Chicken is one of the most common meat staples in our diet. There’s a ton of recipes that we liked doing with it and never fails to impress our appetite and bellies. Whether it’s boiled, stewed, a soup, grilled, or roasted, chicken meat is always the star of the meal.
When at times that we over prep and have many leftovers or wanted to preserve the chicken for the season, yes you can freeze cooked chicken safely in the freezer. However, it’s not as simple as storing it directly in the freezer. A series of steps must be followed to ensure proper storage and food safety.
Freezing Cooked Chicken The Right Way
Here’s how you can freeze your cooked chicken.
1. Make sure it’s newly cooked.
You can only freeze freshly cooked chicken to ensure that it will stay fresh while being frozen inside. You cannot freeze leftover chicken that has been reheated several times. The quality of the food has been already tainted and might have attracted bacteria due to changes in the temperature.
Pick your own favorite chicken recipe and prepare it within the day of your scheduled freezing. Always observe strict safety precautions when handling the food to avoid any bacteria going inside.
2. Prepare an airtight container.
Ensure that the airtight container is big enough and sparkling clean to store your cooked chicken. What you can do is to wash the container thoroughly then sterilize it with boiling water making sure that it will remain bacteria-free when in the freezer.
You may use a jar container or plastic lock and lock depending on what’s available. As long as the container can perfectly seal the cooked chicken inside the freezer.
3. Cooldown the cooked chicken before storing.
After cooking your chicken using your own recipe, it’s also crucial to cool down the food before storing it in the container. Give it at least an hour or so to cool down before putting inside the container. Also when cooling it down, cover it with a lid to avoid exposure to any harmful bacteria.
When the chicken is ready and cooled down, carefully scoop all of the contents and fill up the airtight container. Wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly when handling the food. Then, seal the container making sure there are no leaks and gaps from the lid.
4. Label the container to track the expiration date.
When storing food, it’s important to monitor the date it was made and when it will expire. You don’t want to eat or serve expired food that can harm your health and loved ones. Before storing your cooked chicken, place a label on the container on the date it was prepared and the date of expiry.
Cooked chicken can be stored in the freezer for 2-6 months. Ensure that the fridge’s temperature is below 5 degrees celsius to keep the meats and contents in the fridge fresh and safe to consume.
Defrosting The Frozen Cooked Chicken
If you plan to heat up your frozen cooked chicken, you will need to defrost the meat before cooking and serving it. Here are different ways on how you can defrost your cooked chicken:
1. Transfer to the fridge to defrost overnight.
The most ideal way to defrost your cooked chicken is to transfer it from the freezer to the fridge. This will help the chicken to defrost appropriately without going through extreme temperature changes. It’s when the temperature drops that affect the quality of the food while defrosting.
Plan your meal prep ahead of time so you can have enough time to defrost the chicken. The ideal time to defrost the chicken is between 24-48 hours after moving it from the freezer. Once the chicken is defrosted, you need to cook it right away and never return any leftovers to freeze.
2. Use a microwave oven.
Most microwave ovens nowadays have the option setting for defrosting any frozen meats or foods. If you don’t have the luxury of time and need to prepare your dinner asap, you can microwave the frozen chicken to defrost. Just be wary of the temperature and don’t let the meat stay in the microwave for too long.
The tendency is, the meat will lose its moisture and might cook slowly while defrosting inside the microwave. Never change the settings and keep it under “defrost” mode. Do this for not more than 5 minutes and defrost your meats in batches.
Can you also freeze raw chicken aside from cooked chicken?
Yes, you can freeze raw chicken just like cooked chicken. Make sure to not take away the contents from its original packaging when freezing to avoid the cold air from getting into the meat and drying it out.
If you accidentally ripped it off, wrap it with a saran wrap or transfer it in an airtight container to seal the chicken. Do not forget to label the chicken with its date of storage and expiry to monitor when it’s best to consume the meat.
Which is better, freezing chicken cooked or raw?
Either way is a better option, to be honest. That depends on how long you wanted to store the chicken in the freezer. If you want to keep your chicken meat for a long time in the freezer, it’s best to freeze it raw since it lasts for up to 9 months. Still ensuring that the meat is properly sealed to avoid it from drying out while freezing.
If you only have too much cooked chicken leftover, that gives you an option to freeze it instead of just putting it inside the fridge. When storing it in the fridge, you can only consume leftover cooked chicken within 4 days, whereas when freezing it, you can consume it within 2-6 months.
Can you refreeze cooked chicken that was defrosted?
No, you can’t anymore. Once it’s out of the freezer and has totally defrosted, it needs to be cooked and eaten asap as advised by USDA. Remember that the quality of the meat changes when it’s defrosted through the changes of the temperature as well. When the temperature drops, it attracts the bacteria to multiply.
The safest thing to do with defrosted cooked chicken is to cook and eat it within the day. Avoid storing any leftovers back in the fridge. To avoid yourself from defrosting too much-cooked chicken, divide the cooked chicken into different containers before storing it so you can defrost them in batches.
How long can you store thawed chicken in the fridge?
Ideally, it’s between 24-48 hours and must be cooked right away. However, you can store it for a maximum of 3 days, after that the chicken must be discarded. Never overstore thawed meat or vegetables for more than the 3-day period or the taste and quality of the food will be affected and not fit for consumption.
Does freezing affect the taste of the chicken?
Yes, especially if the meat was not sealed properly upon storing. The cold air as it enters the meat dries out and takes away its natural moisture. So don’t be surprised why your chicken tends to be dry when cooked after freezing. The taste also changes when stored in the freezer for a long time.
Can you cook the frozen chicken right away?
Yes, as advised by USDA it’s safe to cook frozen chicken immediately and skip the whole thawing process. But keep in mind to follow the safe procedure when cooking the chicken and always check the internal temperature of the meat before serving it. The cooking time might take some time and you need to be watchful of the temperature while cooking the chicken.
If you’re planning in the future to store your leftover cooked chicken in the freezer, feel free to follow the easy steps we shared above. Always consider safety and proper handling when it comes to food to avoid any problems in the future.