Microwave Hacks #4: Defrosting Chicken

Our microwaves can do a lot for us to help us out in the kitchen, but can they defrost chicken? Perhaps sticking frozen chicken in the microwave will be much easier than waiting all day for it to thaw in the fridge or in a bowl of cold water, but how can it be done safely?

Chicken can be safely defrosted in the microwave for several 2-minute increments. This allows for the chicken to be cooked immediately afterward. The microwave should be set to defrost or at 30% power level so that the outer layers of the chicken don’t begin to cook before the rest is thawed.

Continue reading to learn more about the process of defrosting chicken using your microwave.

Is it Safe to Defrost Chicken in the Microwave?

Microwaves are used for several different cooking tasks. This includes defrosting frozen chicken, which is 100% safe to do in the microwave so long as you do it correctly. It’s important that you thaw the chicken thoroughly at 30 to 50% power depending on your microwave, periodically flipping over the chicken breast as it defrosts.

You’ll do this so that every side gets just enough microwave energy to thaw through and melt the ice, while also ensuring that one side doesn’t get so much heat that it begins to cook. It’s also important that you cook the meat immediately after defrosting.

Microwave Defrosting vs. Other Methods

There are several methods of defrosting chicken, and each method will depend on the amount of time you have between pulling the chicken out of the freezer until dinner time or the time to begin cooking it.

The best method of defrosting is to pull out your frozen chicken from the freezer, set it on a plate, and then allow it to defrost in the refrigerator in its original packaging. This will be less of a drastic temperature difference than simply throwing the frozen chicken on a hot skillet.

While the refrigerator is cold, the temperature differences between the fridge and the freezer will neutralize the chicken temperature so that it can begin to thaw. Refrigerator thawing is a long, several-hour process, and it could take all day or even 2 days, depending on how thick the chicken is. This is why many people will begin thawing their frozen chicken using this method early in the morning or the night before it is needed.

If you took out the frozen chicken right before dinner, you won’t have time to thaw it using this method. However, this method is great not only because it thaws the chicken gradually and thoroughly, but because you can refreeze the chicken. So, if you decide not to use all the chicken, or you change your mind about a dinner recipe involving chicken, you can stick the chicken back in the freezer and use it another day. For the other defrosting methods, you’ll have to cook all the chicken you thaw immediately after thawing or throw it out.

Another defrosting method is to defrost the frozen chicken in a bowl of cold water. You’ll start by unwrapping the chicken or taking it out of any packaging (unless the chicken comes pre-diced in portioned air-tight packages) and then placing it in a large bowl of cold tap water so that it can be submerged. You can also fill a clean, empty kitchen sink with cold water after plugging it with a drain stopper and thaw it in there. This allows you to thaw a whole chicken.

Because the cold water from the tap is not as cold as the refrigerator, and the water still neutralizes the temperature difference between the cold water and the freezer, this water method will not take as long as the refrigerator method. Instead of taking all day, it will take about 2 or 3 hours, so you can begin thawing your frozen chicken just after lunchtime to have it thawed in time to cook dinner. This method, however, does not allow you to refreeze the chicken. You should also ensure that you empty the bowl of water every 30 minutes and replace it with fresh, cold water.

Many people will use warm or hot water to thaw their chicken, as that can help speed up the thawing process in a pinch, but we don’t recommend it because it can make you sick. The reason why is that the hot water encourages any bacterium in the raw chicken to manifest and grow, making the chicken, even after it’s cooked, more susceptible to foodborne illnesses that can be transferred to people when they eat it.

So, if you don’t have time to thaw your frozen chicken in the refrigerator or in a bowl of cold water, or you’re tempted to use hot water to thaw the chicken, we recommend defrosting in the microwave. Setting the microwave to defrost or setting the power level to 30 to 50% will be the fastest way to defrost your chicken. While it is best to thaw chicken in the fridge, the microwave can come in clutch when you’re strapped for time or when you forgot to pull your chicken out of the freezer last night.

How Long Does it Take to Defrost Chicken in the Microwave?

In comparison to taking a day or two to defrost chicken in the refrigerator, or a few hours to thaw in a bowl of cold water, defrosting a pound of chicken in the microwave only takes approximately 10 minutes. The amount of minutes varies by how much the chicken weighs. If your chicken weighs more than 1 pound, it will take an additional 7 to 8 minutes per additional pound. For example, if your chicken weighs 2 pounds, it will take 17 to 18 minutes to thaw in the microwave.

If your chicken weighs more than 2 pounds, we would recommend thawing it in water instead or breaking it into smaller pieces that weigh 2 pounds or less, then thawing one piece at a time in the microwave. While it is still possible to thaw a 3-pound chicken breast or whole chicken in the microwave, it will take a while and may not thaw all the way through unless broken up because the microwave energy can only penetrate the outer layers of the chicken at it’s lower power level setting.

How to Defrost Frozen Chicken in the Microwave

To defrost chicken in the microwave, you’ll first want to check what kind of settings your microwave comes equipped with. Most microwaves have a defrost setting, which can be used simply by pressing the defrost button. If your microwave does not have a defrost setting, however, check if your microwave has a power level button.

This will allow you to set your microwave to 30 to 50% power to be able to thoroughly and safely thaw your chicken. If your microwave is very basic and has neither of these options, you’ll be better off thawing your chicken in the fridge or a bowl of cold water.

Don’t attempt to defrost your frozen chicken in the microwave without using the defrost setting or setting the microwave to 30 to 50% power. If you have a user manual for your microwave, we recommend following the instructions for defrosting chicken with your particular microwave make. Remember not to defrost your chicken in the microwave for so long that it begins to cook.

If your microwave has the defrost setting, follow these steps to defrost your chicken in the microwave:

  1. Remove the frozen chicken from the freezer and remove its original packaging, then brush off any excess ice crystals.
  2. Place the chicken on a microwave-safe plate (we recommend using one with steep ridges to catch excess liquids as the ice melts), in a shallow bowl, or in a small glass cake pan.
  3. Set the plate or dish in the microwave on the center of the turn plate and close the microwave door.
  4. Press the defrost button to activate the defrost setting.
  5. If prompted to enter the weight of the chicken, punch in a weight estimate for how many pounds the chicken is. The microwave will then automatically set the time to 7 to 10 minutes based on the number of pounds you inputted and automatically set the power level to 30 to 50% depending on the microwave. Press start. If this weight prompt does not appear, and instead it asks for cook time, skip step 7. Otherwise, continue to step 6
  6. Every 2 minutes or so, pull open the door to check on the chicken. If the top layer of the chicken has begun to change color, flip the chicken over and close the door. Press start and skip to step 8.
  7. If prompted to enter the number of minutes to defrost for rather than pounds, input 2 minutes, then defrost in 2-minute increments for approximately 10 to 18 minutes depending on the chicken size until fully thawed.
  8. When the timer runs out, check on the chicken by opening the door. If the top layer of the chicken has just begun to change color, flip the chicken over and close the door. Press the defrost setting once more and input 2 more minutes.
  9. Repeat these 2-minute defrosting increments, checking on the chicken between each increment and flipping the chicken over when needed until the chicken is fully defrosted. You should have flipped the chicken over at least once during the thawing process.

If your microwave does not have the defrost setting, but it does have the power level setting, follow these steps to defrost your chicken in the microwave:

  1. Remove the frozen chicken from the freezer and remove its original packaging, then brush off any excess ice crystals.
  2. Place the chicken on a microwave-safe plate (we recommend using one with steep ridges to catch excess liquids as the ice melts), in a shallow bowl, or in a small glass cake pan.
  3. Set the plate or dish in the microwave on the center of the turn plate and close the microwave door.
  4. Set the power level setting by pressing the power level button.
  5. When prompted to set a power level, it’s best to input 30% power, but you can defrost chicken at up to 50% power if you’re strapped for time.
  6. If you have a pound of chicken, set the time to 10 minutes when prompted. If you have 2 pounds of chicken, set the time for 18 minutes. Press start.
  7. Every 2 minutes or so, pull open the door to check on the chicken. If the top layer of the chicken has begun to change color, flip the chicken over and close the door. Press start once more.
  8. Repeat these 2-minute defrosting increments, checking on the chicken between each increment and flipping the chicken over when needed until the chicken is fully defrosted. You should have flipped the chicken over at least once during the thawing process.

How to Tell When the Chicken is Fully Defrosted

If between one of the 2-minute defrosting increments it seems that the chicken is fully defrosted, and it is showing signs such as water pooling around it and the raw chicken has begun to turn white all over, you can follow these steps to ensure it is fully defrosted and there is no frozen chicken inside. While you can still cook chicken that is frozen or not fully defrosted, the chicken will cook much quicker and more evenly if it’s fully defrosted.

First, carefully remove the dish your chicken is sitting in from the microwave. The dish shouldn’t be hot, but check the temperature of the dish before grasping it. Set the dish on the counter, then, using a knife, call a small slit into the thickest part of the chicken, about half the depth of the entire chicken thickness. Insert your finger into this slit to see if you can feel any solid flesh or ice crystals. If you do, then it needs to go back into the microwave to continue defrosting. If the flesh is soft and you don’t feel any ice crystals, it’s fully defrosted. The chicken is ready to cook right away.

Why You Should Cook Your Defrosted Chicken Immediately

Unless you thawed your chicken in the refrigerator, you should cook your chicken immediately after defrosting. This is because using other defrosting methods such as the microwave or a bowl of cold water allows for a small number of bacteria to thrive or grow, and cooking immediately will kill off the bacteria. If you try to refreeze the chicken or you let it sit on the counter for a while, the bacteria will continue to grow and could become dangerous or at least cause some level of illness when consumed.

If you thaw your chicken in the refrigerator, it is still safe to freeze it once more if you put it back in the freezer within 1 or 2 days after thawing it, but with any other thawing method, you should cook immediately or throw out the chicken if it’s been sitting out too long or you change your mind about cooking it. Even if you don’t plan to consume the chicken right away, you can always freeze or refrigerate cooked chicken.