Two easy techniques for freezing cooked and raw chicken

By Lisa Cericola
Updated April 23, 2021
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Whether it's cooked or raw, extra chicken in your freezer is always a good thing. (Especially if there was a two-for-one special on drumsticks at the grocery store.) Chicken is easy to freeze and defrosts beautifully if stored properly. Here's the best way to do it:

If the chicken is cooked

Cooked chicken can safely be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. After that, it's best to freeze it. Shredded chicken defrosts much faster than whole pieces of the bird, but you can freeze whole pieces if you prefer. Either way, make sure to place the chicken in ziplock freezer bags and press out as much air as possible before sealing the bag. It's a good idea to divide the cooked chicken up into smaller portions instead of freezing a large amount in a single bag. That way, you can defrost exactly as much chicken as you need for a particular meal. Thaw the cooked chicken (in the ziplock bag) overnight in the refrigerator. According to the USDA, frozen cooked chicken (and meat) can last up to three months in the freezer, so be sure to write the date on the bag with a freezer-proof marker.

If the Chicken is Raw

Even though most raw chicken is sold in plastic wrapped containers, this packaging isn't best for the freezer and can cause freezer burn. Wrap the packaged chicken with a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil, or remove it from the packaging (don't wash it!) place the raw chicken in ziplock freezer bags and press out as much air as possible before sealing the bag. Raw chicken can last indefinitely in the freezer, if stored properly, but the USDA suggests using it within a year if the chicken is whole, and within nine months if the chicken has been cut into parts.

How to thaw frozen raw chicken

Never put frozen meat on the kitchen counter to thaw. Instead, try one of these methods for thawing frozen chicken.

The safest way to defrost frozen raw chicken is to transfer your frozen poultry to the refrigerator (place the package of raw chicken in a rimmed container or bowl to catch any drips). Depending on the size, you may need at least 24 hours so plan ahead and factor in thawing time to your meal prep.

If you only have a few hours to thaw your chicken, you can use the cold-water method for same-day defrosting. Even though the frozen chicken is wrapped, place it in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge in a large bowl filled with cold (never hot) tap water. The chicken should always be sealed well before coming into contact with water. Replace the water every 30 minutes until your chicken is thawed.

Defrosting foods in the microwave may be the quickest way, but it isn't necessarily the best. Microwaving food tends to create hot spots, so your raw meat might be thawed in some parts and still frozen in others.  Make sure to cook it immediately after thawing in the microwave and to only refreeze once it has been fully cooked.