There’s Only One Right Way to Defrost Chicken Fast

WELL SHIT, it looks like you forgot to thaw the chicken.

And you’re hungry.

For chicken.

Which means that your brain is most likely entering the “feed or flight mode,” where you’re either going to do something DRASTIC like drill a hole into that frozen chicken breast, pop in a chopstick, and serve up a poultry popsicle for dinner (DO NOT DO THIS), or peel out down the street to the nearest fast-food drive-thru to eat chicken that is tasteless or dunked into a deep fryer to cover up how tasteless it is.

Psssst. If you want more smart advice on how to make your entire life more awesome, click here.

Men’s Health

Resist the “feed or flight mode.” There is still time to enjoy a flavorful chicken dinner that is not frozen and cooked to a degree (165°F, to be specific) that you will annihilate any bacteria that may bring upon you the digestive wrath of a foodborne illness.

Defrosting chicken the right way is neither difficult nor time-consuming, but it does require that you PAY ATTENTION. So the advice that comes next is all presented to you with the idea that you will not be TikTokking or Fortniting or Netflixing or Fleeting or just staring into the blackhole that is your smartphone. Or, in the very very least, if you are going to do those things while you thaw your chicken the right way, you’ll want to set a timer.

Oh, and you’ll need a sink. A timer, a sink, and your attention. If you have those things, then you have everything you need to defrost chicken fast the right way.

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The many reasons you should defrost chicken.

You might be saying to yourself: “Hey, I’m tough! My stomach is ironclad! I eat sushi all the time and nothing bad has ever happened to me! And I live in a FREE COUNTRY so who are YOU to tell me that I can’t eat my poultry products RAW?!”

grilled and roast chicken breast with seasoning in a cooking pan


Well, buddy, here’s how eating raw chicken can bring even those strongest of fortitude to their knees.

  • Campylobacter: Being infected by this bacteria can result in “diarrhea (often bloody), fever, and stomach cramps. Nausea and vomiting may accompany the diarrhea,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And here’s the kicker: “These symptoms usually … last about one week.” ONE WEEK TOUGH GUY.
  • Salmonella: Basically the same thing, symptoms-wise, as campylobacter. Lots of diarrhea. Lots.
  • Clostridium perfringens: This one is kind of like a fungus! But, really, it just brings more diarrhea.

    So there you are, gambler. The odds are 3:1 against you in terms of little nasties that can put you on the toilet and out of commission for as much as one week.

    You can roll the dice, or you can follow this advice.

    The (many) wrong ways you should never defrost chicken.

    You might think that the United States Department of Agriculture has a sense of humor when you read their precautions against thawing chicken. But there it is, in all seriousness:

    Also, never thaw foods in a garage, basement, car, dishwasher or plastic garbage bag; out on the kitchen counter, outdoors or on the porch. These methods can leave your foods unsafe to eat.

    A Man, A Pan, A Plan: A Cookbook

    Why? Well, according to the USDA, these conditions are subject to variations in temperature. Any time frozen chicken sits in an environment warmer than 40°F, the bacteria that existed in the chicken (important note: freezing does not kill bacteria) can begin to multiply at dangerous rates.

    So unless you’re planning on throwing out your frozen chicken, do not waste a plastic garbage bag in an attempt to thaw it.

    The one right way to defrost chicken fast.

    Okay, look, the USDA offers several ways to do this safely.

    grilled chicken fillets on slate plate gray concrete background


    You could double the cook time to heat the chicken from its frozen state to a done 165°F. You could also thaw the chicken in a microwave using the machine’s functions to do so.

    But the first method can often result in tough meat and the second is sort of not that great because. microwaves are pretty crummy at heating foods evenly.

    So this leaves you with using your sink and cold water to best thaw chicken safely and fast, according to the USDA.

    Step 1: Put the chicken in a bag.

    Make sure it’s leak-proof. If water gets into the bag then you’ll have raw chicken water sitting in the bag and raw chicken water is disgusting and can splash everywhere after when you eventually open the bag (spoiler alert!) and also makes the chicken meat mealy.

    Place the chicken into a new zip-top bag, squeeze as much air as you can from the bag, and seal the bag.

    Step 2: Fill a bowl with cold tap water.

    Just make sure the bowl is large enough to accommodate the bag of chicken and fits within your sink.

    Notice that the USDA specifies “tap” water and not Fiji water or the water running from the spring in your secluded backyard paradise in Fiji.

    Step 3: Submerge the chicken in the bowl of cold water.

    And then—here’s the important part—change the water every 30 minutes until the chicken is thawed.

    But how long does this take?

    The USDA: “Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood—about a pound—may thaw in an hour or less. A 3-to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours.”

    So this method works best for smaller cuts of protein—like chicken parts, or beef steaks or cubes, or fish fillets.

    Less than an hour isn’t 15 minutes, no, but it’s a whole lot shorter than seven days on the toilet.

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