How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last in the Fridge?

So you cooked up a whole chicken and have leftovers—but how long does cooked chicken last in the fridge? Most cuts of chicken won't last as long as you'd think.

Chicken is one of my favorite proteins. It’s simple to cook, and it can be spiced up in various ways to make it new and exciting every night. Not only that, but it goes with everything: salads, sandwiches, tacos, soups, appetizers and more. You name it, and you can probably make it with chicken.

I’ll often roast a whole chicken—or pick up a rotisserie chicken if I don’t feel like cooking—and let the meat serve me for several meals. But how long does cooked chicken last in the fridge? Not as long as you might think.

How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last in the Fridge?

Most people consider a week a reasonable amount of time to keep leftovers, but the USDA recommends using most cooked chicken within three to four days of putting it in the refrigerator. Here are specific details on the different types of cooked chicken.

  • Whole chicken (including cuts like breasts, thighs and wings): Refrigerate within two hours after cooking. Use within three to four days.
  • Ground chicken: Refrigerate within two hours after cooking.  Use within three to four days.
  • Rotisserie chicken: Refrigerate any leftovers you’re not using and use within three to four days.
  • Chicken salad: Refrigerate immediately after making. Use within three to five days. Keep in mind that you’ll want to start the timer from the day the chicken was cooked—not the day the chicken salad was made.
  • Deli-sliced chicken lunch meat: Store in the refrigerator after getting home from the grocery store. Use within three to five days.
  • Chicken lunch meat, sealed in a package: Store in the refrigerator and use within two weeks of purchase, or within one week of the best-by date. Once opened, use within three to five days.
  • Canned chicken: Store unopened cans in the pantry and use within two to five years. Once opened, refrigerate and use within three to four days.

How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last in the Freezer?

All cuts of chicken last the same amount of time in the freezer: about a year.

According to the USDA, frozen chicken is technically good indefinitely. However, it does reach a point where the quality starts to decline. For cooked chicken, that’s around the four-month mark. If the chicken is cooked into a casserole, or the pieces are covered with broth or gravy before freezing, it will maintain its quality for up to six months. After those times, the chicken will lose some if its flavor and texture when it’s reheated.

Many chicken recipes will freeze well, but one dish that won’t is chicken salad, because of the mayonnaise. So, eat up that chicken salad right away!

How to Properly Store Cooked Chicken

Cooked chicken should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge. We like using glass storage containers since they don’t absorb odors like plastic containers. It’s okay to leave the chicken uncovered as it cools down, but covering it after will ensure the leftover meat stays juicy.

The USDA recommends freezing chicken in its original package and wrapping it with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap or freezer paper, or placing the package inside a freezer bag. You can also open chicken and repackage it in smaller amounts in freezer-safe bags or any of these other freezer storage options.

To defrost frozen chicken, remove it from the freezer and place it in the refrigerator. Smaller cuts of chicken will thaw overnight, whereas larger cuts (or whole chickens) may take one to two days to thaw. Chicken thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen if you don’t use it. (Phew!)

If you’re in a time crunch, you can thaw chicken in cold water or in the microwave—but know that you can’t refreeze the meat if you use either of these methods. Place the frozen chicken in a leak-proof bag and submerge it in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. A whole chicken should thaw in about three hours.

How to Tell If Chicken Has Spoiled

Our recommendation is always “when in doubt, throw it out,” but there are some common signs that chicken has spoiled. We like to start by giving it the sniff test. The spices used in cooking the chicken can often mask subtle smells, but if it smells sour or sulfury (like rotten eggs), it’s definitely past its prime.

Bad chicken also has a greyish appearance, and you definitely don’t want to eat it if it’s greenish or bluish in color. Any visible signs of mold or a slimy texture are also indications that chicken has spoiled.

How to Use Up Cooked Chicken

If you’ve got some cooked chicken to use up in the next day or two, you have plenty of options. Chicken salad recipes are a classic way to put leftover chicken to use. However, we have plenty of shredded chicken recipes and rotisserie chicken recipes that will give your cooked chicken a different purpose.

  • Add some shredded chicken to your favorite soup recipes (turning them into chicken soup recipes) to add protein.
  • Sprinkle chicken over a green salad to turn a side salad into a meal.
  • Mix cooked chicken into your favorite pasta dish. It works especially well with a pesto or vodka sauce.
  • Make buffalo chicken tacos by tossing shredded chicken with buffalo sauce. Top each taco with blue cheese and shredded lettuce.
  • Dress the meat with barbecue sauce to make barbecue chicken sandwiches.
  • Layer a tortilla with chicken and cheese and heat it up for chicken quesadillas.
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Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay is a professional chef, recipe developer, writer and developmental editor. After years of working in restaurant kitchens, she turned to writing to share her skills and experience with home cooks and food enthusiasts. She's passionate about using local, organic ingredients and teaching others how to incorporate seasonal food into their diet. Lindsay still cooks professionally for pop-up events, writes for several publications and is the co-author of two books about Ayurveda.