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How to Defrost a Chicken in a Refrigerator

by Rebekah Richards, studioD

Defrosting a chicken in the refrigerator is the best way to keep your family safe from salmonella and other food-borne illnesses. Microorganisms multiply rapidly at temperatures above 40 degrees F, so keeping chicken in the fridge while it defrosts prevents the growth of dangerous bacteria. If chicken's on your dinner menu, save time by sticking it in the fridge the day before. By dinnertime the next day, it'll be ready to cook.

Plan ahead. Small cuts of chicken will thaw fully in a day, but whole chickens require 24 hours or longer. However, you don't want to leave thawed chicken in the fridge for more than a couple of days.

Place frozen chicken in a plastic bag to prevent leaking and put it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

Cook your chicken 12 to 36 hours after you put it in the fridge. Don't worry if it's still a little frozen; as long as you're cooking on the stove or in the oven, it's not dangerous to cook frozen chicken. However, frozen or partially frozen chicken takes longer to cook.


  • Use a food thermometer while cooking to make sure your chicken dish reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
  • You can also marinade chicken while it's thawing in the fridge for a quick, easy boost of flavor. Both oil-based and creamy salad dressings make excellent marinades. However, don't brush cooked chicken with marinade used on raw chicken.


  • Never defrost chicken on the counter or in hot water -- bacteria grows rapidly at warm temperatures and could make you and your family sick. If you forget to defrost chicken ahead of time, defrost it in cold water or in the microwave or cook it frozen.
  • To prevent cross-contamination, wash your hands and any surface that comes into contact with raw chicken in warm, soapy water.

About the Author

Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at tolerance.org. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

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