How To Defrost Chicken

Definitely don't thaw out chicken on the kitchen bench.

You've planned a tasty chicken dinner, arrive at work and realise you forgot to defrost the chicken. What do you do? Get home and defrost the chicken on the counter for a while? Or maybe microwave it?

According to Rachelle Williams, Chair of the Food Safety Information Council, this is the best (and safest) way to defrost chicken.

How to defrost chicken

"The best way to defrost chicken, and in fact any potentially hazardous food, is to get it out of the freezer, put it in a covered container and place it in the bottom of your fridge," Williams told HuffPost Australia.

There are a few more important steps to this process, however.

"Here's the important thing -- you've got to do something before you freeze the chicken or food. Don't take a whole chook and shove it in the freezer because it's going to take forever to freeze and defrost," Williams said. "The bigger the food is, the longer it will take to freeze and thaw."

Rather than placing a whole chicken in the freezer, break it down into smaller pieces beforehand.

"The pieces will freeze quicker, and the same will apply to defrosting as they will thaw quicker."

You can also thaw chicken in the microwave using the 'defrost' function -- however, ensure the chicken is in a covered container to prevent juices dripping on, and contaminating, other food.

And definitely, definitely don't thaw chicken on the kitchen bench. Likewise, never 'wash' poultry under water in your sink as bacteria can grow and contaminate the sink and kitchen, which can give you a nasty bout of food poisoning.

How long does it take to defrost chicken?

The time is takes to defrost chicken (or any other meat) depends on the size of the pieces, as explained above, but there are general guidelines.

"A whole chook is probably going to take a good day or two because you've got to get the inside temperature up," Williams explained.

"If it's medium pieces, put the chicken in the fridge the night or day before, and it's going to be ready the next day. In fact, if you put small pieces of chicken in the fridge in the morning, it will be ready for cooking that night.

"The smaller the pieces, the quicker they will thaw."

Always wash and dry hands and clean surfaces after contact with raw poultry.
Always wash and dry hands and clean surfaces after contact with raw poultry.

Can I refreeze meat after thawing?

"With thawing, there is a belief out there that once you've started thawing meat, you cannot put it back in the freezer. This isn't quite correct," Williams said.

"If something is partially thawed, so it's still quite frozen in the centre, you can put it back in the freezer. But remember: if meat is completely thawed, you've got to cook it within 24 hours and it cannot go back in the freezer.

"It doesn't matter what meat it is, it can't go back in the freezer once fully thawed."

How to store cooked chicken

If you've just bought a hot roast chicken from the supermarket, to avoid food poisoning, don't chuck it straight in the fridge.

"Often people who buy a hot chook in the supermarket, which is in a foil or plastic bag, will get home and shove the bag straight into the fridge. The problem with that is this foil bag is intended to keep the chook hot," Williams said.

"If you then put the whole cooked chook in its bag in the fridge, it's going to cool down very slowly, so any bacteria which have survived are going to be growing rampantly because they're insulated in a nice, warm environment.

"So, when you get the cooked chook out of the fridge, and a lot of people have the chicken cold, you've got bacteria in it which wasn't in there before."

There's a proper way to store cooked chicken in the fridge.
There's a proper way to store cooked chicken in the fridge.

When you get home from the supermarket with a cooked chicken, here's what you need to do.

"If you're not going to eat it straightaway, break it up into smaller pieces, put it into a shallow covered container (plastic or glass), and then put it into the fridge. The pieces will cool down quickly and won't be as insulated, meaning the chicken will be safer to eat," Williams said.