Dinner is on in 40 minutes, and you forgot to pull the chicken out of the freezer earlier.
Now you’re wondering if you can throw the frozen chicken straight on the grill and have it turn out because you don’t have time to defrost it properly if you want to eat in the next few hours.
It is possible to grill the frozen chicken without defrosting it as long as you make sure your chicken gets up to 165-degrees Fahrenheit before it’s safe to eat. However, it may not turn out as nice as it would if you had time to defrost it properly first.
So, while having frozen chicken doesn’t completely write off your dinner, it’s always better to try and defrost it before you grill it to your liking. This could involve thawing it in the microwave, refrigerator, water bath, or a number of other ways to ensure you get moist, tender, and well-done chicken that has that delicious smoky flavor.
Why Undercooked Chicken is Dangerous to Eat
Eating undercooked chicken increases your risk of contracting the bacteria Campylobacter and Salmonella, and this can lead to serious food poisoning cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that roughly 48 million people get sick due to having a foodborne illness each year, and this is roughly one in six Americans. Of these numbers, roughly 3,000 people will die.
Chicken that fails to reach 165-degrees Fahrenheit as the internal temperature when you cook is categorized as undercooked and dangerous to eat.
It is possible to eat undercooked beef because the meat is dense enough for the bacteria not to penetrate it.
For example, the surface bacteria will get killed off due to the heat at rare temperatures for beef at 130 to 135-degrees Fahrenheit.
Problems With Trying to Grill Frozen Chicken
You could be tempted to throw a few pieces of frozen chicken on the grill and try to cook it at a lower temperature, but this can easily result in overdone meat on the outside and undercooked meat in the thicker parts of the inside.
Even though the chicken looks done at first glance, you’ll cut into it to get a cold and pink center. If you keep grilling it until the inside reaches the desired temperature, the outside will turn rubbery and dry.
Grilling over indirect heat is another option, but this will massively extend your grilling time. Also, you still run the risk of having dried-out meat in any areas that are thinner on your chicken pieces.
Best Methods for Defrosting Frozen Chicken for Grilling
We’re going to go over a few of our favorite methods to defrost chicken in no particular order. Some are more time-consuming than others, but they all result in defrosted chicken that is ready to go on the grill to give you a great finish without being dried out.
Defrosting the chicken in the microwave is the fastest method you have, but it’s also the one that you have to keep the closest eye on to prevent the meat from thawing and starting to cook in thin spots.
Also, make sure your grill is ready to go as soon as you start the microwave because allowing the meat to sit at room temperature increases your risk of bacterial growth and infection.
All you have to do is put the frozen chicken in a microwave-safe bowl and put it in the microwave before hitting your “defrost” button and set it for one or two minutes.
Rotate the chicken pieces halfway through the cooking time so the thinner pieces don’t start cooking, and set it to defrost for one or two more minutes. Remove the chicken from the microwave, season it as you like, and put it on your hot grill to cook.
If you have enough time, we recommend using the refrigerator to defrost your chicken pieces. You should keep in mind that it takes up to 24 hours for your chicken to defrost this way, but it prevents dangerous bacteria from forming. It also gives you one of the best chances of getting juicy, tender chicken when you grill it.
If your chicken is frozen around lunchtime and you plan on grilling it for dinner, you can leave it out on the counter for four to six hours without a problem.
Keep your chicken pieces wrapped very tightly and put them on a plate with paper towels underneath it to catch any stray liquid as it thaws.
Don’t let your chicken get to room temperature, and always make sure you wipe down the counter with antibacterial towels or wipes when you remove the chicken to grill it.
4. Defrosting Tray
If you don’t own a dedicated defrosting tray, you may want to consider investing in one as soon as you can.
It is a metal tray with ridges on it that comes designed to drain cold water from meat without the use of any batteries or electricity.
Ideally, your container will have something attached to it to collect the juices as your pieces of meat start to thaw out.
You want to get a tray that is large enough to hold all of the meat you want to that in one go because this prevents you from repeating the defrosting process twice for one meal. A high-quality tray can defrost your chicken in as little as 30 minutes.
5. Water Bath
A water bath will only work if your chicken is in a secure wrapper that is tightly sealed. Start by filling a large bowl or your sink with cool water and allowing your wrapped chicken to sit inside it.
Switch out the water every 30 minutes or so to keep the temperature stable, and know that most frozen chicken will thaw out in an hour or two if you do it correctly.
Preparing Frozen Chicken to Grill – Expert Tips
We strongly recommend you use one of the defrosting methods we touched on above for your frozen chicken before you grill it, but we understand that you could be very short on time.
This is particularly true if you don’t have a defrosting tray or a microwave, but you do have one last resort available to you.
If you decide to skip the defrosting methods and go straight to grilling frozen chicken, there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk.
Keep in mind that the chicken’s texture may be a bit different, but your supper will be on the table on time.
First, plan on extending your normal cooking time by half. So, if you typically spend between 15 and 20 minutes cooking your chicken all of the way through, you’ll have to switch this to 30 to 40 minutes if you start with frozen chicken.
It’s also important that you start grilling your chicken over indirect heat to give the pieces a small chance to start thawing.
Otherwise, you could end up with chicken pieces that are charred the perfect amount outside and frozen and raw inside.
The goal is to reach an internal temperature of at least 165-degrees Fahrenheit without drying out the thinner areas of each piece of chicken.
This is why you want to spread the pieces out instead of cramming them all in one spot. If you’re cooking tenderloins or boneless chicken breasts, put the thinner ends as far away from the direct flames as you possibly can.
- Tip: For larger gatherings, grilled chicken wings are a very popular option, and you can grill them right out of the freezer. You’ll need to set at least 90 minutes aside to cook them all of the way through.
Can You Use a Pellet Grill to Cook Frozen Chicken?
Because you can easily set your pellet grill to very low temperatures, you might assume that it’s a good idea to put some frozen chicken on and let it go.
However, we advise against this because the colder parts of each piece of chicken might spend too long at 40 to 140-degrees Fahrenheit.
This is the temperature range where harmful bacteria are likely to form, and this is why you should never put the frozen chicken into any type of slow cooker. The same risks apply, and you have a much greater chance of getting sick.
The goal is to get your chicken to a minimum of 165-degrees Fahrenheit without drying out any thinner portions of each piece.
Trying to cook the frozen chicken right on the grill will most likely lead to a rubbery texture, overcooked outsides, and raw insides.
We gave you several options to defrost the chicken, and we invite you to use them to ensure you get delicious grilled chicken that is safe to eat.