The Cold, Hard Truth: Can You Grill Frozen Chicken?

August 21, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Technically you can grill frozen chicken without thawing, but this is rarely advisable.

As someone who has been in the restaurant industry for a while, I’m my friends first call when they are staring at a rock solid bird wondering, “can you grill frozen chicken”? So, I’ve had a fair amount of practice breaking down the following topic.

In this post I will walk you through why you shouldn’t grill frozen chicken but also offer up some alternatives. Let’s begin!

can you grill frozen chicken

Is It Safe to Grill Frozen Meat?

One of the most important things to address first, of course, is this – is grilling frozen chicken healthy for you?

The answer is not really.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that chicken needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit throughout to be considered safe to eat. At this temperature, the bacteria that can cause food poisoning, salmonella poisoning, and other food borne illnesses are destroyed.

whole raw chicken

The problem with grilling frozen chicken is the risk of unevenly cooked chicken. The meat will thaw and cook at varying rates on the grill. As such, it can be difficult to know if the chicken has reached the same temperature throughout.

Keep in mind, there are health risks if even a small portion of the chicken isn’t fully cooked.

The other thing thing to be aware of is the danger zone. This is a range of temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, bacteria can grow at an accelerated rate, increasing the chances of bacterial infections.

Now, with cooking food unevenly, there is a higher risk of certain portions of the frozen chicken being exposed to these temperatures for a longer period of time.

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Can You Grill a Whole Frozen Chicken?

Putting safety aside, is it possible for you to grill a whole chicken while it is still frozen?

Sure, theoretically, you can. If you leave the chicken on the grill long enough, it will heat, thaw, and cook. However, making sure that the entire chicken is cooked through is far more difficult.

When grilling a whole chicken, the outer portion of the chicken is receiving direct heat. As such, it will thaw and cook first. It will take a lot longer for the center of the chicken to begin heating up.

Due to this, there is a good chance that the outer portion will begin to burn while the middle part is only cooked halfway through. So, you can say goodbye to the idea of cooking juicy grilled chicken.

You should also be aware that, in general, cooking frozen chicken can take a lot longer. In fact, it can take twice as long!

Can You Grill Frozen Chicken Breasts?

If whole chickens aren’t feasible, what about grilling frozen chicken breast?

It still isn’t an ideal situation as there is still the risk of unevenly cooked chicken. However, you may be able to fare a little better when you grill frozen chicken breast. Chicken breasts are thinner parts of the chicken, which mean that they will cook more quickly and evenly.

At the very least, you may be able to prevent the outside of the chicken burning before the interior is cooked all the way through.

Can You Grill Chicken That is Partially Frozen?

OK, so what about chicken that has had time to thaw, but not all the way through?

Well, one advantage is that the chicken will grill faster than if it was wholly frozen. The risk of foodborne illness may be slightly lower as well. However, it is quite likely that the chicken will cook faster in some areas while others will still not be properly cooked.

bbq chicken parts

In any case, partially frozen chicken is certainly a lot better than one that hasn’t been thawed at all.

Best Frozen Chicken Pieces to Grill

It has already been established that cooking a frozen chicken whole, isn’t the best idea. Cooking smaller pieces, on the other hand, may prove to be more favorable. Let’s take a look at the chicken parts that will hold up best:

Chicken wings are certainly the top option. They have little meat on the bones and will defrost and cook through much more quickly. Chicken thighs would be the next best option, with chicken breasts coming in last.

Remember that boneless chicken breasts and boneless thighs will cook faster.

How Do You Grill Frozen Chicken on the Grill?

If you’re going to throw caution to the wind and grill frozen chicken regardless of all the warnings, here is your guide to the whole process:

Set Up the Grill

Make sure that you set up your grill so that most of the sections have indirect heat. Direct heat may result in charred chicken on the outside and undercooked chicken on the inside.

If using a charcoal grill, this means that all the coal must be stacked up in one area.

Place Individual Pieces Apart

There isn’t much to do in terms of preparing frozen chicken. You simply place the chicken on the grill.

The last thing that you want to do is to crowd the pieces together. This will take them longer to cook and there is a greater risk of the chicken cooking unevenly.

If you are trying to grill frozen chicken breast, then make sure to point the thinner parts away from the direct heat. These areas will cook first and you need to ensure that they aren’t burned.

Prepare for Longer Cooking Time

As mentioned, it can take up to twice as long to cook frozen chicken. This means that chicken wings can take up to 40 minutes at a time to cook. Needless to say, when you grill frozen chicken breasts and thighs, the process will take even longer.

Wait until the chicken has cooked halfway through before flipping the meat over.

Use a Thermometer

Now is not the time to guess whether or not your grilled chicken is ready. Remember, the risk of food poisoning is high here.

To avoid cold spots, use a meat thermometer or probe to check the temperature. Remember, it should be reading 165 degrees in the middle of the chicken.

If you are grilling frozen chicken breast or something with similar thickness, then check the temperature throughout.

It should be 165 degrees or higher.

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How to Thaw Chicken Quickly?

Thawing chicken doesn’t have to be as long and drawn-out as everyone imagines. Here are some quick ways to manage the process a little more quickly and get to grilling unfrozen chicken ASAP:

Grilled chicken

Cool Water Thawing

It is important to thaw chicken in cool water as this avoids the meat entering into the danger zone where dangerous bacteria can flourish.

This is a fairly common method that you may be familiar with. You place the frozen chicken or frozen chicken breast in its packaging in a large bowl of cold water. If the chicken is loose, first place it in a Ziploc bag before putting it in the water.

There is a trick to this method, though, that a lot of people dont know about. Rather than just letting the chicken sit in the cold water, switch out the water every 30 minutes or so. In doing so, you can actually have thawed chicken in as little as an hour and a half.

This is one of the best ways to ensure that you are cooking food evenly.

Hot Water Bath

Now, I’m going to recommend this method very cautiously. As mentioned, with frozen meats, you want to keep the temperature below or above a certain point. When you use the method I’m about to describe to you, though, you are placing the chicken in a potential danger zone.

Due to this, you will need to accept that there is some level of risk involved if you choose to defrost the chicken in this manner.

For this method, you will need to use hot water – it needs to be at least 140 degrees. To lessen any risks involved with defrosting frozen chicken in this manner, use a thermometer to double check the temperature.

You will also need to make sure that the chicken is in its packaging. If it isn’t, place it in a Ziploc bag and seal it up tight.

Let the water heat up to the desired temperature and pour into a heat safe bowl. Submerge the packaged chicken in the hot water.

Fortunately, this process is quite quick. Depending on the size of the pieces that you are defrosting, it can take as little as 15 minutes for the meat to thaw. It is best to keep checking on the chicken and taking it out of the water bath the moment that it is completely defrosted.

Cook the raw chicken immediately, preferably at a higher temperature.

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Questionable Methods to Defrost Chicken Quickly

In the interest of being of thorough, I’m going to walk you through some other methods of thawing chicken quickly.

Counter Thawing

For a long time, this was one of the top ways to thaw out frozen chicken. Depending on the ambient temperature of the kitchen, this can also be a relatively quick way of thawing chicken. Here’s the problem, though:

Leaving the frozen chicken out on the counter puts it at greater risk of microbes. Not to mention, there is a good chance that the room temperature will encourage the breeding of bacteria. Thus, it is best not to take this risk.

Refrigerator Thawing

This is yet another popular defrosting method. The great thing about this option is that a cold temperature is maintained throughout the defrosting process. As a result, there is almost no chance for bacteria to grow and develop here.

The only downside is that this can take a while. Most chicken parts can take several hours to defrost while a larger bird may actually take days. At the very least, it may need to be kept in the refrigerator overnight. Thus, this method doesn’t work unless you are pre-planning your meals.

Defrosting in a Microwave

I will go on the record and say that this is my least favorite defrosting method. When you defrost chicken in a microwave, there is too much chance that you will end up cooking the thinner parts, while the thicker areas will remain frozen solid.

However, if you really are short on time, you can use the defrost setting on your microwave. Just make sure to place the raw meat in a microwave safe bowl. Make sure to heat the meat in short bursts and to keep checking it constantly.

Don’t let the chicken heat up for longer than necessary. Stop microwaving the moment that it feels done. You should also watch if any parts of your chicken breast are turning white. This means that the meat is starting to cook.

Using a Defrosting Tray

This is a method that is gaining momentum, but I can’t say that I am a fan. It isn’t that the defrosting tray doesn’t work. Rather, it just isn’t as effective as most companies claim they are.

At the most, it may shave off half an hour from the overall defrosting time, but it is most likely not going to give you the results that you are hoping for.

This is what you need to know if you wish to grill or cook frozen chicken. Clearly, it isn’t a great idea, but you can still make it work for you if you want. And, now, you know just how to do this too!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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