Learn the ins and outs of safely storing and thawing chicken, as well as the many ways to cook chicken at home, from roasting to frying.
Chicken is a protein-packed form of poultry that tastes amazing in many forms. Whether it’s roasted, fried, grilled, or baked, we’re big fans of this versatile bird.
If you cook chicken often, you know that making sure your poultry is fresh is essential. While you’d ideally cook your chicken long before its expiration date, that’s not always an option. That’s where freezing comes in.
Freezing chicken extends the meat’s shelf life by a wide margin, letting you wait to cook it until you’re ready. However, frozen chicken needs to be defrosted before it’s ready to cook. Otherwise, the bird won’t cook fully, making it unsafe to eat.
If you’ve got some chicken in the freezer and are ready to cook it, it’s time to learn how to safely defrost the poultry and make it as easy to cook as possible. In this post, we’ll walk you through the best ways to defrost chicken, as well as our favorite ways to cook it.
How Long Does Chicken Last?
If you’re storing your chicken in the fridge, you can expect the poultry to stay fresh for one to two days. After this point, the chicken isn’t safe to cook anymore – it’s technically expired. However, if you already cooked your chicken and put it in the refrigerator, it will last for three to four more days after the day you cooked it.
On the other hand, freezing chicken extends your poultry’s shelf life by months. If you freeze individual pieces of chicken, you’ll get a slightly lower extension on shelf life – frozen pieces of chicken last around nine months. However, a whole frozen chicken can stay fresh for about a year. That’s a far cry from the three to four days that cooked chicken lasts!
Why Defrosting Chicken Safely Matters
Thawing some chicken breasts might not sound like a big deal, but staying safe with this simple kitchen practice is a must. If you know how to defrost chicken safely, you’ll drastically decrease your risk of contracting a foodborne illness. In addition, you’ll keep the other people who share your kitchen safe, too.
Even after it’s frozen, raw chicken sometimes contains certain strains of bacteria. These include salmonella, E. coli, and more. While these bacteria die during the cooking process, they’re still potentially present until the chicken is fully cooked.
Now that you know why staying safe while you defrost chicken is so important, let’s take a look at some easy ways to get that bird defrosted.
Defrosting Method 1: Try the Microwave
Your microwave is a handy appliance with plenty of uses, but did you know that it can help you defrost chicken?
Thawing frozen chicken in the microwave is one of the best ways to get it ready for cooking fast. However, you’ll need to get the chicken on the stove immediately after it’s been in the microwave. This is because your microwave can’t fully cook the chicken – you’ll need more heat for that.
When defrosting chicken in the microwave, follow these steps for the best results.
- Start by putting the chicken on a microwave-safe plate. Try not to overfill the plate with chicken, as microwaving too much meat at once will result in uneven defrosting.
- Turn on the defrost setting on your microwave and start by letting your chicken thaw for a minute. If one minute of cooking doesn’t fully thaw the chicken, try another minute.
Defrosting Method 2: Transfer From Freezer to Fridge
After storing your chicken in the freezer to keep it fresh, you can let it thaw by letting it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours. For this defrosting method, you’ll need to stay a bit hands-on.
Defrosting chicken in the fridge starts with a plastic bag filled with cold water. Place the chicken in the bag, then put the bag in a mixing bowl to stop any accidental splashing. If the bag broke in the fridge, it could potentially expose your groceries to harmful bacteria from the raw chicken. Using a mixing bowl keeps the chicken self-contained in the unlikely event that the bag breaks.
Once the chicken is bagged and in the bowl, fill the bowl with cold water. Next, put the bowl in the fridge and let it sit for 30 minutes. Once a half-hour passes, dump the water in the bowl and switch it out for fresh, cool water. Make sure to wash your hands after handling the raw chicken!
Repeat the process of switching out the water in the bowl every 30 minutes until the chicken is thawed.
How To Tell If Chicken Is Thawed
Once you’ve microwaved or refrigerated your chicken to defrost it, you’ll need to check and see if it’s fully thawed.
The best way to determine if the defrosting process is complete is by cutting a slit in the part of the chicken where the meat is thickest. If the chicken is fully thawed, you should be able to easily cut through the thickest part of the chicken and stick your finger into the slit without much resistance.
Easy Ways To Cook Chicken
Once you’ve got your chicken thawed, it’s time to get cooking. If you need inspiration for what to make with your chicken, keep reading. Below are our favorite easy ways to make chicken as a main course.
Roasted chicken is a delicious, timeless meal that brings back memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases gone by.
Typically, a roast chicken is cooked whole and gets its flavor from fresh herbs and spices. Some of the best spices to add to your home-cooked roast chicken include oregano, sage, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and garlic. We also love adding fresh lemon or orange wedges as garnishes and for extra flavor.
Try pairing your bird with classic sides like mashed potatoes, cooked carrots, or cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower when serving roast chicken. You can even roast your vegetables alongside the chicken for a quick and easy meal that tastes absolutely heavenly.
In addition, some chefs love pairing their roast chicken with gravy. Homemade gravy adds a distinct richness to each bite of roast chicken, and it’s easier to make than you might think. Gravy is a simple combination of stock, flour, butter, salt, and pepper, and you can make your own by heating these ingredients on the stove.
Fried chicken is a classic fast-food treat, but you can also make it at home with just a handful of ingredients.
Fried chicken is usually coated in batter or flour combined with seasoning, which gives it its rich, addictive flavor. Then, the chicken goes into a pan filled with hot oil. Once cooked for around 10 minutes, the chicken comes out of the pan crispy and delicious.
Most cooks prefer serving fried chicken wings or fried drumsticks as opposed to breasts or thighs. These chicken pieces are easier to eat with your hands, which is why most people prefer to have their fried chicken. Those crispy wings and drumsticks taste amazing when dipped in hot sauce, barbecue sauce, or honey mustard, especially on a hot summer afternoon.
While roasted chickens are served whole, you’ll typically separate the different parts of the bird when making baked chicken. These parts include the wings, the thighs, the breasts, and the drumsticks, all of which have their own unique flavor and texture. In some ways, baked chicken isn’t too far removed from fried chicken, as it’s often covered in flour and seasoning before it goes in the oven.
While baked chicken and fried chicken are certainly similar, baked chicken pieces don’t get dipped in hot oil during the cooking process. Instead, baked chicken gets cooked in the oven, allowing the coating of seasonings and flour to solidify and get nice and crispy.
Some chefs prefer making spicy baked chicken with the help of a dry rub and hot peppers. Other cooks opt for sweet, tangy dipping sauces like teriyaki. There’s no wrong choice between the sweet and spicy varieties of baked chicken, and we highly recommend trying both at some point.
Grilling chicken is one of the healthiest cooking methods for this protein-packed bird. Chicken fresh off the grill has a charred exterior and a tender inside, which makes it perfect for sandwiches and salads.
Chicken breasts are the most popular part of the bird among grilling enthusiasts. However, you can also grill chicken thighs, wings, or drumsticks for that smoky flavor. We recommend pairing your grilled chicken with sides like salad, watermelon, and vegetables, which you can also cook up on the grill.
You can make braised chicken in a slow cooker on low heat to get some incredible texture and flavor. Either a pressure cooker like an Instant Pot or a classic Dutch oven is the perfect tool for braised chicken because these cookware pieces are ideal for low-heat slow cooking.
Our favorite way of making braised chicken starts with combining a cut-up whole chicken with fresh herbs and spices. We love adding chopped onions, leeks, garlic cloves, black pepper, rosemary, and bay leaves to get each bite tasting savory and delicious.
Combine these dry ingredients with a braising liquid – your favorite sauce or a mix of broth and white wine – and the chicken will absorb all of the flavors and become something incredible.
Broiling chicken involves putting the meat on high heat and letting it cook quickly and take on a charred outer texture. The best way to broil a bird is using a smaller chicken, sometimes referred to as a “broiler.” These chickens are small enough to cook thoroughly when exposed to high heat, making them ideal for this speedy cooking method.
Our Favorite Chicken Recipes
Our cooking page features a wide array of creative recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and many of them include chicken as a star ingredient. And when you decide on one of our recipes, we’ll optimize a grocery list for the number of people in your household and order your groceries, so you can get to cooking without a second thought.
Below are some of our favorite chicken-based recipes that your whole family will love.
One-Pan Chicken & Veggies
This quick and simple dish combines chicken legs, veggies, and fresh herbs and spices to make a delicious dinner. Roasting chicken legs in the oven gives them the perfect flavor and texture, making this a dinner that you’ll want to come back to over and over again.
Chicken Caesar Salad
A Caesar salad is one of those iconic sides that you’ll find at every pizzeria or lunch spot in town. While there’s something nostalgic about Caesar salad from your favorite pizza joint, homemade chicken Caesar salad tastes even better than what you’d get at a restaurant.
The secret to this recipe is adding the pan-fried chicken. Pan-frying is one of the quickest cooking methods for chicken, but it gets you plenty of flavor and makes this truly a restaurant-style salad.
Our chicken Caesar salad also features a homemade dijon mustard-based dressing, which is to die for. The tanginess of the dijon pairs perfectly with every bite of chicken, and crunchy romaine makes this salad even better.
Japanese Chicken Skewers
These craveable kabobs are easy to make and fun to eat. Reminiscent of Japanese street food, these chicken meatballs get their signature flavor from a hint of sugar, some teriyaki sauce, and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs.
We like them best served over a bed of rice, but you can also set them out on a tray as a delicious dinner party appetizer.
Roasted Whole Chicken and Potatoes
This is the perfect Sunday dinner for your whole family. Wholesome, filling, and timeless, roast chicken and potatoes tastes so good that you’ll want to make it a weekly tradition. We add extra flavor to our chicken with fresh garlic and a bit of butter, making every bite rich and savory.
Coconut Curry Chicken Thighs
Getting creative with your chicken is one of the best ways to keep dinner fresh and interesting. We love pairing chicken with coconut curry, giving your poultry a bit of creaminess and spiciness.
If you’ve been feeling stuck in a rut with your cooking recently, try adding our chicken curry recipe to your weekly menu. It’s simple and delicious, and it features the chicken thigh, one of our favorite parts of the bird.
Country-Fried Chicken With Salad
Whether you’re in the Southern United States or anywhere else around the globe, there’s nothing like fried chicken. This easy-to-make recipe pairs strips of breaded chicken with a citrusy salad for a refreshing spin on a Southern comfort food classic. It’s a fantastic lunch or dinner, but make sure to make enough for leftovers – you’ll definitely be wanting it again the next day!
Cooking chicken is a blast, and there are so many possibilities with this versatile bird. While raw chicken only lasts for a few days in the fridge, freezing your uncooked poultry extends its shelf life for months. That means your chicken won’t go to waste – but it also means it needs to be defrosted.
Practicing safe and hygienic defrosting protects you and your family from getting sick, and it’s one of the key aspects of kitchen safety to teach all of the members of your household.
For more tips on at-home cooking, make sure to head over to our blog.