Cooking a whole chicken is economical, easy, and delicious. Once you decide to give up conventional, factory-farmed meat (that’s oftentimes laced with antibiotics and synthetic hormones) and switch to the humanely-raised, organic variety instead, it’s no secret that the price goes up. To offset this increase in cost you can do two things – select cuts of meat that are less expensive per pound (like a whole chicken) and/or eat less meat all together. For all those who have never cooked a whole chicken before…have no fear because it’s easy to do! And this even applies to people like me who don’t like to actually handle or touch whole, raw chickens. :) I normally cook whole chickens in my slow cooker, but have recently become fond of roasting chicken as well (details below).
How to Safely Defrost Meat
Now before you get started, it’s important to make sure you aren’t trying to cook a frozen chicken. Easier said than done? When I used to buy standard grocery store chicken this was never an issue, but now that I shop at the farmers’ market I’ve found that almost all of the local meat is sold frozen. And just the other day I was supposed to be roasting a chicken that was – yes – still frozen, which prompted me to do some research on how to defrost chicken safely.
Time to safely defrost meat varies by method and weight of the frozen meat
The ideal way to defrost meat is in the fridge overnight.
- A small chicken or turkey (5 pounds or less) usually can defrost in 24 hours or less
- large whole chicken or turkey can take 2-3 days to safely defrost in a refrigerator
The next best method is to place the frozen meat in a plastic bag, or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and place it in a cold water bath. The USDA website recommends changing the water every 30 minutes. After using the cold water method for defrosting, it is best to cook the meat right away. Absolutely do not refreeze or refrigerate the raw meat for another day!
- Small packages of meat, chicken, or seafood (1 pound or less) can thaw in an hour or less
- 3-4 pound packages may take 2 or 3 hours
- A whole frozen chicken or turkey should be estimated by 30 minutes per pound
I admit that for years I used to just throw a frozen pack of meat on the counter for a few hours if I needed it in time for dinner. We obviously lived to tell about it with no problems, but what I’ve learned is that using cold water to defrost meat is not only safer but actually MUCH faster than just leaving it on the counter to fend for itself. The USDA says “Perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.” Oops…better late than never I guess!
Since life just gets in the way sometimes, here are some more tips that might come in handy when you don’t exactly remember to follow the rules above:
- If you accidentally defrost your meat in warm water (as I also did recently) – the USDA does not consider this to be a “safe” method – but if you want to roll the dice (which apparently my facebook community does a lot with no problems) be sure to cook the meat right away and cook it thoroughly.
- Two hours is the key number – perishable foods should “not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.” I use this guideline when putting away leftovers and groceries as well. The USDA specifically advises to not leave perishable foods in the “Danger Zone” temperature range for more than 2 hours. The “Danger Zone” is between 40 and 140 °F (i.e. anything warmer than your fridge, but not warm enough to cook) and is when bacteria begins to multiply. Just say “no” to the multiplying bacteria (well, “bad” bacteria that is). :)
- When all else fails the USDA website says, “It is safe to cook foods from the frozen state. The cooking will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry.” Good to know!