Shredded chicken can be cooked up in hundreds of ways. Use it in a sandwich, a salad, or pasta. Toss it in a taco or stir it into a soup. It’s delicious either way. Usually when it’s shredded, chicken is deliciously moist, too, making it an excellent crowd pleaser.
Bulk cooking is a great meal-prepping idea, and a great way to use up a lot of chicken before it goes bad. One of the big pitfalls of chicken, though, is that it has a bit of a reputation for being dry when you try to heat it back up. All of that moisture is now a thing of the past, and your chicken is now chalky.
So how do you revitalize your leftovers without rendering them to a pile of woodchips? It’s actually not as hard as it sounds.
To reheat shredded chicken without drying it, the best way is to microwave it in a covered bowl with either water or chicken stock. You can also reheat it on the stovetop or in a steamer. If you have to reheat it in the oven, try to serve it with a sauce, as it will dry out a bit.
How To Reheat Shredded Chicken Without Drying It Out
There are a few different ways to reheat your shredded chicken when you’re ready to use it. All of these methods will warm up the chicken, but as for how moist it’ll get your meat, that’s up to how you go about it.
In The Microwave
The microwave is known for convenience, but it’s also known to make things soggy. If you’ve ever tried to reheat fries in the microwave, you know what a struggle it is. What you might find surprising is that the microwave is actually one of the best tools for reheating shredded chicken without drying it out.
With chicken tenders or nuggets, or with fried chicken, the skin will suffer from the way moisture rises and settles in a microwave. The fact that shredded chicken doesn’t have a crispy skin to worry about will work to your advantage.
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The trick to reheating your shredded chicken in the microwave is to put it in a bowl with a liquid. This can be water or chicken stock, depending on if you’d like to add a dash of flavor to the meat. When you cover the bowl and it begins to heat, the steam will moisten up the shredded chicken nicely.
For your liquids, you’re not limited to water and chicken stock; you can also use a sauce, especially if it’s already going to be paired with your chicken.
To Reheat Shredded Chicken In The Microwave
- Separate your shredded chicken into a microwave safe bowl. If you’re putting your chicken away the night before, you can even store it this way.
- Add in your liquid. You’ll want to add about one tablespoon of liquid for every portion of shredded chicken in the bowl. You can use water or chicken stock.
- Cover your bowl with plastic wrap. Make sure you have a fairly secure hold on it so that the steam doesn’t blow it out of place.
- Pierce a few holes in the plastic to create vents. This will allow a little bit of the steam to escape during the cooking process.
- Start heating your shredded chicken on high for 30 seconds.
- Check the meat. If it feels heated through, you’re done. If not, replace the cover and heat for another 15 seconds after giving it a stir.
It’s best to not heat your chicken for a very long time. No matter what method you use here, you will eventually dry it out if you heat it too long. If you have to do a particularly large amount, consider reheating it in smaller portions. A more shallow layer of chicken will heat more evenly, which means you won’t have to heat it in so many sessions.
Using broth will not only result in chicken that is much more moist, but it will be very flavorful too. That makes it perfect for adding in to sandwiches or pastas. If you’re using a sauce that is cream based, make sure you take the steps to ensure that it does not separate.
This isn’t the only way to reheat shredded chicken in the microwave. You can also try to do it with a moist paper towel across the top of the bowl. This will allow a little extra steam to settle into the chicken, but not as much as when the water is added directly to it. It will keep your chicken from drying out a little, but not as noticeably.
If you stick the chicken in a bowl without any liquid or additional source of moisture, it will dry out. The chicken will get warm, of course, but the microwave will cause any moisture to seep out of the chicken as steam and settle on the very surface of it because there’s very little of it.
On The Stove
Reheating shredded chicken on the stove without drying it out takes a bit more hassle than doing it in the microwave. However it is pretty useful if you’re adding it to a sauce or stir fry, since it will be ready to go right in the cooking pan.
Once again, you’ll be using water or liquid to reheat the chicken. Just like with the microwave method, you’ve got a few options at your disposal to heat with your chicken. Ideally, you should use water or chicken stock. You could use oil, but this might make the chicken a bit greasy. Butter or stock will make for flavorful meats, while water will keep it neutral.
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A benefit of the skillet method is that you can do it straight from frozen. Even if your chicken has garnered a few ice crystals, it is ready to be popped right into the pan. It will still heat up perfectly well with 2-3 tablespoons of liquid. This is extra convenient for making dinner on short notice or for meal preppers.
How To Reheat Shredded Chicken On The Stove
- Let a skillet warm over medium heat.
- Add 2-3 tablespoons of your desired liquid to the pan. You’ll only want enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan. Adding too much might make it hard for the chicken to absorb all of it. That could be okay if you’re using a sauce, but potentially troublesome if you’re just using water.
- Once butter is melted or water/stock is simmering, add in your chicken. Now is also a good time to add in sauces or seasonings that will be joining your shredded chicken.
- Put a lid onto the pan as soon as the chicken is in to avoid letting any extra steam escape.
- Take the lid off and give the chicken a stir every 30 seconds or so. Ultimately, it will only take 2-3 minutes to heat the chicken through. If you’re cooking it right from frozen, that time bumps up to 5-6 minutes.
As stated, this technique works nicely for pasta or stir fry, where other ingredients will be added. Even if you’re not adding new elements to the mix, you can still have moist, warmed chicken for a sandwich or salad.
If there are other ingredients joining the chicken, such as vegetables for a stir fry, you can add them in either before or after the chicken has warmed. When you add it depends on what it is you’re cooking. Something that takes longer to cook down should be added before, while things that need less time on the heat can go in after.
It’s best to not overcrowd the pan, especially if your chicken is frozen. Crowding the pan means the heat has less room to travel around between all of the pieces. As a result, your chicken will need longer to cook. As with any method, a longer cooking time will lead to drier chicken.
Keep an eye on your cooking liquid as it is heating the chicken. If the bottom of the pan goes dry, there won’t be any more to absorb into the meat. If your pan goes too dry, it could also burn the contents.
As you go along through the cooking process, add a bit more liquid when you see that it is starting to evaporate away.
In A Steamer
If you have a steamer basket, it can be a great tool for reheating your shredded chicken without drying it out. Since steam is wet heat, there’s plenty of moisture to go around and keep your chicken juicy.
It’s a somewhat unusual method, but it’s definitely effective. It is only second to to the other methods because you won’t be able to impart new flavor to the chicken by way of chicken stock or sauce. However, if you want to keep it plain to toss it in a sticky barbecue sauce, such as for a sandwich, this method works wonders.
How To Reheat Shredded Chicken In A Steamer
- Heat water in the bottom of your steamer. You’ll want to allow it to come to a boil, ensuring that the steam is ready to escape. Adding a bit of lemon to the water will impart a nice, fresh taste to the chicken.
- Lay your chicken out in an even layer in the steamer basket. Place the lid on and allow to steam.
- After 4-5 minutes, the chicken should be hot, moist, and ready to eat.
It’s as simple as that to reheat chicken without making it dry. If you don’t have a full steamer, you can use a sieve. Simply heat the water in your saucepan as you would normally and rest the sieve over it with the lid on. The sieve will act as a substitute steamer.
If you’re lucky enough to have a multi-layered steamer, take the time to multitask and heat up some vegetables as you warm the chicken. For softer vegetables, the meat and greens will likely be ready right around the same time. This makes for a convenient and effective technique.
In The Oven
While it’s perfectly acceptable to heat your shredded chicken in the oven, it’s not the best possible way. While the oven is excellent for fried foods, it might lead to drying out shredded poultry.
It will be a bit drier than using the microwave, stovetop, or a steamer, but there are some things you can do to keep it from getting too dried out. If you’re using a big batch of chicken, this could be the better way to do so, since you won’t have to worry about so many batches. In that respect, it is at least time efficient.
How To Reheat Shredded Chicken In The Oven
- Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.
- Place your chicken in an even layer on a baking tray. It’s best to do this in one that has walls to hold in the liquid you’ll add in the next step.
- Pour in a few tablespoons of your liquid. As discussed in the other methods, you can use various liquids, depending on how you want to flavor the chicken. Water will do just fine, but you can try broth, sauces, or butter. The liquid you add in should just cover the bottom of the baking tray.
- Cover the tray with tinfoil.
- Put the covered tray into the oven for 5-6 minutes before you check on it.
- If the chicken is thoroughly warmed, you can take it out. If you find that it’s still not hot enough to your liking, you can add more liquid and let it go for another round. Reduce the time to 1-2 more minutes. Be careful not to overcook your chicken.
Using a thin, even layer will ensure the that chicken heats throughout. It will also ensure that it does so quickly. The less time this chicken has to be in the oven, the less of a chance there is that it will dry up and become unpalatable.
Just as with the microwave method, the liquid will absorb into your shredded chicken and keep it moist. The foil will trap any steam, giving it nowhere to go but into the chicken, moisturizing it.
Add plenty of liquid when you do this. As you only wanted 2-3 tablespoons in previous methods, your oven is getting much hotter. The supply of water or stock will evaporate much faster, and you don’t want to leave the pan dry. Once the liquid is gone, your chicken is on the road to drying out.
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How To Keep Shredded Chicken Moist
Chicken is incredibly versatile, and that includes when it is shredded. The best way to reheat shredded chicken without drying it out is to make sure it’s not dry to begin with. There’s two places you can do this: in cooking, and in storing.
If you’re used to making chicken at home, you know that it’s easy to dry out. If you’re cooking at high heat, it can be hard to tell exactly when the meat is done cooking. Of course you don’t want to undercook it, but overcooking it will make it dry from the get-go.
If you store and then try to reheat dried out chicken, it will be even drier after being subjected to reheating. Only cook your chicken as much as it needs.
A meat thermometer will be a lifesaver for trying to keep your chicken cooked just as much as it needs to. You want to find the place between ‘safe to eat’ and ‘dried out’. The ideal internal temperature for chicken is 165F/74C. Using a thermometer will help you monitor the temperatures as it’s cooking.
For shredded chicken in particular, you might want to take it off the heat a few degrees early. The reason being that chicken will continue to cook a little after it’s off the heat. If you let it rest a few minutes, it will reach the safe temperature of 165F/74C.
Cool your chicken down in the original cooking liquid. After you shred chicken, you’ve made a lot more surface area for it to release moisture than it had before. If you’re shredding the chicken while it’s hot, you might see steam escaping. That steam is what you’re trying to preserve: moisture.
Keep a bit of the cooking liquid on the bottom of the bowl you’re shredding chicken in. The liquid will create a nice coating on the chicken that holds moisture in. That’ll minimize the moisture that can escape.
If you’re meal prepping, take a step before storage. After the shredding is done, put it back into more of the cooking liquid and let it cool down. Obviously, cooling in liquid keeps it nice and moist, as opposed to letting it dry out in the open air.
Before you store your shredded chicken, even as leftovers or for meal-prepping, make sure it’s nice and cool first. Shredded chicken will last about four days in the fridge, both alone or in sauce. If you need it longer, turn to the freezer.
The reason you need to let it cool first is because of condensation. If the hot chicken is placed in a cold freezer, condensation will result as more steam leaves the meat. When that happens, everything will start to dry more.
Be sure you’re not leaving your chicken out to cool for more than two hours. Doing so promotes the growth of harmful bacteria and contamination. Spreading the chicken out in a thin layer will help it cool down faster. That’s useful for when you’re working with a big batch.
Freezing will dry out your chicken a bit, this is inevitable. If you’re reheating frozen shredded chicken, make sure to use one of the methods outlined above that reintroduces moisture. When it’s frozen, what it will really benefit from is a good amount of flavor and liquid.
Before you freeze shredded chicken, squeeze as much air as you can out of any container you’re keeping it in. To make reheating easier, try to freeze it in containers of portion sized amounts instead of in one big container.
Another reason, besides convenience, is that it will keep you from defrosting more shredded chicken than you need to at a time. The more times you freeze and thaw chicken, the more you’re going to dry it out in the end.
Air is not your friend when you’re storing shredded chicken. Air will make the chicken develop freezer burn, which will hurt the texture and flavors of your meat.
Freezer bags are the most useful tool for getting the air out. You can physically squeeze them more effectively in a bag that you can manipulate with your hands. A straw helps remove more of the air, or you can vacuum seal it if you have the tools to.
If you have a tupperware container, you can still store your shredded chicken. To keep too much air from forming on top of the meat, use a bit of plastic wrap. Simply push the plastic wrap down over the surface of the meat to create a much smaller air gap.
Shredded chicken is delicious and easy to use in a wide number of recipes. With chicken being a fairly affordable protein, it’s also a favorite of those looking to meal-prep. When it’s time to reheat, though, a lot of chicken products are subject to becoming dry and unappetizing.
The best way to reheat shredded chicken without drying it out is to use the microwave. You can add in a bit of liquid like water or chicken stock as you heat it in a bowl. Do the same if you’re reheating in an oven or on a stovetop.
When you’re cooking chicken to shred it, make sure you’re not overcooking it. If it’s moist to begin with, it will have a better chance of staying that way. No matter which way you reheat your chicken, keeping liquid present will make sure it stays moist.