Recipe Review

So You Forget to Defrost the Chicken. Here’s How to Save Dinner.

published Aug 29, 2017
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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Remembering to thaw the chicken should be easy, right? All you have to do is put it in the refrigerator before you go to bed and, by the next evening when you’re ready to cook, it should be good to go. But a lot of things should be easy that aren’t, like remembering to buy milk, apply eye cream before bed, or mail the bills on time, or getting your kids to go to the bathroom before a long trip.

So what do you do when you’re ready to make dinner and you forgot the most important part? Well, if you’re me, you might just go buy a thawed chicken and keep the other one in the freezer for another day, or pick up a bucket of fried chicken. But sometimes those options aren’t available. Can this dinner be saved? Maybe!

(Image credit: Brie Passano)

Safety First

The first thing to remember when you’re desperate for a thawed chicken is that safety comes first. No matter how badly you want that chicken, is it really worth salmonella? How about listeria? No? Exactly. According to the USDA, when raw meat is in the “danger zone” — between 40°F and 140°F — any bacteria present can double in as little as 20 minutes. So let’s avoid that.

The USDA also offers this somewhat odd advice: “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.” In a car? A dishwasher? Why would you do that? Who are these people? But I digress.

(Image credit: Karla Conrad)

Quicker Thawing

There is a safe way to speed up thawing, although it’s not instant. (Ready to give up and go pick up the bucket of fried yet? Just serve it with a huge salad and call it a day.) You can use the cold water method, submerging your sealed chicken in a pot or sink full of cold water and changing the water every 20 to 30 minutes. Although it’s tempting, do not use warm or hot water, as that could bring your chicken into the danger zone for too long.

If you don’t need the chicken in one piece for presentation … wait, you do? Seriously? Why are you still reading? If you’re having some kind of chicken emergency and it must be served whole, suck it up and go buy another chicken. Anyhow, if you don’t need the chicken to be whole, start with the cold water method and as the chicken becomes more pliable, cut it into pieces for faster cooking.

The cold water method still takes a few hours, so it’s a good option if you notice your mistake in the early afternoon or if you have some pretty great snacks to eat while you wait for your late dinner.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Cook It Frozen

Hold on, hold on. Hear me out? According to the USDA, you can cook frozen chicken. You’ll need to cook it for 50 percent longer. You should also cook it on a roasting rack or over vegetables so the heat can circulate around the chicken.

We can’t really recommend this method for a whole chicken simply because it isn’t going to turn out very well. Although the inside will reach a safe temperature, the outside will probably be pretty dry. If you decide to do it anyway, do not use a slow cooker, because the chicken won’t heat up fast enough to avoid the danger zone. (Or, as previously mentioned, you could go buy a whole cooked chicken or a bucket of fried. We’ll never tell.)

Your electric pressure cook can cook frozen chicken in a flash and does it fast enough so you avoid the dreaded danger zone temperature. You’ll need a little extra time and a bit more liquid — and of course it only works with smaller cuts and certain recipes — but if you’ve got boneless thighs, drumsticks, or a smaller breast to cook, this is a great option when you need food fast.


Y’all, this is why iPhones were invented. Set a notification as soon as you know you want that frozen chicken. Or give up on whole chickens and only freeze chicken in pieces. (Or go get that bucket of crispy deliciousness.)

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Enjoy Your (Safely Prepared) Dinner

If you do decide to cook your chicken from frozen or use the cold water method for faster thawing, remember that the meat thermometer is your friend. Check several parts of your cooked chicken and make sure the thermometer reads at least 165°F everywhere.

Whatever you decide to do, don’t let this little wrinkle ruin a perfectly lovely dinner. Not every meal has to go exactly as planned, and not every chicken has to be perfect. Did I ever tell y’all about the dinner party I hosted? I was making pad Thai and plumb forgot the protein. You know what’s delicious with homemade pad Thai? Publix fried chicken. My guests were thrilled and a good time was had by all.