Chicken is a staple in most households and whether you’re having it for dinner or lunch, the versatile protein is one thing that you can bet even picky eaters will be willing to add to their plates.
So, when there’s a sale going down at the grocery store, stocking up on it may come as second nature. But before you begin stockpiling the affordable, easy-to-make option, you may be wondering how long frozen chicken is actually good for.
While you may think that all types of meat can stay frozen for the same length of time, when it comes to chicken, you may be surprised to learn that there are some pretty specific guidelines you should go by, depending on whether it's cooked or raw. Generally speaking, chicken has a high risk of bacterial contamination, so properly preparing, storing, and cooking it is essential to the health of those you’re planning to serve it to.
Not sure where to start when it comes to the ins and outs of freezing and defrosting chicken? We did the research and spoke to food experts to suss out the answers.
How long can you keep chicken in your fridge?
Once you get it home from the store, storing chicken in your refrigerator can help slow bacterial growth, but a fridge doesn't keep chicken good for as long as you may think. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), raw chicken should be kept in your fridge for no longer than two days. The same rule applies to fresh turkey or any other type of poultry. Cooked poultry, however, can last in your fridge for three to four days. If you need to store raw chicken for more than two days (or leftover chicken for more than four days), then it's best to keep it in your freezer.
How can you tell if chicken has gone bad?
Whether it's raw or cooked, chicken that has passed its expiration date is likely no longer safe to eat. There are a few ways to tell if your chicken should be tossed in the trash rather than eaten. Changes in color, smell, or texture can indicate spoiled meat — though a change in color doesn't necessarily mean your meat has gone bad, according to the USDA. It's when your chicken starts to turn a gray-green color that you know it's past its prime. Poultry that has an acidic smell or a slimy texture should also be discarded.
How long can you store chicken in your freezer?
According to the USDA, frozen chicken will be "safe indefinitely" as long as you keep it continuously frozen (i.e., you're not unfreezing it and then re-freezing it because you didn't have a chance to cook or eat it).
But "safe" isn't necessarily the same as "tastes good," so if you're looking for the best quality and texture, the USDA advises the following when it comes to uncooked chicken:
- A raw whole chicken can be kept in your freezer for up to a year.
- Raw chicken parts can be kept in your freezer for up to nine months.
- Raw ground chicken or giblets can be kept in your freezer for three to four months.
Cooked chicken, however, can't be stored for quite as long — the USDA says it will taste best if you eat it before the four-month mark hits, or six months if it's covered in broth or gravy (a.k.a. in a casserole or stew). As for cooked chicken nuggets or patties, you'll want to consume those within one to three months.
er storage will also preserve quality and prevent freezer burn, and while it's totally safe to freeze raw poultry in its original packaging, plastic-wrapped containers are permeable to air and the quality of the chicken may diminish over time.
For prolonged storage, the USDA recommends that you overwrap the original plastic-wrapped container, which you can do with a layer of aluminum foil. You can also remove the chicken from its original packaging and transfer it to a freezer-safe bag, pressing out as much air as possible before sealing. An unopened, vacuum-sealed package of chicken can be stored as is.
How do you defrost chicken?
As the USDA notes, there are three common ways to defrost frozen chicken. The safest and most recommended method is the refrigerator method, though it also involves some planning ahead.
The Refrigerator Method
- Transfer wrapped, frozen chicken from your freezer to your fridge at least 24 hours before eating.
- Once thawed, your chicken can remain in the fridge for another day or two before cooking.
Another way to defrost your meat is with the cold water method, which is much quicker but requires more attention.
The Cold Water Method
- Fill a large bowl with cold water and submerge your frozen chicken, keeping it in a leak-proof package. Small packages can defrost in as little as an hour, while a three- to four-pound whole chicken may take two to three hours.
- Change the water every 30 minutes as the chicken continues to thaw, and once thawed, cook the chicken immediately.
The quickest method, though, is the microwave method. Just like with the cold water method, chicken defrosted with a microwave should be cooked right away once thawed.
The Microwave Method
- Remove the chicken from its packaging and place in an oven-cooking bag or in a covered microwave-safe container.
- Use the defrost setting or a medium-high setting (70% power) to cook nine to 10 minutes per pound for whole chicken or six to eight minutes per pound for chicken breast halves.
Though it is safe to cook foods directly from their frozen state, the USDA notes that cooking your chicken will likely take approximately 50% longer this way versus cooking chicken that is fully thawed.
Corinne Sullivan is an Editor at Cosmopolitan, where she covers a variety of beats, including lifestyle, entertainment, relationships, shopping, and more. She can tell you everything you need to know about the love lives of A-listers, the coziest bedsheets, and the sex toys actually worth your $$$. She is also the author of the 2018 novel Indecent. Follow her on Instagram for cute pics of her pup and bébé.
Ni'Kesia Pannell is an entrepreneur, multi-hyphenate freelance writer, and self-proclaimed Slurpee connoisseur that covers news and culture for The Kitchn. She's the former Weekend Editor for Delish who also writes about faith, health and wellness, travel, beauty, lifestyle, and music for a range of additional outlets.