How To Safely Thaw Chicken

Safely thawing meat is essential to decrease the risk of contracting a foodborne illness from eating contaminated fare. Medical News Today warns that chicken enters the danger zone between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 to 60 degrees Celsius). If chicken stays in this temperature range too long, bacteria like Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes can accumulate. 

These bacteria can remain in the meat, even after cooking. And anyone who has ever had food poisoning will never want to experience those horrible symptoms again. Safely thawing frozen chicken is paramount to prevent accidentally eating or serving bad chicken. And it's not safe to rely on the sniff test to tell if your meat is spoiled, either. 

Although chicken certainly will have gone bad if it smells foul, Healthline says that because people's sense of smell varies, rancid chicken doesn't always smell bad to everyone. So, how do you safely thaw chicken to prevent foodborne illness? Using the following methods can ensure your chicken stays fresh, tasty, and safe.

Four ways to safely thaw chicken

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the refrigerator is the safest way to thaw chicken. But using the fridge takes the longest, so this method requires pre-planning. It may take up to two days to thaw whole chicken, bone-in chicken cuts, and boneless chicken breasts.

Healthline suggests thawing chicken in cold water. Place chicken parts in sealed, leakproof plastic bags to prevent contamination from water. Fill a large bowl with cold water and place it in the sink. Submerge the bagged chicken for 30 minutes, empty the bowl and refill with fresh cold water. It should take two to three hours to thaw most cuts of chicken this way.

You can also thaw chicken in the microwave. Using the microwave is faster than the refrigerator or cold water. However, chicken may thaw unevenly or begin to cook prematurely.

But there's an even faster way to thaw chicken than using a microwave. America's Test Kitchen outlines a USDA-approved method that thaws chicken in minutes. To do this, seal meat in leakproof plastic bags and submerge it in water heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It's hot enough to block bacteria but too low to cook with. Most cuts should thaw within 12 minutes. Do not soak for longer than 45 minutes. Avoid thawing whole chickens in hot water as it will take too long (via YouTube).

The FSIS advises cooking chicken thoroughly immediately after thawing.