Big Mistakes Everyone Makes With Frozen Chicken

If there's one protein source out there that people tend to lean toward when cooking, it's chicken (via Healthline). Chicken is such a versatile meat, tastes great when cooked so many different ways, and tends to be pretty cost effective as well. Still, just because chicken is a popular protein choice doesn't mean everyone knows what they're doing when cooking it. For the most part, cooking chicken seems pretty straightforward, and it usually is. But when you're dealing with frozen chicken, it can get a lot more complicated.

When handling frozen chicken, there are quite a few things to keep in mind. And while some — like how you should immediately put your frozen chicken in the freezer as soon as you get home from the grocery store — might seem obvious, others aren't so much. So, if you're someone who eats a lot of chicken and tends to either buy it frozen to save money, or freeze it to use for later, keep reading to learn the biggest mistakes you might be making with frozen chicken. Some of them might surprise you.

You rinse frozen chicken

Now, if you've ever watched a cooking show, or even just a movie where someone prepared chicken, you might have noticed that they tend to rinse their chicken off before cooking it. And logically, that might make sense. After all, chicken looks pretty nasty when it's raw, and it can oftentimes come soaked in red liquid or even have some bloody spots. But at the end of the day, rinsing any chicken before cooking is unnecessary and can even be dangerous.

In fact, according to the UK's National Health Service (NHS), "Washing raw chicken before cooking it can increase your risk of food poisoning from campylobacter bacteria." That's because droplets from the raw chicken can splash all over your sink and kitchen, increasing the risk of you ingesting residue containing bacteria and getting seriously sick. Additionally, rinsing the chicken is simply not necessary, as you'll be cooking it anyway. If it's the juices that freak you out, simply pat the chicken dry with a paper towel before cooking (via Food & Wine). Problem solved.

You only buy boneless, skinless frozen chicken breasts

If you've ever watched a cooking show, seen someone cook on social media, or found a recipe on the internet, you probably know that perhaps the most popular cut of chicken is boneless, skinless breasts. It's definitely a good-sized chunk of meat, and buying a cut without the bone in does take some of the work out of eating the chicken, that's for sure. Additionally, chicken breast without the skin is also relatively low in fat, making it a solid choice for anyone wanting a healthier protein option (via The Thoughtful Dietitian). However, if you've ever cooked chicken breast, you also know that it can be pretty dry and bland — whether it's fresh or frozen, cooking only boneless, skinless chicken breasts is a mistake.

Not only are boneless, skinless breasts less flavorful than their other chicken counterparts, but they also tend to be more expensive (via The Toast). More than that, the texture when cooked is pretty boring. Instead, buy chicken thighs! Or bone-in, skin-on breasts! Or wings! Or buy a whole chicken and roast the whole bird at home! Really, the possibilities with frozen chicken are endless — once you stop buying boneless, skinless breasts that is.

You marinate frozen chicken

One of the best cooking tips out there for cooking any type of meat is to marinate your meat before cooking it. This involves covering the raw meat in a liquid mixture made up of ingredients such as oil, vinegar, fruit juice, seasonings, and herbs — this can both help tenderize a tough cut of meat, and imbue flavor (via Delighted Cooking). You might think that marinating your chicken while it's frozen is a great way to hello the flavors absorb for longer, but you'd be wrong. And if you marinate your chicken while frozen, there's a good chance that once you cook it, the texture of the chicken will be a bit off, and it won't have the delicious, juicy flavor you want when you marinate chicken (via The Kitchen Community).

In order for a marinade to actually be absorbed by the chicken effectively and for the flavor to come out once cooked, you shouldn't marinate frozen chicken. Instead, defrost your chicken and then – while it's still cold — add your marinade and put the chicken back into the refrigerator until you're ready to cook it. Trust us, this will yield a much more flavorful chicken with a much more appealing texture.

You don't tenderize your chicken

For the most part, cooking chicken is relatively simple. Whether or not you're following a recipe, you know to season the meat and cook it until it's cooked through (when the juices run clear or it has an internal temperature of 165 degrees, via Eating Well). And chicken is also super easy to personalize and make it however you want. Want to bake it? Go for it! Grill it? Awesome! Cook it in the slow cooker? Yum! You can use pretty much any seasoning, too, and it will most likely turn out delicious. But one thing you might be forgetting to do with your chicken — especially your frozen chicken — is tenderizng it (via Tasting Table).

Obviously, even if you're working with non-frozen chicken you should tenderize it as well, but with frozen chicken, it's extra important. Frozen chicken can lack the same texture as fresh chicken, and when you add in that you have to defrost it before cooking, you might run out of time to tenderize. But tenderizing your chicken is such an important step, as it will help your meat hold flavor better, cook evenly, and make for a much juicer, tender meal. Seriously, don't skip this step.

You cook it too long

With chicken, almost more than any other meat, cooking it until it's the right temperature is of the utmost importance. Chicken isn't a meat that can be served raw or to varying degrees of "done" like steak, and if you don't cook it to at least 165 degrees, you risk becoming very ill when eating it (via HuffPost). However, when cooking frozen chicken, that doesn't mean you need to necessarily double your cooking time. Yes, you can cook chicken from frozen (via AllRecipes) — a major time savor — but there are certain things you need to keep in mind when you do, and one of those is not to overcook it.

Specifically, you really only need to cook frozen chicken about 50% longer than you would the fresh version of whatever cut of chicken you're dealing with. Additionally, you don't need to crank the heat up too high, either. That can really dry out your chicken, and when you're cooking it from frozen, too high of heat can lead to uneven cooking, which can increase your risk of eating meat that isn't fully cooked and possibly ingesting harmful bacteria. So remember that cooking chicken from frozen doesn't have to be complicated, and it doesn't have to take forever.

You leave it to thaw for too long

When cooking frozen chicken, the most ideal way to cook it is to have it defrosted before you start the cooking process. This allows the chicken to cook more evenly, which ensures the whole cut is fully cooked through and that any bacteria have been killed (via BBC Good Food). However, the defrosting process for frozen chicken can seem a bit daunting, but rest assured that it doesn't have to be, and more than that, it might not take as long as you think it does.

For starters, it's important to note that the safest way to defrost chicken is to simply put it from the freezer into the refrigerator (via Taste of Home). This allows the chicken to slowly thaw while keeping it at a safe temperature and prohibiting any bacteria from growing. However, it typically shouldn't take longer than 24 hours to defrost your frozen chicken — unless you're defrosting an entire chicken, of course. So if you've been letting your chicken thaw for longer than 24 hours before cooking, then you're missing the prime freshness window and also wasting some time.

You set the chicken out on the counter to thaw

If you're planning a meal involving frozen chicken, there's no worse feeling than realizing that you forgot to defrost the chicken overnight and dinner time is in a matter of hours. You know that you don't have time to defrost it in the refrigerator, so you might simply place the chicken out on the kitchen counter to defrost — but that would be a mistake (via Taste of Home). Thawing at room temperature allows the chicken to reach unsafe temperatures, the kind of temperatures that allow bacteria to thrive and proliferate (via WebMD).

Instead, Taste of Home advises that you defrost your chicken in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours before cooking, or if you need a quicker solution, you can place your chicken in a bowl of cool to room-temperature water. Finally, you can also defrost your chicken in the microwave, but just be sure to cook it immediately if you choose this method to avoid getting food poisoning.

You don't read the label correctly

When it comes to frozen chicken, there is definitely a ton of variety out there. There are frozen chicken breasts, wings, thighs, entire chickens, tenderloins, and more! Then there are frozen chicken products that have already been cooked and just need to be defrosted and heated up. In fact, that last kind might even be more popular than raw frozen chicken, because it's definitely a lot easier to cook and prepare.

However, even if you only typically purchase cooked frozen chicken, it's still important to read the label (via WebMD). For instance, you might not realize that some frozen chicken you've bought actually isn't the pre-cooked kind you usually buy, and you only cook it for twenty minutes or so instead of the longer required cook time. This could lead to undercooked chicken, food-borne illness, and just a lot of unnecessary hassle during meal time. So, be sure you are following all instructions and reading the labels carefully when you work with frozen chicken.

You don't cook it to the proper temperature

Obviously, any time you cook meat of any kind, it's important to make sure that it's cooked to the proper internal temperature. But when it comes to chicken — especially frozen chicken — that correct temperature is of the utmost importance. Cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit protects you from getting seriously sick, and honestly helps to make sure the chicken actually tastes good (via HuffPost). No one wants raw chicken!

Unfortunately, unless you have a food thermometer, it can be hard to know whether or not your chicken is cooked properly. And a lot of the times if you cook chicken from frozen, it can look totally done on the outside but be completely raw on the inside. So, aside from make sure that the juices run clear, investing in a good food thermometer is a great way to make sure your chicken is safe and delicious (via Eat Right). Remember, you can't always trust that following the instructions on the label of frozen chicken will mean it's done completely. Every oven, stove, or air fryer cooks differently, so cooking might take a little more time than expected, which is exactly why a food thermometer is a smart choice.

You forget that quality still counts

One of the best things about frozen chicken is that it's convenient, and can save you a lot of time in the long-run (via Taste of Home). That said, however you choose to heat up your frozen chicken, there's no denying that sometimes it just doesn't taste as good as fresh. Well, that's because you might be making the mistake of forgetting that quality still counts even in frozen chicken.

Yes, take for example frozen, breaded chicken tenders. They are a great option for when you want a quick and easy meal, but want something a little healthier and cheaper than fast food. However, that doesn't mean you should just buy the cheapest frozen chicken tenders (or any frozen chicken variety). You'll find that spending just a little more money will yield you a higher quality piece of chicken with better flavor, and in the end, pay off.

You don't cook it in the air fryer

Now, if you're at all aware of the latest cooking trends, you've probably seen or heard of the latest and greatest kitchen appliance: the air fryer! The air fryer is a great way to get a crispy finish on your chicken without using much oil, and this handy device allows you to walk away and trust that your food won't burn the house down (via Air Fry Anytime). Basically, an air fryer is essential for cooking chicken, especially if you want to cook chicken from frozen (via Where Is My Spoon).

Yes, believe it or not, but most air fryers actually come with instructions for how to cook chicken (tenders, wings, or any other cut!) in the air fryer from frozen. And if you aren't cooking your frozen chicken in the air fryer, then it's a huge mistake. This is honestly the easiest way to cook chicken from frozen, and you can ensure that it won't overcook by setting the suggested time on the timer, and you'll get chicken that's crispy on the outside, but juice on the inside. Seriously, it's a great way to lock in flavor and save a ton of time and energy.