Can you eat cold chicken? Is it safe to eat the leftovers you keep in the fridge? If you are looking for the answers to these questions, this post is the right place for you.
Cooking a whole chicken and eating it cold for several days can be time-saving and convenient. But the most crucial thing is how to tell if it is safe or not.
If you are unsure, do not worry. Because in this article, I am going to guide you through the ways to check if the cold chicken is safe to eat, how to store it, and some cold chicken recipes.
Yes, you can. Chicken can be eaten cold without reheating. However, before eating it cold, you need to make sure:
- The chicken was well-cooked before.
- It is not left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90℉.
- The chicken is preserved properly in a fridge or freezer. (Detailed guide below)
- Eat the cold chicken within a specific amount of time before it goes bad. (Detailed information below)
Eating cold chicken is not only possible but also beneficial to you in several ways. In case you are too busy to cook every day, batch cooking chicken, and eating it cold later is time-saving and convenient for you.
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Besides, chicken is one of the high-protein sources of meat, which is great for clean eating. Having cooked chicken, especially chicken breast ready in your fridge to eat as a kind of snack before or after working outcan aid your muscle-building.
Keeping the well-cooked chicken in the fridge also allows your meat to absorb the seasonings better. Knowing the correct duration for marinating chicken will make the cold chicken taste even better than the hot one.
So, keep scrolling down if you want to know how to store the cooked chicken well, some chicken recipes to beat the summer heat, and other related information. I am sure the knowledge is useful for your healthy eating.
The first thing you must do before eating chicken cold is to check its condition carefully. The meat is in good condition when it was fully cooked before and not left out for up to 2 hours at room temperature.
Skipping checking these two factors can put your health at risk. Below are the detailed explanations.
Raw chicken often contains harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter, sometimes Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens. (1) These bacteria contaminate your meat and cause food poisoning. Thus, making sure the chicken is well-cooked is a must.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, you should cook the chicken until the whole meat, even the innermost parts reach the internal temperature of 165℉ to kill off the bacteria. Using a food thermometer is highly recommended.
Once the chicken is fully cooked, it can be eaten cold later. You can only eat cold cooked chicken, not raw one.
You accidentally leave the cooked chicken on the counter overnight and wonder if you can eat it cold? Definitely not.
The longer the meat is kept at room temperature, the worse it gets. Bear in mind that the “danger zone” for food is the temperature between 40℉ and 140℉. Harmful bacteria, especially pathogenic bacteria, which result in foodborne illness, grow rapidly in this zone.
Even though pathogens contaminate the chicken, they normally do not affect the texture, color, or smell of the food. So, you hardly recognize that the chicken is not safe to eat.
Therefore, you can only leave your chicken out at room temperature for no more than two hours, but only one hour if it is exposed to temperatures above 90℉, like summer camping or a hot car. The meat sitting out for longer should be thrown. (2)
The answer to the question “Can you eat cold chicken?” also lies in the way you preserve it. Storing the chicken improperly can lead to spoilage and food poisoning.
Below are some simple but essential tips for storing your cooked chicken so that you can keep the meat safe and extend its shelf life.
When you put your meat into the fridge, you should wrap it carefully in zipper bags, airtight packaging, or vacuum packaging. A shallow airtight container is also a good choice. That will extend the shelf life of chicken in the fridge and minimize the growth of bacteria.
A useful tip for you is to write on the chicken container what it is and when you start preserving it. That will remind you to eat the chicken before it is spoiled.
As I mentioned above, raw chicken contains harmful bacteria. Do not risk putting the raw and cooked meat next to each other. So, even though you have wrapped the cooked chicken carefully, it is safer to keep it away from raw meat.
If the temperature in your fridge is higher than 40℉, your meat is at risk. Harmful bacteria can still grow quickly in the cooked chicken because it is kept in the “danger zone”.
Therefore, you must keep your chicken out of that zone by remaining the temperature in your fridge lower than 40℉.
Here are some tips for storing your leftovers properly.
What if you want to freeze your fried chicken? If you do not plan to eat cooked chicken for quite long, then you will want to keep it in a freezer instead of a fridge.
In general, storing cooked food in a freezer can keep it safe for good, but the quality will decrease over time. The knowledge about how long you should keep chicken is available below.
You should keep your cooked chicken in the freezer like the way you do in the fridge as I guided you through.
- First, make sure the meat is well-cooked beforehand.
- Freeze the chicken before it is left out for 2 hours at room temperature, or only 1 if the temperature is above 90℉.
- Put the meat into an airtight bag, vacuum package, or airtight container. Keep yourself reminded by writing the date on its container.
- Separate the cooked meat from the raw one.
- Keep the temperature at 0℉ or less.
You can learn some handy tips to freeze leftovers here.
The biggest concern is how you can thaw the chicken in the right way. The wrong method can make your well-frozen meat go bad.
Bear in mind that you should never thaw it in hot water because it can cause harmful bacteria to form in your chicken. Besides, you do not want to eat chicken warm outside and frozen inside.
Ideally, you should move it from the freezer to the fridge and leave it to thaw gradually. It can take a full day to defrost completely. The meat should be consumed within 48 hours after defrosting.
Another way is to submerge it into cold water but make sure it is still covered well in a zip bag. Change the water every 30 minutes. The time depends on how big the meat is. The meat should be eaten as soon as it is fully thawed.
The last recommended way to defrost is to use the microwave. First, you need to remove the wrappers from the chicken, then place the chicken on a microwave-safe plate.
Thaw the chicken on low heat for 6-8 minutes per 1 pound. You can check whether it is completely thawed or not by touching the meat with your fingers. But remember to let it cool at least one minute before you do.
For the cooked meat defrosted in the fridge or cold water, you can serve it cold in salads or sandwiches.
However, I recommend you reheat the meat thawed in the microwave immediately once fully thawed because the heat in the microwave can cause bacteria to grow. Reheat until the whole meat reaches 165℉.
No matter how well you preserve your chicken in the fridge or freezer, the meat cannot last forever. The bacteria, such as spoilage still gradually grow, or the meat may lose its quality. This is why it is important to know how long cooked chicken lasts when left outside as well as in the refrigerator and freezer.
Cooked chicken can last for about 2 hours at room temperature. When the temperature is above 90F, you can safely leave cooked chicken outside for only 1 hour.
This table below will give you the estimated time some types of cooked chicken last, according to USDA. (3)
|Type of chicken||Refrigerated at 40℉ or less||Frozen at 0℉ or below (For best quality, frozen food remains safe infinitely)|
|Leftover cooked chicken||3 - 4 days||4 months|
|Fried chicken||3 - 4 days||4 months|
|Cooked chicken nuggets, patties||3 - 4 days||1 - 3 months|
|Cooked chicken covered with broth or gravy||3 - 4 days||6 months|
|Take-away chicken||3 - 4 days||4 months|
Cooked chicken that stays longer than this time should be discarded because it may cause illness or taste bad.
You can preserve the cooked chicken in the fridge or freezer to eat later in a specific amount of time, not for good. Eating contaminated chicken can cause illness or food poisoning.
Therefore, even though you have refrigerated or frozen them well, make sure that you check the meat carefully before eating. Below are some signs of spoiled cooked chicken.
- Unpleasant odors: One of the most obvious signs is the smell. Once the chicken has a bad smell, you have to throw it away without a second thought. Chickens will sometimes smell like eggs, but this is not always an indicator of spoiled ones.
- Slimy or fuzzy: If the chicken looks slimy or fuzzy, I am sure that you should discard it right away.
- Weird colors: Freshly cooked chicken is usually brown or white. If you know about the dissimilarities between white and dark meat chicken, you will understand the reason for this difference in color.
When you find out the meat changes into weird colors, normally gray or green-gray, it is time to throw it away.
- Molds or spots: You should check your meat carefully to make sure molds or spots are not present on it. Because those are signs of spoiled chicken.
- Stay in your fridge for more than 4 days: Chicken can be bad without any clear signs. If you leave it for that long, you should not eat it anymore even though it still looks good.
If your purpose is to find out whether you can eat cold chicken, I am sure you also want to know some good recipes for leftover or cold chicken. Here are some suggestions you can try.
Salad is one of the best and quickest ways to serve cold chicken. It is also a tasty and healthy dish. Consuming more vegetables is always a great choice. So, you just need to prepare your favorite salad vegetables. And your cooked chicken is ready to join the mixture.
Another suggestion you can try is a chicken strips snack. This dish is a perfect choice for your chicken leftovers. Take it out of your fridge, and then marinate it with whatever flavors you like. A dipping sauce to go with is also terrific.
Why don’t you try turning your chicken leftovers into these tasty and beautiful wraps? It is a very creative but simple way to use up your meat in the fridge. It will be a mouth-watering and healthy dish for lunch.
Check this out to know how to make tasty wraps with leftover cooked chicken.
Last but not least, a leftover chicken sandwich is worth trying since it is one of the greatest sandwich recipes ever. I love sandwiches with cold chicken. It is easy to prepare and also tasty. Shred the chicken, and add any ingredients and vegetables you like.
Is eating cold chicken the only way to use up your leftovers? What about reheating the cooked chicken again? Should you do so?
If you are also wondering whether you should reheat the cooked chicken, I am sure you want to keep reading.
The answer is yes. But, only when you refrigerate or freeze it properly before. You always need to check the meat carefully for any spoiled signs before reheating it.
Also, bear in mind that you should only reheat it once. Repeatedly refrigerating and reheating food can allow bacteria to grow.
After reheating, you should eat the chicken in one sitting.
Reheating food is like cooking it again. You need to make sure every part of the meat reaches at least 165℉. Use a food thermometer to check.
Here are some ways you can use to reheat chicken wings or other parts of cooked chicken.
- On CookTop: Place the chicken in a pan or cooking pot and heat the meat evenly until it reaches at least 165℉.
- In Oven: Place the meat in the oven and set the heat to at least 325℉. The time depends on how big the meat is. It is well-reheated when the whole meat reaches 165℉.
- In Microwave: Place the chicken on a microwave-safe plate and heat thoroughly until it is reheated to at least 165℉.
Do you have any unanswered questions? Here are some more related ones about cold chicken.
Well, I hope now you know whether you can eat cold chicken or not. Being careful with food is always a must to stay healthy. Once you grasp how to handle it well, it is completely safe to eat cold chicken.
So, did you enjoy your cold chicken? Let me and other readers know how tasty your meal is via the comments. And do not hesitate to share with your friends the tips on how to preserve cooked chicken and enjoy it cold later. Thank you and stay healthy!
- cdc.gov. 2021. Chicken and Food Poisoning.
- Ask.usda.gov. 2022. AskUSDA.
- fsis.usda.gov. 2019. Chicken from Farm to Table.
Table of Contents
- Can You Eat Chicken Cold?
- Consider The Condition Of The Chicken
- How To Preserve The Chicken Properly In A Fridge
- Can You Keep Cooked Chicken In A Freezer?
- How Long Can You Keep Your Cooked Chicken?
- How To Know If The Cold Cooked Chicken Has Gone Bad?
- Cold/Leftover Chicken Recipes
- Is Reheating Cooked Chicken Safe?
- Cold Chicken Is Not Bad With Enough Precautions Taken