Can You Reheat Chicken in the Microwave? (Is It Safe?)


You picked up some chicken from the store, but now you’re wondering if it’s safe to microwave. You don’t want to take a chance with your health or risk the possibility of reheating improperly and having bacteria grow. Can you safely reheat chicken in the microwave?

It is safe to reheat chicken in a microwave. Microwaves increase the temperature of food by producing a type of radiation that doesn’t change the chemical structure of the food. Instead, this radiation causes the water molecules in the food to vibrate, raising the temperature.

The rest of this article will explain why it’s safe to reheat chicken using a microwave, why microwaving is the best method to heat this type of food and ways to use your microwave safely. Read on for insights into these and helpful tips on how to ensure your chicken doesn’t get dry from using this method.

Is It Safe To Reheat Chicken in the Microwave?

Microwave ovens heat food by emitting radiation. Because of that, there are concerns over their safety. Additionally, some say that microwave heating of chicken doesn’t destroy the bacteria in the food, making it unsafe.

Scientific evidence points that it’s safe to reheat chicken in the microwave. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the non-ionizing radiation produced by a microwave doesn’t make food radioactive. Therefore, microwaving your chicken doesn’t pose any harm to your health.

The CDC backs this up.

How Does a Microwave Heat Food?

A microwave heats food when these high-frequency waves pass into the interior of the oven and interfere with polar molecules such as water vapor contained inside it. This interference causes random rotation of those molecules to produce heat, which warms up your food.

To understand why it’s safe to heat chicken using a microwave, it’s best to have some insight into how it works. A microwave oven relies on microwaves — radiation with a wavelength of around 30 cm (11.8 in) or so — as its most crucial heating agent. 

Microwave ovens obtain these microwaves from an external source of power that creates waves by sending electrical currents through metal antennas or electron tubes (a vacuum tube containing electrons). 

In a nutshell, the microwaves this appliance produces cause the water molecules in the food to vibrate, producing heat. This means the microwave energy is transformed into heat, which doesn’t contaminate the food, as this blog post by the FDA explains.

The following video explains how microwave ovens work in greater detail:

Another factor that makes microwaving safe is that it warms your chicken uniformly. Undoubtedly, you wouldn’t want to eat food that’s poorly reheated.

If you eat food that’s been adequately heated on the outside but poorly heated on the inside, there’s a pretty high chance the bacteria on the inner parts may still be active, posing the risk of contracting a foodborne disease.

Generally, microwaves penetrate foods quickly and evenly, so they’re less likely to cause uneven cooking than stovetop surface cooking, such as grilling or pan-frying. The convenience is undeniable, but microwave ovens have some drawbacks too: 

Microwaves can only reheat — not cook a meal from scratch.

Microwave Safety Tips

That microwaves are safe to use isn’t enough grounds for becoming complacent. Leaving your oven dirty, for instance, increases the risk of contaminating food and contradicting diseases.

That said, here are ways to ensure your microwave is safe for use:

Keep Your Microwave Clean

Keep your microwave clean. Dampen paper towels in water with soap and vinegar and then scrub them over the plates and around the sidewalls for best results. 

Or, if the food is stuck in place, fill a microwave-safe bowl with water, and place it in the microwave. Heat the water for 4-5 minutes, then let it sit for 1-3 minutes to let the steam soften the stuck-on food.

Then, take a damp cloth and wipe out the microwave. The food and grime should come right off.

Cover Food Before Heating

Whenever you use the microwave, cover food with a lid or place it on an appropriate cooking dish, which prevents splatters and spills that may lead to bacteria growth on the inner surfaces. Also, you want to cook your food at a slower rate to prevent it from splattering.

Use Microwave-Safe Containers

A microwave-safe container is any container that won’t leak microwaves into your food. You should use containers made of non-BPA plastic, glass, or ceramic materials to avoid this problem.

You can also check the underside for a label that reads “microwave safe.” 

If you don’t have one on hand, it’s okay to improvise with paper towels and plastic wrap as long as they’re not coated in aluminum foil or plastic film.

Ensure There’s No Leakage

You should also ensure the microwave’s door hinges, seals, and latches are in the best condition. To see if there is a leak, place an open cup of water or any other liquid in the microwave, shut its door, then turn the appliance on.

If you notice any leakage around the door area, replace your oven’s seal with one that can be found at most hardware stores.

If your microwave doesn’t work properly after this, it may be time to replace the appliance.

Don’t Use the Microwave if It Works With the Door Open

Microwaves are not designed to work properly when their doors have gaps or openings that allow microwaves to escape.

Therefore, your microwave working with its door open is a major red flag that all is not well.  The FDA recommends that you immediately stop using your microwave oven if this happens.

Don’t Use Metal Utensils in the Microwave

Never use metal utensils when cooking in the microwave oven, as these may produce sparks, resulting in an electrical fire hazard.

These utensils also heat up too quickly and can easily burn if touched while still hot.

In addition, aluminum foil or plastic film should never be used as containers of any kind within a microwave oven because these materials will melt easily, releasing toxic fumes. Notably, excessive intake of aluminum increases the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s.

Instead, you should use plastic, ceramic materials, or paper products like paper towels.

Can You Really Reheat Chicken Only Once?

Now that we’ve established it’s safe to microwave chicken; the next question is: what’s the maximum number of times to do it?

Like other foods, you can reheat chicken two or more times. According to the USDA, you can store and reheat food for up to 4 days. However, when reheating leftover chicken, it should reach an internal temperature of 165°F (73.9°C).

It’s also important not to overheat chicken (or any other foods for that matter) since doing that decreases their quality.  To ensure your leftover chicken retains its nutritional value, it’s best to only reheat the amount needed.

However, reheating chicken comes with its drawbacks. For example, the more you do it, the more the meat gets over-cooked, but the first time is usually okay because it retains its moisture.

As you heat the food repetitively, the following occur:

  • The meat becomes tough and dry.
  • The flavor of the food is lessened, making it taste bland.
  • Nutrients are lost with heat, including the high-value proteins and vitamin B12 found in chicken.

So how do we solve this problem? 

As mentioned before, try not heating too much food simultaneously so that you don’t have leftover chicken for longer than necessary. Alternatively, freeze whatever you won’t be eating right away, but remember that doing this does mean some nutrients, such as vitamin B, may be lost in the process.

How Long Should I Reheat Chicken in the Microwave?

There is no set time for microwaving exactly. Chicken with tender meat may take a shorter time to reheat than that with tougher meat. Also, chicken that has just thawed may take longer to heat.

Generally, it’s best to reheat cooked meat until you see steam coming from it or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (73.9°C) if using a food thermometer. This might be as little as 45 seconds or as long as 3 minutes, depending on the wattage of your microwave.

In that regard, I prefer checking the temperature after the first two minutes. If the chicken hasn’t reached the desired temperature, keep heating it for another 30 seconds and check again. 

Repeat this if necessary, turning the chicken after every 30 seconds.

However, if your chicken has already been frozen, I recommend letting it thaw completely before reheating in the microwave. This prevents you from cooking any areas still frozen through too quickly.

The same is true if anything else you’re heating was previously kept refrigerated.

What Is the Best Way To Reheat Chicken?

The best way to reheat chicken is with a microwave, as it heats food quickly and evenly, so they’re the perfect solution for warming up a meal that’s already been cooked.  A microwave requires less moisture content to heat food. 

Since it retains more nutrients, microwaving chicken is ideal when you want your dish to taste just like it did in its original form.

According to Healthline, it’s practical to reheat chicken and red meat using the same method you used to cook it. Ways to cook chicken include pressure cooking, slow cooking, frying, poaching, and steaming, to mention but a few.

However, these methods tend to expose the meat to moisture and high heat levels for longer durations, resulting in greater nutrient loss.

Microwaving, on the other hand, involves shorter cooking times and requires less water. Because of that, the food retains more of its water-soluble nutrients.

Therefore, microwaving is the best approach if you need the nutritional value chicken offers.

Additionally, microwaves heat food quickly and evenly, so they’re the perfect solution if you need a uniform food temperature.

Can I Reheat KFC Chicken?

Although I previously mentioned you can keep leftover chicken for up to four days and reheat it when needed, the ballgame changes when it involves takeaway chicken.

You can reheat KFC chicken only once. Arguably, you can’t tell when it was cooked and how many times it was reheated before you bought it. If you have any leftovers after that, I recommend you dispose of them.

The best thing about KFC chicken is that it stays crispy and moist even when you reheat it. However, some things can go wrong if you don’t reheat the chicken properly.

It’s essential to make sure you’re following these guidelines before reheating your KFC fried chicken:

  1. Make sure to use a microwave oven because other cooking methods may result in burnt pieces of meat.
  2. Arrange the pieces of fried chicken on a plate or in a microwavable dish with an inch or two of space between each piece for proper heating distribution.
  3. Create an airtight seal around your food by covering it tightly with plastic wrap. Otherwise, steam from the heat will get into the plastic and create a soggy mess.

Crucial: Please note that many fast-food outlets and other restaurants cook their chicken only once, then refrigerate it for use at a later date. So if this is your case even with KFC chicken because you buy it fresh – just like straight from the oven – make sure that your meal has been properly cooked.

How To Reheat Chicken in the Microwave Without Drying It Out

To reheat chicken in a microwave without drying it out, you need to place your chicken in a microwave-safe container, add a few teaspoons of water, and some olive oil, and cover it with a microwave-safe plastic wrap. Then heat your chicken for short bursts of time until it is hot.

Gather the following supplies, then follow the instructions below.

  • A microwave-safe plate. In this case, I recommend this Amazon Basics set from Amazon.com. The 18-piece set comes with durable, lightweight, microwave-and-dishwasher-safe plates that can withstand up to 572°F (300°C)
  • A microwave-safe container
  • Paper towels
  • Microwave-safe lid or plate cover
  • A few teaspoons of water
  • Olive oil
  • Microwave-safe plastic wrap
  • A food thermometer, like this Kizen Digital Meat Thermometer from Amazon.com. This device is ultra-fast, as it takes a reading within 3 seconds, is waterproof, versatile, and features an easy-to-read LCD screen.
  • Microwave

Armed with the above, follow these steps:

  1. Spread the chicken out on the plate. Start with smaller pieces of the meat at the center and the larger ones nearer the edge of the plate. This will ensure that the larger pieces absorb the most intense heat from the microwave, speeding up the process.
  2. Sprinkle a few teaspoons of water on the chicken, then add a drizzle of olive oil. This keeps the food moist while improving its flavor.
  3. Cover the plate using plastic wrap. Try not to leave any gaps that would allow steam to escape during heating, as too much moisture loss could make your chicken dry out in the microwave.
  4. Microwave the chicken for two minutes.
  5. Remove the plate from the microwave and check to see if the chicken is ready. Using the food thermometer, check if its core temperature is 165°F (73.9°C). If not, reheat at 30-second intervals until it reaches the recommended temperature.

Enjoy the reheated chicken that’s just as yummy as when you first had it!

Final Thoughts

If you’re tired of eating cold leftovers but don’t want to waste money by reheating food in the oven or stovetop, a microwave can be your best friend.

Reheating chicken in a microwave is safe and easy as long as you follow these guidelines:

  • Ensure the food is thawed before placing it into the microwave.
  • Don’t use metal utensils – this will cause sparks that could damage your appliance.
  • Cover any dish with plastic wrap or wax paper to avoid splatters on your microwave walls, which would be difficult to clean up later.

For more, don’t miss How to Keep Chicken From Sticking to Foil | 2 Methods.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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