Fried chicken is one of those foods that changes me. If it becomes an option for dinner, I’m pretty sure my pupils grow like a cat who’s spotted prey (but probably a dust mote). I usually only enjoy the skin that first night, though, because the leftovers get rubbery and humid. Thankfully, there are two ways to bring fried chicken back to crisp perfection—and these methods actually make fried chicken better than the first day.
This is the best of the two methods. The crust becomes resoundingly crunchy, the kind where you can hear someone else eat it in another room, and the cooking time is ridiculously fast. Add the cold fried chicken to the air fryer, make sure it’s on a grate or wire rack made for your appliance. Have the machine on the “air fry” setting at 400°F and let it rip for 10 minutes, flipping the chicken half way after five. It is exactly that simple, and better than the original. (I’ll discuss why that is in a moment.)
Conventional-oven-revived fried chicken
The wire rack allows the rendered fats to drip out and away from the crust. Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann
This oven method is a close second to the air fryer if you don’t have one. (You should consider getting one though; I love the darn thing.) The skin returns to the original level of crunchiness—great texture with a bit of flexibility in the thin coated areas—but doesn’t surpass it like it can in the air fryer. It also takes more than twice as long to get to this point, which puts the chicken meat in danger of drying out. That said, it’s still worlds better than microwaving it.
Put a wire rack over a foil-lined sheet tray. (The foil makes clean-up easier, but it’s not necessary other than that.) Put the cold fried chicken on the wire rack and bake it at 400°F (200°C) for 20 to 25 minutes. Flip the chicken halfway through the cooking time.
These methods can save oily fried chicken
Reheating leftover fried chicken in the oven or the air fryer might not blow your mind with innovation, but the real hero is the wire rack or air fryer grate. In the tests I ran, the air fryer wins out because of the high heat and circulating air, but both methods resulted in a quarter cup of discharged fat that had collected in the sheet pan or basket. All of the chicken I had revived with a rack of some sort was still juicy inside, but distinctly less oily in the breading. That’s just better fried chicken.
The whole point of frying anything from fritters to corndogs is to make a crust that’s cooked through but not oily. It’s often easier said than done. If you have fried chicken that came out way too oily, give the cold leftovers a second spin in the air fryer for 10 minutes. The excess oil will drip right out and give you a perfectly crisp, un-oily crust. It’s one of the only times leftovers reheat better than the original.
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