How To Defrost Chicken Safe But Fast

Written in 2024
by Adam

    You've been running late, and now you realize that dinner is going to be a last-minute affair. You need to defrost chicken but don't want it to turn dry and tough like the last time you tried it. No worries – we're here with everything you require! We'll tell you how to safely defrost chicken without any of the usual hassles, as well as give some quick tips for getting your meal on the table in time and avoiding mistakes when thawing.

    Why You Need To Defrost Chicken Safely

    It's important to use the correct thawing procedures to preserve raw chicken fresh and protected from 4.4–60°c (40–140 °F) where harmful bacteria start to thrive. This increases the risk of people contracting foodborne illnesses once they eat it.

    Bacteria, viruses, and poisons are among the causes of foodborne illnesses. The following are some of the bacteria that may be found in chicken:

    • Listeria monocytogenes
    • Staphylococcus aureus
    • Salmonella
    • Campylobacter jejuni
    • Escherichia coli (E. coli)

    Even though some of these bacteria can be killed when you thoroughly cook the chicken, they have an after effect of leaving toxins behind. For instance, E.coli leaves behind a deadly toxin.

    This is why you must thaw chicken safely in addition to cooking it safely.

    Another thing to note, sometimes it can be difficult to smell or see whether the chicken meat has gone bad. This is because some harmful bacteria that cause foodborne diseases do not cause food to go smell or appear bad. Plus, there's no way to determine the harmful amounts of these organisms.

    According to FSA, food poisoning affects almost one in five people within the UK every year. Even though most people get well within a few days, it can leave lasting effects.

    Certain people are more susceptible to food poisoning. That is older people, over 65 years, kids under 5 years, people with immunodeficiency and pregnant women.

    Best Ways of Defrosting Chicken Safely But Fast

    Before we dive into the different defrosting methods, it is important to note that each thawing method works differently for either chicken pieces and whole chicken. Time taken depends on the size of a chicken, the bigger it is, the more time it will take.

    1. Defrosting Using A Cold Water Bath

    This is one of the best, safest and quick methods to defrost the chicken. Be sure to use cold water as warm water allows bacteria to grow and hot water will start cooking the chicken on the outside while the insides remain frozen. Ideally, cold tap water works but if you live in areas where the water might get warm especially during summer, just add some ice cubes to cool it down.

    To do this method, you need:

    • A large container or bowl that can hold enough water to cover the bird
    • A ziplock bag or airtight plastic container. If you use a bag, make sure it is made of food-grade material to avoid chemicals contaminating the meat
    • Plastic gloves if handling raw chicken


    1. Ensure the bag is tightly locked and airtight.
    2. Fill the bowl with cold tap water, then place your chicken inside it.
    3. Make sure to change the water every 20-30 minutes as you check if the chicken has thawed completely.


    It will take 1 hour for half a kg and about 2- 3 hours for 1.5kgs to 2kgs.

    Quick tip

    If defrosting separated chicken pieces, submerge the chicken wings first as they tend to defrost faster, followed by the chicken breast.

    The temperature should be lower than 20°c (68 °F) for adequate safety.


    This method is very safe and easy to use for defrosting small quantities of chicken.

    You don't need to remove the chicken from its packaging as long as it is airtight.

    It provides the meat with more surface area for faster thawing and preserves its texture, flavour and moisture content better than other methods.


    You require a bit more time if you're thawing large amounts of meat or whole chickens at once.

    2. Defrosting Using A Microwave

    Since we are also focusing on speed, let’s say you don't have a full hour or more to defrost your chicken. You can use a microwave to defrost it in just 5-10 minutes!

    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.

    To do this method, you need:

    • Plastic gloves if handling raw chicken
    • A microwave


    1. Some microwaves have settings for defrosting meat at different weights, if you have this kind of microwave, simply put the chicken in and press the defrost button!
    2. If this is not an option, start with 50% power for 1 minute, then flip and continue for a second minute.
    3. Flop them over one more time, then remove and separate the components. Microwave for 1 minute at 30% power once again.
    4. Keep checking and flip every 30s to a minute until thawed.
    5. For frozen boneless chicken pieces
    6. For the first minute, use 30% power, then turn them over and continue for a further minute. After that, divide the breasts and turn them back over once more.
    7. Finally, reduce the power to 20% for 1 minute for each 1/2 pound. To prevent the chicken from being cooked, turn and flip the meat every 30 seconds.

    Quick Tips: 

    • You need to pay extra attention to the thawing process to ensure that is does not begin to cook and is evenly defrosted
    • Remove any wrapping before putting the meat in a microwave-safe dish to catch any drippings.
    • Only defrost what you need and cook the meat immediately.


    Defrosting using a microwave is the fastest method of defrosting chicken


    It works best for small skinless pieces of chicken

    Sometimes the leaner parts of the chicken will start to cook a bit while the thicker parts are still defrosting.

    3. Cooking Frozen Chicken

    Well, what if you want to skip the whole defrosting process? It is possible to cook frozen chicken. However, the cooking time will increase by about 50% over the recommended time for fresh or thawed meats and reaches a safe internal temperature of 74 °C (165 °F).

    Keep in mind not all cooking methods apply to this, the exceptions are using a slow cooker or cooking in a microwave, as the cooking temperature remains unsafe for too long and risk multiplying harmful bacteria.


    1. Wash the chicken only if absolutely necessary. The washing of frozen and unfrozen chicken is both hazardous and unnecessary.
    2. Cook the chicken the same way you would with defrosted chicken, only add the cooking time by 50%. Maintain safe cooking methods to avoid cross-contamination.
    3. Use a technique of cooking that brings the chicken up to temperature quickly, such as on the stove or in the oven.

    Quick tip: 

    Check the internal temperature of the chicken using a meat thermometer.


    No thawing time, however, it will take 50% more time than when cooking thawed chicken.


    You can cook the whole bird and only need to wait for 50% longer than the normal cooking time.


    The cooking time is increased by about half an hour, so you might be late with serving dinner after all...

    Not ideal for certain cooking methods like using slow cookers or a microwave.

    4. The Least Safe... Defrosting Using Hot Water

    This is the least recommended method and should be used as a last resort, ensuring you take extra precautions.

    According to food scientist Harold McGee, short thawing times in hot water do not render food less safe. This is because the chicken isn't exposed to unsafe zone temperatures long enough to cause damage.


    1. Start by running some tap water on your calibrated thermometer until it reaches 48-52 °C (118-125 °F).
    2. Fill a sanitized sink halfway with the hot water and add your chicken.
    3. The water will cool down as quickly because of the frozen meat, leave the tap on and allow it to drip into your container to keep the temperature up while thawing. To keep the temperature evenly distributed, stir the water.

    Quick Tip: 

    Cook the meat immediately after thawing and in the high safe temperature range of 165⁰F (74⁰C).


     It will take:10-15 minutes


    One of the fastest methods of defrosting after using a microwave


    If defrosted for more than 15 mins, growth and multiplication of harmful bacteria begin.

    The centre of some thick pieces might be left frozen.

    What if you have time? Refrigerator Thawing

    Although it might take a longer time, this is the safest method of defrosting a chicken. This is because it allows bacteria to break down slowly, but still provides enough time for them to be destroyed. The temperature should remain below 4 °C (40 °F) throughout this process, which is safe according to food safety.


    1. Take out the chicken from the freezer at least 24 hours in advance.
    2. Place your frozen, packaged meat in a ziplock plastic bag or a container, this will prevent cross-contamination from any harmful bacteria or juices that drip out of the packaging.
    3. Put it in the fridge on a low shelf and leave it there for at least 24 hours.
    4. Recommended being cooked within 1–2 days.


    24 hours for small pieces, 48 hours for a whole chicken

    Avoid these defrosting methods

    DO NOT defrost your chicken on the countertop. This is because the temperature of the countertops are higher than in a fridge, which means that harmful bacteria will multiply quickly.

    DO NOT thaw your frozen meat outside on cold surfaces, either, concrete or metal trays. These areas often attract pests and might be dirty (which will contaminate your food).

    How To Check if the Chicken is Defrosted

    To check if your chicken is thoroughly defrosted, slice it into one of the thickest portions using a sharp knife or kitchen scissors, as parts might have defrosted faster than others. If you see or touch ice crystals, then the chicken needs to defrost more.

    Can You Refreeze Defrosted Chicken?

    Only If you defrosted the chicken in the fridge for 1-2 days, then it is safe to refreeze. This is both for cooked or raw chicken.

    However, if you thawed your chicken using a water bath or microwave, you can only refreeze if cooked and as long as you cooked it immediately after defrosting.

    Before refreezing cooked chicken, allow for some time for it to cool down before placing it in the freezer.


    The safest method to defrost chicken is using the refrigerator overnight. However, if you are in a hurry or forgot to take out the chicken from the freezer, you might need a fast-defrosting method like a microwave or cold water bath.

    When choosing one of the above-mentioned thawing methods, consider the amount of time you have, how big the chicken is and how much time you will be able to dedicate to monitoring the process to ensure the chicken has evenly thawed.

    Always ensure you handle raw chicken with care to avoid cross-contamination and cook it thoroughly before eating.


    How do you safely thaw frozen chicken?

    The safest method of defrosting chicken is to leave it in the fridge for a day or two.

    How do you defrost a chicken in 10 minutes?

    By using a microwave. However, you need to pay attention as to not overheat it. This is because microwaves heat food unevenly, so you require to rotate and stir the chicken as well as defrost in short intervals.

    How do you defrost a chicken overnight?

    By using cold water also known as "water bath". Fill up a large enough container with cold tap water until it is about halfway up the side of your chicken. Then place it in there in an airtight bag. Be careful not to leave it longer than overnight as this can lead to bacteria multiplying.

    Why use cold water rather than hot water when defrosting?

    Using cold water will keep the temperature below 20°c (68°F) which is needed to destroy bacteria that might cause foodborne illness.

    Hot water defrosting mostly defrosts the outer layer of the chicken leaving the inner parts frozen.

    How long can a defrosted chicken last?

    Only if it was defrosted in the fridge it can last up to 48 hours. For other thawing methods, it is advised to cook immediately.

    Written by Adam

    Adam is the creator of the SmokeGuys website, running it since 2016. Hater of coriander, lover of all things meat... Adam currently works in marketing with a dream of being able to make food his full-time 'job' in the longer term.

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