The challenge in defrosting chicken, or any type of meat, is thawing it without subjecting it to temperatures that could allow bacterial growth. Temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit are considered the "danger zone," according to the USDA. At these temperatures, bacteria quickly grows and can cause foodborne illnesses. Leaving food on a countertop or the kitchen sink is unsafe, but you can safely thaw chicken in the microwave or in cold water. The time to defrost using these methods can range from 10 minutes to three hours.
The Cold Water Method
Seal the chicken in a plastic bag or container. If the chicken is loose or in a bag that leaks, it might collect bacteria from the air or the water. Soaking in the water can also cause it to develop a watery texture.
Place the sealed bag of chicken in a large bowl in the kitchen sink. Fill the bowl with cold water.
Empty the water and refill the bowl every 30 minutes. This ensures that the water stays cold enough to prevent bacterial growth, while allowing the chicken to thaw. Cook thawed chicken immediately.
In the Microwave
Remove any plastic or paper wrappings and place the chicken on a microwave-safe plate.
Thaw the chicken on medium low for 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Most microwave ovens have a thaw setting and will program the amount of time needed, depending on the weight of the chicken.
Cook the thawed chicken immediately. When using the microwave to thaw chicken, portions of the meat may begin to partially cook. At this point, the chicken may have reached the "danger zone" and should not be re-refrigerated. Cooking the meat thoroughly will destroy any bacteria that may be present.
To ensure food safety and minimize the risk of cross-contamination, your bowls, sink, hands, countertop and any utensils should be washed well with hot, soapy water after they've been in contact with uncooked chicken or its juices.
The safest way to thaw chicken is to place it in the refrigerator overnight, which allows it to defrost gently without ever entering the food safety "danger zone." If you have the time, always opt for this method. Be sure to put a baking sheet or pan under the chicken to catch any juices that might leak.