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My Nemesis: Frozen Whole Chicken...

((Sigh, enter rant))...

I know better than to freeze whole chicken, because no matter what I try in terms of defrosting methods, the darn thing will never, ever properly defrost. I usually shop at a wholesale members only type vendor and get a great deal on two whole chickens 5lbs each for $9-10 (compared to the $8-10 for the same size for just one chicken at my local grocery store). Normally because my horrible luck with defrosting them once I freeze them = I cook both within a few days of each other for various meals and/or dinner then freeze whatever we don't use once its all carved up etc. Well the last time I purchased some chickens a few months back, I wasn't able to do this and wound up having to freeze one of them (and I beyond dread doing this because of my luck).

With all that being said, after doing some major shopping a week ago at the wholesaler - I needed to make some room in my freezer and took out the whole chicken unused from months ago along with about maybe 6 pounds of chicken thighs to defrost and cook up. For the record, all this chicken (in its original packagining) was put into my fridge to defrost back on the early evening of 3/12/2013 in the bottom drawer of my fridge (as that was the last "best suggestion" given to me to resolve my luck with defrosting whole chicken).

Well, I've checked daily and come today a week later the damn whole chicken is still mostly frozen a tad softer than a rock, but the thighs seem finally mostly defrosted. So while I've pretty much given up on ever getting a frozen whole chicken to properly defrost, my question to you good people is whether or not the whole chicken is still good to cook? I think the thighs are ok as when I checked them yesterday they were mostly solid; today they are finally a bit pliable. I've been searching the net and a lot of the guidance I've found is that if its been defrosting for a week its bad even if still mostly frozen. I don't want to waste it - so I thought I'd put it up here for discussion and advice from the good people of Chow. Given what I've read online for cases like this, I'm unsure of whether or not it still being frozen would indicate its still ok to use. I'm scared of Salmonella poisioning not because i'm overly cautious/paranoid - but rather because I had the extreme displeasure of eating smoked salmon that was contaminated late last year and was violently ill with Salmonella to then find out a few days later that it had been recalled for the same. I've never been that sick in my life, so I don't even, ever want to repeat that level of illness, I can't even fathom eating smoked salmon ever again or at least anytime soon because of the vivid memories it brings. So what do you think? Mostly hard/frozen still safe or no because of extended exposure to below freezing temperatures? Many thanks in advance everyone!

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  1. You raise too many concerns for me to answer.......other than to say defrost, cook and eat.

    1. your fridge is too cold, it is probably just above freezing temperature. If it's still frozen, it is fine to eat, though. salt it tonight, cook it tomorrow.

      2 Replies
        1. re: magiesmom

          This is what I think too.

          You can leave the chicken out on the counter or in the sink for awhile, then replace it in the fridge.

          Check your fridge's thermostat to see where it is set.

      1. The chicken is very likely fine. Whether it's frozen in the freezer or frozen in the fridge, frozen is frozen (yes, I know that even frozen, temperature affects the biological activity of water, so frozen is frozen is not technically correct, but that doesn't affect the situation here).

        The problem with defrosting chicken is that chicken is lean - mostly water. Fattier meats "thaw" quickly, because fat has a lower freezing point. Chickens can be tough to thaw because it's essentially thawing a 6 lb block of ice wrapped in a thin layer of insulation (skin with subcutaneous fat).

        Best way I've found of thawing a whole chicken is to: first keep it on the counter for several hours to bring it from really frozen to a little less frozen, then pop it in the warmest place in the fridge that you can fit it (front, middle shelf for me) for about 2 days or so. Then once it's semi thawed, I stick it in the sink and run cold water into the cavity (the cavity is the slowedt to thaw I've found). I've never had trouble with a chicken thawing it that way. Some people are also a lot more...cautious...with chicken than I am.

        1. I agree with those who say you first need to check your fridge temps, and at various places. You need only thaw it below 40 degrees. No need to put it in the coldest place if you're trying to thaw it!

          My fastest way to thaw a whole chicken: I have a double sink, so I fill one sink with COLD water and the chicken, keep a slow stream of water going into that sink, and if your sink is designed and leveled properly, the excess water will slowly overflow into the adjacent (unstoppered) sink before it will overflow onto the countertop. Do this water "convection" for an hour or so--yes, this means running a slow stream of water into the sink for an hour--and then consider opening the chicken packaging and removing the innards, etc, and put it back in the sink all naked another hour or so, still with the stream of water. By that time, it's ready to put into the fridge on a platter and let it air dry some. Couldn't hurt to salt it liberally at this point, to get some dry-brine effects. A couple of hours later, you should be good to go for a typical 4.5 pound chicken. That's a thawed whole chicken in 4 hours and change.

          Be sure to sanitize your sinks carefully afterward.

          This is not the ideal, but it works.

          p.s., as long as I feel the time and temp parameters are not too long, I also go with countertop or even short-burst warm water soaks. All depends on your hurry. But be vigilent.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Bada Bing

            Running the water is not necessary. Put a frozen chicken or turkey, wrapped or un, into a very large pot of cold water. If you don't have one big enough, a clean bucket lined with a plastic bag before filling with cold water. Leave it for a few hours. The chicken will be evenly thawed. If you are nervous about it, take the temp of the water now and then. As long as it doesn't go above 40F for a prolonged period (it won't), it can't possibly spoil. Ideally, you would put a rack or some cookie cutters on the bottom of the pot so water can circulate fully, and another rack, weighted down, atop the bird to keep it fully submerged. This works with meat as well, though in that case you want the meat in watertight wrapping as it thaws. If thawing poultry or pork, you can also opt to do it unwrapped, in a salted/seasoned brine.

            1. re: greygarious

              Yes, running water is not necessary, but--as I recall from some Alton Brown food sciencey sketch--it does make it quicker. The water convection speeds the process, for reasons I still don't exactly understand.

              1. re: Bada Bing

                More movement means faster heat transfer.

                1. re: Bada Bing

                  I'm guessing too that the cold bird will make the water cold too, whereas running water will stay the temp of running water.

                  But you could just change the water a few times and water the lawn with it.

            2. Evrything everybody else said, plus when you cook it, make sure you cook the breast to 170 deg F and the dark meat to 180.

              7 Replies
              1. re: junescook

                Breast meat will be way overcooked and dry at 170 degrees F. Instead, cook it to 150 degrees F. It's perfectly safe at that temperature and very moist as well.

                1. re: 1POINT21GW

                  I've never had a dried-out chicken at 170.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    A better way to put it would have been:

                    "Breast meat will be way overcooked and relatively dry at 170 degrees F. "

                    It will not be dry as in completely devoid of all moisture, but it will be much less moist than a breast cooked to 20 degrees F less at an internal temperature of 150 degrees F.

                    1. re: 1POINT21GW

                      Mine are always very juicy -- not even close to dried out.

                      I use Joy of Cooking's Turned Roasted Chicken -- perfectly moist chicken every time.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        I agree that it's possible to produce still moist chicken at 170... though I think that's taking a risk with breast meat. 180 is really too much for any part, just IMO, though with brined chicken you definitely get some leeway.

                        I prefer to take it out about 10 degrees lower and let it rest a bit.

                        1. re: mcf

                          yes -- 180 is definitely too high.

                2. I've roasted a whole chicken from frozen. Take chicken, place in roasting pan, season, cook. Comes out fine.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    Yup. No problem. 'Low and Slow' though otherwise there's too much variance in temperature throughout the bird.IMO.

                  2. consider mixing up a brine and use that to defrost your chicken. water is a better conductor than air.

                    1. +100 Your refrigerator is too cold.

                      May sound crazy but I've had little issue hacking up a semi to mostly frozen chicken. The thighs usually are easy to peel away and separate and I use a heavy cleaver on the rest. Cut apart like that, it should defrost fast.

                      Of course, don't attempt if you're not confident. I can see where it may not be safe. I've got cleavers and machetes from the old country that make it a breeze. They've taken down king palm trees before (a lot of whacks).

                      1. I share your frustration, I also can't defrost a chicken in my fridge. I absolutely can't adjust the temp, if I click it up a hair, the temp gets too warm.

                        I thaw my chickens both on the counter and in the fridge. For example, if I get a chicken out of the freezer on Sunday, I will let it on the counter for a couple of hours and then put it in the fridge when I go to bed, repeat on Monday and by Tuesday evening, it is thawed enough to roast.

                        I have also roasted partially frozen whole birds and the results were just fine.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: cleobeach

                          This is what I do for both chickens and the turkey for Thanksgiving... combo of fridge and counter. Basically if I'm home and awake, it's on the counter. Not at home or asleep, it's in the fridge. My 14lb Thanksgiving turkey thawed completely in by Wednesday evening when started on Sunday using this method.

                        2. I'm probably going o take some 'heat' about this but here's what I've done countless times with frozen chicken and the occasional small turkey.
                          I simply put the bird in a roasting pan. Rub a bit of S&P all over it. Preheat the oven to 210F and stick the pan in uncovered. I check the deep internal temp after about an hour and keep checking every half hour until the deep internal temp reaches about 155 F. Remove the bird. Lightly tent for about twenty minutes. The 'carry-over' will bring the internal temp up a bit. Moist, delicious perfectly roasted. There is a big debate about meat temps with SV. A prolonged temp accomplishes the same degree of killing bacteria as a higher shorter temp. 'LOW AND SLOW'.
                          If you can't bring yourself yet to try this method put the bird in a cold water salt brine until thawed.
                          About the paper bag of liver etc in the cavity don't worry about it. The bags are 'food safe' and I'm guessing millions of them are left forgotten in the cavity's every year.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Puffin3

                            You can also cook a fully-frozen chicken in a slow cooker as long as you add to the cooking time AND put some hot water in the bottom of the slow cooker to avoid thermal shock.

                          2. I have no problem thawing a frozen whole chicken but that's because I never try to thaw one in the refrigerator. I would not recommend this method if you are at all immune compromised but I ignore all of the warnings & just either:
                            1. thaw it on the counter until it is completely or almost completely thawed, and then place it in the refrigerator, which typically takes about 10 hours; or
                            2. if I am in a greater hurry, fill a large pot with warm water, immerse the chicken in it and periodically change the water, again until the chicken is thawed or close to thawed. This takes about 5 hours.

                            Our kitchen temperature in the winter (and that's when I typically am cooking whole chickens) is set at 68 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night. I would not follow this procedure if the ambient temperature were significantly higher. Yes, I know there are theoretically risks in thawing a chicken in this manner but we've been doing it this way for 30+ years without ill consequences.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: masha

                              Number 2 is my usual method. I also am an ignorer of warnings.

                              Just did one today, actually. Took it out at 7:30A and it was totally thawed at 2:00P when I pieced it up.

                              1. re: masha

                                Have to interject that everything I've ever read about water-bath defrosting says to immerse the frozen thing in COLD water. Of course, the water will be cold pretty quickly, in the early stages anyway, but the logic is that warm or hot water can compel use the product. Just what I've heard.

                                1. re: Midlife

                                  sorry...realize it's autocorrect but "compel use"???

                              2. I defrost whole chickens in a cold water bath, usually still in its kryovac wrapper. I put the chicken in the sink if available, if not in a big pot, cover with cold water and leave on the counter. I change the water as needed, more often as it defrosts to keep it cold. Once the outside feel defrosted, 4-6 hours, I take out of the water, stick on a rack and roast it. I find even if the inside is still a little frozen it still roasts fine.

                                1. The bottom rear of your fridge is likely about freezing. Try putting it on an upper shelf instead, and if it's still a little frosty the next day, leave it in a large bowl or sink full of cold water for a few hours.

                                  Takes 2 or 3 days in the bottom of my fridge, but not higher up.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: mcf

                                    That does depend on where your freezer is located though. The cold in the fridge comes from the freezer, so as a general rule place the defrosting item as far from the freezer as possible.

                                    1. re: coll

                                      I dunno, my freezer is on top, and the coldest part of my fridge is the bottom rear. I haven't had a bottom freezer, so can't compare, though.

                                      1. re: mcf

                                        I can't remember, my husband (when he could talk!) told me that the coldness comes from the freezer, but maybe it goes though a tube or something to the top so it can settle downwards. As you can tell, I'm not the mechanical one in the family! I always get that kind of stuff half-assed.

                                        1. re: mcf

                                          Hot air rises, cold air falls so the coldest part of your fridge is typically the bottom. I've got a side-by-side fridge and the coldest compartments in both the fridge & freezer are on the bottom.

                                          1. re: masha

                                            That's what I would expect, yes. In fact, I've read that's why bottom freezers make more sense and should be more efficient.

                                    2. A safe way to defrost poultry is to keep it in its plastic wrapping and place it in a large container and pour cold water over it and change at regular intervals throughout the day. Your water must always be cold. I defrost my turkey this way, if a small turkey it can take about a day. Once defrosted use up right away. As well you can do a number of things to the poultry to clean it. You can take a lemon and put some on a paper towel and clean the inside and out with this. For a turkey you can put some baking soda in the cavity and flood the cavity with water for a minute or two, and then drain it making sure you absorb all of the water. You can then wipe the top with lemon again and absorb the excess. You don't want to leave water in the cavity your poultry will steam instead of roast.

                                      1. I'm with foodiex2. I've been defrosting chickens in the sink, in cold water (changed once or twice if I can) with no problem at all. As soon as it's defrosted I put it in in the fridge, but the water in the sink bath is usually cold enough from the defrosting that the chicken is OK there for a while if I can't get to it right away. Been doing it this way for 30+ years and have never had a problem. YMMV depending on room temp and its effect on the water in the sink.

                                        1. Defrosting a whole chicken is a pain, so I never do it. When I want to cook a whole chicken, I simply put it in the crockpot on low in the morning before I go to work - covered with water or chicken broth and a few herbs. When I get home, I turn off the pot. The chicken is ready to be whatever I want. This chicken does tend to fall off the bone, so if you want to serve an elegant whole chicken this isn't for you. I use fresh chickens when that's my goal. The crockpot chicken is great to eat just as it is or ready to be put into a pot pie, etc.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: hippioflov

                                            A friend once told me about this and I love the idea but HOW do you get the bag out of the center? Do you just cook it in there? Do you open the chicken packaging and remove the bag and then wrap the chicken back up before freezing?

                                          2. Defrost in cold water. Depending on the size of the bird, it might take 2-3 water swaps. However, I also recommend simply doing the last water change as a brine. I personally like salt-brown sugar brine if you're going to oven roast. If you're going to put it in slow cooker though, plain water defrost.

                                            1. Back in the pre-microwave days I used to thaw a frozen chicken by propping it up in the sink under a tap running not hot but lukewarm water directly into the cavity. This works faster than you might think so there's not a long period of time for the meat to go bad. Personally I do not put a whole chicken in the oven still partly frozen because I do not like the flavor of chicken liver or other bits of innards that often cling until I bodily scrape them out under running water.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Querencia

                                                Call me whatever. When I want 'bird meat' and I have a frozen chicken or turkey I just take it out of the freezer and put it in a pot large enough to easily cover the whole bird.
                                                I crank up the temp to only just bring the water to the boil then turn down the heat to low simmer the bird. That means the temp. will never go over 212 F. I check the water temp. to keep it around 200 F. As the bird thaws the temp will rise so I watch it carefully.
                                                Depending on the size of the bird in a couple/few hours the meat will be about 155-160 F. I remove the bird and rest it until I can debone it. Then I return the carcass to the water and 'slow simmer' it for an hour or so. (I use a heavy pair of ( special purpose) vice grips to crush the biggest bones to get the most out of the bones.
                                                I only add maybe a bay leaf and of course some salt to the now reducing stock.
                                                At this point I'll reduce the stock down until I have enough to put into medium size Zip locks to freeze.
                                                The deboned bird meat goes into Zip locks for freezing.
                                                By keeping the temp below 212 F at all times during this process I am assured of getting properly cooked/moist/tender results every time. And a delicious 'mother-stock' I can go anywhere with flavor-wise later.
                                                I have been doing this for decades.
                                                The 'debate' about how long it takes/at what temperature to make sure there's no chance of bacteria poisoning is know put to rest with the scientific data/research visa vi 'SV' cooking/temperature holding time.

                                                1. re: Querencia

                                                  Somewhere in this topic (unless I missed it) the subject of the 'innards' has been lost. The whole chickens I buy are almost always fresh, so cleaning before freezing is no problem, IF that is a concern. should you buy frozen birds with plastic bags inside I would think twice about cooking them completely with the plastic still inside. Personally, though, I'm not a fan of slow cooking from a frozen state, so it's a non-issue for me. I think that seasoning the protein prior to cooking is a huge step and that's not going to work if the thing is frozen.

                                                2. I have been pro cooking for 30 years and for 40 years I have cooked whole chickens from frozen. I turn the oven on to 300, plop the frozen bird upside down (breast down to keep the white meat moist and not dry-out as white meat cooks faster then dark no matter if frozen or thawed) then in the oven immediately. The oven temp rises and the bird temp is risen as well until it reaches the 300 mark. Once the dinger goes telling you the 300 mark has been met leave the bird in for two hours. At the two hour mark the drumstick knuckle should be exposed, brown in color with the meat/gristle pulling from the knuckle. If not then the bird is more then 5lbs or your not using convection roast. In that case take it out, turn her right side up, then cleaver it down the middle to expose the cavity, look for blood juices, if it runs red close the oven door and wait another 30 minutes you should be good to go. Take it out wrap it in foil and let stand 15 minutes, serve and drule. If there is a bag in the bird then pull it out and add it to the juices in a small pot to make your gravy with. A simple roux to thicken then enjoy. You can also add chicken stock if not enough gravy. At any point past the first hour you can glaze the bird anyway you like - dry seasonings or wet. So I have never had anyone get sick and I owned a restaurant.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: AnonomousChef

                                                    Is that an image of a chicken that you actually cooked?

                                                    1. re: AnonomousChef

                                                      Are you saying to roast the bag in the uncleaned bird?

                                                      1. re: mcf

                                                        As for your comment...anyone who knows how to properly freeze a bird would know to prep/clean the birds and then paper towel dry them, sealed in at least Ziplock bags then freeze. My Samsung has a flash freeze/fridge option as well.

                                                    2. I never claimed that the picture is of my chx. Reread my post. You will also note I suggested roasting upside down so the breast should look flat'ish but they dont. I have cooked very similar resulting birds but all I wanted to do was catch your attention which I did. As I can produce similar I can pirate a pick for affect as long as I make no claim it is mine.

                                                      1. I thawed a good size Turkey from completely frozen to completely thawed overnight by using the bathtub. I p u t the Turkey in the bath and covered it with cold water. It was thawed by morning just in time to go into the oven. The bath water was still cold in the morning, considering it had a large Turkey ice cube to keep it that way all night, so I wasn't worried it was spoiled and it cooked up perfectly.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: beccalouise

                                                          I had to laugh at the image of a turkey in the bathtub. I'd have to add my rubber ducky and take a picture. And I never take pictures of my food.

                                                        2. Back in pre-microwave days I used to thaw a whole chicken this way---see if it works for you. Prop the chicken up in the sink in a pan so that the big hole where they removed its innards is pointing upward directly under the kitchen faucet. Now turn the faucet on and run a medium stream of lukewarm water directly into the hole. This will help the chicken thaw from the inside out as well as from the outside in. Lukewarm water will overflow from the hole and collect in the pan around the chicken, helping to thaw the surface meat. Thawing of a 3-4 pound fryer will be complete in less than a half-hour and you can cook the chicken immediately so, no danger of Salmonella. (As the little package of giblets thaws, remove it from the chicken's inner sanctum.)

                                                          (I appreciate that if you live in a drought community this method would be wasteful of water and probably inadvisable for that reason.)

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: Querencia

                                                            I'm feeling really cheated: the last 4 whole chickens I bought had no little packets of innards. Anyone else find this?

                                                            1. re: pine time

                                                              I'm finding a lot of inconsistency with the giblets. Occasionally none, but not long ago I got a package of about five or six livers and that was it. I made some chopped liver with it, and was very happy.

                                                              1. re: pine time

                                                                yeah....*gross-out spoiler alert**

                                                                industrially-processed chickens are cleaned nowadays with a machine -- there's a large drill (for lack of a better word) that quite literally reams the innards out of the chickens as they pass on the line.

                                                                Thus the innards are pretty much wrecked and not fit to be packed back into the birds.

                                                            2. Not sure what the fuss is about as i cook my chx from frozen. 2 - 3 hrs depending on the size of the bird. It always comes out juicy. Yes you cannot season the bird as it is frozen so nothing will stick to the bird. Of course I pick quality birds.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: AnonomousChef

                                                                the fuss is that the outside then gets the bejeezus cooked out of it, leaving it cottony and dry, while the inside (nearest the bone) flirts with being undercooked.