Chicken breast dries out easily enough the first time around, so heating it up requires some care to avoid ending up with an unappetizing, dry, chewy chunk of poultry. The best way to reheat chicken breast in the oven is low and slow with a little help from added moisture. Of course, you also have to make sure you handle the leftovers safely between your first and second feedings.
Storing Leftover Chicken Breasts
Chicken – like any other poultry, meat or seafood – should never be held at temperatures between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours or for more than one hour at 90 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature range is known as the "danger zone," where bacteria grow quickly enough that even thorough cooking won't eliminate it all to a safe extent.
So, the first step to ensuring that your reheated chicken breasts are safe is cooling them and getting them into the fridge within this time frame after initially cooking them. To best maintain their quality, store what's left in an airtight container or baggie. Eat them within three to four days. If you don't get to them soon enough, freeze or discard them.
Cooked chicken breasts should be vacuum sealed or packed well in a freezer-grade container or bag with as much air pressed out as possible for freezing. Freeze them in individual servings for convenient thawing later. While they'll stay safe to eat indefinitely in the freezer, their texture and flavor definitely start to take a turn for the worse after about three to four months. Date the package so you know how old it is.
The Best Way to Reheat Chicken Breasts
High heat is likely to overcook and dry out the meat when you reheat chicken in the oven or when you reheat rotisserie chicken. Take the breasts out of the fridge about half an hour ahead of time to bring them to room temperature for more even and more efficient reheating. Heat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit for the low-and-slow approach.
Set the chicken breasts on the rack of a roasting pan, on a wire rack over a baking dish or rimmed baking tray or a broiler rack. The idea here is to have a setup where you can put some liquid in the bottom without the pieces of chicken sitting directly in it. Put about 1/2 cup of room-temperature water, broth, stock or white wine in the bottom.
Loosely tent the chicken breasts and dish with aluminum foil. This steams the breasts, keeping them nice and moist. Reheat the chicken for about 20 to 30 minutes (the exact time varies by oven, thickness, number of breasts and other factors), until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit as determined by an instant-read thermometer.
Reheating Frozen Chicken Breasts in the Oven
There's nothing different about reheating frozen cooked chicken in the oven, but thaw it at least most of the way beforehand. Otherwise, there's a good chance it'll be in the temperature danger zone for too long by the time it thaws and reheats through to 165 degrees, especially using the low-and-slow approach in the oven.
To safely thaw frozen cooked (or raw) chicken breasts:
- Transfer them from the freezer to the fridge at least a day or so ahead of time. This is the slowest safe method, but it best preserves quality, plus you have a few days to reheat and eat the chicken.
- Submerge them in cold water in leak-proof packaging for about one to two hours, dumping the water and replacing it with fresh cold water every 30 minutes. Reheat and eat the chicken promptly after thawing this way.
- Zap them in the microwave at 50 percent power or use the defrost function for a few minutes as needed. This is the fastest safe way, but it's probably going to make your chicken dry and rubbery. Fully reheat and eat the breasts immediately after thawing this way.
Never thaw chicken at room temperature or in hot water, as this keeps it in the temperature danger zone for too long. Also, don't refreeze cooked chicken breasts after you thaw them, whether or not you reheat them.
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in a few casual and upscale restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.