Chicken makes delicious yet affordable meals. It is also a great source of protein and can be cooked in various ways.
Therefore, it is always a great idea to stock this poultry in the fridge. However, raw chicken only stays fresh for 1 to 2 days. The next question is: can you freeze chicken successfully?
Absolutely, yes. Chicken is the right candidate for freezing, both raw or cooked. It freezes well and is easy to use once defrosted.
Keep reading to find the proper techniques to preserve chicken safely and successfully.
How To Freeze Chicken
There is always a good reason to freeze this white meat. You can take advantage of a big sale to buy an extra amount and freeze it for later.
In case you have leftovers or do weekly meal prep, freezing cooked chicken preserves the quality and prolongs shelf life. Having frozen cooked meals also helps to put your mind at ease in case you have unexpected visitors.
The success keys in freezing chicken are to ensure its freshness and good wrapping to prevent freezer burn.
Freezing Raw Chicken
You can freeze a whole fresh chicken, cut parts (breasts, thighs, giblets), or ground one. Raw chicken can be refrigerated for 1 to 2 days. Longer than that, freezing is your best option. Here is how to do it.
1. Select fresh chicken
Make sure to buy the poultry in a refrigerated area. Pick it up shortly before walking to the cashier to minimize the exposure to room temperature. Once home, keep it refrigerated and freeze within 1 to 2 days while it is still fresh.
It is unnecessary to wash raw chicken before freezing. On the other hand, it might increase the risk of spreading harmful bacteria to other foods, tools, and surfaces. (*)
2. Prepare the chicken
Depending on how you want to use the meat, you can cut it into smaller pieces or freeze it as is. For easy cooking later, you can also marinate it before freezing.
3. Wrap properly
For short-term storage up to 2 months, simply freeze it in its original packaging.
We need extra protection against freezer burn by wrapping the packaging in a heavy-duty foil or plastic wrap for long-term freezing. Finally, pack the wrapped chicken in a freezer bag.
If you won’t plan to use it all at once, separate the meat into serving sizes and pack it into a freezer bag.
4. Squeeze excess air from the package and seal tightly.
5. Mark the package with the amount and freezing date.
6. Transfer the pack into the freezer.
Freezing Cooked Chicken
You can freeze chicken that has been cooked in various ways, such as fried, roasted, baked, rotisserie, casserole, soup, stews, etc.
Here is how to do it properly.
1. Cook as usual and let it cool quickly. Freeze it within 2 hours after cooking.
2. Portion it out or freeze it as an entire dish.
If you plan to serve it over several meals, consider packing into portion sizes. This way, you can easily pull out one package to thaw out.
3. Place in a freezer-safe container or a freezer bag.
4. Remove excess air from the bag and seal it tightly.
5. Write the name of the dishes, portions, and freezing date.
How To Defrost and Use Frozen Chicken
Chicken is perishable food, no matter if it is raw or cooked. Thus, defrosting it on the kitchen counter or at room temperature is not a good idea.
To safely defrost frozen chicken, you have three options.
1. In the refrigerator
Refrigerator thawing is the most straightforward technique, but a lengthy one. Make sure to plan ahead before cooking because it takes at least 1 to 2 days to thaw completely.
You don’t need to cook the thawed poultry immediately. Keep it refrigerated for up to 2 days, and you can always put it back into the freezer if you have unused parts.
2. In cold water
If you forget to defrost the meat in advance, try this method. Submerge a frozen package in a large bowl of cold water or in the sink. Make sure that the package is completely sealed and doesn’t leak.
Replace the water every 30 minutes to make sure it is still cold enough. It takes roughly 2 to 3 hours to completely thaw, depending on the size of the meat. Thawed chicken needs to be cooked immediately.
3. In a microwave
Microwave thawing is the fastest method because it uses a higher temperature.
However, you need to cook the chicken as soon as possible because some parts might get warm and partially cooked during thawing.
If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to thaw, you can cook a frozen raw chicken right away without thawing. Simply add the cooking time by approximately 50%.
Regardless of the cooking methods (frying, baking, grilling, etc.), ensure that the bird is cooked thoroughly until the internal part reaches at least 165 °F.
For thawed cooked chicken, reheat it in a microwave, an oven, or on the stove. Cook until it is piping hot and reaches 165 °F.
How do you get rid of freezer burn on chicken?
Freezer burn is usually indicated by grayish-brown dry spots. It happens when the meat is not adequately wrapped and exposed to air.
But, is it safe to eat freezer burnt chicken? The USDA says that foods with freezer burn remain safe to consume. It is not necessarily bad; it is just dehydrated.
Simply cut the affected area and use the rest. However, throw it away if the freezer burn is severe. Although it is safe, the flavor and texture might have diminished. In other words, the cooked version will be tasteless and dry.
Can you refreeze chicken?
Contrary to popular belief, you can actually refreeze chicken (or other foods) as long as it is thawed and handled correctly.
As mentioned above, a frozen chicken should be thawed safely in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave. Don’t leave it at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
If raw chicken is defrosted in the fridge, you can safely put it back in the freezer if you have leftovers. If it is thawed in the microwave or cold water, you need to cook it before refreezing.
How Long Can You Freeze Chicken?
According to the USDA, chicken has a different shelf life depending on how it is prepared. Make sure to write the freezing date or use-by date on the packaging. This way, you can easily organize and navigate your freezer.
A raw, whole chicken has the longest shelf life of up to 12 months in the freezer. Meanwhile, breasts, thighs, or wings can be frozen up to 9 months.
The giblets (neck, gizzard, heart, and liver) and ground chicken freeze well up to 3 to 4 months.
Chicken can be cooked on its own or as part of a dish. Roasted, fried, and rotisserie chicken are best to use within 4 months after freezing.
Meanwhile, when cooked into a dish, such as casseroles and soup, it lasts up to 4 to 6 months. If the meat is covered in gravy or broth, it has a longer shelf life of up to 6 months. The liquid helps to prevent moisture loss during freezing.
It is possible to keep frozen chicken longer than those estimates. However, the flavor and texture slowly diminish over time, let alone with the risk of getting freezer burn. (*)
|Fresh chicken (whole)||12 months|
|Fresh chicken (parts)||9 months|
|Giblet (neck, gizzard, heart, and liver)||3 to 4 months|
|Ground chicken||3 to 4 months|
|Marinated chicken||2 months|
|Cooked chicken (leftover) (take-out, homemade)(fried, rotisserie, roasted, etc.)||4 months|
|Cooked chicken in casseroles, soup, stews, dishes||4 to 6 months|
|Cooked chicken pieces covered in gravy or broth||6 months|
|Cooked chicken nuggets, patties||1 to 3 months|
|Chicken broth, gravy||2 to 3 months|
Foods that are frozen continuously at 0 °F are safe to use. But, a frozen chicken may suffer from freezer burn, which dries out and discolors the meat. It is still safe to use, but the quality has significantly declined.
Inspect the appearance, smell, and taste. Discard the meat if it looks moldy, turns gray, or smells rotten. Don’t eat if it’s been long in the fridge. Although it seems fine, it might be unsafe to eat since harmful bacteria that thrive at cold temperatures don’t alter the visual, smell, and taste.
The USDA suggests consuming cooked chicken, including rotisserie chicken, within 3 to 4 days. Some harmful bacteria can stand and multiply at cold temperatures. Therefore, prolonged refrigeration doesn’t guarantee that it is safe to eat.
Yes, that’s possible. Freezing doesn’t kill bacteria but stops their growth and activities. Bacteria will be active again once the meat is exposed at danger zone temperatures between 40 and 140 °F. Therefore, always defrost frozen chicken safely. Next, it should be thoroughly cooked until the internal temperature reaches at least 165 °F.
In a nutshell, raw and cooked chicken are great candidates for freezing. You can freeze it as a whole, cut parts, ground, or marinated ones.
Regardless of the cooking methods, cooked chicken also freezes wonderfully. Either way, make sure to wrap completely. Add a double layer of wrapping for long term storage.