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Reheating Chicken Cooked in a Slow Cooker

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Cooking Chicken in a Slow Cooker

Many people use their slow cooker to cook raw chicken. One of the main reasons oval slow cookers are so popular is because of their use in being able to fit a whole chicken in—producing everything from a chicken dinner for the family to cooking an extra meat at a special dinner, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas.

As with all meats in a slow cooker, you can either brown it first in a pan or skillet, or simply place the chicken in the slow cooker raw—which is what most people will do.

Having cooked your chicken though, you'll most likely have leftovers. These might be planned leftovers where you cooked the whole chicken, in order to re-use it in a later dish, or to use for chicken stock or chicken soup.

Reheating chicken, photo by bykst.

Reheating chicken, photo by bykst.

Storing Cooked Chicken for Reheating

Reheating chicken is safe. I've written about this before in an article, which was aimed at people who roasted a chicken in the first instance. You can read the article here: Is Reheating Chicken Dangerous?

But, with the increasing popularity in slow cookers, more people are using a slow cooker to cook their chicken—and will wonder whether it's safe to use the leftovers.

As with all cooked chicken, whether you've roasted it, boiled it, or cooked your chicken in a slow cooker, the first key to food safety is to know how to store the chicken once it's cooked.

As soon as it's cooked, as soon as you can—and preferably within one hour of serving it—you should cool the meat down. Depending how cool it is at this point and how cold/full your fridge is, you might be lucky enough to just put it into a lidded storage container and get it straight into the fridge. Chicken should be in the fridge and cooling within an hour.

What If You Forgot Your Chicken?

Sometimes you might simply forget to store your chicken, or forgot it was still in the slow cooker. Maybe you left it on the countertop, in the slow cooker, and now it's 4-5 hours later, or overnight. Is that still safe to just box up and store?

The simple answer is "No." Once your initial hour's passed, you risk the chance that, should the chicken have been contaminated when you first bought/cooked it, that bacteria has had the chance to multiply.

Now, most of the time the chicken won't have been contaminated in the first place—something you will never know. Add to that the fact that you and your family might be of the robust type who would have natural defences that'd fight off any small problems. However, as a blanket approach to the question, you have to assume the chicken probably was contaminated and that somebody in your family, or somebody who might eat the chicken, might be taken ill if you reheat it.

In fact, most contamination from chicken is caused before it's cooked! The bacteria exists in the raw chicken and many people spread this bacteria during their initial chicken preparation. Some people wash out their chicken before cooking it in the slow cooker, causing splashes of water to spray onto other dishes or the worktop. And, from there, the bacteria can be picked up by the next carrot you chop or potato you peel!

These days, it is recommended that people don't wash their chickens first for this reason. Cooking will kill any bacteria.

But, if you forgot that you left your chicken out when you meant to put it in the fridge within an hour, this is where you have to use your own judgement (and luck) to make the decision of whether it's now destined for the bin or whether you really feel lucky today! I'd not touch it.

If you forgot your chicken overnight, left it in the kitchen, or out on the countertop, it's really not worth the risk at all. Overnight is way over the "one hour rule." Don't do it!

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Chicken Storage

When you store your cooked chicken in the fridge, it's best to seal it into an airtight container. One of those simple, plastic takeaway boxes, or any sealed box, with a lid. That'll keep it fresh and prevent any cross-contamination with any other raw meats you might have in your fridge.

Store cooked meats on a shelf above raw meats so that no stray juices from raw meat can get close to the cooked meat.

In the fridge and stored like this, you can re-use your cooked chicken for 3-4 days. Or you can simply pop it into the freezer for a future date.

I like to use Tupperware or Click-n-Lock boxes and cheap plastic/lidded takeaway boxes to store everything in my fridge. They keep things neat and safe—and make it easy to move around without spills when looking to see what I've got. They're also perfect to chuck straight into the freezer if I've stored chicken in the fridge for 1-2 days and then decide I'll not be using it up this week, so into the freezer it goes, already boxed up!

Reheating Chicken Cooked in a Slow Cooker

Chicken that has been cooked in your slow cooker is safe to reheat. You might wish to make a soup with it, or a pie. Or you might have some slices that you wish to serve with vegetables.

The golden rule with chicken is that you can only re-heat chicken once. And this is where you are likely to risk problems.

If you take your slow cooked chicken and make a chicken pie, which you then cook the next day in the oven, you've then reheated that chicken once. This means that any leftover chicken pie falls into the area of "questionable" as reheating the chicken pie would mean those pieces of chicken had then been reheated twice.

If you do want to turn your leftover slow cooked chicken into chicken pie, then you should make that pie just large enough for your needs. If you've enough chicken for two pies, then you should not bake the two together. Make and bake one at a time. You can make up your second pie, then freeze it before baking. Once baked, the frozen pie then goes through its first reheating.

The Reheating:

When it comes to the actual reheating part of the process, this is the second time when you have to be careful and ensure the chicken is heated through thoroughly. This is especially important if you have prepared a deep dish pot pie and have frozen it and are cooking it from frozen.

Just be aware that all the chicken has to have time to be reheated properly, thoroughly and all the way through.

It's as simple as that: don't skimp at all in the reheating process.

You can use a microwave, a saucepan, or an oven to reheat your chicken. However, don't use your slow cooker to reheat cooked chicken. If you have to re-use chicken using a slow cooker, then I'd advise that you preheat your slow cooker as per the manufacturer's instructions, microwave the chicken, and all the other ingredients, prior to placing it into the slow cooker, so it's been reheated quickly and up to temperature.

Using a Thermometer to Check the Temperature:

If you are a fastidious cook who likes to double check that food is safe to eat, then it's worthwhile investing in a food temperature gauge. With this you can check the internal temperature of your food before you serve it up. Using one of these is straight forward, you just remove the food from the heat and insert the digital food thermometer through the thickest part of the meat, all the way to the middle, without touching any bones. The gauge then gives you the temperature.

When reheated, chicken should be at least 74°C (165°F).

A food thermometer makes a great gift for yourself, or somebody that is a nervous cook. Great if you're trying to encourage friends or family to use up their leftovers, either to save the planet or to save money.

I hope this helps you!

Summary of the Rules of Reheating Chicken Cooked in a Slow Cooker:

  1. Cool your chicken and get it into the fridge within an hour, in a suitable container with a sealed lid.
  2. Only reheat chicken once. Think ahead as this means you can't use your leftovers of your leftovers.
  3. Cook the chicken thoroughly when you reheat it. Never skimp on the reheating part of the process.

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