If chicken is your favorite protein and you found yourself cooking too much or discovered those hidden leftovers in the back of the fridge… you’re in good company.
The good news is that you can freeze cooked chicken, given that you follow a few of the rules below for the best quality and to make sure it’s still safe to eat later. Let me show you how.
What is the Best Way to Freeze Cooked Chicken
The best way to freeze cooked chicken is in smaller portion sizes and without the skin and bones. This makes it easier (and faster) to defrost and reheat, plus this ensures you have the amount you will need and eat.
Throughout this post, you’ll find instructions and helpful tips on how to freeze chicken as well as what not to do. The information is an accumulation of things I’ve learned over the years of cooking for my chicken-loving family, as well as researching the official recommendations.
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How to Store Cooked Chicken in the Freezer
Follow the step-by-step directions below, and your cooked chicken will freeze and be as good as gold 3 months from now!
- Allow the chicken to cool down to room temperature.
- Remove any bones or skin and discard.
- Divide it into smaller portions (enough for 1-2 people).
- Place the chicken in a freezer-safe zip bag labeled with the date.
- Remove any excess air from the bag, seal it, and freeze it for up to 4 months.
Note: if you plan to freeze the chicken the next day, remove the bones and skin before refrigerating. Cold chicken is more compact and not as easy to de-bone or separate.
How Long Can You Freeze Cooked Chicken?
According to the USDA guidelines, cooked chicken will last in the freezer for up to 4 months when packaged properly; this goes for all cuts, such as breasts, thighs, wings, and drumsticks.
When it comes to rotisserie chickens or leg quarters, I don’t recommend freezing them whole after cooking. It’s best to remove the skin and bones, separate the meat, and freeze it for future use, which brings me to my next point.
Can You Freeze Cooked Shredded Chicken?
Yes! Freezing shredded chicken is one of the best ways to have cooked protein on hand for mealtime staples like pasta, soups, and tacos or for when you need a solution to a quick chicken dinner recipe idea.
Cooked, shredded chicken defrosts quickly, in about an hour, which makes it a terrific option for when you need to get dinner on the table fast.
Pro-tip: consider preparing a large batch of shredded chicken and freezing it for future use. This will save you time and can be done with a store-bought rotisserie chicken or one that you’ve baked yourself.
When You Shouldn’t Freeze Cooked Chicken
The only time you shouldn’t freeze cooked chicken is when it has already been frozen and defrosted. Not only will the texture be off, but it can cause foodborne illness, and no one wants that.
Can You Freeze Leftover Cooked Chicken after 4 Days
The USDA recommends that chicken that’s been cooked and refrigerated be used within 3 to 4 days, but for food safety purposes, it’s not advised to freeze already cooked chicken after the third day.
How to Tell if Frozen Cooked Chicken is Still Good
In order to tell if your chicken has gone bad, you’ll need to defrost it first. Changes in color or texture are hard to detect if the chicken is frozen solid.
Once it’s thawed, you’ll be able to see if there’s a green/grayish color or foul odor- if so, toss the chicken and make something else!
Do You Freeze Cooked Chicken Hot or Cold?
Chicken should not be frozen hot (or warm). Instead, it should be at room temperature or cold.
Once it’s cooled down to room temperature, it’s ready to be transferred into a freezer-safe container or zip bag and placed in the freezer. Cooked chicken can also be frozen cold from the refrigerator by transferring it directly into the freezer.
Why Can’t You Freeze Chicken Hot?
Placing hot chicken in the freezer will affect the temperature of the surrounding foods and possibly set up a breeding ground for any bacteria present to multiply.
How to Thaw Cooked Chicken After Freezing
To thaw previously cooked chicken, you can opt for the refrigerator or a water bath to defrost. Transfer the bag of chicken to a dish and place it in the refrigerator for 24 hours, by then, it should be thawed and ready to use.
If you need chicken pronto, place the frozen bag in a large dish filled with cold water for 2 hours, making sure to change out the water every 30 minutes.
Any of these 3 methods to defrost chicken will also work for cooked chicken.