Wondering if you can cook frozen chicken without thawing? We have all the info you need to know. 
Credit: 58shadows / Getty Images

Cooking chicken is not typically a difficult process. You take your thawed cut, stick it in the oven or on the stove, and you cook it until the center is no longer pink and glossy, or an inserted thermometer has reached 165 °F.  Easy, right?

However, some days are busy and the dinner hour rolls around before you even get a chance to think about what to make. On a day like this, you probably didn’t think to set out your frozen chicken breasts so that they could fully thaw for an effortless chicken-cooking experience. So the question is, can you cook frozen chicken?

Credit: Photo: Brian Woodcock; Styling: Claire Spollen

How to cook frozen chicken

According to the USDA, yes, you can safely cook your frozen chicken, as long as you follow a couple general guidelines.

In order to skip the thawing step and turn your frozen chicken into a fully-cooked, safe-to-eat dinner, use your oven or stove top and simply increase your cooking time by at least 50%. In order to do this, make sure that your chicken is frozen in such a way that the individual pieces can be spread out on a baking sheet or skillet. In other words, they’re not all frozen together in a rock-hard cluster.

There's one big caveat: Don't try this in a slow cooker. They don't exactly explain why, but presumably it's for the same reason we would recommend against it: because the slow cooker cooks things slowly, there's a chance that the cold meat will spend too much time in the danger zone—the temperature range where bacteria are most likely to grow. In an oven or on a stove top, the cook times are much quicker, and the meat won't spend much time in that range. Instead, we suggest frying, baking, or boiling frozen chicken. 

Of course, we would not recommend consistently relying on this strategy, as a bird that’s been thawed properly will likely cook more evenly and taste better. 

Credit: mikroman6/Getty Images

How to thaw frozen chicken

Like cooking from frozen, defrosting frozen chicken requires a few rules. You may think you can just leave the frozen chicken on the counter or toss it in a bowl of hot water, but according to the USDA, those are both huge no-nos. 

While meats are frozen, they are in the safety zone indefinitely. However, as soon as they start to thaw and become warmer than 40°F, the bacteria that may have been present can start to multiply, leading to food-borne illness. Even if the center of the package still seems frozen, the outer edges can become too warm. Instead, there are three ways to safely defrost chicken: in the refrigerator, microwave, or cold water. Here’s how:

The refrigerator: Planning ahead is key here. To thaw frozen chicken in the fridge, you’ll need to account for at least a full day (24 hours) for the meat to be fully defrosted. Once defrosted, the chicken should be safe for a day or two in the fridge before cooking. You can refreeze it without cooking first, but it may affect the quality of the meat. 

In cold water: Defrosting chicken in cold water is quicker, but takes more attention. To start, place the chicken in a sealed plastic bag and submerge the chicken in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. One pound of meat may thaw in an hour or less, but two to three pounds may take two to three hours. Once defrosted, the chicken should be cooked before refreezing. 

In the microwave: Use the “defrost” setting on your microwave for a minute at a time until the chicken is fully thawed. Once defrosted, chicken that was thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately. Some areas of the chicken may become warm and begin to cook while thawing, allowing bacteria to grow. Do not refreeze chicken that was defrosted in the microwave without cooking it first.