Leaving Cooked Chicken at Room Temperature: Quick Guide

How long can cooked chicken sit out? Today, we will look in-depth at how long cooked chicken can sit out at room temperature, and what the potential risks are.

Do these factors also apply to raw chicken? I’ve even included the proper storage methods for cooked chicken and some commonly asked questions.

Cooked chicken on a black plate.

If you enjoy reading educational articles like these, check out the many others on my site. Some that you may find interesting include How To Reheat Pizza In The Air Fryer and How To Tell If Pork Is Bad.

How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out?

Before asking how long, let’s first answer the question: “Can you leave cooked chicken out overnight?”

The short answer is no. Not overnight. Typically, “overnight” refers to a period of anywhere between 6-10 hours.

It’s not possible even if you are talking about the minimum here (6 hours).

So then, how long can cooked chicken be left out? There is only one answer here: for a maximum of 2 hours. There are no exceptions to the rule, and under no circumstances should you risk leaving it out for longer.

How Long Can Cooked chicken Sit Out.

What About Raw Chicken?

Unless you plan to thaw chicken by letting it sit out at room temperature, raw chicken should always be defrosted in the refrigerator. If you want to defrost your chicken at room temperature, place your raw chicken in cold water to thaw properly before use.

Follow my guide on How to Thaw Chicken in the Fridge.

What Happens When You Leave Chicken Out?

If you leave raw and cooked chicken to sit out at room temperature, it falls perfectly in the temperature danger zone.

This danger zone ranges between 40-140ºF (4.4-60ºC).

Raw and cooked chicken is usually kept inside a fridge on the lower end of that range. Bacteria can still grow at these temperatures, but it does so much more slowly. This is why a refrigerator ultimately extends the shelf life of foods. Bacteria cannot grow as quickly to ruin them.

At the higher end of this spectrum, bacteria are actually killed by the heat. Most bacteria that grow on chicken are killed at 140ºF (60ºC). That’s why you must hold the chicken at 140ºF if you want to “leave it outside.”

So, at room temperature, bacteria can thrive, even on cooked chicken. This means they can multiply to highly hazardous and deadly numbers in mere hours and cause food poisoning. For safety, the USDA recommends not exceeding 2 hours when leaving cooked chicken out.

Cooked chicken with salad.

How to Properly Store Cooked Chicken

Now, you know cooked chicken cannot sit out. So, how do you store cooked chicken?

  • Cool Before Storage: Allow cooked chicken to cool at room temperature prior to storage to inhibit bacterial growth.
  • Airtight Containers: Transfer cooled chicken to an airtight container, or wrap baking dishes with plastic wrap.
  • Fridge Placement: Store cooked chicken at the top of the fridge, keeping it separate from fresh or raw foods.
  • Separation of Foods: Maintain distance between cooked and raw chicken, as well as fresh vegetables and dairy; raw chicken should go at the bottom shelf or in a separate drawer.
Chicken meal preps in storage containers

Can You Freeze Cooked Chicken?

Yes, you can freeze cooked chicken, a handy trick for batch cooking or meal prep. Just ensure the chicken is stored in an airtight container, then wrap it in aluminum foil to guard against freezer burn. This step preserves the chicken’s texture and flavor, making it easy to enjoy quick meals by reheating throughout the week.



Cooked chicken shouldn’t be left out for more than two hours to avoid bacterial growth. Never leave it out overnight due to the risk of foodborne illnesses, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Always store cooked chicken in the fridge or freezer in an airtight container, separate from raw chicken to prevent cross-contamination. If freezing, wrap in foil to protect against freezer burn. Following these safety tips ensures your chicken remains safe and delicious.


How long is cooked chicken good in the fridge?

If you properly store cooked chicken inside the fridge, it will easily last between 3-4 days. Please don’t keep the cooked chicken for longer than this period, and always check its freshness before reheating and eating it.

How long can fried chicken sit out?

The type of cooked chicken doesn’t affect how long it can sit out. The rule is still 2 hours at the most! That being said, you may likely not want to leave it out for longer. The crispy texture will become soggy quickly.

How do you tell if chicken has gone bad?

Cooked chicken that has gone bad will usually discolor first. The cooked chicken will become pale and sometimes even green. You can also look out for any texture changes. If cooked chicken becomes slimy or sticky, it should be tossed. And, if you see any mold growth anywhere on the cooked chicken, it is definitely past its use-by date.

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