Short of time with your poultry? Defrost chicken quickly and safely with our 4 easy tips.
Handling chicken can be tricky, and there are a lot of ways to get it wrong. Poor meat preparation can lead to bland or foul tasting food, and sometimes food poisoning.
Improper defrosting is one of the biggest culprits for this, but is a trap that a lot of us fall into.
We’ve all been under pressure when trying to cook on time for guests. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself, and cook meat when it’s not ready or safe. This includes chicken that hasn’t completely thawed. Poorly prepared poultry isn’t just unpleasant. It’s a safety hazard (source).
But what if you’re in a hurry? Is there a quick and safe way to do it?
Here’s how to defrost chicken fast.
The best way to defrost chicken quickly and safely is to submerge it in cold water. This method only requires 30 minutes per 2lbs of meat, and is your best bet for protecting your meat against bacteria growth.
Ultimately, the best and safest way to defrost poultry is leaving it to rest in your refrigerator overnight. This will allow the chicken to defrost at a steady and safe temperature.
While this is not a quick method, it allows meat to reach a thawed state without exposing it to the temperatures that allow bacteria to thrive on its surface.
Known as the ‘danger zone’, this is the range between 40°F and 140°F, or 5°C to 60°C where bacteria grows most rapidly, sometimes even doubling within just 20 minutes (source).
This is why so many people get defrosting chicken wrong: You need to allow the meat to come to a thawed state, but without any of the flesh falling in the danger zone temperature for a prolonged period of time.
These are the 4 best ways to do it quickly and safely.
Cold water bath
Kicking off this list is a method tried and trusted by professional kitchens. And if it’s good enough for the pros, it’s good enough for us.
Sometimes referred to as the cold water bath, this method is one of the fastest while also the best a preserving the quality of the meat (source).
Fresh meat always tastes better than defrosted, but this method manages to allow the chicken to retain a lot of the flavor and textures that you’d get if you were cooking it fresh.
This way only takes about 30 minutes for 2 pounds (about 900 grams) of chicken meat to thaw, and doesn’t need any special bits of kitchenware to do.
Simply fill a large bowl to two-thirds or three-quarters full with cold water, and submerge your meat in it.
To keep the water fresh and at an ideal cold temperature, refill the water every 10 minutes.
If you’re using a whole chicken, it will take a bit longer. To get around this, you can speed things up by pulling the bird apart as it thaws. This will help the water work its way into more areas of the bird, including the cavities.
Pro tip: Ensure you use cold water. This will help stop the meat falling into the danger range of 40°F to 140°F, where bacteria is most likely to develop.
Tried and tested for years, using a microwave is one of the most widely relied on methods of meat defrosting.
However, while this method is quick, requiring somewhere between 5-10 minutes, it does need you to pay very close attention as it defrosts. It’s very easy for this method to stray into the range where you actually start to cook it rather than allowing it to thaw. This can ruin the texture of your meat, making it very tough and can even expose the meat to bacteria growth.
It’s important to do this just right. If you use too high a temperature, or leave it in the microwave it for too long, then it’ll ruin it (source). This is because the ice in the chicken meat will turn to water and then quickly steam, cooking it from the inside.
Check the meat every one to two minutes, looking out for when it has defrosted. Once it’s ready, you can transfer it to your grill or oven for cooking.
Check out my guide on how to smoke a whole chicken
Watch out, though. This method is only good for skinless boneless chicken breasts, but not for any parts of the bird that have bone in.
A lot of modern microwaves have defrost settings, but if yours doesn’t then I recommend using a medium-low setting for two to three minutes. After this, turn the chicken over and microwave at low for a further two minutes per pound of breast. Be sure to stop the microwave and flip it every minute until it has thawed and is ready to cook.
The microwave is one of the quickest and easiest methods to use, but it risks overcooking and ruining meat. It’s also not suitable for bone, so won’t work with every cut of chicken.
Hot water stream
Using how water is a good last resort if you don’t have access to a cold water bath or microwave.
You will need to get your temperature readings absolutely dead on, so you will need a good meat thermometer to do it right.
Earlier in this article I mentioned that meat temperatures for chicken between 40°F and 140°F run the risk of allowing bacteria to thrive on them, putting you at risk of getting food poisoning.
Where this and cooking cold chicken differ is that the high temperatures in a grill or oven mean that meat is only in this temperature range for a very short amount of time, which means that the bacteria doesn’t have enough time to develop (source).
We can use the same principle to apply to using hot water.
Place the chicken in a large bowl, and insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of its flesh.
Keep a constant stream of hot water pouring over the meat. Allowing it to simply sit in hot water means that the water will cool down, making it ineffective.
Make sure that sure you cook it immediately after thawing so that the surface of the chicken is not exposed to the effects of bacteria.
OK, so this isn’t thawing as such, but cooking directly from frozen can work with specific types of cooking.
Slow simmering recipes (like stews, curries and soups) are great example of this. These methods submerge meat in hot temperatures for long enough for them to defrost and cook without leaving them prone to bacteria growth.
Pro tip: You will need more time than usual to cook the chicken. As a rule, allow about 50% more time to allow the meat to cook thoroughly.
The final word
Ultimately, the best way to defrost chicken is always in the refrigerator overnight. It allows the meat to thaw completely without the risk of developing harmful bacteria.
Not only is it safe, but it thaws your meat evenly so that it can cook beautifully without losing any quality.
Unfortunately we don’t always have the luxury of time on our side, so a quick thawing method is a good work around.
Of the four methods I’ve listed above, using a cold water bath is by far the best. It works for any cut of chicken, boned and boneless alike, and thaws your meat evenly and safely.