How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out?

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If you are cooking or grilling chicken, it’s important to know safe handling tips to make sure you and your family don’t get sick from meat or something else you have prepared. You might also have forgotten about something you prepared only to find it sitting in the kitchen hours later and now you’re wondering if it’s still safe to eat.

Before eating something you have left out either intentionally or unintentionally, make sure you research safe food practices so you know the proper protocols to follow to avoid sickness and dietary issues.

In this resource, we’ll answer the question “how long can cooked chicken sit out?” and touch on some practical tips for keeping your chicken (and chicken leftovers) fresh!

How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out?

The short answer? Once chicken has been cooked, you should only leave it out for 2 hours or less. When chicken sits out on the counter at room temperature, it will inevitably get to a temperature “Danger Zone” according to the USDA.

This is because at between 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria begin to grow and the food will quickly become unsafe to eat.  If you are barbecuing on a hot summer day and the temperature is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, you shouldn’t leave food outside for more than one hour.

If you are barbecuing outside, try to remember to bring the food inside so that it will last longer. If you are at a park or other place where you can’t bring the food into an indoor environment, try to remind everyone to eat within an hour and don’t give late guests the food that has been sitting out. You also shouldn’t give food as leftovers if it has been in the hot sun.

Tips for Keeping Chicken Fresh

Chicken can be an expensive meal if you are buying quality cuts and serving large groups of people. You don’t want the food to go to waste as it can cost you money. You also want to ensure you are following safe food practices so that everyone can enjoy your food without becoming sick.

You also need to make sure you are cooking the meat thoroughly or it will not be safe to eat even if you follow safe handling tips afterward.

When cooking meat, you might want to consider getting a meat thermometer so you can be absolutely sure that the meat is cooked thoroughly. Meat thermometers help to prevent foodborne illness and they also prevent overcooking. This makes eating meat more enjoyable for everyone.

If you have frozen chicken that you want to cook, make sure you thaw it in the fridge the night or day before. The USDA recommends against thawing out meat on the counter for long periods of time as it can grow harmful bacteria while you are thawing it at room temperature.

Once you have thawed out the chicken, you need to cook all of it. You shouldn’t refreeze the meat once you have thawed it out.

Make sure you check all expiration dates before cooking the chicken. If you have the chicken in the freezer, try to eat it within 9 months. If it’s a whole chicken, it will last for up to a year as long as your freezer keeps optimal temperatures.

Safety Tips for Storing Leftovers

Now that you know how to keep your chicken safe before cooking it, you also need to follow some tips for storing it properly after you cook it.  That way you can reheat your tasty wings later!

You already know that storing chicken at room temperature should not be done for more than 2 hours. So, what should you do with the meat once you cooked it rather than keeping it on the counter?

Make sure all the leftovers are in tightly sealed containers that are dry and not contaminated before putting the food inside. You might also want to label the containers with the date, so you know when you made them and put them into the fridge.

According to the USDA, cooked chicken only lasts in the fridge for about 3 to 4 days. Try to eat the food within the allotted time or you will need to throw it away!

Using the freezer is also an option, where cooked chicken can last indefinitely – but you’ll probably want to eat it within a couple of months to avoid freezer burn.  You’ll also want to make sure you have a proper sealed container for chicken to reduce the risk and acceleration of freezer burn.

Final Thoughts

Although chicken only lasts for two hours sitting out, there are some steps you can take to make sure it stays fresh for longer. Make sure you store in the fridge as soon as you are done eating and keep it at a safe temperature so it can’t grow harmful bacteria.