When you spend the time cooking up a tasty meal with chicken as the main attraction, it’s tempting to throw in a few extra chicken breasts to have as leftovers, but far too often, those leftovers get shoved to the back of the fridge and end up getting tossed out. So, the next time you fire up the grill, plan on freezing cooked chicken breasts for a later meal.
Can You Freeze Cooked Chicken?
If prepping leftovers is not something with which you’re familiar, or if it is something you’ve attempted and failed, you might be wondering if freezing cooked chicken is even an option. The good news? Yes, freezing cooked chicken is perfectly safe, and if it is done correctly, you can also preserve some of the taste and texture so they don’t taste like they’ve been hanging out in your freezer.
While freezing cooked chicken breasts means you have the starter for your next meal, you can also use extra chicken to whip up a few make-ahead freezer meals. These are meals you prepare and then toss in the freezer to have on hand for a later date. Some tasty choices include chicken and rice casseroles, chicken burritos, chicken taco soup and chicken spaghetti casserole.
Methods for Freezing Cooked Chicken
The process of freezing cooked chicken starts as soon as the meat is warm. This means that storing the chicken in the refrigerator immediately after cooking is your first priority. The longer cooked meat sits out at room temperature, the faster it becomes contaminated. So, if you want your cooked chicken to cool before prepping it for the freezer, put it in a storage container and place it in the refrigerator.
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Since leaving the cooked chicken out at room temperature for longer than two hours is not recommended, make sure you have all the items you need to move the cooked chicken from the refrigerator to the freezer. This also applies to make-ahead freezer meals.
- Wrap the cooked chicken in plastic wrap. If you can, wrap each chicken breast individually. This helps prevent freezer burn. While not a safety issue, freezer burn can cause dry spots in food.
- Place the wrapped chicken in freezer storage bags and tightly seal the bag.
- Place the bagged chicken in a plastic container. This step is optional, but it does help with storage and freezer burn.
- Write the date on the container with a permanent pen.
- Find the coldest place in your freezer and create a spot big enough for the cooked chicken. For safety purposes, place any raw meats you’re freezing on the bottom of the freezer, followed by the cooked chicken. If the power goes out or the freezer is left open for an extended period of time, this can prevent the juices from leaking onto other foods.
Safe Handling of Frozen Chicken
Properly freezing cooked chicken requires a freezer temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit. You can store cooked chicken in the freezer for anywhere from two to six months. This guideline is for quality purposes only. Once the chicken is frozen and stored at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit, it is safe to remain in the freezer for as long as you want.
When you’re ready to use the frozen chicken, make sure the method you’re using to thaw it is safe. In general, thawing frozen chicken in the refrigerator is your best option. While it is time consuming, it allows for a slow, safer thawing. Plan on thawing the chicken in the refrigerator overnight.
A more tedious but faster method is to thaw the chicken in cold water. Make sure the chicken is in a leak-proof bag and then submerge it in cold water. Plan on swapping out the water every 30 minutes until the chicken is thawed.
Sara Lindberg is a lifestyle, health, wellness, and fitness freelance writer.