Since chicken is a versatile ingredient, it’s a great candidate for bulk buying. Depending on the size of your household, however, it can be difficult to know how much to buy. To determine the answer, you should first ask yourself: Just how long does cooked chicken last in the fridge?
How Long Does Freshly Cooked Chicken Last in the Fridge?
Once the chicken is cooked, the USDA recommends that you consume it within three to four days. For best results, the chicken should be properly stored in Ziploc bags or containers with tight-fitting lids. Make sure there are no tears or leaks in the storage containers, or the quality of the meat could deteriorate.
Before putting whole pieces of chicken into storage containers, wrap them well in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. This will help to extend their shelf life.
It’s a good idea to divide the chicken into portions in case you decide to freeze some of it. The portion sizes should depend on what you’re planning to do with them.
For example, a simple taco or fajita dinner might require as little as a half-pound, while a chicken salad or soup recipe will likely call for more meat. No matter how large or small your portions are, be sure to date each container for future reference.
How can you tell if cooked chicken has gone bad? Fortunately, this is easier than with some cooked meats. If the texture is slimy, that’s a definite red flag. You should throw it out as soon as you detect that slippery feel.
Another way to test for freshness is to give the meat a good sniff. If it has a sweet or sour smell, it’s time to toss it. Never taste chicken that you suspect of being “off.” It’s better to be safe than sorry.
How Long Does Thawed Chicken Last in the Fridge?
Let’s say you’ve frozen a few portions of chicken and are ready to thaw one of them. How much time will you have to eat the thawed portion before it goes bad?
The answer depends largely upon your thawing method. If you’ve allowed the cooked chicken to thaw in the fridge, the shelf life is three to four days. If, however, you’ve used either the microwave or cold water method (see below), the chicken should be consumed immediately. That’s because it’s been exposed to higher temperatures than it would have been in the fridge.
How To Thaw Chicken in the Microwave
- Place the cooked meat in a microwave-safe container.
- Sprinkle a few drops of cold water over the pieces, especially the breast meat. This will help prevent the meat from drying out as it defrosts.
- Use the microwave’s “defrost” setting for one minute.
- Check the meat to see if it has defrosted. If not, repeat for one minute at a time until it’s fully defrosted but still cool to the touch.
How To Thaw Chicken in Cold Water
It’s important to use cold water for this method. Using warm or hot water could cause harmful bacteria to form on the outer layer before the inner layers have had a chance to thaw.
- Make sure the chicken is in a leak-proof bag. You might want to add another Ziploc bag, just to be safe.
- Completely submerge the bag in cold water.
- Check the meat after 20 minutes. If it’s not fully thawed, repeat the process with a fresh batch of cold water until no ice crystals remain.
- Alternatively, you can place the bag under a continuously running stream of cold water until it’s completely thawed. Just be sure to periodically check the water temperature, as well as the consistency of the meat.
Finally, note that you should keep cooked chicken in the freezer for no longer than six months. In fact, this is a good rule of thumb for any frozen meat product, raw or cooked.
Recipe Ideas for Cooked Chicken
Looking for ways to stretch that cooked chicken into lunches for the week? Here are a few tempting ideas that are sure to make the food disappear from the fridge that much sooner.
- Stuff shredded chicken into a baked potato with cheddar cheese, bacon, and chives. Top with plenty of sour creams.
- Toss with barbecue or teriyaki sauce and use as a pizza topping with bell peppers and sliced onions.
- Reheat in gravy with peas and carrots, then bake into a pie crust for a quick and easy chicken pot pie.
- Mix with mayo, tarragon, chopped celery, and a bit of lemon juice for chicken salad. Stuff it into pita bread, or use scoops of it to top a green salad.
- Mix with cumin, chili powder, and pinto beans for a simple burrito filling.
- Toss into a dish of homemade fried rice with carrots, onions, and snow peas.
- Use sliced chicken breast as a base for a great sandwich.
- Top a grain bowl with shredded chicken.
- Use chopped chicken to give a tray of nachos a boost of protein.
- Make chicken noodle soup using dried egg noodles and homemade chicken stock or broth, garnishing each bowl with fresh parsley. If you don’t have any stock handy, substitute a high-quality bouillon paste.
- Stuff the meat into corn tortillas with onions, cilantro, and tomatillo salsa. Top with feta or queso fresco.
- Add a handful of shredded or diced chicken to a tomato-based pasta dish.
How long does cooked chicken last in the fridge? The answer depends on your storage method; whether or not it was previously frozen, and if so, how it was thawed. The bottom line? Transform that cooked chicken into delicious dishes that won’t stick around long enough to go bad.
Joseph Hudson has been raising chickens for over 15 years. In 2018, he completed the Agriculture & Natural Resources program at Mt. San Antonio College. He currently raises over 1400 chickens on his 7.5-hectare farm. He keeps sharing his experience on raising healthy and happy chickens on Chicken Scratch.