Can You Cook Frozen Chicken Without Thawing?

There are a few ways to defrost chicken safely but, unfortunately, leaving it on the kitchen counter is not one of them. Chicken can be defrosted overnight in the refrigerator, in a bowl of cold water within a few hours, or in minutes in the microwave. However, if you forgot to take the chicken breasts out of the freezer before dinner, all of this information is moot.

Luckily, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it's safe to cook frozen chicken without thawing. Just as important to us, it will still taste good, too. Instead of risking partially cooking it in the microwave and ending up with rubbery meat, frozen chicken can be baked, poached, air-fried, and pan-fried with delicious results. While we will share the best techniques for cooking frozen chicken, keep in mind that cooking chicken in the frozen state will increase the cooking time by about 150%. If you are stir-frying, this footnote won't matter much, but, when baking, this could add 30 minutes to a dish that usually takes an hour to cook.

Traditional methods to cook frozen chicken

Since cooking frozen poultry adds a significant amount of cooking time, it's critical to add moisture so the exterior doesn't dry out before the inside cooks. Defrosted boneless breasts typically take 20 to 30 minutes in the oven at 350 F. Without thawing, add 10 to 15 minutes. Cooking time further increases if the chicken is bone-in. Baste the surface with a condiment like mayonnaise or Dijon mustard to increase moisture when roasting or baking. This creates a delicious crust and allows breadcrumbs to adhere without the traditional egg wash and dredging technique.

Poaching the chicken in a flavorful liquid is another way to ensure it stays juicy. When making a soup or salad, use a stock or broth to keep it simple. However, chicken can be poached in sauces as well, like with tikka masala and other curries. You can also poach chicken in jarred barbecue sauce for a sweet and tangy dish. Simply bring the dish to a boil on the stove, then simmer it covered in the oven or on the stovetop until cooked. Similarly, poach frozen chicken in marinara for a pasta recipe or hoisin sauce for a sweet Asian stir-fry. Cut the chicken while frozen to make paper-thin slices, perfect for stir-fries served over noodles or rice. Whole poached chicken pieces can also be shredded to make sandwiches.

Cooking frozen chicken with countertop appliances

Countertop appliances can cook frozen chicken in less time than traditional methods, but not all are recommended. You can safely use an air-fryer or pressure cooker, like an Instant Pot. However, the USDA recommends thawing poultry before adding it to a slow cooker. Since frozen chicken takes longer to cook, there's a risk of remaining partially frozen in the danger zone for too long (between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit). Bacteria rapidly multiply in this range, which increases the risk of foodborne illnesses like E. coli and Salmonella.

Air-fry chicken breasts if you want to cut the cooking time and end up with a golden crust. Avoid overcrowding the basket, which will steam cook, leaving you with grey chicken and increasing the cooking time. For soups and shredded, tender chicken recipes like enchiladas, an electric pressure cooker is ideal. Keep in mind that the cooking time is still increased with these cooking methods, but frozen, boneless chicken breasts can cook in less than 20 minutes when placed in an Instant Pot. Be sure to separate the frozen chicken so the heat can circulate, and use a digital thermometer to ensure the pieces reach a safe temperature. According to the USDA, all poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.