Many of the ways to defrost chicken fast either aren’t safe or aren’t good for texture and quality. It’s an unfortunate reality.
We tend to underestimate the repercussions of not thawing chicken safely, especially the increased risk of foodborne illnesses, like salmonella. Doing it the wrong way can get your very, very sick.
Here are three fast ways to defrost chicken well, while staying safe about it.
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Quick Defrosting Methods We Recommend
Time: 1.5 hours
Submerging packaged chicken in a cold water bath is one of the fastest ways to defrost chicken without compromising on any food safety standards or the quality of the chicken.
It may seem intuitive that you can use hot tap water to speed up the process. Don’t do it!
Hot water from the tap is in the danger zone temperature for bacterial growth. This bacterial growth will increase the risk of foodborne illnesses, so use cold water.
The cold water method is pretty low effort. It takes only a couple of hours, and you’re sorted. If you’re going to defrost chicken in cold water, here are a few simple steps you can follow:
- Step 1: Ensure the frozen chicken’s packaging has no cuts or tears. Or transfer it to a leaf-proof Ziploc bag. This will prevent water from entering the meat and making the chicken soggy.
- Step 2: Then keep it in a large bowl and fill it with cold water until the chicken is submerged.
- Step 3: Change the water in the bowl every 15 minutes until the chicken defrosts completely.
- Step 4: Remove the chicken from the packaging and cook it immediately to prevent bacterial growth.
If you plan to use the cold water method, remember that it takes about 1.5 hours to thaw one pound of chicken and 2.5-3.5 hours for a package weighing three to four pounds.
Sous Vide Skip Thawing
Time: effectively zero
The absolute fastest way to defrost frozen chicken is to cook it simultaneously. Sous vide is the gentlest way to accomplish this which leaves the chicken incredibly juicy.
- Step 1: Place the chicken in a sealed food-safe bag and remove all the air so it will submerge in a water bath. You can use a vacuum sealer or the water displacement method to accomplish this.
- Step 2: Submerge the sealed bag in a water bath with an immersion circulator.
- Step 3: Depending on how much chicken you’re cooking, and how small the pieces are, you should have dinner on the table in 1.5-4 hours, with very little work in between.
Sous Vide Rapid Thaw
Time: 8 minutes
If you have your heart set on cooking chicken another way than sous vide, you can always use your sous vide to defrost. With the rapid method, the key is to keep the water temperature hot enough to prevent bacteria growth, but not hot enough to alter the texture of the chicken.
- Step 1: Ensure the frozen chicken’s packaging has no cuts or tears. Or transfer it to a leak-proof Ziploc bag. This will prevent water from entering the meat and making it waterlogged.
- Step 2: Then put it in a container with a sous vide machine and fill it with hot water from the tap until the chicken is submerged.
- Step 3: Set your sous vide cooker to 140°F and run it until the chicken thaws (roughly 8 minutes).
- Step 4: Remove the chicken from the packaging and cook it immediately to prevent bacterial growth. Or dunk the chicken in its packaging in an ice bath for 10 minutes and then put it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
Your chicken will be defrosted in roughly 8 minutes with this method, depending on its thickness. Note, the surface of the chicken will turn opaque in the process, but will not affect the taste or appearance of the final dish.
Sous Vide Normal Thaw
Time: 45 minutes
If you have your heart set on cooking chicken another way than sous vide, and you want a quick method that doesn’t alter the color of your raw chicken, this is the fastest method. The key here is to keep the water temperature cool enough to prevent bacteria growth.
- Step 1: Ensure the frozen chicken’s packaging has no cuts or tears. Or transfer it to a leak-proof Ziploc bag. This will prevent water from entering the meat and making the chicken soggy.
- Step 2: Then put it in a container with a sous vide machine and fill it with cold water from the tap until the chicken is submerged.
- Step 3: Set your sous vide cooker to its lowest temperature and run it until the chicken thaws (roughly 45 minutes).
- Step 4: Store the chicken in the fridge or remove the chicken from the packaging and cook it immediately to prevent bacterial growth.
Your chicken will be defrosted in roughly 45 minutes with no alteration to its appearance or texture. The constant circulation of the sous vide cuts the cold water method time in half.
Refrigerator thawing chicken may take longer than most methods, but it promises maximum food safety and is very hands-off.
If your refrigerator is between 33-39°F, it will thaw slowly, evenly, and consistently. As a result, the thawed chicken turns out perfectly pink, consistently thawed, and it does not change the quality or texture of the chicken.
This method is exceptionally safe because at no point does the chicken enter the food safety danger zone (40-140°F).
Here is how you defrost chicken in the refrigerator:
- Step 1: Take the chicken from the freezer and make sure its original packaging is not damaged or torn. If so, transfer it to a leak-proof Ziploc bag.
- Step 2: Place the chicken packet on a plate or baking sheet.
- Step 3: Then keep it on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator. This helps avoid any cross-contamination from the moisture released while thawing.
- Step 4: Let it sit there overnight or for up to 2 days.
This is an excellent method if you like to plan ahead of time. It takes 9-10 hours to defrost chicken in the fridge. But remember that if you’re defrosting large quantities of chicken, it may take up to 1-2 days to thaw completely.
Bonus: with this method there’s no issue refreezing chicken after thawing.
Quick Defrosting Methods We DON’T Recommend
Time: 4 minutes
Sure you can use the defrost setting on your microwave, but the quality of what you’re left with is pretty awful. You’ve started to cook your meat, not just defrost it with this method.
Time: 1.5 hours
There’s a passionate group about this product, but we just don’t get it. When we tested a defrosting tray it took us an hour and a half to thaw a medium sized chicken breast.
Sure, it worked and obviously doesn’t cook the meat in any way. But unpackaging the frozen breast to defrost and cleanup after the defrost was a bit of a pain. And at the end of the day it didn’t save any time over the cold water method.
Besides, we ran too close to comfort for how long frozen chicken can sit out.
Time: DO NOT TRY
Your chances of getting sick increase exponentially if you use hot water without the means to regulate the temperature to the safe zone. It’s just not worth it.
The hot water from my tap runs at 130°F. Add frozen chicken and that’s bound to drop a good 15°F immediately, putting us squarely in the danger zone for bacteria multiplication.
Thawing frozen chicken is all about finding the right balance between the quantity of chicken and the time it will take. Always ensure you defrost chicken correctly, or it can harm your health.
Defrosting chicken in the refrigerator is the safest method. The chicken thaws properly and maintains its quality and color. But it takes planning and patience to use this method.
I prefer the sous vide method because it combines thawing and cooking into fewer steps. It’s hands-down the fastest way.
If you’re curious about the how best to defrost bacon quickly, read this.
FAQs – How To Defrost Chicken Fast
It depends on the temperature of the water, the way the frozen chicken is kept, and the amount of time it spends in the water. Ideally, the chicken should be sealed in a leak-proof Ziploc bag and submerged in cold water for up to two hours. Replace the cold water every 15-20 minutes. But if the chicken is not in a leak-proof bag, the water is warm to hot, or the chicken is kept to thaw for more than two hours, it can aid the growth of harmful bacteria and increase the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Defrosting chicken in cold water is faster than refrigerated thawing. If you change the water every 15 minutes, this method can help you defrost a pound of chicken in about an hour. In addition, it helps the chicken maintain a low temperature, ensuring it stays out of the danger zone (40-140°F).
Yes, you can cook chicken that hasn’t fully defrosted. Just give it extra time to cook. Sous vide method using low heat, is a great way to ensure frozen chicken cooks evenly and to the perfect doneness.