Leftover chicken is incredibly versatile, so it doesn't hurt to keep some on hand for those times when you're in a pinch and you need a quick meal. You can prepare a big batch on the weekend and keep it in the refrigerator for several days. For extended storage, keep cooked chicken in the freezer.
In general, cooked chicken can be stored safely in the refrigerator for up to four days. This includes whole birds, chicken pieces and fried chicken. There are some exceptions, however: chicken that is covered in gravy or broth and chicken nuggets and patties should be eaten within two days. Refrigerate chicken within two hours of cooking. Store cooked chicken in airtight containers or wrap tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic wrap before placing it in the refrigerator.
Cooked chicken that is stored in the freezer will be safe to eat indefinitely, but the quality of the meat will begin to degrade after a few months. For best results, use frozen, cooked chicken pieces, fried chicken or chicken covered in broth or gravy within four to six months. Frozen, cooked chicken nuggets and patties should be consumed within three months of freezing. Place cooked chicken in heavy-duty freezer bags, or wrap tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer wrap for best results.
To ensure the safe storage of all foods, make sure your refrigerator stays at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and your freezer remains at zero degrees F. The doors of your refrigerator and freezer tend to be slightly warmer than than the interior, so avoid keeping highly perishable foods like cooked chicken there. If your cooked chicken was stuffed, remove the stuffing and transfer it to a separate container before freezing or refrigerating.
Leftover cooked chicken is ideal for using in soups, stews and casseroles. If you find yourself with more leftover chicken than you can use in a few days, freeze it in individual portions that can be quickly thawed for an easy meal. Shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces before freezing it to decrease thawing times. The shredded chicken can even be tossed directly into soup, pasta or stir-fries without thawing first.
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Irena Eaves began writing professionally in 2005. She has been published on several websites including RedPlum, CollegeDegreeReport.com and AutoInsuranceTips.com. Eaves holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Boston University.
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