Chefs around the world love coming up with new chicken dishes, because chicken is so versatile. There is so much that you can do with it. It is also healthy, rich in protein, low in fat, and quite affordable, making it one of the most popular foods. But if you like chicken and cook it often, you may ask, ‘How long can I leave cooked chicken out?’
The answer to this depends on a few factors. There are many ways to cook chicken, from roasting to grilling to deep-frying, or even cooking in a casserole with veggies in a rich sauce. Many people love chicken cooked in a stir-fry with veggies and Asian sauces. Chicken cooked in a sauce with vegetables is likely to go bad sooner than plain grilled or fried chicken.
However you prefer to cook your chicken, cooked chicken has the potential to go off fairly quickly, so it is important to know how long your cooked chicken can stay out of the fridge and still be safe to eat.
How Long Can I Leave Cooked Chicken Out the Fridge?
In the heat of summer, if the temperature indoors is above 85° Fahrenheit, the maximum length of time that cooked chicken can stay out is about 1 hour. At slightly cooler temperatures, your cooked chicken can stay out for up to 2 hours. Any longer than this and the chicken will start to deteriorate and bacteria will start to multiply.
Why Can’t I Leave Cooked Chicken Out For Too Long?
All meat and poultry will go off if left out for too long, but chicken deteriorates at a much faster rate than other meats. Bacteria in food usually thrive and multiply in a moist environment. Chicken is usually soaked in brine and therefore has a higher water content than other meats, making it an ideal breeding ground for food-borne bacteria.
If you leave cooked chicken out for too long, it will most likely become contaminated with nasty bugs like e-Coli, Campylobacter, and Salmonella.
How Long Can I Keep Cooked Chicken in the Fridge?
Cooked chicken will usually remain fresh and safe to eat for 3-4 days if stored correctly in the fridge. Keep it near the top of the fridge, and far away from raw foods like other meat or chicken.
All raw meat, chicken, and fish contain certain levels of bacteria, but these bacteria will not survive the high temperatures used in cooking, making the food safe to eat once it has been cooked. However, even in the cold environment of the fridge, bacteria can circulate and settle on other foods, causing them to go off.
What Is The Best Way To Store Cooked Chicken?
The best way to store your cooked chicken depends on how it has been cooked. Fried chicken pieces should be divided into small portions and the pieces should be separated by placing cling wrap between them, in order to prevent them from sticking together. They should then be placed in an airtight container or ziplock bags. They should be allowed to cool completely before sealing so that the steam can be released.
Grilled or roasted chickens can be stored either whole or in portions. If you have cut the chicken into portions, store them as for fried chicken. If you have a whole chicken, wrap it up well in aluminum foil.
A chicken casserole or stew can also be stored in an airtight container. This can be a plastic container with a good seal, but I find it super-convenient to store this kind of cooked chicken dish in an oven-proof dish that has an airtight plastic or silicone seal. Then when you are ready to heat up you can simply remove the seal, cover with foil, and place it in the oven.
Can Cooked Chicken be Frozen?
Most chicken dishes can be frozen very successfully. Your freezer temperature should be set at 0° Fahrenheit (-18° Celcius) or lower. This is the optimal temperature to store cooked food. When your freezer is cold enough, cooked chicken can be stored for at least 3 months, possibly even longer.
My freezer is my secret best friend. I love planning ahead for those busy days when I know that chaos will reign and I won’t have time to cook. If I am cooking anyway, I like to double up and freeze. It makes life so much easier knowing that when everyone is hungry and clamoring for dinner, all I have to do is pop a pre-cooked dish in the oven, and we are ready to eat. This is a great time saver, and a fabulous way to minimize the stress of a rough day.
Can I Leave Frozen Cooked Chicken Out to Defrost?
Cooked chicken should never be left out to thaw overnight. Dangerous bacteria can take hold and the chicken will start to go off if left out overnight. It is much safer to take your cooked chicken out of the freezer the night before and leave it to defrost in the fridge.
Cooked chicken can also be defrosted quickly in the microwave, but make sure that it does not become only mildly warm, and then left for longer than a few minutes. Once defrosted, heat it up fully and eat it straight away.
How Can I Tell if Cooked Chicken Has Gone Bad?
There are a few ways to determine whether your chicken is still safe to eat, or if it has gone bad.
- Color – Cooked chicken that is off will change color. It will look grey and may develop mold.
- Smell – Fortunately, we can use our sense of smell to determine if the chicken is off. Do not risk eating or even just tasting it if you suspect that it is not good. Rather smell it. Cooked chicken that is off will have a rancid, pungent odor.
- Feel – Don’t be afraid to touch the chicken. If it is off, it will have an unpleasant, slimy coating.
Can I Get Sick From Eating Cooked Chicken That Has Been Left Out?
Eating cooked chicken that has been left out for too long can give you a nasty case of food poisoning. If it is only slightly off, you should not get too sick, but may experience some stomach cramping and vomiting.
If the cooked chicken has been left out for a long time, food poisoning can be much more severe. You could get very sick and may need hospital treatment.
How Do I Deal With Food Poisoning From Cooked Chicken?
If you leave cooked chicken out for too long and you get food poisoning from it, you will start feeling sick fairly soon after eating it. The first symptoms are usually stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhea. If you have a mild attack, you will recover on your own, but it is important to drink lots of water in order to prevent dehydration.
If your symptoms don’t clear up and you cannot keep anything down, you should seek medical attention. You may need to be given an intravenous drip to treat you for dehydration, and you will need medication.
If you know how long you can leave cooked chicken out, and you are careful about following good hygiene and safety practices in your food storage and preparation, you should not have to worry about dealing with food poisoning. Even if you leave the chicken out for a short period of time, and it is not too hot indoors, it will still be perfectly safe to eat.