A frozen chicken is a wonderful thing to have when you decide that a savory roast bird sounds good. There are several common mistakes people make when they defrost chicken that can make it less tasty and even dangerous. We are going to explain the safe way to defrost a frozen chicken so you get great results. The next time you get a hankering for chicken you'll know how to defrost it correctly.
How Long is Frozen Chicken Good For?
A whole, frozen chicken that is properly stored will remain edible indefinitely. However, that doesn't exactly mean you should pull that 30 year old frozen packet of giblets out and fry them up. A whole frozen chicken is best if used within one year. Parts and ground poultry should be consumed within three or four months. Keep in mind that this assumes the chicken is correctly wrapped and frozen in the first place.
How to Freeze a Fresh Chicken
When you have a fresh chicken that you want to use, pat the moisture from the surface with paper towels, then put the bird in a ziplock freezer bag. Squeeze the air completely out of the bag. If you plan on regularly freezing fresh meat, it's worth it to invest in a vacuum sealer. Freezer burn is caused by moisture freezing in air between the meat and the wrapper.
How to Safely Thaw Frozen Chicken
You can't cook a frozen chicken. Take our word for it on this one, it's not good. Instead, you'll need to unfreeze the chicken without losing the moistness of the meat. Thawing a frozen chicken incorrectly is one of the most common mistakes that leads to bland, mushy, or dry chicken. Some ways to thaw frozen food seem like a good idea, but are unhealthy and disastrous.
Staying out of the "Danger Zone"
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets standards for food handling and storage safety. The USDA claims the temperature between 40 degrees and 140 degrees is the "danger zone" in which numerous naturally-occurring bacteria can infect meat and colonize. These pathogens can lead to food poisoning, digestive issues, and in rare cases – death. When you thaw a chicken, you want to avoid letting the chicken rest at room temperature.
Avoid These Thawing Methods
- Leaving frozen chicken on the counter to thaw: You should avoid this method to defrost chicken because the air temperature in your kitchen is ideal for bacteria to multiply in. They'll turn those chicken breasts into a freak-show petri dish long before your ready to cook it.
- Hot Water: This one is tempting sometimes, especially when you realize too late that you didn't set out enough chicken. It's bad for two reasons- it creates opportunities for bacteria and it makes the meat mushy. Think of it as partially pre-cooking chicken in hot water.
- Microwave: It is possible to safely thaw frozen chicken in the microwave, but most of the time the results are not very good. Microwaves work by superheating moisture, making steam. That's the moisture from your chicken escaping. You can use the "defrost" setting or 50% power in 30 second cycles flipping the chicken until it begins to thaw, but don't let it get warmer than 40 degrees or you risk bacterial contamination.
Best Way to Thaw Chicken: Refrigerator Thawing
The best way to thaw frozen chicken is in the refrigerator. This allows the chicken to come to a cool temperature naturally. The moisture in the meat stays put and the meat keeps its tender and succulent texture. The bad news about this method is it takes time. Using this method, a large frozen chicken in the fridge may take two days to fully thaw, so you need to plan ahead for defrosting. If you freeze fresh chicken in parts, the defrost time is much shorter.
The Safe Way to Speed Up Defrosting
There is a way to speed up the defrosting process quite a bit. Take your frozen chicken from the freezer, keeping it in a sealed leak proof bag. Place it in a large metal bowl in the sink and let cold water run slowly but continuously. Change the water every 30 minutes by dumping the bowl. Using this method is time-consuming and does waste water, but it'll speed up defrosting chicken quite a bit, particularly when you freeze chicken in portions. A smaller amount of chicken will thaw faster
In an emergency, you can partially defrost the chicken in the microwave, and then use the cold water method to defrost chicken the rest of the way. This method may take a little time, but it's a good way to make sure you thaw chicken safely.
Tips for Freezing Chicken
You'll often find good deals on whole, fresh chickens. There are some steps you can take to freeze them for use later. By following these tips, you won't have to wait so long for frozen chicken to defrost. Your thawed chicken will be at the right temperature to start cooking right away when you are ready.
- Separate the chicken: It's nice to have a whole chicken or two in the fridge, but a great way to speed up thawing chicken is to separate the parts into portion-size bags. This way when you want chicken breasts for fried chicken, you already have a meal-size amount.
- Label the bags: Use a magic marker and write the part of the chicken and the date on the bag before you freeze. This is a good way to make sure you follow the "First in, First out" rule. Making sure you use your frozen food this way helps prevent waste and gives you a better shot at a good meal.
- Get a vacuum sealer: These things are great and there are affordable units on the market. If you are going to freeze meat for long-term storage, this is the only way to go. It extracts the air from the leak proof bag, so you have almost a 100% chance of preventing freezer burn. (Don't forget to pick up some vacuum bags too).
Now that you know the right way to thaw a frozen chicken, you can be confident that your next meal will be safe and delicious. The most important thing to remember about thawing frozen chicken is to plan ahead and let the chicken thaw slowly. You wouldn't rush the cooking time and risk serving raw chicken, so you shouldn't rush thawing by choosing the fastest method. The method of thawing in the refrigerator is the best to ensure you don't contaminate your chicken.
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