Arm yourself with these techniques, and they’ll never guess you grilled the chicken from frozen.

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon and barbecue season’s upon us! Earlier in the week, you told the family that today was the day you’d cook chicken on the grill. Rightly, everyone’s excited.

You start prepping, open the fridge, and reach for the chicken… only to find that it’s not there. It’s then when you realize that you forgot to take it out of the freezer and let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Scrambling to figure out what to do, you googled the matter and came across this article. We give you a warm welcome to Home Cook World and invite you to read on; we have great news for you.

So, what’s the long story short? Can you, or can you not, grill frozen chicken?

You can grill frozen chicken without thawing it first. Just know that it will take twice as long to cook through. Use indirect heat so the chicken doesn’t burn on the outside by the time it’s done on the inside.

This, of course, applies only to chicken pieces—bone-in or boneless chicken breasts, chicken thighs, chicken drumsticks, and chicken wings—not to whole chicken. The thinner the chicken parts, the better.

If the chicken pieces are frozen together, which they probably are, leave them out at room temperature for 15-20 minutes (but not longer) so you can separate them with a knife before putting them on the grill.

Why frozen chicken takes longer to cook:

If you’re wondering why it takes twice the cooking time to grill frozen chicken (and frozen meat as a whole), it’s because your grill has to do double the work. More thermal energy is needed to thaw and cook meat than to just cook it.

This makes it all too easy for the chicken to burn on the outside by the time it comes out done on the inside. For this reason, you should use indirect heat, and not direct heat. We will discuss what this means and how to do it in a minute.

Direct vs. indirect heat (and why it matters):

Direct heat means grilling your meat directly over the heat source, be it the glowing coals or the lighted burner. Indirect heat is when you grill near, but not over, the heat source.

To do this, set up your grill following the instructions below and cook your chicken with the lid closed. The result is gentle, indirect heat—much like the heat you get when slow-roasting the chicken in the oven—that cooks the chicken slowly and without flare-ups.

Setting up your charcoal grill for indirect heat:

To set up your charcoal grill for indirect heat, light the coals as usual and wait for them to ashen over. This usually takes 20-30 minutes on calm summer days and 15-20 minutes on windy fall days.

Rake the coals over to the left and to the right, leaving a coal-free zone in the center. That’s where you want to put an aluminum drip pan, put back the grate, lay the chicken above the drip pan, and then cook it with the lid down.

Setting up your gas grill for indirect heat:

To set your gas grill to indirect heat, preheat the grill for 20-30 minutes with half of the burners set to medium heat and the other half turned off. Cook the frozen chicken with the lid closed on the side of the grate with no burners.

Telling when the chicken is done:

Raw or undercooked chicken can make you sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. Raw chicken meat contains harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Yersinia, which require a minimum temperature to be killed.

This minimum temperature is 165°F (74°C) and it is what your meat thermometer must read when you insert the probe into the center of the thickest section of each and every chicken piece.

(Do not skip this step; it’s paramount to protecting you and everyone else from foodborne illness.)

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Now that we know what to do to grill frozen chicken, let’s talk about what not to do to save yourself and the hungry ones in your backyard some mishaps.

Don’t forget to preheat the grill. It takes at least 15 minutes for charcoal to ashen over, and about the same amount of time to preheat a gas grill with the lid closed. When you place the chicken pieces on the grate, it should be nice and hot so that thawing begins immediately.

Don’t put chicken pieces on the grill when they’re frozen together. Not only will they come out unevenly cooked all over, but they will likely be undercooked at the point where they were stuck together.

Don’t cook the chicken with direct heat. Even if the pieces are really thin, you don’t want to cook them with direct heat from frozen. There should be no glowing coals and no lit burners directly underneath the meat; just a drip pan.

Don’t judge the degree of cooking by the color. If a crispy, golden-brown crust forms on the outside of the chicken pieces, it’s easy to fool yourself that they’re cooked on the inside, too. A meat thermometer is the only accurate and reliable way to tell the doneness of meat, especially when cooking it from frozen.

How to Thaw Chicken, the Quick Way

So far, so good.

We’ve established that you can grill frozen chicken. The keys to getting this right are to separate the pieces from one another, use indirect heat on the grill, plan for a longer cook time, and use a food thermometer for telling doneness.

But the fact that you can do it doesn’t mean that you should.

The best way to grill chicken, poultry, or any type of meat is by thawing it properly beforehand. This will ensure that it reaches the safe internal temperature for human consumption quickly, without drying out on the inside and turning to chat on the outside.

You’re short on time and you’re probably looking for ideas to defrost chicken quickly. So let’s talk about two of them.

In the microwave:

The fastest way to thaw frozen chicken is in the microwave, where thawing takes roughly 8 minutes per pound of flesh. Place the chicken on a microwave-safe plate and use the defrost setting 2-3 minutes at a time.

As soon as the chicken is done thawing, cook it over indirect heat on a preheated grill. Don’t leave it out at room temperature and don’t store it in the fridge; you’ve already exposed the meat to the bacterial danger zone, in which bacteria can multiply in dangerous numbers if you don’t cook it.

In a bowl of cold water:

The second-fastest way to thaw frozen chicken is in cold water—a thawing method that takes roughly 1 hour per pound of flesh. Seal the chicken tightly in a plastic bag so that no water can get in. Then submerge it in a large bowl filled with cold water and change the water every 20-30 minutes until thawed.

Once again, grill the chicken as soon as it is thawed to keep it edible for you and your guests. This defrosting method cannot be compared to defrosting in the fridge, where you can keep the meat safely for days.

How to Thaw Chicken, the Proper Way

The proper way to thaw chicken is to move it from the freezer to the fridge a night or two before grilling. Place the chicken on a metal tray so it doesn’t drip on the other food in the refrigerator, and put it on the lowest shelf where it is coldest.

To separate the chicken from the excess moisture it will likely release into the defrosting tray, use a wire rack or place it on crumpled aluminum foil. This will lift the meat from the juices and prevent it from turning soggy in spots.

This thawing method works so well because it allows the meat to thaw at a safe temperature that doesn’t expose it to the danger zone, where Campylobacter bacteria thrive and the risk of foodborne illness increases significantly.