Can You Freeze Cooked Chicken?
Chicken is a well-loved ingredient in many homes for its versatility, taste and protein content. Whether you love to batch-cook or have leftovers from your rotisserie chicken dinner, you can always store cooked chicken in the freezer for an extended time. Read on to find out how to properly freeze cooked chicken, how to thaw it later and how to put it to good use.
Can you freeze cooked chicken?
Yes, you can absolutely freeze chicken that has been cooked. Freezing cooked chicken (and cooked food in general) is about convenience. When you have a busy schedule, preparing meals ahead saves time. And when you have leftovers that are frozen properly, you also decrease your food waste, saving money in the long run.
Can you freeze any kind of cooked chicken?
Again, the answer is yes. Freeze cooked chicken in the form that you would like to eat it in later or in the state in which you would incorporate it into a recipe you plan on using. If you plan to eat whole cooked chicken breasts in your future meal(s), leave the cooked breasts intact when freezing.
On the other hand, if you have leftover rotisserie chicken and plan to use the meat in soups, stews or savory pie fillings, consider freezing the chicken meat shredded or cut into bite-size pieces without the skin and bones. (You can use the bones to make a stock or broth.)
How do you store cooked chicken in the freezer?
Another point to consider when freezing cooked meat is portion size. Smaller portions will be easier to manage when you thaw them in the future, and you'll be less likely to have food waste.
To store your cooked chicken in the freezer, consider the following tips:
- Allow your cooked chicken (whole or parts) to cool for no longer than two hours. You will need to discard it if it has been left at room temperature for longer than the two-hour window, according to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, because potentially harmful bacteria may grow to levels that can make you sick when chicken is left out beyond that time frame.
- When the chicken is cool to the touch, remove any skin, fat and bones, and cut the chicken into pieces, depending on the intended purpose for your meat.
- Flash-freeze the chicken on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (about one hour).
- Remove the frozen chicken from the baking sheet and place it in an airtight container or a freezer bag. Make sure to label your containers or bags and follow the first in, first out method when you stow them away in the freezer.
How long does cooked chicken last in the freezer?
Cooked chicken, when stored properly, can last in the freezer for up to six months, according to the USDA's Cold Food Storage Chart. When the cooked meat is mixed in soups and stews, the storage time shortens to two to three months. After the suggested timeline, the meat's quality may decline and it may be more susceptible to freezer burn.
Related: How to Prevent Freezer Burn
How do you defrost frozen cooked chicken?
When you're ready to use your frozen cooked chicken, you can take it out of the freezer and thaw it in the refrigerator for up to four days.
If you are in a hurry, you can also defrost the frozen cooked chicken using the microwave, although we don't recommend it. With this method, look out for cold spots in the center of the meat. You may also notice uneven defrosting, where the meat edges may get overcooked and look dry.
Once the meat is defrosted, reheat it on the stovetop or in the oven to an internal temperature of at least 165°F (73.9°C), according to the USDA. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature.
Reheating frozen cooked chicken on a steam table or in a slow cooker or chafing dish is not a good idea because those vessels are food warmers. In other words, the food's internal temperature will hover in the danger zone (between 40°F and 140°F, or 4°C and 60°C), harboring the growth of bacteria and increasing the risk of food poisoning.
Can you refreeze previously frozen cooked chicken?
Even when you made an effort to portion your frozen cooked chicken, you might still have leftovers to deal with. So, can you refreeze previously frozen cooked chicken?
When your chicken meat is cooked, frozen, thawed and reheated, it is best not to refreeze it as bacteria grow each time the food is handled. The general rule of thumb is only to cook, freeze (or refrigerate), defrost and reheat your food once. So, if you have unfinished previously frozen cooked chicken, then it is best to toss it rather than put yourself at risk of food poisoning.
Related: Can You Refreeze Chicken?
How can you tell if frozen cooked chicken is still safe to eat?
While frozen cooked chicken is usually safe when stored in the freezer for up to six months, it does not mean that the meat is always safe to eat once you have taken it out of the freezer. Look for signs of spoilage: Has the cooked chicken meat changed color? Are there any visible signs of mold? When thawed, does the meat look slimy and/or give off a foul smell? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, tossing your cooked chicken meat is the best decision.
What's the best way to use frozen cooked chicken?
Take your frozen cooked chicken to the next level by turning it into a tasty meal. After it has thawed, add the chicken to soups, stews and casseroles. Have frozen cooked chicken wings? Reheat them in an oven, an air fryer or an Instant Pot.
Frozen cooked chicken is a timesaver when it comes to quick weeknight meals, so knowing how to freeze cooked chicken safely can be a huge convenience. Check out our collection of chicken recipes and see where your thawed cooked chicken might work best, especially for those busy days!
Related: How to Thaw Chicken Safely