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In Hot Water

How to Defrost Chicken in Cold Water

If you grew up with a parent who defrosted meat on the countertop, using a cold water bath to thaw your chicken might take you by surprise. But it is the go-to method used in restaurants around the world.

When done correctly it can defrost meat quickly without sacrificing any quality, and it will prevent nasty germs like salmonella from growing on your meat.

Using a cold water bath may seem counterintuitive but it actually works really well. It takes advantage of the fact that water is a much better conductor of heat than the air is. Submerging chicken in a bath of cold water gently defrosts your meat. And keeps it cool enough that it doesn’t enter the Danger Zone (see Food Safety below).

This method is suitable for all kinds of cuts, from pieces to a whole bird (and works great with a Thanksgiving turkey). Smaller cuts and boneless pieces may thaw in under an hour, while larger or bone-in cuts may take several hours to completely defrost.

To use this method, remove your chicken from any packaging and place in a sealed, airtight bag. You don’t want your chicken to come into contact with the water, as that could spread germs and result in watery-tasting chicken.

Remove any extra air by pressing on the plastic around the meat, or use a straw in the opening to draw out the excess air. Air bubbles may slow down the defrosting time, so remove as many of them as you can.

Now submerge your airtight bag of frozen chicken in a container of cold water (under 40°F). Place a plate or other weight on your chicken to keep it fully submerged. Set a timer for 30 minutes and grab a beer while you wait.

When the timer dings check on your chicken, and if it is still partially frozen dump the water out and add in a fresh batch of cold water. Set the timer for another 30 minutes.

Keep up this cycle of refreshing the cold water every half hour until your meat is no longer frozen. If your chicken pieces were originally frozen together you may speed things up a little by manually separating them as they defrost, and then rotating them in the bag until the frozen edges are in contact with the plastic.


Best Way to Thaw Chicken: Refrigerator Thawing

This is the most reliable and safe method to defrost chicken, and also the one that requires no hands-on attention.  But you need to plan ahead, especially if you are thawing a whole chicken, or a large amount of bone-in pieces in a single package.  It might not be the fastest method, but it is the safest.

How Long to Thaw chicken in the Fridge?

Even a pound of ground chicken or a couple of pounds of boneless chicken breasts will probably take up to a day to fully thaw in the fridge, and a a bunch of bone-in pieces or a five pound bird might take two days. You can leave refrigerator-thawed chicken in the fridge for up to 3 days before cooking.  The amount of time thawed chicken can be held in the fridge depends on how fresh it was when it was frozen. 

How to Defrost Meat Fast

But what if you don’t have the time to thaw out meat slowly? The following techniques will get your steaks on the grill in a hurry.

  • Cold Water Defrosting. If your steaks are still in their original, sealed packaging, this is the best way to thaw meat fast. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Submerge the meat, in its packaging, in the water. Change the water periodically. Your steaks should be ready to cook in 45 minutes to 2 hours. Remember, the water should be cold; using warm water may be faster but will create an environment that’s perfect for bacteria.
  • Microwave. While not recommended, this is the fastest way to defrost meat. Follow your microwave defrosting instructions. Watch carefully — you want to thaw the steak, not cook it!

You know your steaks are ready for the grill when they “give” when you press them with your thumb.

We do not recommend thawing steaks or roasts on the countertop.

Important Notice:

Don’t try this method in a slow cooker.

Since the appliance cooks things slowly, there’s a high chance that the poultry will stay too long in the danger zone—the temp range where germs and bacteria are most possible to grow.

But doing this so in an oven or on a stove top will enable the poultry not to spend much time in that range since they tend to cook quicker.

If you have 5 minutes: Use the microwave

It’s the speediest way to defrost ground beef and comes in clutch when you’re pressed for time. Just remember that microwave wattages differ, so you may need more or less time for your beef to totally thaw.

1. Place the beef a microwave-safe, resealable bag on a plate, leaving a small opening for steam to escape.

2. Use the defrost setting on your microwave to thaw the meat for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the meat over halfway through.

3. Cook the ground beef immediately. Some may have started to cook while defrosting.

Defrosting Fish in the Refrigerator

The absolute safest way to defrost fish is to do it in the refrigerator overnight. Just transfer it from the freezer to the fridge before you go to bed and it'll be ready to cook the next day. If your fish is vacuum sealed, you don't have to worry about it leaking. You can just place it on a plate or a tray or even directly on the shelf of the fridge. Then when you're ready to cook, snip open the plastic, rinse the fish and dry it with paper towels, and you're all set. If for some reason your fish isn't sealed, go ahead and seal it in a resealable plastic bag so that it doesn't leak. 

The reason this method is the best is it ensures the fish is never warm enough to give food-borne bacteria a chance to multiply. The main drawback is remembering to do it the night before. If the pieces are thin enough, you might be able to get away with doing it in the morning if you’re planning to cook it that night for dinner. 

Cook Without Thawing

When you’re really in a pinch, you don’t have to thaw frozen meat before cooking. Believe it or not, it’s safe to cook fresh-out-of-the-freezer blocks of ground turkey, solid cuts of chicken, and bricks of ice-cold steak. The meat will take longer to cook (about 50% more time), and it’s not ideal for achieving golden-crispy skin or a perfect sear. However, it’s an option that’s always there for you — even when perfectly thawed protein isn’t.

Just avoid cooking frozen meat in the slow cooker — it can spend too much time thawing and become unsafe to eat.

How Can I Defrost Chicken Quickly?

Now that you know that thawing your poultry in hot water isn’t ideal and safe for your health, there’s no need to worry because there are other alternatives you can do to defrost your poultry quickly.

Shown below are the best ways people have sworn to effectively work when it comes to defrosting, not only your poultry but also other kinds of meat!

Defrosting Chicken- Food Safety

I’ve mentioned this thing called the Danger Zone a few times so far. And you may be wondering what that’s all about.

The Danger Zone is the temperature range of 40°F to 140°F. When your meat sits in this range for more than 2 hours, there is the chance that nasty bacteria can grow. This could contaminate your meat, leading to a potential case of food poisoning.

It is just warm enough that the germs can flourish. Even though your meat may still feel cool to the touch.

Unfortunately, raw meat is not a safe ingredient to handle. You pretty much have to assume that all raw meat is contaminated with something you don’t want to ingest. To avoid picking up a stomach bug you will want to use some caution when defrosting your chicken.

Take the usual precautions when handling frozen raw meat, such as washing your hands and tools in hot, soapy water. As your chicken defrosts don’t allow any juices or liquids to come into contact with other tools or food items. If you use a water bath to defrost meat, be sure that water does not splash onto other foods or surfaces.

While your chicken defrosts you need to ensure that it stays out of the Danger Zone. This is why you shouldn’t defrost your meat on the countertop. And why you need to refresh the cold water when using the bath method. Otherwise, the temperature could creep into the Danger Zone.

This is also why the crock pot isn’t an ideal way to thaw or cook frozen chicken. It is too difficult to ensure that the center of your meat gets over 140°F in under 2 hours.

As long as you wash everything well and keep your thawing meat out of the Danger Zone while defrosting and cooking, you should be safe. The USDA recommends cooking chicken until it measures 165°F internally.

Don’t mess around with food safety, and don’t believe the myth that chicken is finished “when the juices run clear.” Instead, use an instant-read thermometer and know for sure that your chicken is ready.

Defrost in the Fridge

Defrosting chicken thighs in the fridge takes the longest but is the safest, and it results in evenly defrosted meat. This method is hands-off and it doesn’t matter what kind of packaging the meat is in, so if you didn’t move the thighs to a ziptop bag and just froze them as you got them, this method will work for you.

With the thighs still in your ziptop bag or in its original packaging, remove them from the freezer and put them on a big dinner plate or food storage container and into the fridge. The plate is just to make sure no condensation or drips get on anything else in your fridge.

This method can take up to 24 hours for a package of chicken thighs, but once you move it to the fridge, you don’t have to think about it again until you’re ready to cook.

When I’m planning ahead, this is my favorite method because it’s so hands-off.

How to Defrost Chicken in the Microwave

Some newer microwaves have settings that allow you to defrost or thaw chicken (and many other ingredients) by simply pressing a button.  Read your instruction manual to see if your microwave has this kind of capacity, and note special directions having to do with the amount of chicken, and the type of cut.

How Long to Thaw Chicken in Microwave?

Otherwise, you can thaw your chicken in the microwave but it will require some attention on your part.   Set the microwave to defrost, and check every few minutes to see when it is thawed properly.  Move the chicken around in the microwave, especially if you don’t have a rotating tray.  Even if you are super vigilant, often the thinner parts of the chicken will start to cook a bit while the thicker parts are still thawing, so it’s not the ideal method for defrosting.

Chicken and all meat thawed in the microwave should be cooked right away.


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