How to freeze a whole chicken? 

In this brief article, we will answer the question, “How to freeze a whole chicken?” and how to thaw chicken safely.

How to freeze a whole chicken?

The USDA provides the following recommendations for freezing uncooked  whole chicken (1):

  • Whole chicken can be frozen in its original packaging or repacked in a freezer bag for 1 year to maintain its quality.  
  • If you plan to use the chicken up within 2-3 months, wrap porous plastic containers from the store with air-resistant aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper, or place the container inside a freezer bag.
  • Before freezing the chicken in the freezer, remove excess air from the pack of the freezer. This would help in reducing freezer burn.
  • Label the date of freezing in the chicken. This would help you in remembering the date of freezing.
  • Freeze the chicken at a temperature of 0℉ or below.  If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely. The quality of the poultry may diminish the longer it is frozen. Avoid freezer temperature fluctuations, which will reduce freezing efficiency.

To freeze a cooked whole chicken, you should (3):

  • Cook the whole chicken to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F, using a food thermometer to check the internal temperature 
  • Cool the cooked chicken to a temperature of 40°F within 2 hours after cooking, to avoid exposing the food to the danger zone (40°F to 140°F) where the growth of microorganisms is intense and dangerous
  • Wrap the chicken in airtight packaging, or seal them in storage containers or freezing plastic bags
  • Freeze it at 0°F or below, avoiding temperature fluctuations
  • For the best quality, flavor, and texture, consume within 4 months.

Which packaging material has to be used to freeze chicken?

An airtight container or package is required to freeze chicken. An airtight container can help in reducing freezer burn and prevents moisture from escaping from the chicken (1).

Shrink packages can also be used to freeze chicken. You can use plastic freezer bags or aluminum foil too. This should be wrapped around the chicken. Inspect for holes in the packaging that you are about to use (1).

Butcher paper can also be used to freeze chicken. Avoid using normal plastic bags as they do not protect from air and moisture. .

You can purchase freezer-proof plastic containers for storing chicken. Use rectangular or square ones. While freezing, ensure that there is space between the container and the lid of the chicken.

How to thaw chicken safely?

The USDA recommends three ways to thaw chicken: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave (1). 

  • Plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Whole chickens may take 1 to 2 days or more to thaw, in the case of uncooked chicken. 
  • Once raw chicken is thawed, it can be kept in the refrigerator for an additional day or two before cooking or reheating. During this time, if the thawed chicken is not used in the refrigerator, it can be refrozen without cooking first.
  • You can use cold water to thaw the chicken in its airtight container or in a leak-proof bag. Immerse the whole chicken or cut parts in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to make sure it stays cold. This may take 2 to 3 hours. Cook immediately after thawing.
  • Thawed chicken in the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may heat up and begin to cook during microwave cooking promoting bacterial growth. 
  • Always thaw chicken before cooking in a slow cooker or microwave.  However, chicken can be cooked frozen in the oven or on the stovetop. Cooking time can be 50 percent longer. 
  • Make sure the chicken is cooked or reheated to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F which can be measured with a food thermometer (2).

What instructions need to be kept in mind while freezing chicken?

  • Keep the freezer temperature at 0°F or below to keep chicken frozen and prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms (1).
  • Avoid placing the bulk of foods or chicken in the freezer as this would prevent the freezer from freezing the chicken effectively. Store chicken in the back of the freezer. 
  • While storing the chicken in a package, remove excess air from the package to reduce rancidity (1).
  • If you are storing the chicken in the container, make sure to seal it properly with a lid.

Other FAQs about Chicken that you may be interested in.

Can you cook the chicken to 145?

Can you cook chicken in a crockpot for 10 hours?

Can you freeze 4 day old cooked chicken?

Why should you freeze chicken?

You should freeze chicken because freezing can greatly extend the shelf life of food. The ability of frozen meat, including poultry, to remain fresh is mainly due to the fact that the physical, chemical, and biochemical reactions in animal tissues that occur after slaughter are not completely halted by cold treatment, but are reduced significantly (4). 

While microbial growth ceases at temperatures of -12°C or lower and complete inhibition of cellular metabolism in animal tissues occurs at temperatures below -18°C, maintaining meat quality entirely can only be achieved at temperatures of -55°C or below. 

Nevertheless, spoilage can still occur due to enzymatic reactions, oxidative rancidity, and ice crystallization. Although about 60% of the microbial population is killed during the freezing process, the remaining population gradually increases over time during frozen storage.

What happens when chicken is frozen?

When chicken is frozen, the growth of microorganisms that can cause spoilage is stopped. Therefore, freezing can help preserve the quality and safety of chicken for an extended period (1). 

Freezing does not kill the microorganisms present in chicken, so it is important to cook chicken properly before consumption to prevent foodborne illness (1).

You should be aware that the quality of chicken can be affected by freezing and thawing. Freezing can alter the texture, flavor, and nutrients (1). 

For the best quality, flavor, and texture, consume frozen raw chicken within 1 year, and frozen cooked chicken within 4 months (1).


In this brief article, we have answered the question, “How to freeze a whole chicken?” and how to thaw chicken safely. References

  1. Chicken from Farm to Table. USDA, 2019.
  2. Food Safety Charts – Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart. USDA, 2020.
  3. Leftovers and Food Safety. United States Department of Agriculture.
  4. Dave, D., and Abdel E. Ghaly. Meat spoilage mechanisms and preservation techniques: a critical review. Am J Agric Biol Sci, 2011, 6, 486-510.