How to Defrost Chicken Fast: 3 Easy and Safe Methods

Was the discount on chicken at the grocery store just too good to pass up? Did you make a trip to Costco and end up bulk buying enough of everything to feed yourself (and your family) for a month? If so, you likely have a surplus of frozen chicken in your freezer.

I personally like to buy my protein in bulk and then individually wrap it and freeze it to meal prep with later, so defrosting chicken is part of my weekly routine. By this point, I’ve gotten it down to a science, choosing my method by when I plan to cook and eat the chicken.

If you’re wondering how to defrost chicken fast, try one of these three easy methods.

water dripping onto frozen chicken

How NOT to Defrost Chicken

defrosting frozen chicken on the counter

Before we get into how to thaw chicken fast, you should be aware of what you shouldn’t do. According to the USDA, when meat is at temperatures of 40℉ to 140℉ (the “danger zone”), bacteria begins to multiply quickly. To avoid bacteria growth, which could make you sick, don’t use these methods when defrosting chicken.

  • Leaving chicken out at room temperature to defrost
  • Putting chicken in a bowl of hot water or letting hot water run over chicken to defrost
defrosting chicken with dripping water

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I’ve left chicken out and been fine.” Yeah, I have too, but why not choose a safer and equally as quick method, right?

How to Defrost Chicken Quickly and Easily

Now that you know what not to do, here’s how to quickly defrost chicken.

In the Refrigerator

Time to defrost: 24 hours

This is a good “set it and forget it” approach because even after the chicken defrosts in the fridge, you don’t have to do anything with it until you’re ready to cook it. Because the refrigerator isn’t in the “danger zone” temperatures we talked about, bacteria doesn’t grow when the chicken is being defrosted making this method the safest.

To defrost chicken using the refrigerator method, simply move the amount of chicken from the freezer to the refrigerator and you’re good to go. If you’re concerned about the chicken leaking as it defrosts, place it in a bowl or plastic bag.

I typically cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and plan for a one to two pound piece to defrost in 24 hours. I’ll take it out the night before I want to cook it, and by the time I’m back from work the next day it’s ready for my favorite chicken recipe.

However, if you’re defrosting a whole chicken or large pieces of chicken, plan for it to take longer. A good rule of thumb is to plan for it to take 24 hours for every five pounds of meat.

How Long Can You Keep Thawed Chicken in the Refrigerator?

The USDA says it’s safe to keep thawed chicken in your refrigerator for one to two days after it has defrosted. Be sure to store your chicken on the bottom shelf, which is the coldest part of your refrigerator. Remember, hot air rises, cold air sinks.

In Cool Water

Time to defrost: 2 hours

defrosting chicken in cool water

If you want to defrost chicken fast, placing it in a bowl of cold water is quicker than using the refrigerator method. However, you’ll have to be more attentive.

Make sure your chicken is in leak-proof packaging, like a plastic bag. Submerge it in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to prevent rapid bacteria growth. Note that while there won’t be a concerning amount of bacteria growth, this method allows for some, meaning that the chicken should be cooked immediately after it’s thawed.

The USDA says that a pound or less of meat will take about an hour, while three to five pounds will take two to three hours. When I’m using this method, I’ve found that it’s best to plan for it to take two hours to defrost chicken breasts.

In the Microwave

Time to defrost: varies

defrosting chicken in the microwave

This is my least favorite method. Let’s be real, the defrost setting on the microwave is confusing and if you’re not careful you can dry out your chicken or defrost it unevenly. Plus, you have to check on the chicken every couple minutes as it’s defrosting. 

Defrosting using the microwave also may allow some parts of the chicken to get to “danger zone” temperature, so you must cook the chicken immediately. If you must use this method, here’s how.

Place the chicken in a microwave-safe dish. Use the defrost setting on your microwave, checking your chicken every one to two minutes to see if it’s defrosted. The time it takes will vary depending on your microwave and the size of the chicken. Be careful that the chicken doesn’t start to cook on the outside.

Can you Cook Frozen Chicken?

Yes! If you don’t want to spend the time defrosting your chicken, you can cook it from frozen.

I only cook frozen chicken in the crockpot because it allows the chicken to retain its moisture. Typically this takes about five hours on low. 

You can also cook it from frozen using other methods. While the USDA says it takes 50% longer, I’ve found that it typically takes even longer than this in the oven and the chicken comes out dry.

How do you Properly Freeze Chicken?

vacuum seasling chicken for the freezer

Vacuum sealing is a great way to freeze any type of food (even apples). However, if you don’t have a vacuum sealer, a freezer bag will do. I like to individually wrap each chicken breast in cellophane before freezing so I don’t have to defrost large quantities of chicken at a time (though this step is optional). Then, place the chicken in a freezer-safe bag and remove all the air possible before placing it in the freezer.

How Long Does Frozen Chicken Last?

timer on a watch next to frozen chicken

For the best taste and texture, the USDA recommends the following:

  • 3-4 months: ground chicken, cooked chicken
  • 9 months: “parts” of a chicken (ex. breasts, thighs)
  • 12 months: whole chicken

Can you Refreeze Chicken?

Maybe — it depends on how you defrosted it. If you thawed your chicken in the refrigerator, you’re in the clear and can refreeze chicken up to two days after it has thawed. If you defrosted chicken in cold water or in the microwave, you should cook that chicken immediately because that chicken was exposed to “danger zone” temperatures and some bacteria likely formed. The taste and quality of chicken may not be as good if you refreeze it.

You can also freeze cooked chicken up to four days after it has been cooked, assuming it has been stored in the refrigerator properly and not left out on the counter for an extended period of time after it was cooked. Perishable foods should not be left on the counter for more than two hours, and if your cooked chicken was out that long it may no longer be good.

Now that you know how to defrost chicken fast, it’s time to make your favorite chicken recipe! I’ve been switching it up lately with different cuisines — halal chicken, teriyaki chicken, chicken tikka masala — the possibilities are endless.