How to Reheat Chicken Without Making It Dry
PHOTO: LIZ ANDREW/STYLING: ERIN MCDOWELL

Be it a breast, thigh, drumstick or whole roasted bird, chicken has a special place in our hearts—and in our weekly meal plan. Versatility is among the many benefits this ingredient has to offer, and leftovers can be used in anything from soup and potpie to enchiladas and salad. In fact, this is one instance where you won’t be subject to groans when you serve up yesterday’s dinner—but only if you know how to reheat chicken properly. Follow this guide and you can avoid the common pitfall of turning a prized piece of poultry into a bland and dehydrated disappointment.

How long does cooked chicken last in the fridge?

So you found a container of shredded chicken from, well…you don’t remember when. (Cue the spooky music.) Is it OK to reheat and eat? Probably not: According to the USDA, you should use cooked chicken within three to four days if it’s been kept refrigerated at 40°F or less. As a general rule, we stick to five days max for most leftovers in the refrigerator and use smell and appearance as backup indicators of freshness.

How to Reheat Chicken in the Oven

The oven is your best bet when it comes to warming up larger pieces of chicken or a bird that’s still on the bone. Here’s how it’s done: 

Step 1: Preheat the oven. Set the oven to 350°F and remove the chicken from the fridge. While you wait for the oven to come to temperature, take the chill off your bird by letting it rest at room temperature on the counter.

Step 2: Add moisture. Once the oven has finished preheating, transfer the chicken to a baking dish. Add several tablespoons of chicken stock or water—just enough so that there’s a very shallow layer of liquid in the pan. Then cover the pan tightly with a double layer of foil. The steam created by the water will help ensure the meat stays nice and moist.

Step 3: Reheat. Put the chicken in the oven and leave it there until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. (Cooking times will vary depending on the kind of chicken you’re reheating.) When your chicken has warmed through, remove it from the oven and serve—it should be succulent and satisfying. Note: This method does not yield crispy skin but if that’s a deal-breaker for you, simply pop your piece of chicken under the broiler for a couple of minutes to crisp up the exterior before you dig in.

How to Reheat Chicken on the Stove

The stove is an effective way to reheat chicken that has been removed from the bone, but we don’t recommend just tossing a boneless, skinless breast in a frying pan since the direct heat will dry that poultry out fast. Instead, follow these steps when you reheat chicken on the stove and it will be a tender treat ready to be tossed in a stir-fry, salad or pasta dish.

Step 1: Prep the meat. How you get your chicken ready for the stove reheat will depend on what cut you have and what you plan on doing with it. For leftover rotisserie chicken or bone-in thighs, pick the chicken off the bone and check the meat to remove any cartilage. If you’re working with a boneless, skinless breast, slice it into one-inch-thick pieces so the meat can heat quickly.

Step 2: Heat your leftovers. Grab a skillet and add just enough water to cover the bottom. Set the pan over medium heat and add the chicken as soon as the water starts to simmer. Lower the heat and gently stir chicken, cooking until the meat has warmed through to 165°F. Once the chicken is nice and hot, make haste and gobble it up.

How to Reheat Chicken in the Microwave

The microwave is quick and convenient but it is decidedly not the best method for reheating a bird, since it’s most likely to yield a rubbery or chalk-dry piece of chicken. Still, if you’re in a pinch and decide to microwave your leftover chicken, follow these steps for better results.

Step 1: Prep the plate. Spread the chicken out on a microwave-safe plate, with the small pieces of meat at the center and the larger ones near the edge of the plate.

Step 2: Add some moisture. Sprinkle a few teaspoons of water over the top of the chicken, then add a drizzle of olive oil—the combination will help keep the chicken moist and improve its flavor.

Step 3: Cover and heat. Tightly cover the plate of chicken with microwave-safe plastic wrap and microwave for two minutes. Remove the plate from the microwave and check to see if the chicken is ready. If not, turn the meat before covering the plate and continuing to microwave in 30-second intervals. When the chicken is heated through to 165°F, it’s chow time.

How to Reheat Chicken in an Air Fryer

If you have an air fryer, it can work wonders to reheat a once-crispy piece of chicken while retaining that crunchy texture. (Think chicken tenders or fried chicken.) Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Preheat the air fryer. Following the instructions for your air fryer model, preheat it at 375°F for about 5 minutes.

Step 2: Prep the meat. Place the leftover chicken into the air fryer basket (or on the air fryer tray, depending on your model) in a single layer.

Step 3: Heat the leftovers. Heat the leftover chicken in the air fryer for about 4 minutes, shaking the basket halfway through. When the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, bask in its crispiness before dipping it in your chosen sauce and diving in.

Here are seven leftover chicken recipes we love:

RELATED: 40 Leftover Chicken Recipes That Aren’t Totally Boring

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