Can you put a warm chicken in the fridge?

With the chicken industry in the US is worth approximately 44 billion US dollars, it is fair to assume that most of you are cooking chicken at least once a week, and with super size chickens, you may have leftovers that need to be stored. But when it comes to storing warm chicken, there is some confusion if it can be placed in the fridge or not while warm.

Did you know chicken contains 266% more fat than it did 40 years ago? It’s a whopping 33% less protein directly attributed to modern chicken farming techniques.

This article will uncover the truth about how you can store warm chicken and if it can be placed in the fridge to cool. We answer many frequently asked questions to give you the low down on the ubiquitous cooked chicken.

Let’s get into it.

Does cooked chicken expire?

Yes, cooked chicken does expire. Most of the time, cooked chicken is eaten in one sitting if you are eating with the family, but many of you eat alone, and buying a chicken to cook at home is good value. You can get maybe four meals from the chicken and some sandwiches to take to work.

The shelf life of a cooked chicken is around four days in the fridge, its decent shelf life. If you want to keep the chicken tasting fresh, strip the chicken from the carcass and wrap it in grease-proof paper. When the chicken cools on the bone, there can be a taste that comes from the carcass, it is not unpleasant, but the chicken tastes better without it.

You may think that a chicken that has been brined will last longer in the fridge, it’s more succulent, and that salt should have some preserving powers.

But the truth is that cooked chicken has the same shelf life in the fridge, whatever way it’s cooked. But how about curried chicken? Surely the Indians know how to make a chicken last longer with the spices they use for curry? 

If you have cooked chicken, curried, fried, boiled, roasted, BBQ’d, or nuked in the microwave. It has the same shelf life of four days in the fridge.

If you leave the cooked chicken on the side, it lasts for two hours, but we will get into that later in the article.

Does cooked chicken need to be refrigerated?

Yes. Before placing the chicken in the fridge, it should be at room temperature. If you want your chicken to have a shelf life, it should be refrigerated.

With large chickens weighing 3 lbs or more, cooling the chicken down to room temperature in a couple of hours may be a challenge.

To cool the chicken faster, it is a good idea to strip the meat from the carcass, remove the legs and wings, and cut the chicken into portions or even in half to help the heat dissipate faster.

When the chicken is at room temperature, store it in an airtight container, Ziplocs will be good enough, or a sealable Tupperware container if you have one.

Does a cooked chicken have to be covered in the fridge?

It’s up to you. The fridge is a dry space and will pull moisture from the chicken, making it less appealing, whereas the chicken theta is covered and remains moist. The chicken will store better if it is in an airtight container.

Chicken can become tainted with food odors such as sliced onion or cucumber and garlic is the biggest culprit for tainting foods in the fridge.

Can you put a warm chicken in the fridge?

It is not advisable, but sometimes you may not have a choice.

If you read online that you can’t put a warm chicken in the fridge because of condensation coalescing to water droplets that will drip and make your chicken soggy and less appealing at best is why you can’t put the warm chicken in the fridge, you are being misled.

Your fridge temperature will be 40℉ -18℃ or a little lower. Placing a warm chicken in the fridge will elevate the fridge’s temperature while it radiates heat.

Your fridge may not be as efficient as you might have thought at removing heat. Most fridges take hours to come to 40℉ after being switched on after cleaning.

So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that food sitting at a temperature of 40-140℉ is in the food danger zone. It’s not just your chicken. It is the contents of the entire fridge.

Above 40℉-18℃ bacterial growth on perishable foods will accelerate exponentially. If the food remains at an elevated temperature above 40℉-18℃ for just two hours, it should be discarded.

Seems harsh? According to the USDA, after two hours in the food danger zone, perishable foods contain enough bacteria to cause food poisoning.

Furthermore, the chicken should be covered in the fridge so there will be no condensation!

What happens if you have no choice, you need to be out of your home for a few hours? Strip the meat from the carcass or break the chicken into portions. Chop it into four pieces. This will allow the heat to dissipate, and the chicken cools faster. Place the chicken in an airtight container.

If you are out of time, wrap the chicken container in a towel to act as insulation to prevent the fridge from heating dramatically.

How long can warm cooked chicken sit out?

Two hours. Remember the food danger zone? According to the USDA, perishable goods sitting out for two hours should be discarded, and the bacteria growth on the food has multiplied rapidly, making the food unfit for consumption.

Eating food sitting out for two hours or more could cause food poisoning.

How long does cooked chicken last in the fridge?

If your fridge is at the correct temperature of 40℉-18℃ or below, the cooked chicken stored in an airtight container will last for four days. However, if the chicken is sitting uncovered, it may not last as long, the bacteria growth should not be a problem, but the dry air of the fridge will draw moisture from the chicken, making it dry and less appealing.

If you have strong odors in the fridge from onion, garlic, or cucumber, the chicken will absorb them and become tainted with the flavor.

Does frozen cooked chicken go bad?

In theory, food stored in the freezer at 0℉ and below has an indefinite shelf life. However, it doesn’t work that way for frozen cooked chicken. The food will not go bad as in it rots, but it may become inedible due to freezer burn if frozen for extended periods.

Cooked chicken in the freezer will last for 4 months and will be as good as the day you placed it in the freezer if you stored it correctly.

The best way to store cooked chicken in the freezer is to remove the meat from the carcass. It takes minutes and makes a big difference to the quality of the chicken.

No need to strip the meat from the legs, wings, or thighs. They will freeze perfectly.

Once you have the breast meat removed and the darker under the meat, wrap it in grease-proof paper and place it in a Ziploc bag. At this point, it’s a reasonable idea to think about portion sizes, and you will likely use the chicken over the coming weeks. It may be an idea to use a few Ziplocs and retrieve the portion size best for the meal.

Once the chicken is in the Ziploc bags, remove as much air from the bag as possible and seal the bag. Place in the freezer.

You can freeze a whole chicken if preferred. Just use a sealable bag that can take the bird. The time in the freezer will remain at four months.

After four months, the chicken will degrade, the texture may change and become dry and hard, and the flavor will eventually diminish.

How do you defrost cooked chicken?

The best way to defrost cooked chicken is to place it on a platter and leave it in the fridge overnight. A medium size chicken will defrost in this time. Larger chicken may take 48 hours to defrost if the chicken is whole.

If you are in a rush, place the chicken in a water-tight bag in cold water to expedite defrosting. You can even put cooked chicken in the microwave and select defrost. The chicken will lose water so use a water-tight bag.

Final thoughts

We all love chicken. It’s a balance of temperature and time. You will want to avoid bacteria growth on the cooked chicken outside and inside the fridge.

If you cook the chicken to store and eat it later, consider breaking it down while it’s hot, not removing the meat. The chicken will dissipate the latent heat faster. 

Freezing cooked chicken is simple and the perfect way to extend its shelf life. You can freeze cooked chicken for four months.

Need help cooking chicken?

Type of ChickenWeightRoasting 350 °FSimmeringGrilling
Whole broiler-fryer*3 to 4 lbs.1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hrs.60 to 75 min.60 to 75 min.**
Whole roasting hen*5 to 7 lbs.2 to 2 1/4 hrs.1 3/4 to 2 hrs.18 to 25 min./lb.**
Whole capon*4 to 8 lbs.2 to 3 hrs.Not suitable15-20 min./lb.**
Whole Cornish hens*18 to 24 oz.50 to 60 min.35 to 40 min.45 to 55 min.**
Breast halves, bone-in6 to 8 oz.30 to 40 min.35 to 45 min.10 to 15 min./side
Breast halves, boneless4 oz.20 to 30 min.25 to 30 min.6 to 8 min./side
Legs or thighs4 to 8 oz.40 to 50 min.40 to 50 min.10 to 15 min./side
Drumsticks4 oz.35 to 45 min.40 to 50 min.8 to 12 min./side
Wings or wingettes2 to 3 oz.30 to 40 min.35 to 45 min.8 to 12 min./side

If stuffed, add an additional 15 to 30 minutes of cooking time.

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