When you’re pulling chicken out of the freezer, you want to give it plenty of time to thaw. But how long can thawed chicken stay in the fridge before it starts to deteriorate? Once you know the answer, you’ll be able to make accurate plans for your cookout.
How Long Can Thawed Chicken Stay In The Fridge?
The answer to this question depends on a number of factors. If the chicken was still very fresh when it was frozen and you defrosted it using the refrigerator method, it should keep for 3 to 4 days. If it was already in the fridge for a few days before you froze it, or if you thawed it in a bowl of cold water, you need to cook it off right away.
How To Thaw Chicken Safely
The first thing you need to remember is to never thaw chicken at room temperature. If you leave the chicken on the counter to thaw, it will stay in the “danger zone” for too long.
What does this mean? The “danger zone” refers to the window between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. When meat is held at these temperatures for longer than 4 hours, bacteria will multiply at a rapid pace, rendering the food unsafe for consumption.
For best results, thaw or defrost your chicken in the refrigerator. Make sure the fridge temp is set below 40 degrees, and give yourself about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of meat. The refrigerator method works especially well for larger cuts and whole chickens.
If you need to save time, you can use the cold water method to thaw the meat. Make sure the chicken is well sealed inside a zip-top bag or another leakproof container. Set the package in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes, then swap out the water for a fresh batch. Raw chicken should thaw at a rate of about 1 hour per pound with this method.
Tip: Never use hot water to defrost the chicken. Although you might think that would speed the process along, it will take the meat straight into the danger zone. Stick with cold water, and the chicken will be thawed before you know it.
As a last resort, you can use the microwave to thaw smaller chicken parts. Use the “defrost” setting (if your microwave has one), and check the meat frequently to make sure it’s thawing evenly. We don’t recommend the microwave for whole chickens, as the outsides will start to cook before the insides have a chance to thaw.
Be aware that when you use the microwave or cold water methods, you’ll need to cook the chicken off immediately. The meat might have warmed up past 40 degrees, in which case it needs to be cooked right away in order to destroy any hazardous bacteria.
How Long Can Thawed Chicken Stay In The Fridge Before Cooking?
If you’ve thawed the chicken in the refrigerator, you have more leeway regarding your starting time. On average, chicken should keep in the fridge for about 3 days once it’s fully thawed.
Of course, the actual length of time may vary, depending on how fresh the chicken was when it was frozen. If it was already in the fridge for 3 days before you popped it in the freezer, you should cook it as soon as possible after thawing. Conversely, if you froze it right away, you might have 3 to 4 days before it starts to turn.
How Long Can You Keep Chicken in The Freezer?
In theory, frozen chicken will keep indefinitely as long as the freezer temp remains below 0 degrees Fahrenheit the entire time. In practice, you should thaw and cook chicken parts within 9 months and whole birds within 1 year.
Cooked chicken, on the other hand, should be pulled and defrosted within 4 months in order to preserve the quality. If it’s stored in the freezer too long, it might have an unpleasantly dry texture when it’s thawed out.
Regardless of whether the meat is raw or cooked when you freeze it, you should always seal the container tightly and label it with the date and contents. Otherwise, you could end up with a bunch of unidentifiable objects shifting around in your freezer.
Can You Cook Chicken When It’s Still Frozen?
Let’s assume you’re in a hurry, and don’t have time to defrost the chicken. Is it safe to start the cooking process while the meat is still frozen?
The answer is yes, but it will still take longer to cook than defrosted chicken would. You should plan on adding at least 50 percent to the cooking time when you’re starting with frozen meat. That means that if the recipe says to grill the chicken breasts for 10 minutes, they’ll take at least 15 minutes from their frozen state.
If you choose to take this route, make sure to cook the chicken over medium to medium-high heat. If the temperature is too low, it will take even longer to cook, and might even dry out. On the other hand, cooking it quickly over high heat could result in chicken that’s burnt on the outside and still frozen on the inside.
Cooking Chicken to a Safe Temperature
No matter which thawing method you use, make sure the chicken is cooked through before you eat it. 165 degrees Fahrenheit is the recommended temperature for breasts, while the thigh meat fares better if it’s cooked to 180 degrees.
Use a reliable instant-read thermometer to gauge the temperature. Insert the probe into the thickest portion of the meat for accurate results. Don’t forget that the meat will continue to cook as it rests, so it’s acceptable to pull breasts from the heat when the temperature climbs up to 160.
While we’re on the subject of the resting period, plan on at least 5 minutes for smaller pieces and 20 minutes for larger, bone-in cuts. You can let a whole chicken rest for 30 to 45 minutes. Just be sure to refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours, or 1 hour in extreme heat.
The Bottom Line
Thawed chicken can keep for about 3 days if it was frozen promptly and defrosted in the fridge. If you thawed it in cold water or in the microwave, or if it was already a few days old by the time it hit the freezer, you should cook it off as soon as it’s ready. You can even start cooking before it’s fully thawed, but the process will take longer.