Realizing halfway through the day you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer for dinner is pretty annoying. But it’s made 100 times worse when you get home and realize that you also forgot to separate your chicken before you froze it.
So now you’re faced with a block of 5 stuck-together chicken breasts when you only need one.
So how do you separate frozen chicken? To separate frozen chicken, hold the seam of the chicken under cold running water until you start to see the ice melt. Then wedge a butter knife in-between the chicken pieces and pry them apart. Take care to not injure yourself by aiming the knife away from your person.
Related: How To Store Raw Chicken
How to separate frozen chicken
Here are a few different methods you can try. I recommend the cold running water technique because it’s easy, safe, and effective.
Cold running water
The best way to separate frozen chicken is to run cold water over the seam until you can safely wedge a butter knife in between the chicken pieces. Turn the butter knife, and the chicken pieces should pry apart. Use rubber gloves to hold the chicken if it’s too cold.
The chicken pieces are stuck together with ice and the ice will melt much faster than the chicken will thaw. The whole process shouldn’t take longer than 5-10 minutes, meaning the chicken won’t have thawed very much at all.
Therefore you can safely put the unwanted bits of chicken back in the freezer.
To speed up the process even more you can bang the chicken against the counter to help dislodge the different pieces.
Make sure you’re using cold water, because if you use hot water the surface of the chicken may start to cook. This will render the chicken unsafe for re-freezing and make it tough and dry when you eat it.
I always pat the chicken dry before freezing it again because frozen water on the chicken’s surface can increase the chances of freezer burn. Also, don’t forget to keep the pieces separate from each other, so they don’t get stuck together again!
Related: How To Cook Freezer Burned Chicken
You can store them in individual freezer bags or wrap the pieces in foil. This will also add an extra layer of protection against freezer burn.
If you have a large batch of chicken, it may not be feasible to hold the whole thing under the tap. In this case, you can leave the chicken block in your sink with the water running over it. For huge batches, you can use a bath!
Use the microwave
I don’t particularly like this method because I find it can go wrong very easily, but if you’re in a real hurry you can use the microwave.
Make sure the microwave is set on defrost and thaw the chicken for 10 seconds at a time. After 10 seconds, check the chicken and see if the ice has melted enough for you to pry the chicken pieces apart. If not, put it back in the microwave on defrost for another 10 seconds.
Thaw it in the fridge
Another option is to thaw all the chicken at once. If you thaw the chicken in the refrigerator, then you can safely refreeze it within two days. You might notice a slight difference in the texture but it’s better than throwing the chicken away.
Alternatively, once thawed, you can cook all the chicken. Either cook it plain or use it in different dishes like a curry or a casserole and then freeze the cooked chicken in the appropriate portion sizes. This may take up more time initially, but you’ll save that time in the future by having lots of pre-prepared meals on hand.
Can I separate frozen chicken without thawing
It’s very difficult and even dangerous to try and separate frozen chicken with a knife at home without at least partially thawing the chicken first.
Butchers cut frozen chicken with a meat saw or band saw. A meat saw is a great compromise between having something relatively inexpensive and a full-blown butcher’s kitchen for home use. For most people, it’s still likely to be overkill. But if you find yourself needing to thaw frozen chicken a lot, it’s a great tool to have on hand.
You could use a sharp meat cleaver and a hammer to chisel away at the seam, but this is a lot of effort and carries serious risk. If the meat cleaver slips, you could end up with a very nasty cut. I would never recommend trying to cut frozen chicken without the proper equipment.
One trick that might work is to bag the chicken up in a plastic bag and throw it down on a hard surface. Ice is very brittle so the impact can cause it to shatter and break up the block of frozen chicken.
Can I refreeze thawed chicken?
It’s safe to refreeze thawed chicken but only in certain circumstances. Also, while it’s safe you might notice a drop in quality as the chicken’s texture will change.
- If you can still see ice crystals on your chicken, then it’s perfectly safe to be re-frozen.
- If the chicken is totally thawed but was defrosted in the fridge and so never reached above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you can be safely re-freeze it within 2 days.
- If you’ve defrosted and then cooked the chicken, you can freeze the cooked chicken.
You shouldn’t re-freeze chicken that’s been totally defrosted in the microwave or using water.
How to stop chicken sticking together in the freezer
Now you’ve experienced the hassle of having to separate frozen chicken, you’re probably wondering how to stop that from happening again. There are two ways to go about this:
- You can keep each portion of chicken in an individual container such as a Tupperware box or a freezer bag.
- You can pre-freeze the chicken and then once frozen store it in a bigger bag. Lay the individual pieces out of a baking tray and flash freeze them for a few hours until solid. Once they’re frozen, you can store them without worrying about them sticking them together.
How To Separate Frozen Chicken
- 1 portion frozen chicken
Cold running water
- Remove the stuck together chicken pieces from the freezer.
- Use rubber gloves if the chicken feels too cold to have a safe grip on.
- Run the chicken pieces under cold water at the point where they're joined together.
- Once you can see the join becoming thawed and mallable, use a butter knife to gently pry the chicken pieces apart.
- Make sure to aim the butter knife away from your person and go slowly to avoid any possible injuries.
- Once done, it is safe to place the unused chicken pieces back in the freezer.
Using the microwave
- I don’t particularly like this method because I find it can go wrong very easily, but if you’re in a real hurry you can use the microwave.
- Make sure the microwave is set on defrost mode.
- Thaw the chicken for 10 seconds.
- After 10 seconds, check the chicken and see if the ice has melted enough for you to pry the chicken pieces apart.
- If the chicken hasn't thawed enough, put it back in the microwave on defrost for another 10 seconds. Repeat until the chicken has thawed enough to be separated by hand.