The microwave oven is a modern technological miracle. We all take them for granted, but since microwaves became affordable for the average household in the 1960s and ’70s, their popularity has soared and they have forever changed how we cook and reheat food. As great as they are for making buttery popcorn late at night, or quickly cooking up a frozen meal, the microwave isn’t ideal for everything — even if all you’re doing is reheating.
The first and foremost reason you shouldn’t reheat chicken in the microwave is because this can pose a risk
to your health. If the chicken was undercooked the first time, you won’t render it safe by running it through
the microwave a second time. However, frying, stir-frying and baking it will typically make under-cooked
There are around fifty million cases of food poisoning in the United States every year. This leads to more
than a hundred thousand hospitalizations and three thousand deaths per year. Salmonella in chicken is one of
the leading causes of this. When you’re reheating chicken in the microwave, you aren’t killing any
salmonella that exists in the chicken. And if the meat is uncovered, germ-laden matter could splatter inside
the microwave, ready to infect any other food you put in afterward. And that’s aside from the risk it gets on
your hands when you quickly clean the inside of the microwave. Note that the same risk of pathogens exists
if you cooked the chicken properly but didn’t store it properly. To eliminate the risk of getting sick with
campylobacter and clostridium perfringens, always reheat chicken in a way that gets the internal temperature
to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit for several minutes.
Microwaving food does wonders to the flavor of your chicken, and that’s not a good thing. The outside of
the chicken tends to burn to a crisp before the inside is warm. You lose the protective insulating layer of the
skin, causing juices to boil away as the outer layer of material dries out. Your juicy sauce becomes a dry
mess. The solution for many is to douse the chicken with gravy or another sauce. This drowns out the subtle
flavors you would have enjoyed if you baked it or reheated it in an air fryer.
Microwaving chicken makes the outer layer dry and flaky. The middle layers lose some moisture, but the
inner layers let some moisture seep in. At the same time, the tissue breaks down. You don’t have a thick,
meaty piece of chicken. You get a rubbery piece that is harder to chew; the problem is even worse if you’re
reheating frozen chicken. You’d preserve more of the original texture by tearing up or cutting up the meat
and throwing it on top of a salad (assuming proper storage) or adding it to stir-fry on the stove-top.
When you microwave chicken, you’re subtly affecting its nutrition. You’d lose a few nutrients to the water
you boil chicken in, including leftover chicken thrown into soup. However, the nutrients in this case are
transferred to the water. Bake the leftover chicken, and any protein and vital nutrients are simply transferred
to the vegetables or pasta around it. Nuke the chicken in the microwave, and any protein and nutrients in the
run-off is patted and pulled away with a paper-towel before it is thrown away.
All of the nutritional value of the chicken is lost, too, if you’re made ill by your choice to microwave the
chicken. Note that you can reheat chicken a variety of ways that don’t add a lot of calories. We mentioned
using leftover chicken in soups and baked dishes.
Reheating leftover chicken in the microwave may seem more efficient, but in reality, it isn’t. We’ve already
said many people don’t properly cover the chicken as it cooks, and this leads to a greasy mess in the
microwave in addition to inferior food. Putting the chicken on a plate and microwaving it isn’t as efficient as
throwing leftover chicken into the slow cooker with vegetables. Microwaving chicken forces you to use
another appliance instead of simply cooking everything in the air fryer in short order. Or you could bake the
chicken in the oven wrapped in foil so it doesn’t dry out. You can sautee chicken that was previously
sautéed, too. The chicken is then thoroughly cooked and can come out when any other dishes in the oven are
Reheating chicken in the oven is the worst of all possible choices. It poses the greatest risk to your health
and leads to the worst quality leftovers. In summary, chicken shouldn’t go through the microwave whether
you’re cooking for the first time or reheating it.