How long does cooked chicken keep in the refrigerator? We found out

So you’ve cooked a whole chicken and have leftovers, but how long does a cooked chicken last in the fridge? Most chicken pieces won’t last as long as you think.

Chicken is one of my favorite proteins. It’s easy to make, but can be spiced up in a variety of ways to make it new and exciting every night. Not only that, but it goes with everything: salads, sandwiches, tacos, soups, appetizers, and more. You name it and you can probably make it with chicken.

I often roast a whole chicken—or grill a chicken if I don’t feel like cooking—and let the meat serve me for several meals. But how long does cooked chicken last in the refrigerator? Not as long as you think.

How long does cooked chicken last?

In the refrigerator

Most people think a week is enough time to store leftovers, but most foods don’t actually last that long in the refrigerator. It also depends on how you store it. The USDA recommends using most cooked chicken within three to four days of being refrigerated. Here are the specifics on the different types of cooked chicken.

Whole chicken, chicken breasts or ground chicken

Refrigerate within two hours of preparation and use within three to four days.

Leftover grilled chicken

Refrigerate any grilled chicken you’re not using and use within three to four days.

Chicken salad

Refrigerate immediately after preparation and use within three to five days. Keep in mind that you want to start the timer from the day you cook the chicken, not the day you make the chicken salad. Mayonnaise doesn’t freeze well, so don’t plan to freeze the chicken salad.

Chopped chicken meat for lunch

Store in the fridge after you get home from the grocery store. Use within three to five days.

Dinner chicken meat, sealed in a package

Store in the refrigerator and use within two weeks of purchase (or within one week of the expiration date). After opening, use within three to five days.

Canned chicken

Store unopened canned chicken in the pantry and use within two to five years. After opening, store in the refrigerator and use within three to four days.

In the freezer

All pieces of chicken are stored in the freezer the same way: about a year. According to the USDA, frozen chicken is technically good indefinitely. However, it reaches a point where the quality begins to decline. For cooked chicken, it is about four months. If you cook the chicken in a casserole or pour broth or gravy over the pieces before freezing, it will retain its quality a little longer (up to six months). After this time, the chicken will lose its flavor and texture when reheated.

How to properly store cooked chicken

In the refrigerator

Cooked chicken should be stored in an airtight container. We like to use glass storage containers because they don’t absorb odors like plastic containers. You can leave the chicken uncovered until it cools, but if you cover it, the leftover meat will remain juicy.

In the freezer

The USDA recommends freezing chicken in its original package and wrapping it in airtight, heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper, or placing the package in a freezer bag. You can also open the chicken and repackage it in smaller portions in a freezer safe bag or any of these other freezer storage options.

To defrost the chicken, remove it from the freezer and place it in the refrigerator. Smaller pieces of chicken will thaw overnight, while larger packages (or whole chickens) may take one to two days to thaw. Chicken thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen if not used.

If you are short on time, you can thaw the chicken in the microwave or in cold water. Place the frozen chicken in an airtight bag and submerge it in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. A whole chicken should thaw in about three hours. Chicken cannot be refrozen if you use one of these methods.

How to determine that the chicken has spoiled

Our recommendation is always, “When in doubt, throw it out,” but here are some common signs that chicken has gone bad. We want to start with a smell test. Spices used to cook chicken can often mask subtle odors, but if it smells sour or sulfurous (like rotten eggs), it’s definitely gone. A bad chicken also has a grayish appearance, and you definitely don’t want to eat it if it’s greenish or bluish in color. Any visible signs of mold or a slimy consistency are also signs that the chicken has gone bad.

Need to use up leftover chicken quickly? Try these grilled chicken recipes.

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