If you are preparing chicken for dinner or hosting a party where rotisserie chicken is on the menu, you may wonder exactly how long can cooked chicken sit out. When you’re preparing chicken, it is important to think about food safety.
Chicken is easily perishable so thinking twice about how long can chicken stay on your table will be necessary. The rule of thumb is two hours but there are many factors to consider, so keep reading to learn about them.
I will tell you how long can you leave cooked chicken out on your kitchen table and general rules regarding food safety aligned with USDA regulations. I will also give you info about leaving cooked chicken to sit in a barbecue sauce, leaving it in the fridge, and in the freezer.
So, How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out? It Depends.
Cooked chicken can sit out for not more than two hours if the temperature is lower than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature exceeds this level, cooked chicken can only be left to sit out for one hour.
This one hour rule also has its limitations and conditions that need to be met. After this time frame has passed or you’re not sure about how long the chicken has been sitting out then you will have to choose the safest option possible – throw it away.
This is because the possibility of foodborne illnesses is much higher when cooked chicken is exposed to temperatures higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
That temperature environment increases the possibility of unwanted situations happening.
It is known that harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and E.coli, develop at high temperatures. This may lead to the development of foodborne illnesses that can even cause food poisoning so keep on reading to find out more.
We mentioned a certain time frame in which cooked chicken may sit at a temperature below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Please note that this does not have to apply in all circumstances.
There are a few questions to ask yourself when thinking how long can cooked chicken sit out.
So please consider the following:
Is The Cooked Chicken Covered?
Many people believe that their food is safe to be left at room temperature if it is covered with a lid or if it is wrapped up in paper, foil, or a plastic wrap. This is a general misbelief.
The thing is, bacteria does not only grow on the outer part of the food, but it can also grow from the inside. Covering your food with a lid or putting it inside a foil or plastic wrap is actually increasing the temperature from inside.
With the internal temperature risen, harmful bacteria can grow from the inside, making your food unhealthy to eat. It may also create a bad smell and taste due to the compounded bacteria.
We will talk more about how to know if cooked chicken has gone bad in the last part of this article. It is useful to know that smell and taste are factors to be taken into account, though they may sometimes be misleading.
So if you were wondering whether your cooked meat is safer when covered, stay on the safe side by understanding it is not.
Dark Meat Chicken Vs White Meat Chicken
Dark meat chicken is considered to be the drumsticks and thighs (the legs). These parts are usually redder than other bird body parts as those are used when standing making the blood naturally go in that direction.
When thermally processed, these parts change color from red to brown, sometimes turning significantly dark brown.
White meat chicken include tenderloin, wings, and breasts, as these parts of the bird are distinctively white when cooked without using any spices or seasonings.
Now that we know the difference between chicken’s dark and white meat, let’s see which one lasts a longer amount of time when left to sit out.
Since chicken thighs and legs have more moisture and fat, they tend to spoil sooner than fiber-rich chicken breasts when left to sit out. So take this into consideration when choosing the type of meat you’ll prepare as your dinner or party food.
While chicken thighs are cheaper than chicken breasts, they still might not be the best chicken cut option for your health.
Room temperature is an important factor to consider when dealing with cooked chicken that’s out of the fridge.
As we mentioned earlier, cooked chicken can sit out at room temperature for two hours maximum when the temperature is up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 32.2 degrees Celsius.
If the temperature is higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria will start to multiply both on the surface of the food and from the inside, posing a risk of bacteria growth.
Make sure to monitor room temperature by placing a thermometer in your kitchen or dining room. A home temperature monitor or a thermometer is best kept in the middle of the room for an accurate reading.
If you plan on serving your cooked chicken outdoors, check your outdoor temperature sensor or check the temperature on any mobile app that confirms the outdoor temperature.
How you decide to cook your chicken meat will also affect its shelf life. This is because differences arise when making chicken using a low-heat method compared to chicken cooked using a high-heat method. Different chicken recipes require different cooking methods.
When you choose to grill or fry the chicken, you are using a high-heat method.
This method of preparing food successfully kills bacteria, but fried chicken also poses a higher risk of developing other kinds of bacteria when it sits out.
On the contrary, low-heat methods, such as boiling or baking the chicken in an oven for a longer period of time but at a lower temperature, will extend the shelf life of your meal.
This is because chicken prepared with a low-heat method is not only healthy to consume, but also makes for a safer choice when you choose what and how to make for dinner.
Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out In A Barbecue Sauce?
Leaving cooked chicken marinating in a barbecue sauce will not extend its shelf life.
Think about how long was the cooked chicken left out and if it’s longer than two hours just toss it out. Don’t even try to taste it as the flavor may still be there but so will the risk of food poisoning.
Smell will also not play a significant role in recognizing whether the cooked chicken went bad. This is because the actual bacterial scene could be covered by the smell of the barbecue sauce.
To be safe, make sure not to eat and get rid of any cooked chicken soaked in barbecue sauce that was left to sit out at 90 degrees Fahrenheit if it was there for longer than two hours.
What If Cooked Chicken Sits Out More Than 2 Hours?
Cooked chicken is not fit to be consumed if it stays at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Understanding the temperature levels and the danger zone is of utmost importance to maintain your health in this case.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit is known as the danger zone in which harmful bacteria grow and multiply in as short as 20 minutes.
They further advise not to leave out any cooked poultry longer than 2 hours if the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. If the temperature is higher than that food can be left to sit out for only an hour.
If these rules aren’t followed, you are risking your health when consuming cooked chicken and may contract a foodborne illness. Such illnesses cause symptoms like: nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
How Long Can Cooked Chicken Be Left In The Fridge?
Cooked chicken breasts can stay in the fridge for about three to four days.
If you decided to place your cooked chicken in the fridge, it’s time to learn the proper way to store it there.
No matter the form or size of the chicken, it is best to store it in a tightly sealed container.
This also goes for a whole chicken, but make sure to separate the whole cooked bird into a few smaller cuts. This works well for saving space in the fridge as the whole chicken takes up too much of it.
If you tend to forget or just have many things on your mind at that moment, write the storage date on your sealed container. This way you will be sure your cooked chicken is still great for consuming and you’ll enjoy its freshness without a suffering any doubt.
Make sure to take your time when reheating chicken. Put it into a preheated oven and make sure that every part of the meat is hot in the middle.
How To Know If Cooked Chicken Went Bad?
If your cooked chicken meat looks grayish in color or it gives off an unpleasant smell, you may want to skip that meal. Trust me, it’s better to be safe than sorry or, in this case, better to stay hungry than become sick.
This is because there is a high chance that chicken looking and smelling like that went bad. If there are signs of spoilage, that chicken is no longer suitable to be eaten.
Also, if you are able to see any obvious signs of mold or unusual spots on the chicken’s surface, it’s probably gone bad.
Sometimes cooked chicken is not stored in the fridge properly or it is stored too late (after the two-hour or one-hour mark has passed). All of this creates a chance for bacteria growth.
Your cooked chicken looks white or brown depending on the type of chicken (see dark vs white chicken) you want to eat. It also has a suitable smell and it generally looks fresh.
Feel free to enjoy your delicious cooked chicken, as these are all signs of chicken preparation and storage done right. This all goes if you know that your cooked chicken was not left to sit out for longer than 2 hours.
If you have any doubts regarding the safety and proper cooking and storing of the cooked chicken you are about to eat, check for any signs of food spoilage. If there are any, please skip that food for your own safety.
How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last In The Freezer?
Properly stored cooked chicken can stay safe in your freezer for up to four months.
Freezing is my personal favorite way of storing cooked food.
I love freezing pre-made meals for a number of reasons, the best one being it saves me time on cooking during the week.
If you made some extra chicken casserole or just have leftover chicken, freezing is the option to choose. This way you will have easy chicken meals at hand just waiting for you to thaw, heat, and serve.
How To Properly Freeze Cooked Chicken Meat?
For proper storage, you will need to use an airtight container or freezer bags. A few write-on stickers will aid your freezing mission, too.
Put the cooked chicken in a dry and airtight container (or a freezer bag) and seal it properly and firmly to prevent freezer burn. Put the sticker on it to mark the date so you know when you stored it in the freezer. And that’s it, really.
Can I Eat Cooked Chicken Left In The Freezer?
If you defrost it properly, yes, you can. Cooked chicken stored in the freezer, as explained above, can last in the freezer for up to four months. It could remain safe to consume even after this time period.
The best way to store raw chicken is by freezing it. Raw giblets and ground chicken can stay frozen for up to three months, frozen chicken parts are good in the freezer for nine months and a whole chicken is safe to stay there for one year.
To properly defrost raw chicken, take it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge 24 hours before cooking it. Another way to successfully defrost raw chicken is to place it in a freezer bag and then submerge it in cold water until you get properly thawed chicken.
This way, you can defrost cooked chicken too. When the chicken is defrosted, cook it that day or the next one. You can reheat the chicken on the stove by bringing it to boil and then keeping it in a preheated slow cooker so it stays hot until you’re ready to eat it.
The Bottom Line
This article reviewed how long can cooked chicken sit out. Because of everything mentioned, it is of the utmost importance to understand this question so you are able to enjoy your meal without fear.
The short answer is 2 hours, but make sure to pay attention to all other factors and situations explained in this article.
Now you are ready to enjoy your chicken bites. Bon appetit!