Growing up did anyone teach you how to store meat or produce properly and safely? I’m going to wager they didn’t.
Most likely you, like me, learned by watching your parents or guardians. This is how we learn most things around the house and in the kitchen, for better or worse.
Some things we learn are amazing, time-saving and ingenious, but some are not so great and even unsafe.
Maybe you learned how to properly store chicken and maybe you didn’t.
Regardless, it is so important to understand how to store meat and especially chicken properly.
Handy Supplies When Storing Chicken
Fridge vs. Freezer
When you are storing your chicken, the fridge and freezer are both acceptable options. Obviously, the fridge has a limited shelf life, but being able to skip the thawing step is always convenient. The freezer on the other hand helps take the guesswork out of whether or not your chicken has gone bad, but you do have to plan more time for the thawing process. Let’s jump into the guidelines of storing chicken in both the fridge and freezer.
FridgeFirst things first, store your chicken on the bottom shelf of your fridge. It should be wrapped in plastic or in an airtight bag or container. This is so none of the juices can drip on your other food as well as keeping it fresh and away from air. Another option is to store all your meat in one of the crispers, if it’s not being used, typically located at the bottom of the fridge. This ensures separation from the rest of your food and saves you from cross-contamination. Raw chicken should really only stay in your fridge for one to two days. After that point make sure to either cook your chicken or store it in the freezer.
FreezerSomething to understand about freezing food is that if your freezer stays at temp, then food can last indefinitely. Even so, this is not the recommendation. I mention this though, to let you know that there is wiggle room even if your chicken has been in the freezer past the “recommended” amount of time. It will remain good, but you may have to deal with a little freezer burn. The recommended amount of time is nine months to one year. If you’re unsure about the reliability of your freezer’s temperature, this Taylor thermometer is a great option and very affordable..
Packing Chicken for Storage
We’ve covered the basics of storing chicken in the freezer and fridge. Now, the next step is learning how to package your chicken for optimal freshness, flavor and, of course, safety. As I mentioned it’s important to have airtight containers or bags to store your chicken in. I’ve listed a couple great options to have on hand for chicken storage.
- Airtight Bags – You can never have too many sealable bags on hand. They can be used for storing lunches, leftovers or a million other things around the house. Theses specific bags I’ve linked are also reusable giving you an added “bang for your buck”!
- Vacuum Sealed – One option when storing your chicken in the freezer is to vacuum seal it. This is the best option for maintaining freshness and avoiding freezer burn. The only “pitfall” of vacuum sealing chicken is when you open it, it will most likely have an almost eggy scent to it. It hasn’t gone bad, but the process of sucking all the air out of the bag produces this smell.
- Glass container – I don’t suggest using a glass container or even a plastic container for storing your chicken in the freezer, but it’s a great option for the fridge to avoid any spills. I typically reach for glass over plastic due to the environmental impact as well as durability.
Thawing and Preparing Frozen Chicken
You’ve successfully frozen your chicken, but now you want to cook it. What’s next? Here are some different methods to thaw your frozen chicken safely. The key to all of this is to cook your chicken shortly after it’s thawed. When chicken is allowed to sit at room temperature, that is when the risk of bacteria growth is present.
In the fridge
This is the safest and most preferred method of thawing chicken, but it is also the most time consuming. You simply take your chicken from your freezer and place it in the fridge. You can estimate about 24 hours for a pound of chicken. I suggest placing the thawing bag of chicken in a container to avoid any leaks.
In the sink
A quicker option than allowing your chicken to thaw in the fridge is by putting your chicken in a bowl and filling it with hot water. As soon as the water has cooled, replace it with hot water. This method usually takes about half an hour, but could take longer depending on how much chicken you are thawing. This method requires your vigilance, and it’s important to cook your chicken right after it’s thawed as you don’t want it sitting at a temperature where bacteria is able to grow.
In the microwave
This is the quickest method, but also my least favorite and the most controversial. You simply put your chicken in the microwave, select the appropriate button and wait. It’s quick and simple, but if you aren’t vigilant the microwave could begin to cook your chicken. The reason some people suggest to not use the microwave is because it will bring the outer part of the chicken into the “danger zone”, between 40 and 140° Fahrenheit, while the rest of the chicken is still thawing. We want to minimize the amount of time chicken is in the danger zone. Just keep this in mind if you choose to use the microwave route.
Freezing Cooked Chicken
Can you freeze cooked chicken? Yes, of course you can. Freezing food simply stops the clock. Once, you thaw the chicken make sure to eat it within a few days or put it in the freezer. The USDA suggests only freezing cooked chicken for up to three months.
Here’s a meal prepping tip. Cook a large batch of shredded chicken. Allow it to cool in the fridge, portion it out in appropriate vacuum sealed bags and store it in your freezer. Then, you won’t have to thaw out all of the leftover shredded chicken but can simply thaw the exact amount you need for that day’s dinner!
Is my chicken freezer burned?
Have you ever pulled your chicken out of the fridge and seen some white spots on it? If you have, then you have already seen freezer burn. Although it can interfere with the flavor and quality of your chicken, it’s not dangerous. Just cut off the the white spots, and you’re good to go!
- Can I store raw chicken in a container?
- You can most definitely store raw chicken in a container, and I suggest using it especially in the fridge. Some may tell you to store chicken in a container in the freezer, but I am not a fan. The more air present in the container you’re using, the bigger chance of freezer burn.
- Can I freeze cooked rotisserie chicken?
- Yes! If you are not going to be eating your cooked rotisserie chicken I the next 3 to 4 days, then freeze it. Just make sure to put it in an airtight bag or better yet, use a vacuum sealed sleeve.
- Can I season chicken before freezing?
- You can season chicken before freezing, but there is no added benefit.
- How do I separate my frozen chicken breasts?
- This is probably one of the most annoying parts about freezing separate pieces of chicken together. What do you do when they stick together? The simple solution is to run cold water over the pieces. This will begin to thaw the chicken gently, without the risk of heating or cooking, so you can pull them apart.
- How common is salmonella in chicken?
- According to Consumer Reports 71% of chicken bought in stores had the presence of harmful bacteria. Of that 71%, 16% had salmonella. This is why proper storage and cooking of your chicken is so important.
How to store chicken properly
Chicken is an affordable and tasty meal option, but it is critical to understand how to store it properly. By this point, I hope you feel equipped on storing and preparing your chicken as well as finding a few gadgets to help make the process both easier and safer.