The Safest Ways to Defrost Chicken

Freezing raw chicken can be a great way to preserve it for a long time. In fact, if maintained below freezing for the entire time, a raw chicken can keep for as long as a year without a significant deterioration in quality.

While freezing meat effectively arrests bacterial growth, the thawing process—if done incorrectly—can allow new bacteria to grow, thereby contaminating your food. For this reason, it is important to only use one of three safe approaches (as recommended by the USDA) to defrost your chicken: 1) in the refrigerator, 2) in cold water, or 3) in the microwave.

Using A Refrigerator to Defrost Chicken

Considered to be the slowest, yet safest method of how to defrost chicken, using your refrigerator is very simple. The biggest drawback is the need for advance planning. If you want to defrost a whole bird for example, you’ll likely need to pull it out of the fridge a day or two in advance.

The reason the refrigerator is the safest method for defrosting, however, is because your fridge is still cold enough to minimize microbial activity. Since the raw meat never truly gets warm, the likelihood of colonization and bacterial growth is relatively minimal.

Using Cold Water to Defrost Chicken

First of all, you might be wondering why cold water is advised when warm water would do the job faster. It all gets back to the matter of safety. Warm water is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi, both of which can quickly spoil your chicken and wreak havoc on your digestive tract. Cold water, much like the refrigerator, is much less likely to harbour pathogens that could make you sick.

The reason water is a faster way to defrost chicken is due to the specific heat (aka heat capacity) of water, which means that it can store (and therefore deliver) a significant amount of heat without large changes in temperature.

To execute this method, place your chicken in a sealed, waterproof bag and submerge it in cold water. Preventing leaks is critical, as that can introduce germs from the outside environment (not to mention leaving you with a soggy chicken).

Using Your Microwave to Defrost Chicken

The name of the game in chicken safety is avoiding lukewarm temperatures. The previous two methods achieved that by keeping the chicken cold at all times. The downside is that both are relatively slow processes—even the cold water method will take a couple hours—which isn’t always ideal if you’re trying to cook dinner right away. Fortunately, your microwave offers a third way to safely defrost chicken very quickly.

Microwave ovens do a good job of cooking thoroughly since the microwaves penetrate deep into your food. Therefore, by using a low power or defrost setting, you can quickly defrost chicken and have it ready to prepare for a meal. It is important to note, however, that if you choose to use a microwave, you should plan to use the chicken immediately, as the rapid warming process can invite some bacteria. By immediately proceeding to cooking, you’ll avoid the risks that come with allowing bacteria to grow for too long.

If you’re planning on using your microwave to safely defrost chicken, you’ll definitely want to check out our full guide as well.