Frozen Chicken Is a Versatile Ingredient, but Plan to Thaw It in Advance.

Two thawed whole chickens on parchment paper

Chicken is a handy ingredient to have in your freezer, but before you use it you'll need to thaw it out. Your choice of thawing method depends on the amount of chicken you need to defrost and the time you have available. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, but all of them are aimed at preventing the chicken from spending too long at or above 40 degrees Fahrenheit; bacteria grow rapidly at these temperatures, potentially making the chicken vulnerable to foodborne diseases.

The Microwave Method

When you need to thaw your chicken but don't have a lot of time, you can use a microwave oven to defrost it. The exact power settings and length of time will vary depending on your microwave, so check your owner's manual for the details. Depending on the amount of meat you're thawing and the power of the microwave, you could be done in just minutes. Place the unwrapped chicken on a microwave-safe dish to stop melting water and juices from making a mess in your microwave.

Once you've defrosted your chicken, cook it immediately. The microwave thawing process raises the meat's temperature to a level that can be dangerous if the chicken is left to stand.

Using a Cold Water Bath

If you have more time and space to spare, you can use a simple bath of cold water to thaw your chicken. Make sure the chicken is wrapped in a watertight package or bag and immerse it in a sink or basin full of cold water. A pound of chicken should take an hour or less, while you should allow about 2 1/2 hours for every 5 pounds of a whole chicken.

Like microwave thawing, this method runs the risk of raising the chicken's temperature to a dangerous level if you don't keep an eye on it. As time passes, the water will gradually warm to room temperature; you need to keep it warm enough to thaw the chicken but still too cool for bacteria to grow. To do this, refill the bath with cold water about once every 30 minutes. Once you've thawed the chicken, prepare and cook it right away.

Defrosting in the Fridge

The traditional method of thawing chicken is the simplest and the safest, but also the slowest. Simply place your chicken, still wrapped, in your refrigerator and leave it to gradually defrost. If you're thawing chicken breasts or other cuts of chicken, allow about 24 hours per pound of meat. For a whole chicken, allow about 24 hours per 5 pounds of the bird. The exact time will vary depending on the temperature of your refrigerator and other factors, so leave a small margin for error and check back on the chicken periodically to assess its progress.

Thawing in the refrigerator keeps chicken below the danger zone for bacterial growth, so you don't need to use it immediately after it defrosts. As long as you prepare and cook the chicken within a day or two of thawing, it will be safe to use.