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Can You Put Hot Chicken In The Fridge?

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Making a hot chicken meal and storing it in the fridge to cool it down may seem like a very convenient option – but is it worth it?

Can you put hot chicken in the fridge? Yes! Even though scorching hot meals should not be kept in the fridge because they might defrost other food and damage the interior of your fridge, you can easily keep warm or even mildly hot food in the refrigerator to preserve it or cool it down. 

Learn more about the dos and don’ts of storing hot chicken in the fridge, how you should go about it, and some important tips to keep in mind!

Storing Hot Food In The Fridge

Refrigeration is a remarkable invention that has allowed us to increase the shelf life of food while also keeping us safe from harmful bacterial growth. 

Bacteria love food just as much as humans (if not more) which is why every health agency urges the public to store food at an optimal time and temperature to avoid bacterial growth.

But is there any science behind storing hot food in the fridge? Aren’t we instructed not to do something like this?

Well, it turns out that the myth that you can’t store hot food in the fridge is nothing but just that: a myth. Here’s why: People don’t give their refrigerator the credit it deserves! 

The job of your fridge is to produce a constant inflow of cold air to keep food cold – duh, right? But you would be surprised by just how many people forget this simple fact. 

So, when you add any hot food to it, the fridge will continue to do its job without being “overburdened” or without malfunctioning, as many would believe. 

Sure, the ambient temperature of the fridge might rise a few degrees, but it will hardly affect the quality of the other foods in the fridge. 

Also, keep in mind that most modern fridges have an inboard system that continuously monitors the internal temperature of the storage cabin, i.e., where you keep all the food.

For example, in the case of inverter technology refrigerators, the inboard system will increase the output of the compressor to match the ambient change in temperature and while your fridge may “work” a bit more than usual, it will come back to its normal setting within a few minutes. 

Even if you have a typical fridge at home, you can count on it to keep food cold even when faced with “tough odds.”

Yes, a normal fridge may take a bit more energy to bring the ambient temperature down to normal, but it still won’t cause any detrimental effects to any stored food or the hot chicken! 

How Much Is Too Hot? – Dos And Don’ts

In the context of freshly cooked chicken, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind. 

Don’t Store Sizzling Hot Food

First of all, as also indicated by most health agencies, the ambient temperature inside a fridge should be 40°F while the freezer compartment must be maintained at a chilling 0°F. 

Secondly, you shouldn’t directly put scorching hot chicken in the fridge. The reason for this is quite simple, steaming hot food can cause a drastic change in the ambient temperature of the fridge and if the food is too hot, it may even affect the quality of other food around it. 

Even then, your fridge is not at fault. In fact, the constant flow of cool air inside the fridge is perhaps the easiest way to bring down the temperature of the food but unless you are in an emergency, we wouldn’t recommend putting fresh-out-of-the-oven-hot food. 

Don’t Leave Food Out Too Long 

Just like you shouldn’t put steaming hot food in the fridge, you shouldn’t wait too long before storing food either.

If you have cooked a fresh batch of chicken that you do not plan to eat immediately then you must wait a few minutes (15-30 mins) before storing the chicken in the fridge.

This will allow the chicken to cool down enough to not cause any major temperature discrepancy in the fridge. 

Bacterial growth happens when food is around 40-140°F. This means that as soon as the surface temperature of the chicken reaches 160°F, you will have to shift it to the fridge to keep it from going bad. 

Remember, in ideal conditions bacteria can grow exponentially every 20 minutes. This means that you shouldn’t keep the food out at room temperature for more than 2 hours – and this time frame is even less for people living in hotter climates. 

Do Keep A Cooking Thermometer Handy 

A precise way of storing hot chicken would be to use a cooking thermometer (we love this versatile one from Amazon). Chicken is usually cooked at 375F-450°F and it wouldn’t make sense for you to add extremely hot chicken to the fridge.

So, the best way is to wait a few minutes until the food comes down to a surface temp of around 160-180°F. 

Please keep in mind that most cuts of chicken meat have to be cooked until the internal temperature is at 165F. This temperature ensures that the meat is thoroughly cooked and that there is no bacterial presence in or around the meat.  

Using a cooking thermometer, you will be able to store the food without any guesswork, and trust us, this little tool will go a long way towards healthy and safe eating!

Do Keep The Food Unwrapped When Not Cooking

When out of the oven, keep the food unwrapped and remove any foil covering it. This will prevent the chicken from overcooking and will also aid in bringing down the temperature. 

While you might be tempted to store the chicken with the foil for added convenience, this strategy might work against the quality and texture of the meat.

If you don’t want overly soggy and “washed out” chicken, then you will have to let it air out. 

Airing the chicken will not only help bring the temperature down but will also help the meat reabsorb some of the juices and flavors that were ejected from the surface while cooking. 

Once the chicken has cooled down, you may cover it with a foil and place it in the fridge – even if the chicken is warm. 

The Right Method For Storing Hot Chicken

Here are a few detailed steps for storing hot chicken in the fridge:

  1. After cooking the chicken, remove the foil and let the chicken cool down at room temperature. Make sure that you check the internal temperature of the chicken, which should read about 160°F. 
    • If you are in a hurry then you can keep the chicken under the fan for about 10 minutes. Do not leave the chicken out for more than 2 hours! 
  2. Once adequately cool, but still warm to the touch, rewrap the chicken (if necessary) and put it in the fridge for up to 2-3 days. 

Freezing Hot Chicken

Freezing hot chicken is another topic that can be confusing. Can you store hot chicken straight from the oven to the freezer?

The answer to this question is not that simple because there are a lot of variables to consider. But we’ll try to highlight a few important guidelines. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that keeping hot food in the freezer can only be possible when your refrigeration unit is working at full efficiency and when there isn’t a lot of other food that can get affected because of the ambient heat from the chicken. 

The reason why this method is possible is that the freezer compartment can circulate extremely cool air which can transfer heat out of the chicken and bring down the temperature of the food within a few minutes!

Think about how hot food quickly cools down when you blow on it. In the same way, when there is a continuous flow of very cold air then there is very little chance for the escaping heat to increase the ambient temperature within the freezer compartment. 

But even then, you should take a lot of precautions before storing hot chicken in the freezer.

Of course, we wouldn’t advise you to store scorching hot chicken in the same baking tray right out of the oven because that would damage the interior of your freezer.

The best way to do this is to move the chicken into a large container and then freeze it – but then you will also have to make sure that the storage box is both freezer safe and rated for high heat. 

Combining plastic containers and hot food isn’t the best idea because the container might leak chemicals into the food, making it unhealthy and potentially unsafe.

So, if you do plan to store steaming hot food, then we would recommend carefully moving and storing the chicken in a high-quality storage container.

The other option is to wait a few minutes before freezing the chicken. This method is usually reserved for people who don’t wish to serve the chicken on the same day. 

Freezing is an excellent way of preserving the meat and keeping it from going bad. For example, if the storage duration of chicken in the fridge is 2-3 days, you can easily get 2-6 months of storage time in the freezer! 

However, just like the fridge method, there are a few things to keep in mind. Here are a few detailed steps on how to properly freeze hot chicken:

  1. Once the chicken is ready, remove any foil and allow it to air out.
    • This step is even more important when freezing the chicken because removing the foil will allow the chicken to reabsorb all the juices more efficiently, thereby evaporating excess liquid around the surface.
    • Remember, the drier the surface, the less chance you have of developing freezer burn! Freezer burn occurs due to excess moisture and significant temperature discrepancies. It can cause white icy patches on the surface of food that can cause severe dryness and loss of flavor and texture as well.
  2. Once the chicken is warm (but not steaming), move it into a separate freezer-safe container.
  3. Store the chicken in the coldest part of the freezer – which is usually at the back and away from the door.

Alternative Steps

  1. Once the chicken is cooked, remove the foil and carefully move the chicken into a heat and freezer-safe container with a steam lid. Store the container at the back of the freezer.
    • The steam lid will discourage the build-up of pressure inside the container and will also provide the chicken with enough moisture to reabsorb excess liquids. 
  2. After 45 minutes in the freezer, seal the steam lid by pressing down on it.
    • This will create an airtight seal and will help in preserving the chicken for the long term. Please refer to the manual of your airtight container for more information on steam lids and how to seal them. 

Check out this tutorial from Jamie Oliver on YouTube.

Tips And Tricks

Here are some important tips and tricks to keep in mind:

  • When storing hot or warm chicken in the fridge, always empty and reserve a full compartment so that the chicken can cool down without affecting other food around it.
  • For maximum coverage, always keep the chicken at the top most compartment so that it gets a direct flow of cool air. Most fridges have a fan at the top which blows air in and around the inner chamber.
  • Try different cooling settings to offset the temperature difference caused by storing the hot chicken in the fridge. Some refrigerator models have a “turbo” or “quick cool” option that will increase the output of the fridge, thereby cooling down the chicken much quicker than usual.
  • No-frost fridges are excellent for cooling down hot food. They work by extracting air and humidity from the freezer compartment and are much more efficient at maintaining a consistent temperature. 
  • Regularly service your fridge for the best results. You would not want to store hot chicken in the fridge only to have it cool down after 3-4 hours! Remember, 40-140°F is the danger zone! The less time the chicken spends between these two temperature ranges the better!
  • Do not repeatedly check on the food once in the fridge and freezer. Repeatedly opening and closing the door will cause the internal temperature of either compartment to rise!
  • Please keep in mind that storing hot food directly in the fridge/freezer will NOT increase its overall storage life but may only positively impact its flavor and texture over the long term. 

Related Questions

Not only is storing hot or warm food in the fridge safe, but it may also be a great way to prevent the growth of bacteria, especially if you do not wish to consume the food the same day! 

Now that you know all about storing hot food in the refrigerator, here are some related questions:

Can you store microwaved chicken directly in the fridge? 

Yes. As long as the chicken does not pose a “splatter danger” you may store it directly in the fridge or freezer.

However, a better way to store the meat would be to first let it cool for about 10 minutes so that it can evenly reabsorb all the flavors and nutrients before freezing or cooling it.

How long does hot chicken take to cool down in the fridge or freezer?

This depends on how efficient your fridge is. If your refrigerator is operating at 40°F and does not have a history of inefficient cooling, then you can expect a drastic change in temperature within 10 minutes.

This effect is almost doubled in the case of storing hot food in the freezer at 0°F! 

Should you cool down hot chicken in the fridge before moving it to the freezer?

Yes! This is a great way to minimize bacterial growth and to allow the chicken to cool down without causing freezer burn. It will also allow you to freeze the chicken more efficiently without losing any flavor or texture! 

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