The Best Way to Reheat Fried Chicken for Crispy, Juicy Leftover Perfection

published May 4, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
overhead view of a platter of fried chicken
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

When made well and cooked with love, fried chicken is truly transcendent. Whether you make it at home, eat it as takeout, or enjoy it at a restaurant, fresh-out-of-the-fryer chicken is best. “My late Grandma Peaches fried her chicken fresh,” explains Kiana Muschett-Owes, the owner and chef at Katie O’s Soul Food in Brooklyn (she prefers to go by Katie O). Fresh means crispy, crunchy, and hot — which all add up to delicious.

But what if you have leftovers? What’s the best way to reheat fried chicken? Wait — should you reheat fried chicken? Here’s what Katie O recommends.

What’s the Best Way to Reheat Fried Chicken So It Doesn’t Dry Out?

No matter how you reheat fried chicken, it won’t have that “made-to-order” taste, says Katie O. But the biggest challenge of reheating fried chicken is keeping it juicy. Want juicy leftover fried chicken? You’ve got two choices: Go ultra-fast and hot with an air fryer, or wrap the chicken in aluminum foil before reheating in the oven.

The speed and efficiency of an air fryer will warm the chicken before it has a chance to dry out. On the other hand, the foil-wrapped oven method locks in the juiciness. Will the skin be less crispy with the oven method? Yes. But it will likely be a little more tender. It’s up to you to decide which type of leftovers you like best. 

How to Reheat Fried Chicken in the Oven

If you’re going to reheat chicken in the oven, Katie O recommends wrapping it in foil and putting it in the oven at 350°F for a few minutes. Be sure the oven is preheated completely before you pop the chicken in, so it doesn’t become dry. 

You don’t need to reheat leftover chicken for very long. “Remember that fried chicken is already fully cooked,” explains Katie O. “We don’t want to continue cooking it and make it rubbery during the reheating process.” Depending on the size of your chicken leg, wing, or breast, you’ll need around 10 to 15 minutes to bring it to temperature.

How to Reheat Fried Chicken in the Air Fryer

If you have an air fryer, reviving leftover fried chicken is a perfect use for it. The rapid and efficient circulation will also help re-crisp the chicken, making it a good method for crispy fried chicken leftovers. It’s also quicker than the oven, and will likely result in crispier skin. Set the air fryer to 350°F (same as with the traditional oven) and add the chicken in a single layer.

As with the oven method, fully preheat the air fryer before adding the chicken. Unlike with the oven method, you’ll need to flip the chicken halfway through the cooking time. (This helps the skin re-crisp.) Start testing for doneness sooner than you think you need to — the longer it cooks, the greater chance it will have of drying out. Remember that this method is quicker than a traditional oven.

How Do You Know When Fried Chicken Leftovers Are Done?

A thermometer is key here. The USDA advises we cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F. That number holds true for reheating; simply stick a thermometer in the thickest part of the bird, away from any bones, to test for doneness. Your eyes can provide good visual cues, too, says Katie O. Peek at the skin to observe how it looks. If it resembles the original texture and color, that’s a cue you’re close. Cold fried chicken can have a puckered look on the skin; hot and ready chicken should be slightly glossy.

Is There a Difference Between Reheating Fried Chicken Legs, Wings, and Other Parts?

The main difference between chicken legs and wings is in the initial frying. Katie O explains that the darker meat in legs takes longer to cook than light meat, as in wings or breasts. But when it comes to reheating, the main factor is size. Larger pieces of chicken will, unsurprisingly, take longer to reheat. Want to speed up the process? Katie O makes small incisions with a knife all over the skin. “This cuts down on reheating time, and ensures it reheats evenly.” By the way — she also does this prior to the initial fry. 

Can You Reheat Fried Chicken in a Microwave?

“Just DON’T DO IT!” Katie O pleads. A microwave will give fried chicken skin an unappealing soggy texture, and it’s easy to overshoot the mark, so you’re left with a rubbery and untouchably hot piece of chicken. 

Can You Eat Cold Fried Chicken Leftovers?

Sure! You can definitely eat cold leftover fried chicken. For food safety reasons, the keyword here is cold. If you’re planning on packing it to-go (say, in a picnic), keep the chicken next to an ice pack so it remains chilled. Avoid bringing chicken to room temperature or letting it linger there.

Is It Safe to Eat Room-Temperature Fried Chicken Leftovers?

Both Katie O and the USDA note that chicken should not be kept at room temperature for more than two hours — any longer than that, and you’re entering the danger zone where bacterial growth thrives. Either eat fried chicken fresh and hot, or properly cool it before reheating to 165°F. 

How Many Times Can You Reheat Leftover Fried Chicken?

You can only reheat leftover fried chicken once, explains Katie O. “One and done.” By raising and lowering the temperature of the meat multiple times, you’re inviting bacterial risk. Make a plan to eat your leftovers, enjoy them all at once, and start planning for your next freshly fried chicken meal.

How Long Can You Keep Leftover Fried Chicken?

Technically, you can store leftover fried chicken in the refrigerator for three to four days. As long as the fridge is kept at or below 40 degrees, the USDA says a few days is fine. But the real answer? Katie O says 24 hours is the absolute max. After that, the texture and flavor diminish greatly.  

Fried Chicken Recipes to Make at Home

One thing’s for certain: You can’t reheat fried chicken without first making fried chicken. There’s nothing quite like a platter or sandwich from our favorite restaurants, but we’ve got a soft spot — err, crispy spot — for homemade fried chicken recipes. Here are some of our favorites.

  • Extra Crispy Fried Chicken Wings: Simple and delicious; this recipe relies on a light coating of seasoned flour (paprika for the win) and a quick spin in a traditional deep fryer.
  • Popeye’s Fried Chicken: This real-deal Popeye’s recipe relies on a buttermilk and hot sauce marinade to infuse juiciness and flavor. It’s double-dredged for an extra-thick crust.
  • Crispy, Juicy Fried Chicken: One of our all-time favorite fried chicken recipes, this technique is full of industry secrets — including a dry brine and an egg dredge that takes some cues from tempura.