’ll want to use medium temperature and put it in the oven even after it looks done. This will keep you from serving your or your family raw chicken.

Keeping all of these defrosting methods in mind will keep you safe from harmful bacterias that can take you out of operation for days on end. Remember- patience is key. Don’t rush your defrosting if you want well-cooked chicken. And make sure to periodically check on your chicken to make sure it didn’t defrost long ago.

Final Thoughts

All in all, there are a few good ways to defrost chicken before you get your chicken on the grill. More patient, time-consuming methods will usually turn out more perfectly defrosted chicken, but for people in a rush, there’s always the microwave. Always defrost properly to prevent illness.