How to Defrost Chicken in the Microwave Quickly and Safely

Ellisha Rader Mannering
Ellisha Rader Mannering

Ellisha Rader Mannering

Ellisha is a passionate food writer with over 15 years of writing experience under her belt.

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How to defrost chicken in the microwave

It’s approaching dinner time, and your chicken is still in the freezer!

You curse at the thought of getting takeout after you planned your weekly menu so carefully.  Looking at the frozen chicken, you wonder how to defrost it quickly. 

The microwave catches your eye, and you breathe a sigh of relief.  Could you put the frozen chicken in the microwave and still serve dinner on time?

Yes, you can! Keep reading to learn how to defrost chicken quickly and safely in the microwave.

Many microwaves have a defrost button which allows you to thaw chicken and other frozen foods at a lower power level. Some microwaves do not have a defrost option. In that case, you want to set the power to a low percentage level.  

How do you defrost chicken quickly and safely?

Your microwave is an excellent solution to defrost chicken quickly and safely.

The defrost button on microwaves is designed to reduce the standard microwave power down to 20 to 30 percent. Other microwaves do not have a defrost setting. In that case, you must set the power to cook at 30 percent.  

Useful Tips for Defrosting Chicken in the Microwave

  • Remove all the packing, including the foam trays and plastic wraps. Exposing these items to heat causes them to melt and release harmful chemicals.
  • Weigh the chicken, so you know how long to set the timer for.
  • Set a timer for 2 minutes per pound of chicken.
  • Use the defrost setting or lower the power setting to 30 percent.
  • Rotate your chicken frequently during the process.
  • Gently separate any pieces that loosen up while defrosting.
  • Cook your chicken straight away after defrosting to prevent foodborne illness.

How long should I defrost chicken in the microwave?

If your microwave has a defrost setting, it may have you input the weight of the chicken. If that’s the case, the microwave automatically sets the time.

But if your microwave doesn’t include that feature, plan on microwaving chicken at 30 percent power for 2 minutes per pound to defrost it.  At this rate, a 5 pounds of chicken will take 10 minutes to defrost.

Remember, loose pieces of meat defrost more evenly and quickly than a whole chicken with the bones, even at the same weight.

How do you defrost chicken in the microwave without cooking it?

The best way to defrost chicken in the microwave without heating it to the point of cooking it is to check on it frequently during the process. 

I recommend you turn your chicken every 2 minutes and separate the pieces as they loosen to ensure it thaws evenly and completely.

Is it ok for if the chicken starts to cook while defrosting?

It depends on what you mean by “okay.”  Meat that is cooked in the microwave will have a rubbery, nasty texture. Starting your recipe with a piece of meat that is fully cooked in some places and raw in others can lead to uneven results.

In a worst case scenario, the parts of the chicken that were cooked in the microwave may be contaminated with illness-causing bacteria from the uncooked parts of the chicken. But, since they appear cooked, you might not reheat those parts to kill the bacteria in them, leading to food poisoning. 

Is it ok for if the chicken starts to cook while defrosting

As long as you make sure to heat up all the chicken in your recipe to 165 degrees Fahrenheit after you microwave it, it should be fine. Just make sure not to let any part of the chicken, cooked or uncooked, sit out at room temperature for more than an hour.

Should I defrost chicken in the microwave with water?

No, we do not recommend you defrost chicken in the microwave with water.  Simply place it into a microwave-safe container. Use a cover if your microwave manual recommends it.

Placing chicken in water in the microwave can cause the outside of the chicken to heat much faster than the inside, cooking it before the inside is defrosted.

Defrosting a whole chicken vs. chicken pieces in the microwave

How to defrost a whole chicken in the microwave?

You can defrost a whole chicken in the microwave – but I don’t recommend it.  

The odds of a whole chicken defrosting entirely and evenly in your microwave are low. You’ll have to babysit it pretty carefully, and it’ll take a long time.

If you choose to defrost a whole chicken in the microwave, follow these steps:

  • Remove all the packaging and giblets from the chicken cavity
  • Weigh your frozen chicken and place it on a microwave-safe plate
  • Set your microwave using the defrost function by inputting the weight; or
  • Lower the power to 30 percent and set the timer to 2 minutes per pound
  • Check on your chicken every 2 minutes
  • Gently pull the thighs and wings away from the body every time you check
  • Rotate (unless yours has a spinning carousel) and turn your chicken at least twice during defrosting
Defrosting a whole chicken vs. chicken pieces in the microwave

How long does it take to defrost chicken pieces in the microwave?

Chicken pieces and chicken breasts defrost in a microwave quickly and safely.

We recommend you defrost 2 pieces at a time. Weigh the pieces and use the defrost function or lower the power to 30 percent. Then, set the timer for 2 minutes.

After 1 minute, turn the pieces over and continue this process until defrosted.

Place the defrosted pieces in the refrigerator to wait until you’ve finished thawing all the chicken and are ready to cook.

How long does it take to defrost 2 lbs of chicken in the microwave?

Based on the rate of 2 minutes per pound for frozen chicken, it takes about 4 minutes to defrost 2 pounds of chicken in the microwave.

This time can vary depending on:

  • The number of chicken pieces
  • The thickness of each piece
  • The wattage of your microwave

Two pounds of shredded chicken or chicken cut into small pieces will defrost faster and more evenly than a single two-pound chicken breast.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is using the microwave the quickest method of thawing chicken?

Yes, the microwave is the quickest way to thaw chicken.  The microwave heats the water in the chicken to temperatures above freezing – though, if you keep the power low, hopefully not temperatures high enough to cook the meat.

Once your chicken is defrosted, you must use it immediately to prevent the risk of growing bacteria.

Is it ok to cook chicken that is still a little frozen?

Yes, it is ok to cook chicken that is still a little frozen, especially if you slice it thin before cooking. Slightly frozen chicken is the best for slicing thin for stir fry! You can also throw slightly-frozen chicken in a casserole, or in the oven to bake or braise. 

However, if the chicken is partly frozen, this increases the cooking time by 50%. For example, if your dish needs an hour to cook, you will need to add 30 minutes if your chicken is still partially frozen. You may also get an uneven texture – dry on the outside but still pink on the inside.

If you choose this method, checking the internal temperature is essential. It must reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit throughout to be safe to eat.  Monitor the temperature with a meat thermometer. The thickest part of the chicken must reach this temperature. If the bones are still in, check the joints in the thighs and wings, since these are hardest to heat up. 

How do you defrost chicken in the microwave without the defrost button?

If your microwave does not have a defrost button. You need to lower the power percentage to 30 percent.

Weigh your frozen chicken and place it on a microwave-safe plate. Calculate the amount of time needed to defrost evenly and completely. You can do this by calculating 2 minutes per pound.

After one minute, turn the chicken over and rotate it if your microwave does not have a spinning carousel. Then, check on the chicken every 2 minutes and repeat the process until thawed.

Can you defrost chicken using a hot water bath?

The USDA warns against using a hot water bath to thaw chicken and poultry.

When you submerge the frozen chicken in hot water, it increases the risk of bacteria growth. This is because hot water doesn’t thaw food evenly. The outside will quickly heat to a temperature that can encourage harmful bacterial growth, while the inside of the chicken is still frozen rock solid. 

Can you defrost chicken using a cold water bath?

A cold water bath can be a safe option for defrosting chicken, as long as you keep the water very chilly. It’s not as fast as microwave thawing. But  if you have an hour or two to spare, try this method:

  • Grab a Plastic Bag: Place the frozen chicken pieces or breasts inside a double seal ziplock bag. Make sure you seal the bag well to prevent water from entering the bag
  • Submerge in Water: place your bag of chicken in a large tub with water in the kitchen sink. The water should be very cold – use ice. The goal is to keep the water between 33 degrees and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This sweet spot allows the chicken to thaw without encouraging bacterial growth.
  • Change the Water: change the water every 20 – 30 minutes.
Can you defrost chicken using a cold water bath

A pound of frozen chicken takes about 1 hour to thaw in a cold water bath. A 3 – 4 pound bag of frozen chicken can take up to 3 hours. This means that if you remember to take your chicken out of the freezer around lunchtime, it can be ready for dinner prep in time with a cold water bath.

Remember, chicken sitting in water above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for one or two hours should not be considered safe to use or eat.

Chicken Food Safety Guidelines

When it comes to food safety, we understand you may have concerns.  

Here are the safe ways to thaw chicken approved by the USDA (U.S Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service)

It is recommended to thaw chicken:

  1.  In the refrigerator
  2.  In cold water
  3.  In the microwave

Also, we have included the USDA food safety guidelines for cooking with microwave ovens.

Delicious Chicken Recipes

Final Chicken Defrosting Thoughts

We have all been in this situation. Your family is anticipating dinner on time, and your chicken is frozen!

If you find yourself in these circumstances, use your microwave for quick and safe solutions. 

Investing in a meat thermometer is an excellent idea.  Chicken is delicious but sensitive to rapidly growing bacteria if not defrosted in the microwave correctly.  

Learning how to defrost chicken in the microwave is fantastic knowledge to have for those days when time runs away. Share your experiences and comments with us. We would love to hear from you.

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Ellisha Rader Mannering
About The Author
Ellisha has been writing about food for over 15 years. When she isn’t writing she enjoys traveling, spending time with her family, and coaching baton twirling.

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