While it’s possible to marinate frozen chicken, it isn’t recommended because the flavors of the marinade won’t be able to properly soak into the frozen meat. As the chicken thaws, the marinade waters down and loses its consistency, potency, and coloration.
Is it Dangerous to Marinate Frozen Chicken?
Marinating frozen chicken is safe as long as you take all the necessary precautions to prevent cross-contamination and bacteria growth. Wash your hands before and after handling the poultry, disinfect surfaces the chicken has touched, and don’t thaw the chicken at room temperature before marinating it.
Once defrosted, ensure the chicken is cooked evenly, to an internal temperature of at least 165°F. You should also dispose of excess marinade that contains the chicken’s residues because the liquids could harbor salmonella or campylobacter.
Visit FoodSafety.gov to find out if any of the food products you’re using have been recalled.
How to Marinate Frozen Chicken (& What to Expect)
Marinating frozen chicken isn’t ideal because the frozen poultry can’t fully absorb the marinade’s flavors and juices. The water released from the poultry during defrosting also dilutes the marinade.
While marinating frozen chicken won’t bring about the same results as marinating thawed or fresh chicken, marinating frozen chicken is safe and can be convenient if you don’t have time to thaw the chicken before marinating it.
Most chicken pieces defrost within 24 hours, and the chicken can be marinated while it thaws. Follow the steps below to marinate frozen chicken:
- Prepare double the amount of marinade your chicken marinade recipe calls for. Add an acidic ingredient and oil to give the mixture a better chance of soaking into the poultry
- Following all safety precautions, take remove the frozen chicken from the freezer and put it into an airtight bag
- Add half of the marinade into the bag with the chicken, set aside the remaining marinade, then put the chicken in the fridge to defrost
- When the chicken is partially thawed, which typically takes between 5 and 12 hours, drain the excess marinade from the bag and add the remaining marinade that was set aside in step 3. Massage the marinade into the poultry to allow the chicken to absorb more flavor
- Put the chicken back into the fridge to thaw fully, about one hour
- Once the chicken is fully thawed, again drain and throw away excess marinade from the bag
- Follow your recipe’s instructions to cook the chicken
To get the best flavor results, leave the chicken in the marinade for two to four hours after it’s fully thawed. Turn the chicken occasionally to help the marinade soak in.
Best Ways to Defrost Chicken
Defrosting the frozen chicken and then applying the marinade is the best approach for flavorful, consistent, tender marinated chicken. There are several methods to defrost chicken, some of which are quicker than others. The fastest methods involve using the microwave or cold water, while the slowest is to leave the chicken to defrost overnight in the refrigerator.
Never defrost chicken by leaving it at room temperature or running hot water over it. These methods aren’t recommended by the USDA and can lead to harmful bacterial growth.
Defrost in the Refrigerator
Defrosting the chicken in the refrigerator, while slow and requires advanced planning, is the safest way to thaw the poultry and brings the best flavor results. Place the frozen chicken in a sealed, airtight bag on a dish in the refrigerator, and leave it there for 24 hours or until fully thawed.
While most chicken pieces defrost in the refrigerator within a day, a whole chicken with bones can take up to two days. The temperature of the refrigerator should remain under 40°F at all times. Cook defrosted chicken within 48 hours.
Defrost in Cold Water
Defrosting chicken in cold water is faster than defrosting it in the fridge, but it takes more work. Put the frozen chicken into a leak-proof, sealed bag, and submerge it in a large bowl filled with cold water, placed on the counter or in the sink. The water temperature needs to stay cool to prevent the growth of bacteria, so change the water every half an hour.
A pound of chicken typically takes up to an hour to fully thaw in cold water, while 4 pounds of chicken can take up to three hours. Chicken defrosted in cold water shouldn’t be stored and must be marinated and cooked the same day.
Avoid using the chicken if the bag splits during the thawing process. While it’ll still defrost, the chicken may be contaminated by bacteria in the air. The chicken may also absorb the water, affecting the poultry’s flavor and texture.
Defrost in the Microwave
Using the microwave is the quickest method to defrost the chicken. However, this method can cause the chicken to defrost unevenly or start to cook, so extra caution should be taken.
Remove the chicken from its packaging and place it on a microwave-safe dish that’s deep enough to catch the excess water. Use the defrost setting for one to two minutes. Then, check the chicken and see how much it has thawed. Repeat this process until the chicken has fully defrosted, occasionally turning the chicken to help it thaw evenly.
Marinate and cook the thawed poultry immediately to prevent bacteria growth.
Cook From Frozen
According to the USDA, it’s safe to cook frozen chicken without thawing it first, though this method doesn’t allow you to properly apply the marinade.
To cook frozen chicken, put it in the oven for at least 50% longer than the cooking time advises on the packaging, and if possible, spread out the chicken pieces evenly on the oven tray.
Conclusion: Marinating Frozen Chicken Is not Recommended
Marinating frozen chicken isn’t recommended because the chicken won’t properly soak up the marinade’s flavor and juices. The best method in terms of flavor and safety is to fully thaw the chicken in the refrigerator overnight, then apply the marinade.
However, marinating frozen chicken and retaining some flavor is still possible, with the right approach. You’ll still need to thaw the chicken overnight and, ideally, prepare double the amount of marinade the recipe calls for. Adding oil or an acidic ingredient can help the marinade better soak into the chicken while it thaws.