Is leaving raw chicken uncovered in fridge a good idea or not? In this guide, we’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of this method—and how to do it properly.
Leaving Raw Chicken Uncovered in Fridge
There’s no point to leaving skinless and boneless chicken breasts uncovered in the fridge. In fact, you risk spreading bacteria around the fridge if you do. But if you’re working with a whole chicken or other skin-on cuts, leaving the meat uncovered will help the skin crisp up during cooking.
Why It’s Important
We tend to keep chicken and other meat products tightly wrapped in the fridge. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First of all, it’s easy for other items to fall onto the chicken while it’s sitting on the shelf. That can be unpleasant if the meat gets crushed or contaminated by other ingredients, but it can also be dangerous.
That takes us to the next point: Raw chicken can harbor bacteria, some of which may cause serious illness when consumed. You don’t want to spread this bacteria around your fridge.
Cooking the chicken to a safe internal temperature should kill off the bacteria, assuming that the meat is still fresh. But if the chicken has touched other items in the fridge, they’ll be contaminated as well.
Leaving Raw Chicken Uncovered in Fridge: Why Do It?
Is there a point to leaving raw chicken uncovered in the fridge? After all, we’ve just established that it can cause problems if you’re not careful.
In fact, we recommend leaving skinless poultry in its wrapper until you’re ready to season and cook it. There’s no real benefit to unwrapping it, and doing so could lead to the issues we’ve just discussed.
Skin-on chicken, on the other hand, is a different story. When you leave it unwrapped, the skin will have a chance to dry out. That means it should get nice and crispy when you put it on the grill or smoker.
This step is especially beneficial when it comes to whole chickens, but you can use it with any skin-on cuts, including drumsticks and thighs. The drier the skin is, the more appealing the finished product will be.
Seasoning in Advance
Once you’ve unwrapped the chicken, it’s a good idea to season it before putting it back in the fridge. That way, the spices will adhere better and have a chance to saturate the skin.
Pat the meat dry using paper towels, making sure to get into all the crevices. Don’t neglect the cavity—you want the meat to be as dry as possible before you season it.
If you’d like, use cooking spray or neutral oil as a binder for the seasoning. Mustard and mayonnaise are also acceptable ingredients.
For the spice rub, feel free to experiment. Freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt will work nicely, but chicken has a mild flavor on its own, so you can get creative with herbs and spices if you’d like.
One more thing—don’t worry if you’ve forgotten to take this step. While seasoning the chicken in advance has its advantages, adding the rub just before cooking won’t make a huge difference in terms of quality.
How Long Can You Leave Chicken Uncovered in the Fridge?
If you want to take the extra step of letting the chicken dry out in the fridge, how long should you leave it in there?
The answer is simpler than you might think. After all, you can only expect raw chicken to keep for a day or two after you buy it. That doesn’t leave you with much time, so be sure to plan ahead when you make your grocery list.
Our advice would be to let the chicken dry out uncovered overnight. As soon as possible after bringing it home, unwrap the meat and season it as directed above, then put it in a roasting pan and set the pan in the fridge.
Try to keep chicken on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator, out of the way of other items whenever possible. Positioning it toward the rear of the unit will help keep the meat cold, which is crucial.
Though the chicken should keep for a day or two, you shouldn’t cook it if it shows any signs of spoilage. If you take it out of the refrigerator and suspect that it’s gone bad, you should discard it at once.
How can you tell if the meat has gone bad? There will be telltale signs, such as a foul odor, slimy texture, or discoloration. Should you spot any of these red flags, you’ll have to throw the meat out.
A Word About Safe Internal Temperatures
In order to be safe to eat, chicken needs to achieve a minimum internal temp of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. These are the safety guidelines recommended by the USDA.
The bacteria that cause food-borne illness will die off rapidly at this temperature. They can be destroyed at lower temperatures, but it takes more time for that to happen. It’s safer to cook the meat thoroughly instead.
Try to take chicken breast off the heat when it hits the 160-degree mark. The meat should rest for at least 5 to 10 minutes, during which time the temperature will rise into the safety zone.
Dark meat cuts like the thighs and drumsticks need to cook a bit longer if you want them to have a silky, succulent texture. Wait until these cuts have cooked to about 180 degrees before taking them off the heat to rest.
Can You Leave Chicken Uncovered on the Counter?
By now, you might be wondering why you don’t just leave the seasoned chicken on the counter to dry out. If it can contaminate other ingredients in the refrigerator, isn’t it safer to leave it out?
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Leaving meat out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours will attract hazardous bacteria—the kind that can’t be eradicated by cooking it to a safe temperature.
In fact, it’s a bad idea to leave meat out for longer than an hour if the weather is especially hot. You should keep it refrigerated for as long as possible, taking it out only for seasoning and cooking purposes.
The temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit is known in food parlance as “the danger zone.” Bacteria thrive at these temperatures—they can breed rapidly on the surface of meat that’s left in this zone for too long.
As long as you’re careful, the risk of the raw chicken contaminating other items in your fridge should be fairly low. In any case, it poses far less of a risk than leaving the meat at room temperature overnight.
Remember, too, that the same rules apply for cooked chicken. Although cooking the meat will destroy any bacteria that might have taken up residence on the flesh, you still need to refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours.
The Bottom Line
Although leaving raw chicken uncovered in the fridge can pose a health hazard, the benefits of doing so with skin-on poultry are worth the risk. Try it the next time you want to smoke a whole chicken—you should be pleased with the results.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!