Grilling Frozen Chicken? Avoid This Mistake!

Some people say you can throw frozen chicken on the grill; others disagree. We settle the great debate.

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Backyard grilling presents several temperature-related challenges, and one of those challenges is deciding whether or not to thaw frozen chicken before grilling. We firmly believe that frozen chicken is best grilled when it’s fully thawed.

That’s why we want to give you our best tips for thawing chicken, whether whole or cut up. There are several ways to thaw frozen chicken before grilling it—and several ways not to—which we will get to in a moment.

It is important not only that the chicken is thawed, but also that it is thawed properly. Otherwise, the bird can become waterlogged and, in some cases, give you and the family food poisoning.

The Safest Way to Thaw Chicken

The safest way to thaw chicken is to remove it from the freezer, put it in the refrigerator, and let it sit there overnight. This should be done on the lowest level of the fridge where the temperature is coldest, and the chicken should be in a tray or bowl to catch water and blood.

In fact, thawing frozen chicken in the refrigerator is one of the CDC’s officially recommended thawing methods for meat. This is not surprising considering that the chicken is kept at a temperature of less than 40°F the entire time, which inhibits bacterial growth.

This method is the slowest—a large bird can take a day or two to fully thaw—but it is also the simplest and most effective, requiring only some planning and a little patience.

The Quickest Way to Thaw Chicken

Now that you know how to thaw frozen chicken most safely and effectively before grilling, let us look at one of the fastest methods—and how to do it right.

As every owner of a microwave oven knows, microwaves are very convenient, and this is also true for defrosting frozen chicken. However, the drawback to this method is that it is not enough to defrost large pieces of chicken or whole birds, which can be a problem.

Microwave thawing is a specific process that requires precision to be done safely. As we mentioned earlier, bacterial growth accelerates when the temperature of raw chicken exceeds 40°F, and it is easy to make something too hot in the microwave, even on the defrost setting.

The peculiarities of this method include unevenly cooked chicken and the fact that you have to grill the thawed meat immediately after removing it from the microwave.

Contrary to what many grillers think, it is not safe to defrost chicken in the microwave and then store it in the fridge until it is time to cook.

The Smart Way to Thaw Chicken Quickly

If Goldilocks had to choose her just-right method for thawing chicken, this might be it. Faster than thawing in the refrigerator and more effective and safer than thawing in the microwave, cold water baths are a good way to defrost chicken when time is short.

It is especially quick compared to refrigerator thawing when thawing small amounts of chicken. Less so with big birds.

Don’t let your guard down with this thawing method: it is similar to microwave thawing in that the chicken needs to get grilled immediately upon thawing. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service state that cold-water thawing should go as follows:

  1. Put the frozen chicken in a leak-proof package or plastic bag to avoid bacterial contamination;
  2. Submerge the sealed bag in cold tap water;
  3. Change the water every half hour or so to ensure that the thawing continues;
  4. Grill or cook as soon as thawing has completed and before the chicken’s internal temperature exceeds 40°F.

As a general rule of thumb, cold-water thawing tends to take one hour for every pound of poultry.

This is a preferable thawing method for those who are about to grill out in the backyard in just a few hours. However, it is not preferable for those who have several pounds of chicken to grill later in the day.

How Not to Thaw Chicken

Raw chicken should not be left to sit out for more than 1-2 hours, or it will spoil and become unfit for cooking and consumption. In the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F, the pathogenic bacteria in your food multiply most rapidly, doubling in number about every 20 minutes.

So do not thaw chicken on the countertop, whether outdoors or in the confines of your kitchen. It may seem harmless, and I personally know some people who think it’s okay, but in reality, it can be extremely dangerous for you and everyone else at the table.

They say that statistics don’t lie: according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million Americans contract food poisoning each year. Of them, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

Other Tips for Thawing Chicken

We want to stress the importance of safety above all else when defrosting chicken for a barbecue. Our tips should help clarify what to do and what to avoid in the pre-grill process.

Do not wash or rinse raw chicken:

It is imperative to avoid washing raw chicken. Several issues can arise when raw meat gets washed in the kitchen: chiefly, bringing water or a water stream in direct contact with raw chicken can cause the raw meat’s bacteria to splash or slosh around the sink and spread to the surrounding countertops.

All working surfaces infected with this bacteria become potentially contagious, and they must be sanitized immediately. Besides, rinsing or washing chicken is completely unnecessary from a culinary point of view, so don’t do it.

Avoid cross-contamination of surfaces:

Another tip is to avoid cross-contamination at all costs. We don’t want the chicken’s bacteria to spread around and about when cooking other foods, meat or veg, alongside the chicken. This is another common source of foodborne illnesses in the home kitchen.

For example, when grilling a chicken kabob with chopped vegetables, pre-cut the veg and store them safely in the refrigerator while waiting for the meat to thaw. This method avoids bringing the foods in contact with one another before it is time to grill outside.

Use clean utensils:

Finally, always use clean grilling utensils and serving dishes. It may seem tedious to keep cleaning or grabbing a new set of tongs or fork, but doing so keeps any still-living bacteria from the raw chicken from contaminating the meat when it’s time to take it off the grill.

By Sammy Steen

Sammy, Barbehow's editor, is a die-hard carnivore, barbecue whisperer, and self-proclaimed master of the grill.

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