Whether the whole breasts, thighs, or wings, chicken is a go-to option for a weekly meal (unless you’re a vegetarian). Having leftovers is like a blessing in disguise because they are delicious to toss in soup, salads, potpie, enchiladas, etc.
Reheating is an essential step to give leftovers another life. It is also a critical step to make sure they are safe to eat. If not adequately reheated, they may cause food poisoning risks.
On the other hand, some techniques may result in less appetizing and lower quality of food. Reheating cooked chicken often turns the meat dry and tough.
The general rule is to reheat leftovers in the same way as they were initially cooked. You can warm them up in the oven, pan, air fryer, or even a microwave.
Keep reading to find all you need to know about reheating chicken for safe and tasty leftovers.
Is It Safe To Reheat Cooked Chicken?
It’s not uncommon that we hear the question: can you get food poisoning from reheating cooked chicken?
To avoid harming your health, follow the general guidelines below for safe handling, storage, and reheating leftovers.
1. Refrigerate leftovers promptly within 2 hours of cooking and eat within 3 to 4 days.
2. To extend shelf life, freeze them for up to 3 to 4 months.
3. Defrost frozen pieces safely in the fridge, cold water, or microwave. Unless they are defrosted in the refrigerator, thawed portions need to be reheated and served immediately.
4. Reheat leftovers thoroughly until the center reaches a safe temperature of 165 °F.
Does reheating cooked chicken kill bacteria?
Proper reheating kills harmful bacteria. However, if you forgot to refrigerate leftovers and left them out overnight, they might be unsafe to eat.
Some pathogenic bacteria can produce heat-resistant toxins when they are left out at room temperature for a long time. Thus, reheating unrefrigerated leftovers will not make them safe to consume.
Next, we share the detailed instructions on multiple ways of reheating cooked chicken while keeping it moist and tender.
Option 1: Reheating Whole Chicken in the Oven
This technique takes a considerable amount of time, but it’s worth the wait. It works for different cuts of chicken meat, and works best for whole chicken. It results in tender and succulent meat instead of dried-out one. You can also crisp up the exterior at the end of the process.
Here is the step-to-step instruction.
1. Set your oven to 350 to 400 °F.
2. Remove the leftovers from the refrigerator and let them rest at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes while the oven is heating up. If you have them frozen, defrost them overnight in the fridge.
3. Place them in a baking tray or oven-safe dish, drizzle with a bit of the juice or broth. Cover tightly with aluminum foil to keep the moisture and prevent the meat from drying out.
4. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes until the interior reaches at least 165 °F. Feel free to adjust the reheating time depending on the amount or size of leftovers. A big chunk of meat, like a whole breast, takes a little longer than smaller pieces.
5. Once evenly and thoroughly reheated, remove the chicken out of the oven carefully.
6. Optional: to crisp up the exterior, remove the foil and bake for about 5 minutes.
Tips: When reheating large pieces, rest them for a few minutes before cutting them. It allows the meat to reabsorb and redistribute the juices, so it won’t be dry and tough.
Option 2: Reheating Chicken in the Microwave
Reheating in the microwave is the fastest option and a great solution to warm up a single portion. However, the leftovers tend to dry out fast when reheated for too long.
Follow the simple steps below to achieve well-reheated chicken leftovers.
1. Remove the leftovers from the fridge. Cut into smaller pieces to allow the heat to distribute evenly as they reheat.
2. Place the pieces on a plate or microwave-safe dish.
3. Add some broth/ water/ sauce to moisten and prevent the meat from drying out.
4. Cover the dish with a damp paper towel or a microwave-safe lid.
5. Microwave over medium power for 2 to 4 minutes and flip halfway.
6. Check if they are evenly reheated to 165 °F. If some pieces are still cold, continue reheating in shorter intervals of 30 seconds. Don’t reheat for too long.
7. Once ready, remove immediately and serve!
Option 3: Reheating Chicken on a Stovetop
This method is excellent for working with boneless or rotisserie chicken. But, you can’t just toss and reheat leftovers over high heat because direct, intense heat will dry them out quickly.
Here is how you should do it.
1. Prepare the chicken by removing the bones from the thighs and slice them into smaller pieces or bite sizes. It allows each piece to reheat evenly in a short time.
2. Heat a non-stick pan and add some oil or butter. You can also replace the fat with broth or water if you prefer that way.
3. Place the pieces in the hot pan and reheat for a few minutes. Stir and flip them occasionally so they won’t stick to the bottom.
4. Once they are heated up perfectly, remove them from the pan immediately.
5. Rest for a couple of minutes and serve!
Option 4: Reheating Chicken on an Air Fryer
The last method is perfect for achieving a crispy exterior for your chicken wings or fried chicken.
1. Remove the leftovers from the refrigerator. Let them stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Preheat the air fryer to 350 to 375 °F.
3. Arrange the chicken pieces in the basket in a single layer and lightly coat them with non-stick spray. If you need to reheat tons of them, do it in batches. Avoid overcrowding and stacking them in the air fryer basket.
4. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes and flip halfway. Check the internal temperature to make sure the bird is reheated thoroughly.
Technically speaking, you can. However, it is not recommended for quality and safety reasons. After each reheating, food quality decreases. Moreover, leftovers should always be kept refrigerated promptly in two hours. If that’s not the case, they are likely unsafe to eat.
It can be kept refrigerated for 1 to 2 days until cooking.
Yes. It should be safe to eat without reheating as long as the leftover is adequately thawed in the fridge.
Absolutely, yes. It is possible to freeze chicken that has been cooked in various ways, such as fried, roasted, or rotisserie chicken. They will generally last for 2 to 6 months in their maximum freshness.
Generally, leftovers are safe to eat within 3 to 4 days as recommended by the USDA. If they are kept longer than that, there is a risk of food poisoning. Some harmful bacteria can grow slowly in the fridge. Therefore, storing leftovers for too long is not recommended at all. Instead, you can freeze them to extend shelf life.
The Bottom Line
Leftover chicken is not a strange sight in our fridge. Reheating is also a simple task we have done multiple times. But, if you ever had dry, tough bites, you might have done it wrong.
Follow our step-to-step guides to reheat cooked chicken so it stays juicy and moist. Moreover, make sure you follow the food safety guidelines to avoid food poisoning!