Have you ever let a frozen chicken thaw on your kitchen counter overnight? Definitely not a good idea, experts say. Even if the core of the bird remains frozen, the meat closest to the surface will thaw out sooner, and bacteria will build up pretty rapidly at temperatures above 40 degrees F (4 degrees C).
That's why food safety experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend that you use one of the following four methods for thawing:
- Thawing frozen meat in the refrigerator is safe but can be really slow. One pound (454 grams) of ground beef might take a day while a 12-pound (5-kilogram) Thanksgiving turkey might need two-and-a-half days. The good news is you don't have to cook the meat right away; you can leave it in the fridge for a day or two.
- If you're in more of a hurry, try cold-water thawing, in which you submerge a sealed bag containing the meat in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. The meat will thaw in a few hours.
- Microwaving frozen meat is an even quicker option – just a few minutes, depending on the cut and the microwave. Be careful not to overdo it or the meat will start to cook. If you use the cold-water method or the microwave you must cook the meat immediately after thawing.
- You can actually cook the frozen meat without thawing, and simply increase the cooking time by 50 percent. Whether your dinner will have much flavor is another story.