Everyone has experienced that annoying moment when you realize you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer to defrost overnight or during the day, in time to cook dinner.
Fortunately, when this happens, you can take comfort in the knowledge that it’s possible to put frozen chicken straight onto your grill top and adjust your cooking time to produce a result that’s tasty and safe to eat.
However, before you think about turning this into a long-term habit, it’s crucial that you familiarize yourself with some guidelines when it comes to grilling frozen chicken. If you don’t follow these properly, you risk serving up and eating undercooked and potentially dangerous poultry.
Can You Grill Frozen Chicken?
While it’s best that you thaw frozen chicken before popping it on the grill to cook, it is possible to grill it straight out of the freezer. Whether you’ve forgotten to take the frozen meat out in time for dinner or you need to prepare a meal for your kids quickly on a work night, you’ll be glad to avoid the lengthy defrosting process.
However, when you grill frozen chicken, follow several key guidelines to make sure you’re producing food that’s safe for you and your family to eat. If you don’t follow these guidelines, you risk contracting harmful infections like campylobacteriosis and ingesting destructive bacteria like E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and salmonella. Grilling frozen chicken incorrectly can also create a result that has a slightly unpleasant, spongy texture.
Where possible, you should always try to thaw your frozen chicken before grilling it, so the meat is evenly cooked and fresh-tasting. Avoid making a habit of taking your frozen meat out of the freezer at the last minute and grilling it straight away.
Guidelines for Safely Grilling Frozen Chicken
These are the three key guidelines you should try to follow to make sure you’re grilling frozen chicken safely and effectively.
Spread the pieces across the cooking surface
If you’re cooking 8 or 10 frozen chicken breasts, try to find a large baking sheet, tray, or cast iron pan and spread the pieces of meat across the rectangular or square metal surface. Spreading the chicken out cooks it more evenly.
Cook the meat for at least 50% longer than you normally would
When it comes to heating meat and vegetables from frozen, the general rule is to increase your cooking time by at least 50%. This allows the frozen chicken enough time to thaw or defrost properly when they’re on the grill top.
Some people like to thaw the chicken at a slightly lower temperature than they normally cook it at because this prevents the meat’s outer layer from becoming burned or charred while the heat defrosts the middle section. After lighting the charcoal, move the glowing embers over to one side to create two separate heat zones. You can also do this on a gas grill if your model has independent zone temperature controls. The cooler zone allows you to start grilling the frozen chicken pieces over indirect heat, effectively thawing them.
Once you’re satisfied that the whole piece is thawed all the way through, you can turn up the heat to cook the meat at a higher temperature. Make sure you’re not thawing or heating the meat too slowly. You want to ensure that the chilled chicken doesn’t remain in the danger zone temperature range of 40°F to 140°F for too long and risk food poisoning.
Make sure the meat has an internal temperature of 165°F before eating it
The easiest way to ensure your chicken is safe to eat is to use an accurate meat thermometer to monitor the food’s internal temperature. The best thermometer to use is a probe unit rather than an infrared version. Infrared thermometers typically only display the surface temperature of meat.
You must make sure that this thermometer has a reading of at least 165°F before taking the meat off the grill and letting it rest at room temperature for a few minutes.
Try to avoid judging whether the chicken is cooked properly by sight or touch. Use a thermometer and take readings at different parts of the meat to ensure it’s a safe temperature to eat.
Some Defrosting Hacks
There are a couple of useful ways to speed up the defrosting process if you’re running out of time to thaw your chicken before cooking the meat for dinner. The simplest hack is to break the frozen meat up into smaller sections and pop this food in the microwave on the defrost setting. Try not to keep the meat in the microwave for too long: you want to thaw the chicken, not cook it.
You could also buy a defrosting tray. This handy tool is made from aluminum or copper and conducts heat well. When you put frozen meat on this tray, the material warms the chicken, defrosting it within 20 to 30 minutes.
You can also quickly thaw individually portioned pieces of chicken breast in under half an hour by sealing them in a Ziploc bag and submerging the bag in a container full of cool tap water. Change the water every 10-15 minutes to speed up the process.
If you are defrosting bone-in chicken thigh or Maryland pieces, keep the water running over the bag in a slow trickle. Larger pieces of chicken with the bone typically take over an hour to thaw using this method.
Grill Frozen Chicken Safely When You Use These 3 Key Guidelines
It is possible to grill frozen chicken straight out of the freezer, but you need to make sure that you’re following safe cooking guidelines to minimize bacterial growth and reduce your risk of contracting food poisoning.
If you regularly forget to thaw your chicken overnight in the fridge, you can set a reminder in your phone or use any one of several hacks to thaw your chicken quickly and safely before your grill even has time to heat up.