How To Reheat Fried Chicken For A First-Day Crunch Factor

The combination of a crispy, crunchy coating and juicy, tender meat makes freshly-fried chicken simply unbeatable. This dish is enjoyed around the globe, and there are countless international fried chicken styles worth traveling for. But while sheer deliciousness unites all of these dishes, so does one disappointing factor: lackluster leftovers. Usually, reheating fried chicken either gives it a soggy coating, or you crank up the heat to make the coating crisp, but also turn the meat tough and dry.

On the upside, there are ways to reheat fried chicken so that it stays both crisp and juicy. The key to getting it to its crunchy best lies in choosing the right appliance for the job. The oven is generally considered the most accessible and effective way to reheat fried chicken. However, you still need to follow a few prep steps to return the chicken to somewhere close to its former glory. It might take a few extra minutes, compared to just taking the chicken out of the fridge and plopping it on a baking tray, but the vastly improved results are worth it. 

Before you follow our tips for heating up your chicken, make sure it's safe to eat in the first place. Cooked poultry lasts for three or four days in the fridge, so enjoy your leftovers before then. The USDA also recommends reheating meat to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, so if you have a food thermometer handy, now is the time to use it.

Reheat chicken in the oven or air fryer for the crispiest results

The oven is the best way to reheat leftover steak without overcooking it, and can do the same for fried chicken. However, it's important to take your leftover chicken out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature first, which will take around 10 minutes to half an hour, depending on how many pieces you're thawing. This ensures that meat heats through evenly, and reduces the amount of time it needs to spend in the oven, preventing overcooking.

Reheat your fried chicken at around 400 degrees Fahrenheit. For optimal crispness, set the pieces on a wire rack, then place the rack on top of a baking sheet. This helps air circulate around all the poultry pieces, wicking away moisture that makes the coating soggy and restoring its crunch. The time the chicken spends in the oven will depend on the size of each piece, but a batch will likely need 15 to 20 minutes to start with. Check on the meat after 10 or 15 minutes, as chicken legs will heat up faster than breasts, and you don't want to risk the meat drying out.

Alternatively, you can use the air fryer, which works like a small convection oven with great air circulation, creating a crispy finish. Try air-frying chicken for 10 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit before checking on it, and arrange it in the basket so that there's some space between the pieces. 

Avoid the microwave or stove for reheating fried chicken

When you're hungry, it can be tempting to skip preheating your oven and setting up a wire rack just to reheat some chicken. However, faster methods don't lead to ideal results. Take the microwave, for instance. This appliance is super quick at reheating leftovers, and it will certainly get fried chicken hot enough, but microwaves often heat food unevenly. Parts of your chicken could end up cold and soggy or hot and dried-out all at once. The lack of air circulation also leaves moisture in the chicken's crust, making it soft and unappealing.

If you have no other tools at your fingertips, try microwaving the chicken in 30-second intervals to avoid it overcooking, with a paper towel underneath to absorb moisture. You can also reheat fried chicken in a skillet on the stove, though this technique involves using more oil, which can make the coating greasy. The other disadvantage is that you can't overcrowd the skillet, so you'll need to reheat the chicken in batches, which can be time-consuming.

Of course, it's not essential to reheat fried chicken at all, as many agree that it's great to eat cold, just like pizza. If you're in a rush, or just want a feast without all the fuss, then it's fine to eat leftover chicken straight from the fridge. For hot, crisp, juicy leftovers, though, there's really no shortcut that's any better than the oven or air fryer.