Raw chicken is safe to pop in the freezer for an indefinite amount of time, and likewise, it’s safe to put in the refrigerator until it’s casserole time the next day.
But what about remnants from sautéed or boiled chickens? Are they just as safe to pop in the freezer or refrigerator as any raw chicken cut? If yes, will they preserve texture, taste and flavors?
In this article, you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about putting cooked chicken parts in the freezer. Excited? Lets get started!
Can you freeze cooked chicken?
Yes, you can safely store cooked chicken parts in the freezer or even in the refrigerator. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises that you never store cooked chicken parts on the counter or at room temperature for longer than 1 hour. The meat can easily grow pathogenic bacteria which would produce toxins that can cause you food poisoning when ingested.
The maximum time limit for storing cooked chicken in the freezer according to the USDA is indefinitely, provided the chicken is held at 0F or at temperatures below (they outline exactly how to do that in this article).
For optimum quality however, they advise that the cooked chickens be used within the first six months of freezing. That’s when it’ll taste best and texture great!
In the refrigerator, cooked chickens don’t last anywhere near the ‘indefinite’ time they do in the freezer, and neither do they last any longer than their raw counterparts.
The reason is because they are colonized by a family of bacteria known as spoilage bacteria which manage to continue their growth activities even at refrigeration temperatures, thereby causing the chicken to deteriorate and develop off taste, smell and texture.
If you manage to consume any cooked chicken that has deteriorated in the refrigerator during storage however, you’re most likely going to survive and live unaffected all thanks to the fact that the bacteria aren’t pathogenic but spoilage, according to the USDA.
But still, you shouldn’t consume any spoilt chicken part because there’s still one percent risk of falling sick — it’s the bacteria known as Listeria monocytogenes which is a spoilage bacteria that is known to deviate from norm and cause food borne illness.
Cooked chickens stored in the refrigerator usually don’t last longer than 5 days. Less than 3 days is the recommend time for them to be used, but there are always going to be exceptions that will last an extra one or two days depending on many factors you just can’t control.
Below is a detailed guide on how to properly store cooked chickens in the freezer and in the refrigerator. In the end is a table showing the proper refrigeration/freezer times for other homemade chicken products that aren’t boiled, sautéed, roasted, grilled or baked cuts or whole.
How to store cooked chicken in the freezer
Cooked chicken can keep indefinitely in the freezer, provided you maintain the freezer temperature at 0F or below. It doesn’t matter if the chicken is boiled, baked, roasted, grilled or sautéed, so far the above criteria is adhered to, the chicken should keep to the promised time.
In terms of quality, it’s best to stick with a six months ultimatum as the texture and taste at that time is still very reminiscent of freshly cooked chicken prior to freezing. Anything after that and you risk ruining the quality of the chicken even though it’s never by a significant margin.
With all that being said, before you even think of putting any cooked chicken in the freezer, there are a few things on the check box list you want to make sure you’ve ticked.
- The chicken in question is properly cooked to optimal temperature which is 165 registered at the thickest portion of the chicken.
- The chicken isn’t stuffed with any items. Stuffed chicken that are slid into the freezer run the risk of perishing quickly due to the often contrasting freezing qualities of the item stuffed within. So it’s best to get the chicken as naked as possible.
- The chicken, in its raw state, prior to cooking, hasn’t been left on the counter for more than two hours, and in the cooked state, for more than one hour. The reason why the former is advised (which in itself is very crucial as it determines the safety of the resulting cooked chicken), is because the chicken may end up growing pathogenic bacteria which will produce toxins that are resistant to high heat cooking and can cause food borne illness. You now see the link between raw and cooked? If the raw chicken does end up growing any of these bacteria as a result of the improper handling, then the cooked chicken, no matter how hot it’s boiled, sautéed or grilled, will always end up with the poisonous toxins produce by the bacteria. And whether or not you freeze doesn’t make any difference as freezing, no matter how long, cannot never destroy these toxins (and other bacteria present on/in the chicken). So come thaw-time, you’ll grill yourself and the family, a hot plate of mess!
- The chicken isn’t partially cooked. That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s just as worse as anything you’ve read in the earlier paragraph.
Now with all these in mind, it’s time to prepare the cooked chicken for freezing.
- Allow left over freshly cooked chicken to sit for a while (no more than one hour) for any steam to evaporate.
- If dealing with large quantities, cut into several pieces, put into several shallow containers for quick cooling.
- Place the chicken in a zip lock plastic bag and suck out as much air as you think creates a vacuum. Seal and label with name, thaw date and how to use.
- Place in the freezer and avoid stacking or overcrowding. Remember, the goal is to freeze the chicken as quickly as possible, and the more the cold air around the bag the faster the cooling.
- Store indefinitely, but for optimal quality, use within the first six months of storage.
- Do not open the refrigerator door unnecessarily or for an extended period of time, (now is the right time to sit the kids down and come to a reasonable conclusion with them). Let them know that it’s either chicken for their tummies or chicken for hungry fruit flies waiting in the trash can outside!
How to defrost frozen cooked chicken
1) In the refrigerator (recommended)
Take out the chicken from the freezer and keep in the upper shelf of the refrigerator. This is crucial especially if there’s any raw meat sitting somewhere in the fridge. You don’t want any drips on your cooked chicken, which is not only disgusting, but also packs loads of potential harm.
Allow for one or two days to fully thaw, depending on the part you have in hand.
Refreeze the chicken at this point if you’ve made up your mind to use the chicken another day.
Consume directly from the cold state (you won’t die), or heat through until hot and steaming or the chicken registers 165 F at all parts.
2) In the microwave
Follow manufacturer’s instructions on reheating cooked chicken in the microwave. If you’re manual doesn’t have that instruction, or for some reason, you happen to misplace the guide somewhere, use the instructions below.
- Place chicken in a microwave safe plate.
- Sprinkle a few teaspoon of water over the frozen chicken for moistness.
- Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on High for 2 minutes making sure to turn chicken halfway this time. If chicken isn’t yet done after this time, microwave at bursts of 30 seconds until the internal temperature registers 165F.
- Make sure to rotate the chicken inside the microwave so it heats evenly. If your microwave has a rotating turntable, then there’s no need to rotate manually.
3) In a bowl of ice cold water
- Place the plastic bag in a bowl containing ice cold water to thaw; it should take less than one hour.
- Replace water after every 30 minutes to keep the water cold.
- Cook immediately after thawing.
Don’t thaw on the counter.
Cooking chicken from frozen can take up to 50 percent longer than if it was warm.
How to refrigerate cooked chickens
If you only intend storing your cooked chicken until evening or dinner time, then all you need to do is package for refrigeration. Here’s how to do that.
- Cool chicken in a shallow plastic container for no more than one hour. You can place the bottom of the dish in ice cold water to cool faster.
- Lid the plastic container and pop in the refrigerator for no more than 5 days. It’s advised to use within 3 to 4 days’ time. (You can check for spoilage using the tips outlined below).
- Use chicken cold or reheat until hot and steaming.
How to tell if a refrigerated chicken has gone bad
- If the chicken has a grey to green coloration on it, it’s probably bad from mold growth.
- If the chicken gives off an ammonia like smell, it’s probably bad. You don’t even need any ammonia smell, if the chicken smells like anything that will make you want to puke, just throw it away.
- If the texture of the chicken is slimy or sticky or both, it has gone bad. Discard promptly.
Freezing/refrigerating other chicken products
|Product||Refrigerator (at or below 40F)||Freezer (at or below 0F) For maximum quality|
|Cooked chicken casseroles dish or soup||3 to 4 days||4 to 6 months|
|Cooked chicken in broth or gravy||3 to 4 days||2 to 3 months|
|Chicken salad||3 to 5 days||Don’t freeze if it has mayonnaise|
|Fried chicken||3 to 4 days||4 months|
|Minced meat||1 day||4 months|