Chicken breasts are the secret weapon of any weeknight warrior worth her salt. We grill them, bake them, pound them into cutlets, and toss them in a stir-fry. If you're a 30-minute-or-less Tuesday night cook, chances are you've got a bunch of chicken breasts in the freezer right now.
Which begs the question: Could you be storing them better? Probably.
Safety First When Dealing with Raw Chicken
Poultry is some of the diciest stuff in the kitchen, and salmonella poisoning is a real threat if raw chicken isn't handled properly.
If you'll be divvying up and freezing a family pack of chicken breasts after a trip to the store, plan to do so as soon as you get home. Or put the chicken in the refrigerator immediately until you have time to package and freeze it. (Store chicken in the fridge no longer than two days before cooking or freezing.)
After handling raw chicken, it's important that you thoroughly clean everything it came in contact with — knives, cutting boards, countertops, your hands. One thing you don't need to wash is the chicken itself. A rinse under the kitchen faucet could actually splash over onto counters and utensils, raising the risk of contamination.
The Best Way to Freeze Chicken
For safety's sake, you don't need to remove chicken breasts from the grocery store container before freezing. But for flavor and protecting the moisture inside the chicken breasts, it's best to repackage.
The best at-home packaging method is vacuum-sealing with a machine (like FoodSaver), which removes air from the packaging and heat-seals the edges of the bag. No machine? You've still got options. Place chicken breasts in freezer bags and manually push out as much air as possible before zipping them closed. If you want to leave the chicken in the package it came in, the USDA advises that you wrap the container in aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper. This helps add a barrier between the chicken and the air in the freezer.
The goal is to prevent freezer burn, which can happen when chicken is exposed to freezer air and becomes dehydrated and oxidized. If your frozen chicken breasts have spots of freezer burn, it's okay to trim them off once they're thawed. But if the whole breast looks leathery and gray, toss it.
How Long Chicken Breasts Lasts in the Freezer
As long as chicken breasts are frozen at or below 0°F, they'll stay safe indefinitely. They won't taste (or look) great indefinitely, though. The USDA recommends freezing chicken breasts no longer than nine months for optimal quality and flavor. So always record the "frozen on" date on your packaging with a marker and some masking tape.