How Long Can Grilled Chicken Be Left Out?

Eat that bird up shortly after taking it off the grill and refrigerate any leftovers once you’re done eating. Here’s why.

Published Categorized as Articles
vasvas /123RF

Every summer, grillers from around the country gather up family and friends on their outdoor patios to cook—ice-cold can of beer in hand—their favorite dishes. Since you’re reading this post, I’ll bet chicken’s one of them.

There’s something about the combination of fresh air and the smoke coming from your grill as the meat sizzles on it, especially when the day is nice and you find yourself in good company.

But, once you’re done grilling, don’t take too long to grab your forks and eat those birds right up. Grilled chicken can only sit out for so long before it gets unsafe for you and everyone else at the table to eat. Especially when it’s so hot that you could fry an egg on your truck’s bed.

So here’s all you need to know on the topic.

Grilled chicken is safe to eat for 1-2 hours after it has been cooked. If you left your chicken out for longer or you’re unsure about its safety, err on the side of caution and throw it out.

As a general rule of thumb, grilled chicken’s shelf life is shorter in a heatwave and when it’s exposed to direct sunlight, and longer when kept under the shade on a cool day.

And this is not me coming up with stuff to keep you all reading; it’s the USDA giving you ground rules for food safety.

Bacteria in grilled chicken multiply the fastest at temperatures from 40°F to 140°F, which the USDA calls “the danger zone,” roughly doubling in count every 20 minutes.

Those bacteria include Staphylococcus aureusSalmonella EnteritidisEscherichia coli, and Campylobacter, none of which you want in your, your spouse’s, or your kids’ stomachs, that are known to cause food poisoning.

You’d think that the high heat of your grill would kill these bad boys, and it does. But leave the grilled chicken out for a long enough time, and it won’t take much for them to return.

Like all other poultry or meat, the chicken should be eaten shortly after grilling. Any leftovers must be refrigerated within one or two hours. This applies to whole birds, breasts, thigs, tenders, wings, or any other cut you just finished cooking.

How Long Grilled Chicken Lasts in the Fridge

When you’ve grilled more chicken than everyone at the table can eat, make sure it doesn’t take you longer than a couple of hours to refrigerate the leftovers. That, we’ve established.

For a moment, let’s imagine that that’s what you did, and you took me up on the advice. Were you standing by my side right now, you’d probably ask me, “So, Sammy, how long will that chicken last in the fridge?”

Tightly wrapped in tin foil or packed in a food storage container with the lid closed, grilled chicken, turkey, and other cooked poultry will generally stay good for 3-4 days in your fridge.

To refrigerate a whole bird, allow it to cool down completely, wrap it tightly in aluminum foil, and place it on a sheet pan with a wire rack (to catch dripping juices) before putting it on the lower shelf of your fridge (where it’s the coldest).

Refrigerate grilled pieces of chicken by letting them cool down, pat them dry from juices and oils with a paper towel, and pack them in a zipper bag or food storage container, storing them in the fridge wherever you find most convenient.

As you can probably tell by my two cents, juices are not your friend when storing poultry. Indeed, they make the chicken tender when you eat it. But they’ll make it soggy if you let it soak in them in the fridge.

Freezing Grilled Chicken

Kept in a freezer bag and continuously frozen, grilled chicken will taste best within 4 months of freezing. Though it will stay safe to eat after, its texture, aroma, and flavor will degrade with storage.

Cut up whole birds, larger breasts, and bigger fillets into small, bite-sized chunks that you can easily thaw and use up. The leftovers make for a great Caesar salad, chicken sub, or homemade BBQ chicken pizza.

To thaw frozen grilled chicken, place it in a bowl and transfer it to your fridge the night before you plan to eat it. Then reheat as you’d usually do.

Reheating Grilled Chicken

There are three best ways to reheat cold chicken, each with its ups and downs. You can do so in the oven, on the stove, or in the air-fryer. Unless you find rubbery chicken appealing, avoid the microwave.

In the Oven

Reheating cold chicken in the oven is easy: Preheat your oven to 400°F for 30 minutes, then bake the chicken for 10-15 minutes. Smaller pieces will heat up quicker and dry out sooner, so adjust your time appropriately.

On the Stove

Reheat cold chicken in your frying pan by adding “just enough” water or broth to cover the cooking surface, bringing it to a boil over medium-high heat, then simmering the chicken for 3-4 minutes per side till it’s tender once again.

In the Air-Fryer

To reheat cold chicken in your air-fryer, preheat the appliance to 400°F and place the pieces in the basket one layer at a time (so that you don’t overcrowd it). Let air-fry for 3-4 minutes on one side. Pause, flip to the other side, and repeat.

In Summary

DishStorage MethodShelf Life
Grilled chickenRoom temperature1-2 hours
Grilled chickenRefrigerated3-4 days
Grilled chickenFrozen4 months
How long is grilled chicken good for?

That’s that. Grilled chicken is safe to eat within 1-2 hours when left out at room temperature, 3-4 days when refrigerated, and 3-4 months when frozen. That being said, it does taste best right off the grill.

Tell me in the comments below, what’s your number-one way of using up grilled chicken? Any storage and reheating tips of your own to share?

By Sammy Steen

Sammy, Barbehow's editor, is a die-hard carnivore, barbecue whisperer, and self-proclaimed master of the grill.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *