Marinating Chicken: Should You Marinate Frozen Chicken?

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If you ask anyone what their favorite meat is, a lot of people will answer chicken. It is a key ingredient in a wide variety of different dishes, and meat that easily crosses cultures and cuisines.

This might be because it is a relatively cheap meat, and it could also be because  it is so versatile. Whether it be fried, baked, grilled, or marinated, chicken can taste good in all varieties. 

Another reason why some people love chicken is because it freezes so well. Unlike other meats where the taste and consistency can change greatly over time, on the whole chicken tastes pretty much the same once defrosted as it did when it was fresh. 

Chicken marinade works on frozen chicken wings, chicken breast, and chicken thigh. Just use your favorite chicken marinade recipe.

But does the way in which you cook frozen chicken have to change? For example, marinating fresh chicken is easy, but are you able to do this with frozen chicken? Let’s take a look. 

Can you Marinate Frozen Chicken?

If you want the short answer, then yes, you can marinate frozen chicken. But whether you should is another matter.

Marinating fresh chicken makes sense because the chicken does not need to be defrosted, and as long as it is before its ‘use by’ date then it is safe to use. But due to the fact that frozen chicken requires defrosting, marinating frozen chicken doesn’t work as well. 

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. Theoretically, you can marinate chicken directly from frozen, but it doesn’t work that well. For the best results, you would be better off defrosting the frozen chicken prior to marinating it. This allows the chicken to soak up the sauce better and enhances the flavor of the marinade, making the chicken more tasty. 

When a marinade is applied to frozen chicken, then it is more difficult for the chicken to soak in the flavor as the chicken is also defrosting. The water that comes out of the chicken during the defrosting process can also wash away the marinade which will further disrupt the flavor.

But theoretically, if you wanted to apply a marinade to frozen chicken, then you can. 

Things to Expect when you Marinate Frozen Chicken 

If you decide that you want to marinate frozen chicken, then there are some things that you should prepare yourself for.

As we have mentioned, marinating frozen chicken is a lot different to marinating fresh chicken and so you shouldn’t go in expecting the same experience. 

The entire purpose of marinating chicken is so that the flavors in the sauce will soak into the chicken and give it a yummy and juicy flavor. But when you do this with frozen chicken, the sauce actually struggles to penetrate the skin of the chicken due to the fact that it is frozen.

This means that, while you will achieve some flavor, the flavor will be nowhere near as strong as if you were to marinade fresh chicken. 

There are some common misconceptions about how you can enhance the flavor of the marinade on frozen chicken.

One of these theories is that you should leave the chicken marinate for longer, another is that you should simply apply more marinade to the chicken. But sadly, none of these theories actually work. 

The simple fact is that when you apply a marinade to frozen chicken, that chicken is always going to thaw which will definitely disrupt the sauce from soaking into the chicken. Not only will this water wash the marinade away, but it will also water down the sauce and make it less flavorful.

So the main thing that you need to expect when marinating frozen chicken is that it will probably not work as well as if you were marinating fresh chicken. 

Is it Dangerous to Marinate Frozen Chicken?

We mentioned earlier that marinating frozen chicken might not be the best idea because it doesn’t actually work that well, but some people are actually of the impression that marinating frozen chicken could be dangerous.

However, there’s no need to worry because marinating frozen chicken is perfectly safe

It is understandable that some people are concerned about this process because eating chicken that has not been prepared or cooked properly can be incredibly dangerous.

Chicken is often associated with salmonella food poisoning which is why some people have strong views about how to prepare chicken. 

But most people will have found themselves in a situation where they forgot to defrost their chicken beforehand, and there are probably very few people who haven’t prepared chicken from frozen.

So if you do find that you forgot to defrost your chicken, then marinating it from frozen is definitely an option. For the best results using this method you should apply the marinade and then leave the chicken to defrost.

You will not achieve the same results as you would if the chicken were fresh or defrosted, but a lot of the marinade will be soaked up. 

However, should you apply the marinade to chicken that is defrosting then you should throw the excess marinade away as this could cause food poisoning if you were to consume it. 

Can you Marinate Frozen Chicken Overnight?

If, even after reading this, you have decided that you want to apply a marinade to your frozen chicken, then you should be prepared that this will be a lengthy process.

In fact, marinating your frozen chicken overnight is the best way to get flavorful chicken if you decide to prepare from frozen. 

By leaving the chicken overnight, this will allow the chicken itself to defrost thoroughly before cooking, and it will also give the marinade more time to soak into the chicken.

However, as we have mentioned multiple times so far, the fact that the chicken is defrosting will water down the marinade throughout the night, so it is important that you use a strong marinade if you want tasty results. 

This is why it is sometimes seen as a better option to defrost the chicken overnight, and then apply the marinade in the morning.

This will ensure that you will get the full flavor from the marinade, and it might be a more feasible option if you are not planning on cooking the chicken until the afternoon anyway. So you should consider your specific situation before you apply the marinade to your frozen chicken. 

Tips and Tricks for Marinating Frozen Chicken

So now that you know that frozen chicken can be marinated, let’s take a look at some tips and tricks that you should bear in mind when doing this. 

The first trick that we would recommend is defrosting the chicken before you apply the marinade. This ensures that the water that comes out of the chicken while it is defrosting will not impact the marinade, and you will be left with juicy and flavorful chicken to eat. 

But, of course, this isn’t always possible, and so you might choose to apply the marinade to the chicken before it defrosts. If you do this, you should be prepared for the final result to be less flavorful, but there are some things that you can do to enhance the taste.

One option that you have is to prepare additional marinade, and continue to massage additional marinade into the chicken while it defrosts.

You could also slightly alter the ingredients used in your marinade so that they also include an acidic ingredient as this can help bind the marinade to the chicken. 

The final tip that we would suggest is preparing your marinade and applying it to the chicken before you freeze it.

Obviously, this isn’t something that you can do at the last minute, but this is an excellent way to achieve flavorful chicken that has been frozen. While the chicken freezes the marinade will soak into the chicken and achieve full flavor as if you were marinating fresh chicken. 

Should you Thaw Chicken before marinating?

In an ideal world, yes you should thaw your chicken before you apply the marinade. As we have said, the process of defrosting chicken causes water to mix with the marinade which can water down the flavor and also wash the marinade off of the chicken.

If you thaw the chicken before you apply the marinade, you will not experience this issue, and it will be almost as if you were applying a marinade to fresh chicken. 

Some people might also view it as safer if you were to thaw the chicken before applying it. As we mentioned earlier, the leftover marinade that does not soak into chicken that has defrosted could potentially cause a health risk if you were to consume it.

Whereas the leftover marinade from fresh/defrosted chicken is generally safe to consume. So thawing the chicken before applying the marinade could be a safer option. 

But generally, you should just do what works best for your situation. As long as the final product is thoroughly cooked then your health should not be at risk from consuming the chicken, even if you applied the marinade when it was frozen. 

Ways to Defrost Chicken

Seen as marinating defrosted chicken is the option that gives the best results, it seems only right that we take a look at some of the different ways that you can defrost your frozen chicken.

Depending on the speed at which you want to prepare your meal then different options might be better suited to you, so let’s take a look at the different ways that you can do this. 

Defrost in the Microwave

The first option that you have when it comes to defrosting chicken is to do it in the microwave. This is generally seen as one of the quickest options when it comes to defrosting chicken, and it is widely used.

However, not all types of chicken are suited to defrosting in this way. For example, you cannot defrost a whole chicken in the microwave. 

But generally, any fillet of chicken is safe to be defrosted in the microwave. You should do this by setting your microwave to defrost mode and setting it to go on 2-minute cycles.

After every 2 minutes you should take the chicken out and check how defrosted it is, and repeat this until it has thoroughly thawed. This might also require you to move the chicken around slightly or turn it to ensure that it only thaws and does not cook. 

You will be able to tell that the chicken has thawed when it begins to resemble fresh chicken in terms of color and tenderness. Generally, it will take around 10 minutes for chicken fillets to thaw completely.

But if you choose to defrost your chicken using this method, you must apply the marinade ready for cooking immediately after it defrosts. You cannot put it back into the fridge to use later on in the day. 

Defrost in Hot Water

This next method is one that can seem very confusing to some people, and that is to defrost your frozen chicken using a bowl of warm water. Despite this being a method that is often puzzled at, it is actually a very common way to defrost chicken. 

This is a longer process than defrosting chicken in the microwave, but it is still one of the faster options so a good one to consider if you are in a rush. To use this method you will need to fill a large pan with hot water.

Once this is full, you should then submerge the packet that contains your frozen chicken directly into the water. Then you can simply leave the hot water to do its magic, and within 40 minutes to 1 hour you will have chicken that has completely defrosted. 

This is an easy method, but there are some things that you must consider before using it. One of these things is the fact that the chicken must be contained in packaging for this to be able to work.

If any water were to penetrate the packaging then this would make the chicken unsafe to eat, so you must ensure that there are no gaps or holes in the packaging.

You will also have to constantly monitor the chicken to ensure that you remove it from the water as soon as it defrosts. Once defrosted, your chicken is then ready to use. 

Defrost in the Fridge

The final method that you can use to defrost chicken is probably the most widely used, and that is simply to put it in the fridge and leave it to defrost naturally.

Out of all the options that we have looked at, this is by far the longest, so if you need to defrost your chicken quickly this will not be the best option for you. 

But if you are preparing food for the following day then defrosting your chicken in the fridge is probably the best choice.

This thawing method is completely stress-free as all you need to do is move the packet of chicken from the freezer into the fridge then leave it until you want to use it.

As the chicken is being kept in a refrigerator there is no need to use it immediately after it defrosts, like with the other methods, but you should still aim to cook it 1-2 days after defrosting. 

Defrosting chicken in the fridge usually takes about 12 hours, but it is the best way to avoid damaging the taste and texture of the chicken, So if you have the time to spare then defrosting your chicken in the refrigerator is definitely the best option.

If you were to put your chicken in the refrigerator during the evening, by morning you will have defrosted chicken that is ready to be marinated. 


In conclusion, yes you can marinate chicken directly from frozen, but the results that you achieve will likely not be that great. For the best results, you should defrost your chicken before applying your marinade. 


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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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