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Frozen Chicken

Is It Safe to Grill Frozen Chicken?

Dinner is in 40 minutes and you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer. Now you’re wondering if it is safe to grill frozen chicken.

The short answer is yes it’s safe to grill frozen chicken if done properly but your results will probably be undesirable. Let me explain and then tell you the best way to get your chicken on the table as quick as possible.

Why can’t we eat undercooked chicken

Undercooked chicken has the potential to carry Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria. These bacteria can lead to a serious case of food poisoning.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has reported that 1 in 6 Americans will become sick due to foodborne illness every year! That’s 48 million people. About 3,000 of them will die from the food poisoning.

Chicken that has not reached an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit is undercooked and risky to eat.

We can eat undercooked beef because the meat is denser and bacteria cannot penetrate it. Even at “rare” temperatures, 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit,  any bacteria on the surface has been killed off.

Trying To Grill Frozen Chicken

You might be tempted to put the frozen pieces on the grill and just cook at a lower temperature. From my experience that will result in overdone meat on the outside and underdone meat in the thicker parts of the chicken. Your chicken might look done but when you cut into it, or put a thermometer in it, you will find the inside is still cold and pink. If you keep grilling until the inside is done the outside will be dry and rubbery.

Grilling over indirect heat can help but your grill time will be much much longer. You still risk having dried out meat in the thinner parts of your chicken pieces.

How To Thaw Chicken Quickly

We’ve determined that undercooked chicken is not an option and grilling frozen chicken will be difficult. So how do we solve this problem?

From slowest to fastest:

Option 1: Refrigerator Thawing

This is the best way to thaw chicken and probably what you would have done if you had thought of it. Thawing chicken in the refrigerator takes about 24 hours. Unless you want to find something else for tonight’s dinner and have your grilled chicken tomorrow this will not work for you.

Option 2: Counter Thawing

If it’s lunchtime and you want your chicken for dinner this method will work for you. Placing the wrapped chicken pieces on a paper towel on the kitchen counter. Frozen chicken pieces will take 4-6 hours to thaw with this method. Here you need to be careful that the chicken does not get to room temperature for very long otherwise it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.

You put the paper towel under the wrapped chicken to absorb any liquids that might escape the packing as the meat thaws. Always be sure to wipe down the counter very well after having chicken on it. Escaping liquids may contain Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria.

Option 3: Cool Water Thawing

By placing your wrapped chicken in the sink, or a large bowl, and covering it with cool (not warm!) water you can thaw most chicken parts in 1 to 2 hours. Be sure to change the water out every 30 minutes to keep the temperature in the range we are looking for.

This is probably the option you will need to use today to get your frozen chicken on the table in a reasonable time unless you have the defrosting tray mentioned in option 4.

Option 4: Defrosting Tray

A defrosting tray is a metal tray with ridges. You place the frozen meat on the tray and the aluminum draws the cold out of the meat. This requires no electricity, microwave or batteries. Ideally, you will have a defrosting tray that has a drippings container that will collect any liquids that drip off the meat as it thaws.

If your thawing tray is big enough for all your chicken parts you should be able to thaw them enough to grill within 30 minutes.

Option 5: Microwave

Most microwaves made in the past 8 years have a “defrost” setting. You have to be careful with this method as even on defrost your microwave can start to cook the thinner parts of the meat. This will leave you with some of your chicken being rubbery and dry.

If you place your chicken in a microwave safe bowl and put it in the microwave for 2-4 minutes on defrost you can thaw it enough to be able to grill it. Be sure to stop halfway through and move the chicken around to avoid cold spots.

Remember if you use this method you have to immediately cook your chicken as parts of the meat will get to the danger zone of above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s where bacteria loves to grow.

In Conclusion

The goal is to have your chicken grilled to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit without drying out the thinner parts of the meat.

We’ve seen that trying to cook it frozen will probably lead to overcooked outsides and undercooked thicker parts of meat.

We looked at 5 options for defrosting the chicken with the two fastest ways being the defrosting tray and the microwave. The defrosting tray is the safer bet of the two as there is no risk of the meat getting cooked or dried out like it might in the microwave.

Whatever you do be sure to make sure that all the meat reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid the risks of Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria. There are many great grilling thermometers out there and I’m sure a quick search on Amazon could have one at your door in a few days.

With careful handling, it is possible for you to still have your frozen chicken for dinner, though it may be a late dinner! If you serve a salad before the main course that might buy you the time you need to get the chicken prepared.