Can You Defrost Chicken In Hot Water? The Ultimate Guide

How to Defrost chicken

Depending on how much time you have, frozen chicken can be defrosted in the refrigerator, a cold water bath, or microwave. Each method has its pros and cons, but in the end, you’ll have thawed chicken that’s ready to be cooked.

Thawing Chicken in the Refrigerator

The safest way to thaw meat is by moving it to the refrigerator first, but that involves some planning in advance and can take up to 2 days, depending on the amount of frozen chicken. 

  • Allow up to 24 hours per 1 to 5 pounds of frozen meat.
  • It’s best to keep the meat in the bottom drawer so that if anything leaks, it doesn’t contaminate food stored below it. If your chicken has already been unwrapped, place it in a bowl or pan to catch all the juices. Gross, right? But it’s one more thing to avoid a mishap.
  • Refrigerators set at 35F take longer to thaw than those set at 40F so check your fridge’s settings before you get started so you can know what to expect.

Fridge-thawed items remain safe for a day or so and can be refrozen if needed (but there might be some loss of quality).

If you’re not cooking right away, store thawed meats in the coldest parts of your refrigerator.

How to Thaw in Cold Water

A water bath is the best method to thaw frozen meats if you’re short on time.

Time needed: 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Thawing Chicken in Water

  1. Grab a bag

    Place the meat in a leak-proof, zip-top bag to avoid the water getting in and making your meat soggy.

  2. Into the water

    Submerge your bag in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes.

  3. How long it takes

    Small bags (around 1 pound) may take up to an hour. A 3 to 4-pound bag may take 2 to 3 hours.

Foods thawed using this method should be cooked before re-freezing. You’ll want to cook your meat fairly quickly after thawing, depending on how long your meat has been out of the fridge.

For Cutting Chicken into Pieces

If you need to cut frozen boneless meat into smaller pieces, partially thaw using this method, remove it from the bag, and cut.

The frozen core in the meat helps keep it from sliding around as you cut, allowing for neater, more uniform slices. Put the pieces back in the leak-proof bag, seal, and finish thawing.

Check the pieces, and change the water more often to thaw faster. Plan to cook right away after thawed because by opening the bag, you’ve introduced bacteria that could be breeding in there!

Thawing Chicken in the Microwave

Using the microwave to thaw chicken is the least ideal of the “safe” thawing methods because the meat gets heated unevenly. It’s best used for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, don’t try it on whole chickens.

  • Set your microwave to “Defrost” or 50% power to prevent the outside from getting cooked while the inside remains frozen. Times vary based on weight, but if you aren’t sure, defrost for 2 minutes, let stand for 1 minute, then check the progress. Repeat.
  • If your frozen meat is in pieces, pause the defrosting every few minutes to break the pieces apart.
  • If using this method, plan to cook immediately after thawing because parts of the meat can reach the “danger zone” temperature for breeding bacteria (between 40F and 140F).

Foods thawed using this method should be cooked before re-freezing.

How to Cook Frozen Chicken Breasts

When there just isn’t enough time to thaw frozen foods, just remember: It’s safe to cook from the frozen state!

The cooking time will increase by roughly 50% over the recommended time for fresh or thawed meats.

Example: If it takes 30-40 minutes for raw chicken breasts to bake, expect 45 to an hour for frozen. To check for doneness, make sure to use a meat thermometer. A chicken breast is fully cooked when the internal temperature is 165F at the thickest part of the breast.


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.

What is the Safe Temperature for Chicken?

However you cook your chicken, whether it was frozen or not, you want to make sure it gets to an internal temperature of 165°F.  The best way to measure the temperature is to insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken. 

You should take into account carryover cooking, which is the fact that the chicken will continue to cook a bit after it leaves the heat.  So, the temperature will continue to climb a a handful of degrees, and you might want to take it from the heat when the thermometer reaches 160°F, and then watch the temp climb to 165°F.  That’s the safe temp for chicken.

Also see: How to Safely Thaw Frozen Meat.

The Process:

Take out your frozen poultry and place it in your kitchen counter as you prepare to cook it.

Set up your stove top and take a pan that’s enough to fit the whole poultry.

You may also use your oven if you desire to, depending on the kind of dish you are going to make.

After setting up the stove top, place your chicken and turn it on. Cook the poultry as you usually would.

Make sure the parts are not clumped up in one big ball, position the cuts away from each other to ensure they properly cook.

Move the chicken every 5 minutes as you cook them.

Take note when doing this method, you need to add 50% more time when doing so.

For instance, if you plan to make a chicken soup that will take 40 minutes, add 50 minutes of cooking, so the whole recipe will take you about 90 minutes to finish.

Tips and Tricks for Marinating Frozen Chicken

So now that you know that frozen chicken can be marinated, let’s take a look at some tips and tricks that you should bear in mind when doing this. 

The first trick that we would recommend is defrosting the chicken before you apply the marinade. This ensures that the water that comes out of the chicken while it is defrosting will not impact the marinade, and you will be left with juicy and flavorful chicken to eat. 

But, of course, this isn’t always possible, and so you might choose to apply the marinade to the chicken before it defrosts. If you do this, you should be prepared for the final result to be less flavorful, but there are some things that you can do to enhance the taste.

One option that you have is to prepare additional marinade, and continue to massage additional marinade into the chicken while it defrosts.

You could also slightly alter the ingredients used in your marinade so that they also include an acidic ingredient as this can help bind the marinade to the chicken. 

The final tip that we would suggest is preparing your marinade and applying it to the chicken before you freeze it.

Obviously, this isn’t something that you can do at the last minute, but this is an excellent way to achieve flavorful chicken that has been frozen. While the chicken freezes the marinade will soak into the chicken and achieve full flavor as if you were marinating fresh chicken. 

Microwave Thawing

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Some microwaves have settings that allow you to specifically defrost chicken by simply pressing a button. Read your instruction manual to see if your microwave has this setting and note special directions having to do with the amount of chicken and the type of cut.

If you don't have a programmed chicken defrost setting, you can still use your microwave to thaw but it will require some extra 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 periodically, flipping and repositioning, especially if you don’t have a rotating tray.

Even if you are 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 an ideal method and may result in some of the chicken being over-cooked and tough. Meat thawed in the microwave should be cooked right away.

Fast Method 2: Cold Water Thawing

Any thawing method you use should try to avoid keeping the meat in the Danger Zone. Cold water thawing is a fast way to thaw meat while completely avoiding bringing your meat within the Danger Zone.

Cold water thawing works best with smaller cuts of meat such as ground beef, steak, or chicken pieces. It’s not as effective for large roasts or a while chicken and one of the other methods are better suited.

Step 1: Seal the meat in zip-lock bags

While you could simply submerge the meat into a bowl of cold water, it’s not recommended. Not only will the meat absorb water and possibly become water-logged, but it may also introduce bacteria to the meat.

If your meat’s packaging is vacuum-sealed as shown below, then you can simply submerge the entire packaging in the water.

The key point is that you don’t want any air

The key point is that you don’t want any air in the packaging or in the zip-lock bag. Any air will slow the thawing process significantly.

If you slowly submerge your bag before sealing it, you can remove all of the air (don’t let the water go into the bag) and seal it.

Make sure the bag or packaging you use is completely leak-proof to avoid external contamination or water-logging.

Step 2: Submerge the meat in cold water

Once your meat is packaged up, submerge it into a big bowl of cold water.

Make sure the entire package is completely submerged to get the best results. You may need to add a bowl with weight on top to keep everything below the surface.

Why cold water? You might think that using warm or hot water will speed the process up. The problem with using warm or hot water is that it will quickly heat up the surface of the meat and keep it within the Danger Zone the entire time it is submerged. Not good. The only time warm or hot water can be considered is when you’re thawing thin cuts of meat. Thin cuts will thaw quickly (less than 10 minutes), which will limit the time spent in the Danger Zone. As long as you immediately cook the meat at a suitable temperature after thawing, it will be okay.

Cold water submersion is very effective at quickly defrosting meat because water is an excellent conductor when compared to air. Imagine sitting in a hot sauna vs water at the same temperature. You might be able to withstand the hot air in a sauna, but the same temperature water would severely burn you in seconds.

Step 3: Stir the Water Every 5-10 Minutes

As the bowl of cold water starts to thaw the meat, it will develop a cold barrier against the meat packaging. This barrier forms when the water is left untouched.

Stirring the water will disturb the barrier and speed up the thawing process. It’s okay if you’re not able to regularly stir the water, it just helps speed up the process.

Step 4: Replace the water every 30 minutes

If you’re thawing a lot of meat or large pieces, it will take longer to thaw. As the meat thaws, it cools the water down towards its freezing point. This slows the thawing process down.

Replacing the water every 30 minutes or so will speed up the thawing process. This will prevent the water in the bowl from getting too cold and slowing down the thawing process.


  • Improperly defrosted chicken is unsafe to eat. Once the chicken reaches 40 °F (4 °C), bacteria multiplies on it. Defrost chicken with caution and throw away spoiled meat.

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