Is there anything more satisfying than perfectly crispy, extra-tender fried chicken? Whether you’re ordering it from your favorite take-out place or making some classic buttermilk fried chicken in your own kitchen, fried chicken is always a treat. (If you avoid making it because of lingering odors, here’s how to get the lingering smell of fried food out of your kitchen.) When ordering or making this all-American classic, we tend to buy or make extra so we always have a little bit left over.
To be honest, a piece of cold fried chicken, right out of the fridge, makes a great next-day lunch and can be a total pleasure all by itself. (It’s also a great picnic food.) But sometimes you’ve got enough for a whole new dinner, and you'd rather eat it warm. So is it possible to reheat fried chicken? It is! And luckily, reheating fried chicken is pretty straightforward. Here's what you need to know.
Is it Safe to Reheat Fried Chicken?
In short, yes. Reheating leftover fried chicken is safe, provided that it was fully cooked the first time and was well wrapped and refrigerated promptly (within a couple hours) after it was originally cooked. In fact, eating leftover fried chicken cold or even room temperature is safe as long as it hasn’t spent more than two hours in the “danger zone,” which is the USDA’s term for temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, when bacteria grow fastest.
How Do You Keep Reheated Fried Chicken Crispy?
The trick to reheating any kind of meat is to keep the moisture levels in balance. Some methods—such as the microwave, which works by heating up the water in a food—will keep meat moist, but make it unpleasantly soft. Other methods, such as the oven, can dry meat out if you're not careful, making it tough and chewy.
There’s no reheating method that can get leftover fried chicken to taste as good as it does when it’s freshly cooked, but it's not terribly difficult to get something close to a return to glory as long as you’re careful. Here’s what we suggest. (This method should work well with other fried foods as well.)
1. Take the chicken out of the fridge 20 to 30 minutes before reheating.
In order to reduce the amount of time the chicken spends in the oven (and thus, reduce the chances that it will dry out), you want to let it come up to room temperature.
2. Place chicken on a wire rack and preheat oven to 400°F.
We recommend using a wire rack on a sheet pan to keep the chicken raised up off the pan. This will let air circulate and will keep the bottom of the breading from turning mushy. If you need to purchase a wire rack, here’s one we recommend.
3. Bake chicken for 12 to 20 minutes.
In general, we’ve found the chicken is ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 120°F. That’s hot enough to taste good without drying out. And as long as you eat it right away, it won't be in the danger zone for long enough to be unsafe.
If food safety is your biggest priority, the USDA recommends cooking all leftovers to 165°F, however we find that leaves most fried chicken far too dry. Either way, smaller pieces will cook faster and be ready sooner than larger pieces, so we recommend checking the temperature of each piece with an instant-read food thermometer and removing it from the oven as soon as it's ready.
That’s it! Once the chicken is hot, it should be perfectly crispy on the outside, and ready to eat. Enjoy with some freshly made summer sides, or all by itself.