Can you defrost chicken in water?


How to Safely Thaw Frozen Chicken

Illustration: Catherine Song. © The Spruce, 2019

Frozen chicken is a convenient protein that takes a little forethought. The method you use to defrost should adhere to safety guidelines since raw chicken is prone to bacterial growth. How you thaw chicken can also impact the quality of the final dish. You may want to use different methods depending on whether you are thawing a whole bird or smaller cuts.

In general, larger cuts of chicken, especially a whole chicken, should be thawed in the refrigerator. This is preferred to microwave thawing since the chicken can start to cook on the outside before the interior is thawed, and thawing in a bowl of water will take a very long time for a whole bird or large cut. However, smaller cuts (especially boneless cuts) can defrost using the water bath or microwave methods.


Defrost in Hot Water

Defrosting chicken thighs in hot water is the second quickest method, it is mostly hands-off, and it defrosts the meat fairly evenly (or, at least, it doesn’t cook any of the meat while other parts are still frozen). This is totally my favorite method!

The general wisdom used to be that using hot water to defrost meat was dangerous because bacteria can grow too easily at the higher temperatures. This is true but recent studies have found that it is safe if the meat is only in the hot water for a short time. I try to keep it below 30 minutes but have heard that an hour is safe. If you are immuno-compromised or unsure, please don’t try this method. Using hot water to defrost meat must be done carefully and is at your own risk.

To prevent the bacteria growth, this method can only be used with smaller amounts of meat, so that it only takes a short amount of time. It’s important for this method that the thighs were frozen individually without the packaging and are not all clumped together.

To defrost in hot water, you’ll fill your sink or a large pot with hot tap water. Sealed in a ziptop bag, submerge the thighs into the water. It can be helpful to use a heavy plate or pot to keep it submerged and surrounded by water. Within 30 minutes, you’ll have defrosted chicken thighs ready to go!

You should cook chicken that is defrosted using this method immediately. If there was any bacteria growth, you want the meat to immediately hit high heat so that it gets killed. Transferring the thighs to the fridge afterwards would give any bacteria a chance to keep growing.

The Process:

Take out your frozen poultry and place it in your kitchen counter as you prepare to cook it.

Set up your stove top and take a pan that’s enough to fit the whole poultry.

You may also use your oven if you desire to, depending on the kind of dish you are going to make.

After setting up the stove top, place your chicken and turn it on. Cook the poultry as you usually would.

Make sure the parts are not clumped up in one big ball, position the cuts away from each other to ensure they properly cook.

Move the chicken every 5 minutes as you cook them.

Take note when doing this method, you need to add 50% more time when doing so.

For instance, if you plan to make a chicken soup that will take 40 minutes, add 50 minutes of cooking, so the whole recipe will take you about 90 minutes to finish.

Quick Tips for Thawing Chicken

  • Fast defrosting methods work best with small to medium-sized pieces.
  • Whenever possible, thaw whole chicken in the refrigerator for a day or more.
  • The “danger zone” for optimal bacterial growth in food is between 40 °F and 140 °F (5 °C and 60 °C). Room temperature of around 68°-70 °F (20°-22 °C) is in the middle of that zone and why you don’t want to thaw on your countertop.
  • Never refreeze thawed food without cooking it first.
  • Use a clean calibrated thermometer to check internal temperatures while cooking or thawing. An instant read thermometer would be best. Never use thermometer on raw then cooked meat without cleaning it first though. If you don’t have one, check out our instant read thermometer reviews.

Also See How to reheat chicken wingsHow to spatchcock a chickenHow long to marinate chicken

Defrost Chicken Quickly in A Microwave (5-10 Minutes)

This method is quick, but you need to pay close at

This method is quick, but you need to pay close attention as it tends to cook rather than thaw the meat, making it tough and stringy.

A microwave works by making the water molecules vibrate rapidly together, creating heat. If you leave the chicken in the microwave too long or at too high a setting, you are essentially steaming the meat from the inside out.

Check the progress of the meat periodically, and remove it as soon as it’s done.

I recommend this method for skinless breasts, but not for whole or bone-in pieces.

A microwave doesn’t thaw equally and can end up cooking parts of the meat while it’s still frozen in other places. Still, some people like this method, so I’ve found some “rule of thumb” settings you can try.

Success depends upon the power of your microwave and how well you monitor it. How long does chicken take to thaw in a microwave?

A frozen Block of Bone-in Chicken Pieces

For your average 800 watt microwave, either use the presets some models have for defrosting different weights of meat. Or…

Start with 50% power for 1 minute, then flip and continue for a second minute.

Next, separate the pieces and flip them over once more. Now microwave again at 30% power. Plan on 1 minute for every 1 1/2 pounds.

Be sure to check and flip every 30s to a minute until thawed.

Also See Smoked chicken rubs recipesHow long does it take to grill chickenHow to get crispy skin on chicken

A Frozen Block of Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

Start with 30% power for 1 minute, then flip them over and continue for a further minute. Then separate the breasts and flip them over once more.

Next, reduce to 20% power, microwaving 1 minute for every 1/2 pound. Turn and flip every 30s to avoid premature cooking.

The microwave is one of the fastest and safest ways to defrost your chicken, but you need to babysit it, or you’ll cook it through, at least partially.

If you have too much to thaw in a microwave, or don’t want to use a microwave, but you’re still in a hurry, there’s one last emergency method.

What is the Safe Temperature for Chicken?

However you cook your chicken, whether it was frozen or not, you want to make sure it gets to an internal temperature of 165°F.  The best way to measure the temperature is to insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken. 

You should take into account carryover cooking, which is the fact that the chicken will continue to cook a bit after it leaves the heat.  So, the temperature will continue to climb a a handful of degrees, and you might want to take it from the heat when the thermometer reaches 160°F, and then watch the temp climb to 165°F.  That’s the safe temp for chicken.

Also see: How to Safely Thaw Frozen Meat.

How to Defrost Chicken in Hot Water

If cold water works so well, what about using hot water to defrost your chicken? It seems logical that hot water would work better than cold, right?

Using a hot water bath to defrost chicken is not usually recommended by the USDA because the warmer temperatures could lead to the growth of dangerous bacteria on your meat.

However, in the right circumstances, a hot water bath can rapidly defrost chicken pieces without any additional risk from foodborne illness or any loss in the quality of your meat. Just don’t walk away while you are thawing your chicken or you might accidentally start to cook it!

This method is not safe for large cuts such as chicken quarters or whole chickens but is an ideal way to quickly thaw breasts, legs, thighs or wings. The key is to use very hot (140°F) water for the minimal amount of time needed to defrost your meat.

Seal your chicken pieces in a zip-top plastic bag and remove the air (as with the cold water method above). Place the bag in a heat-proof container and fill it with your hot water. Use a wooden spoon or another tool to give the water a stir every few minutes. This will keep the warmer water circulating near your chicken as it thaws.

Check on your chicken pieces every couple of minutes and remove them as soon as the pieces no longer feel frozen. The New York Times found that this method was able to defrost ½ inch chicken breasts in 3 minutes, and 1-inch chicken breasts in under 10!

Defrosting in the fridge 

It may take a little longer but defrosting chicken in the fridge is the safest and most recommended method. Make sure you plan ahead if you wish to do this, keeping note of how long your chicken has been thawing. 

  1. Place your chicken in a large sealed sandwich bag.
  2. Sit on a lipped plate or bowl to stop any excess juices leaking onto other food and spoiling it.
  3. Leave the plate at the bottom of the fridge for around 5 hours per 450g but ideally overnight.

Once defrosted using this method you can keep your chicken stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours before using it. 

Use the microwave

Another way to defrost your chicken is by tossing it into the microwave and setting the machine to begin the thawing process.

Many microwaves have a “defrost function” that works by defrosting all types of frozen meat automatically. You just need to press the defrost button and select the type of meat you want to thaw.

Using the microwave is the quickest way to defrost your chicken as it only requires 5 to 10 minutes to thaw the meat. This comes in handy if you have unexpected guests or you want to make a quick, ‘unplanned’ chicken dish.

However, you must remain extra vigilant when using this method – leaving the chicken in the microwave for too long could be disastrous, since the chicken might thaw and burn or become unsafe to eat.

Then again, you have to cook the chicken immediately or run the risk of bacterial contamination.

Here are the steps on how to defrost your chicken in the microwave:

1. Unwrap your chicken

2. Place the chicken in a microwave-safe bowl or container to prevent the juices and melting ice from dripping on the appliance.

3. Place the bowl on the microwave rotary plate and switch the setting knob to ‘defrost mode.’ Set the microwave timer to 2 minutes and monitor the entire process.

4. Thereafter, remove the chicken from the microwave and cook immediately.

Perhaps the only concern about using a microwave is the safety of your food. Some scientists argue that the waves originating from the microwave can cause potential harm to your health.

The good news is that this is all but a myth. Microwaves are extremely safe to use. You just need to make sure you place your chicken in a microwave-safe bowl before starting the defrosting process.

However, in order to prevent bacterial growth on your chicken, you are advised not to let the chicken defrost in the microwave for too long.

For best results, do not defrost a whole chicken in the microwave, since some parts of the chicken may thaw while others may remain frozen.

As a result, you may be tempted to extend the thawing, which may affect the texture of your chicken – and that’s not what you want to achieve, right?

With this in mind, make sure you cut the chicken pieces before freezing in the fridge, as this will make the defrosting process easier when using a microwave.

Best Way to defrost chicken in the microwave

The best way to defrost chicken in the microwave is by following the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Other tips to follow may include:

  • Follow the instructions on the package of chicken for manufacturer guidelines.
  • Place whole pieces of frozen chicken in a microwave-safe bowl.
  • Microwave using the defrost setting of your microwave or 30% power level for two minutes.
  • Check their doneness after two minute intervals.
  • Separate any pieces when they loosen up and rotate the portions to prevent the development of hotspots that can cook the chicken.
  • Never defrost chicken at room temperature as this can escalate the growth of food borne bacteria.
  • To refreeze defrosted chicken, it is recommended to cook the chicken before refreezing.

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