How to Defrost a Boneless Chicken Breast

Boneless chicken breast provides a cost-effective, lower calorie, lower saturated fat alternative to red meats. You can safely cook frozen chicken on the stove or in the oven, but the meat may cook unevenly, and it also takes longer. Depending on how much time you have, use one of three USDA-approved methods to safely thaw frozen chicken breasts. They don't allow the meat to remain in the bacterial "danger zone" between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 F for an extended time, reducing the likelihood of foodborne illness.

Step 1

Transfer the chicken from the freezer to the refrigerator two days before you want to cook it. It typically takes one to two days for a boneless chicken breast to thaw this way. It's the slowest way to defrost meat but also the best; it results in the least amount of moisture loss, protecting the quality of the cooked meal. Chicken thawed this way can be safely held in the refrigerator for one to two additional days, and you can refreeze it without cooking it first.

Step 2

Fill a large dish or your sink with cold water. Submerge the chicken -- provided it's in leak-proof packaging -- in the water. Drain the water and refill the bowl or sink with fresh cold water every 30 minutes to ensure it remains cold enough to prevent rapid bacterial reproduction. Expect a 1-pound package of boneless breast meat to need about an hour to thaw; a 3- to 4-pound package needs two to three hours. Cook chicken defrosted with this method right away, and do not refreeze it without cooking it first.

Step 3

Use the defrost setting on your microwave to thaw frozen chicken if you don't have time for the cold water-bath method. Boneless breasts defrost in the microwave in a matter of minutes. However, the chicken begins to cook with this method, with two implications for the cook. First, you must cook the chicken immediately, as bacterial overgrowth occurs in partially cooked meat. Second, the meal's quality may suffer, as some parts of the breast are likely to overcook and dry out by the time the internal temperature reaches the USDA-recommended 165 F. Do not refreeze microwave-defrosted poultry without cooking it first.


Store chicken below 40 F.

Wrap chicken in airtight packaging to help prevent freezer burn.


Do not defrost chicken or other meat on the counter at room temperature or in hot water.

Chicken cannot safely remain at room temperature longer than two hours, and it cannot safely sit out at temperatures between 90 F and 140 F for more than one hour.

Always thaw chicken before you cook it in the microwave or a slow cooker.

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