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Thawing Frozen Meat and Poultry

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2016

We always thaw large cuts (entire roasts and whole birds) in the refrigerator, but we also use the quick-thaw method for cuts that are 1 inch thick or less.

We always thaw large cuts (entire roasts and whole birds) in the refrigerator, but we also use the quick-thaw method for cuts that are 1 inch thick or less. Simply seal the meat in zipper-lock bags and submerge the bags in very hot (140-degree) water. This way, the meat defrosts quickly and bacterial growth remains in the “safe” range. We’ve found that quick-thawed meat is indistinguishable from meat defrosted in the refrigerator (including chicken breasts, which may turn slightly opaque once thawed).

Follow the chart of thawing times below to help you plan ahead; separating items such as steaks will help them thaw faster.

REFRIGERATOR THAWING TIME
Thin steaks, chops, boneless chicken breasts 8 to 12 hours
Thick steaks, chops, bone-in chicken parts 24 hours
Whole chickens, turkeys, roasts 5 hours per pound
HOT-WATER THAWING TIME
Boneless chicken breasts 8 minutes
Thin steaks and chops 12 minutes

Note: Unless you are following our quick-thaw method, always defrost frozen meat and poultry in the refrigerator; frozen meat left on the counter can begin to grow microorganisms in as little as 2 hours.