Unless you’re able to get to the butcher shop or grocery store every day of the week, it can be a hassle to keep fresh meat in the house. How long do chicken breasts last in the fridge once you’ve brought them home? Read on to find out.
How Long Do Chicken Breasts Last in the Fridge?
Fresh chicken breasts should keep in the fridge for 1 to 2 days. Once the meat is cooked, it may be good for another 3 to 4 days. Store the meat in the freezer if you don’t think you’ll have a chance to enjoy it within that time frame.
How Long Do Raw Chicken Breasts Last in the Fridge?
Raw poultry, including chicken breasts, should keep in the fridge for 1 to 2 days from the initial purchase. That’s assuming that they’re stored at a temperature between 33 and 39 degrees the entire time.
This doesn’t give you as much leeway as you might have with other meat products, so be sure to plan ahead. If you want to brine or marinate the chicken, for example, it’s best to do so as soon as possible after bringing the meat home.
How Long Do Chicken Breasts Last in the Fridge Once They’re Cooked?
You can buy yourself a little bit of time by cooking the chicken breasts off and storing the leftovers in the fridge. Once the meat is cooked, it should keep for another 3 to 4 days.
Of course, reheated leftovers don’t have quite the same texture as freshly cooked meat. You’ll have to use your judgement as to whether it’s a good idea to save the chicken for later or cook it right away.
Can You Use Sell By Dates as a Guide?
The “sell by” dates that you see on meat products are in place to remind the retailers how long they’ve been hanging around. When they reach that date, they should be pulled from the shelves to make room for fresher product.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the chicken is bad after the sell by date. It only means that the product has been sitting on the shelf for too long. Once you bring it home, that date doesn’t have as much significance.
As long as the chicken isn’t displaying any of the signs of spoilage that we discuss in the section below, you should be able to cook it off as you normally would. Just try to do so within 1 to 2 days, as we mentioned earlier.
How Long Do Chicken Breasts Last in the Freezer?
One option, if you don’t think you’ll be eating the chicken within 2 days and would prefer not to cook it off in advance, would be to store it in the freezer.
When meat is frozen, it won’t go bad, because the bacteria that cause the meat to spoil can’t grow at these temperatures. To ensure food safety, make sure your freezer is set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit or a few degrees below it.
While the frozen meat will keep indefinitely in theory, it’s best to thaw whole chickens within a year of storing them in the freezer. Smaller cuts like boneless chicken breasts will fare best if you thaw them within 3 to 4 months.
Here’s why. Storing meat in the freezer for extended periods of time causes the muscle fibers to lose moisture. That means the chicken could have an unpleasant dry texture after it’s cooked.
That’s not to say that the meat will be ruined if you forget and leave it in the freezer a bit too long. You just might want to adjust your preparation technique to account for the lost moisture.
How To Defrost Chicken
The best way to defrost chicken is to move it from the freezer to the refrigerator. That way, it will stay cold until you’re ready to cook it.
Use a platter or rimmed baking sheet to hold the chicken. This prevents any juices that might leak out of the package from spilling out all over the fridge.
Also, keep the chicken on a lower shelf, pushed toward the back. Since warm air enters the refrigerator every time the door is opened, this will keep it fresh longer.
When stored in the fridge, chicken should thaw at a rate of 1 day for every 4 to 5 pounds of meat. That means a 2-pound package of chicken breasts could be ready to cook in just 12 hours, while a whole chicken could require 24 hours or more.
You can also speed things along by thawing the meat in cold water instead. Make sure the chicken is tightly wrapped, then submerge it in cold water for 30 minutes per pound. Change out the water every half hour to ensure that it doesn’t get too warm.
The microwave is an acceptable method for defrosting, although it isn’t our favorite one because it can cause the meat to thaw unevenly. Your microwave will need to be at the defrost setting, or 30 percent power. Otherwise, the meat will cook instead of defrost.
Thaw chicken in the microwave for about 2 minutes per pound, rotating it often. Note that when you use either the microwave or cold water for defrosting, you’ll need to cook it off immediately.
How Long Do Chicken Breasts Last in the Fridge After Thawing?
Let’s assume you froze the chicken breasts after unpacking your groceries, and now they’ve been defrosting in the fridge overnight. How much time do you have to cook it off?
The total time window is generally the same whether you froze the meat or not. Although bacteria growth is halted at temperatures below zero, it picks back up again when the meat is thawed.
Try to cook the defrosted chicken within a day or two. If you already held onto it for a couple of days before you put it in the freezer, you should cook it as soon as it’s had a chance to thaw out.
Again, you can only keep defrosted chicken in the fridge if it’s been in there since you took it out of the freezer. If the meat was thawed in cold water or the microwave, it isn’t safe to keep it around once it’s defrosted.
How To Tell When Chicken is Bad
When poultry goes bad, you can usually tell as soon as you pull open the refrigerator door. Even before the meat starts to show other telltale signs, it will give off a foul odor when it’s spoiled.
Chicken that’s past its prime will usually smell like rotten eggs. In fact, if you notice any scent at all, there’s a good chance that the meat is no longer fresh. When you sniff a package of fresh chicken, you usually won’t detect any odor.
You should also take a good look at the chicken before you cook it. The meat should be a pinkish color, perhaps with traces of fat that range from creamy white to pale yellow. Discoloration or patches of mold indicate that the chicken has been around too long.
Test the texture of the chicken by running your finger along the surface. The chicken should feel slightly damp and firm to the touch. If it’s sticky or slimy, then bacteria have taken up residence and are feeding on the meat.
Above all, you should trust your judgment. If you suspect that the chicken has gone bad, discard it at once. There’s no way to salvage it once it’s turned the corner, and you’ll be risking illness if you try to eat it anyway.
The Bottom Line
As a general rule, fresh chicken breasts don’t last as long in the fridge as steak or pork chops. You’re better off buying them the same day or the day before you plan to cook them. Otherwise, put them in the freezer until you’re ready.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!