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Hands up if you love chicken. Us, too. It’s healthy, easy to cook and can be prepared in a myriad of ways. (See exhibit A. And B. And C.) But what to do if you accidentally forget to take it out of the freezer and you need it tonight? Don’t worry—here are three quick-ish ways to get dinner on the table in time.
If you have 12 hours: Defrost in the fridge
This is by far the best method to thaw your poultry since it doesn’t expose the meat to warmer temperatures—better for both safety and texture. And while yes, it does take some planning (try setting a notification on your phone to remind you), it’s also the method that requires the least amount of hands-on attention. Simply take your chicken out of the freezer up to two days before you plan on cooking it, put it on a plate and place on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Winner winner, chicken dinner.
If you have 2 hours: Submerge it in cold water
When you only have a couple of hours before you need to cook your chicken, try the cold water method. Place frozen meat in a tightly sealed, leak-proof bag and then in a bowl of cold (never hot) water, ensuring that the meat is fully submerged. Change the water every 30 to 45 minutes to make sure that it stays cold. Depending on the type of cut, your chicken could thaw in anything from about an hour (ground chicken, for example) to several hours for bigger pieces. Once thawed, cook immediately.
If you have literally no time: Cook your chicken from frozen
Another option? Not thawing at all. Yep, you can actually cook chicken in its frozen state, you just need to add about 50 percent more cooking time. This method works best for recipes that require braising or slow-cooking, rather than sautéing or frying since the excess moisture in the frozen chicken will prevent the meat from getting that crispy, browned exterior.
What not to do
The big no-no: Leaving chicken out on the counter to thaw. Why? Because meat must always be kept below 40°F to prevent bacteria from multiplying, says the USDA. And while you technically can thaw your poultry in the microwave, this isn’t necessarily the best method. First, because it’s easy to mess up (you need to remember to stop and check the defrosting progress every 30 seconds or so), and second, because it could impact the texture. But no matter which defrosting method you choose, use a thermometer to check that your cooked chicken reaches at least 165°F before eating.