17 Delicious Ways To Use Up Leftover Chicken

There's something about leftovers that's just so ... boring. You put yesterday's roast chicken into the microwave, and it comes out gray and slightly rubbery, with flabby skin, tragically unlike the delicious golden bird it was the day before. So instead, you pass over the container of leftover chicken for a week, eating new food instead, until, "Oops! It's not good anymore," and into the trash it goes.

What if we told you there was a better way? What if, instead of unappetizing leftovers, you could transform your uneaten chicken into something exciting and new, something that didn't taste like leftovers at all? Doesn't that sound wonderful? The good news is, it's super easy to throw leftover chicken into all manner of tasty dishes. Chicken's neutral flavor makes it a great team player, able to fill any number of roles in different recipes. All the ways to use up leftover chicken surely outnumber the stars in the sky, but here's a selection of some of our favorites.


A nice pot of chicken soup always hits the spot, especially in colder weather. This application is best if your leftover chicken is from a whole bird because you can use the bones to make a tasty homemade broth. If not, don't fear, because you can just chop up your chicken meat and add it to store-bought broth, or even water if you're desperate. Soup is great for clearing out all kinds of leftovers, as well as the vegetables that have been hanging out in the fridge a little too long and are starting to look a little sad. Nothing declutters your refrigerator like a big batch of chicken and vegetable soup.

You don't have to limit yourself to the classics like chicken noodle, either. If you want something with a little chile kick, try making some chicken pozole. If you feel like going Asian instead, a quick riff on chicken pho or ramen would be great as well. Just open your fridge and see where your ingredients take you.

Pot Pie

Like soup, pot pie is a good way to get rid of a bunch of random vegetables in addition to your chicken, but it also feels like a heftier, more solid dinner than a bowl highlighted by broth. All you need to do is make some thick gravy or cream sauce, toss in chopped-up cooked chicken and vegetables, and top with some kind of dough. Since you're adding so many other ingredients to the chicken, pot pie is a great way to stretch a small amount of leftovers out into a big meal.

As for the dough, you have many options. Homemade pie dough is excellent, but if you don't feel like going through that amount of effort, store-bought is great too. You can also use biscuit dough, either homemade or the kind that comes par-baked in a refrigerated cardboard tube. If you want to go in a fancier direction, puff pastry adds a luxurious touch. You could even swap out dough for mashed potatoes to make a chicken shepherd's pie.

Chicken a la king

This is a super old-school way to reuse leftover chicken, but it never fails to please. There are as many ways to make chicken a la king as there are cooks, but they all involve chicken pieces swimming in some kind of creamy sauce along with miscellaneous vegetables. The classic sauce for this is a roux-thickened béchamel made with milk, but there are simpler ways of doing it if you need to get dinner on the table fast. This easy chicken a la king recipe uses a mixture of cream, chicken stock, and canned cream of mushroom soup to coat chicken, peas, pimentos, and mushrooms.

This dish is very saucy and requires some kind of starch to soak up all the juices. Plain white rice or egg noodles would work well, as would toast points or biscuits. If you want to take your chicken a la king into fine dining territory, bake up some puff pastry cups, also known as vol-au-vents, and use those to hold the chicken mixture.

Chicken salad

Chicken salad is perhaps one of the most obvious uses for leftover chicken, but that doesn't mean it's boring or unworthy. If you've been traumatized by bland chicken salad in the past, making your own is a great opportunity to add whatever seasonings you like. Nobody could accuse coronation chicken salad, with its curry powder and apricots, of lacking flavor.

Good chicken salad is about creating a harmonious balance between flavors and textures and designing the perfect bite. You don't want a mouthful of mush, so you need something to give you some crunch. Celery, green apple, nuts, or scallions are all great choices (though probably not all at once). Choose the crunch that goes with the other flavors you're bringing to the party. Since most chicken salad is creamy, it's a good idea to add some sharp flavors to wake up your palate. Vinegar, citrus, hot sauce, or cayenne can all fit the bill. If you start with a spirit of experimentation and make sure to taste after you add each ingredient, it's hard to go wrong.

Chicken croquettes

Croquetas, or croquettes, are a classic Spanish way to repurpose leftover meat. These can be made with any kind of protein, but chicken is a traditional and delicious option. We're not going to lie; croquetas are more complicated than most of the leftover chicken ideas on this list. They might also be the most delicious, however, so we heartily recommend them if you're in an ambitious mood.

To make croquettes, you need to finely chop or shred your cooked chicken meat. Next, you make an extra-thick, pasty béchamel sauce and mix it with the chicken. Then, you chill this mixture until it's stiff enough to form into little balls or tube shapes. You can bread them and fry them at this stage, but they'll hold together better if you freeze them before breading. Deep-fry and then serve piping hot with the sauce of your choosing. Aioli is traditional, but if you're feeling heretical, we can share from personal experience that they taste mighty fine when dunked in ranch too.

On top of greens

Throwing cold chopped chicken into a green salad is another timeworn way to use it up. It's easy, it's convenient, it can be really healthy, and it doesn't even have to feel like a sad desk lunch if you give yourself license to have fun with it. One crucial word of advice: Take that bottled salad dressing, open the cap, and pour it straight into the trash (except ranch ... ranch is yummy). Chicken Caesar salad can be the most uninspiring, dull lunch in the world if you make it with jarred dressing and bagged croutons, or, if scratch-made, it can be an umami-rich powerhouse, filled with piquant, savory flavors. We're not here to tell you how to eat lunch (well, maybe we are just a little), but you're better than bottled dressing. (Vinaigrette is super easy to make, and it keeps just about forever.)

As with creamy chicken salad, tossed green salad composition relies on generating interest through variation in texture and taste. The goal is to balance soft with crunchy and acidic with unctuous. Also, you eat with your eyes first, so it never hurts to try to use a bunch of different colorful vegetables to lend your salad visual appeal.


Leftover chicken is a natural fit for shredding and using as a taco filling, but it's best if you dress it up a little bit before you throw it into your shells or tortillas. Nobody wants plain, unseasoned chicken breast inside a taco (nobody we want to hang out with, anyway). In our humble opinion, the best chicken-based taco filling is tinga, and it's pretty easy to tinga-fy leftover chicken. Just use this slow cooker chicken tinga recipe for inspiration, and heat up your shredded chicken with some tomatoes, chipotle peppers, and cumin for a delicious, slightly spicy all-purpose Mexican protein.

This pseudo-tinga will be great in tacos of course, but you don't have to only think inside the shell. It's also wonderful on top of nachos, inside a burrito, or as the base of an enchilada recipe. Throw it in quesadillas, or put it on a platter with some rice and beans. We think you get it; any dish you can order at a Mexican restaurant, you can make at home with this tinga.


Moving back to Spain here, we have another wonderful "use up whatever's in the fridge" kind of recipe: paella. You can use our chicken paella recipe as a jumping-off point, but feel free to steer your paella ship in any direction your tastes dictate. Paella is really more of a technique than it is a specific set of ingredients, and add-ins include everything from rabbit and snails to a mix of seafood.  

The key to any good paella is building a base of flavor with sautéed aromatics, and then cooking your toasted rice with a flavorful broth. Add shredded leftover chicken, as well as any other proteins or vegetables you desire, being mindful of the time it takes to cook each addition so everything will be ready once the rice finishes cooking. The telltale sign of a properly-made paella is a nice crusty layer of browned rice at the bottom of your pan. Make sure to scrape that crunchy layer off the bottom when you're serving, because it's the best part.


Pasties, empanadas, pocket pies, Hot Pockets: Across the globe, people make little pouches of dough with savory meat fillings. Portable, handheld, and perfect for snacking, these little bundles of joy are a great way to use up leftover meat.

In the English-speaking world, Cornish pasties are the prototypical savory handheld pie. Originating as a portable meal perfect for the hardworking coal miners of Cornwall, they consist of pie dough wrapped around a meat-and-vegetable filling. While traditionally the meat goes in raw and cooks while the pasty bakes, you can also totally make a pre-cooked meat and veg mixture out of leftover chicken to put inside your pastry dough.

Empanadas are the Spanish/Latin American answer to pasties, and, unlike their Cornish cousins, the meat filling for them is generally pre-cooked. That cheater tinga recipe we mentioned up above would make a great filling, or you could dice up leftover chicken and use it for this green chile chicken empanada recipe.

Breakfast hash

When we think of breakfast hash, we usually think about corned beef, specifically the kind that slides out of a can that you can still find crisply griddled at some old-school diners. That stuff is delicious, but there's no reason to limit yourself to one kind of meat for hash. If you think about it, pretty much any kind of meat tastes good with eggs and fried potatoes, so why not eat yesterday's rotisserie chicken for breakfast?

To make an excellent hash, all you need to do is dice up some potatoes and fry them in a skillet until crisp, then add diced chicken. You can also throw in some flavorful vegetables like onions, garlic, and peppers. Sauté all of that together, cook a couple of over-easy eggs, and you have yourself a weekend breakfast that anyone would be happy to wake up to. Homemade chicken hash is probably a little bit healthier than the canned corned beef kind too.


You probably don't need us to tell you that leftover sliced chicken on bread with some condiments makes a pretty decent lunch. However, that basic formula can be tweaked in numerous delicious ways. One wonderful variation is a chicken Hot Brown, based on the famous open-faced turkey sandwich from Louisville's Brown Hotel. This decadent delight layers white bread, roasted turkey (or, in our case, chicken), Pecorino-Romano cheese sauce, tomatoes, and bacon into an artery-clogging work of art that you need a fork and knife to take down.

If you're looking for another chicken sandwich too over-the-top to be handheld, look no further than Quebec's hot chicken sandwich (via Sandwich Tribunal). Not to be confused with Nashville-style hot chicken, this concoction from our neighbors up north sandwiches shredded chicken between two slices of buttered white bread, smothers the whole thing in brown gravy, and tops that mess with canned peas (for your health). If you've been having trouble sleeping, just eat one of these and you'll be out like a light.


Risotto is another case where it's great if your chicken leftovers include some bones that you can use for stock, as the liquid is where most of the flavor of risotto comes from. That said, there's nothing wrong with canned broth either, especially if you follow our Parmesan risotto recipe and flavor your stock with the leftover rind from a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano. That recipe just calls for broth, but it would be quite delicious with some chunks of leftover chicken tossed into it.

Since it takes about half an hour to cook risotto, you should wait until part of the way through the cooking process before adding the chicken meat. (It's already been cooked once, so there's no need to obliterate it.) If you let it gently heat up in the hot rice for just the last few minutes of your risotto's cook time, the chicken should stay nice and juicy.


What can't you put in a casserole? Beloved by midcentury and Midwestern moms for their convenience and ability to fit a whole dinner into one baking dish, casseroles really should get more respect. Although they have been slandered for being boring or monotonous, casseroles can be quite wonderful and showcase a variety of flavors if prepared with care. With a can of cream of mushroom soup and a dream you can do anything.

If Southwestern flavors appeal to you, the Texas standby king ranch chicken should be right up your alley. This zesty casserole uses green chiles to add a little kick to a hearty stack of cooked chicken and tortillas. If you want something that's more straight-up classic comfort food, our chicken casserole with cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soup, diced chicken, and egg noodles will give you the creamy, starchy food coma of your dreams.


You might think of chili as more of a red meat thing, but there's no reason you can't make it with chicken too. While any chili recipe would probably taste pretty good with leftover chicken swapped in for the original meat, we think that green chiles are the perfect complement to chicken's mild flavor.

Our slow cooker white chicken chili uses jalapeño and canned green chiles to bring the heat, and throws in corn and cannellini beans to add some sweetness and heft to the mix. With a fleet of garnishes so everyone can customize their bowls to their liking, this chili is a party in your mouth.

One thing you may notice is that, since chicken is so much leaner than beef or pork, your chicken chili might have a less luxurious mouthfeel than chili made with those other meats. You can compensate for this deficiency by adding extra oil when you're cooking it.


Chicken and pasta is pure comfort on a plate, and you don't have to go to Olive Garden to get your chicken Alfredo fix. This chicken fettuccine Alfredo recipe comes together in half an hour, and would be even quicker if you started with cooked leftover chicken. It doesn't come with unlimited salad and breadsticks, but you also don't have to put on pants and leave the house to get it, so you win some, you lose some.

Of course, Alfredo is only one of the delicious ways to throw together chicken and noodles. Mashed's Tetrazzini recipe is an old-fashioned dairy bomb of deliciousness, combining half-and-half with shredded poultry and three types of cheese in a baked pasta dish that will stick to your ribs for a good long time.

If regional American specialties are more up your alley, upstate New York's own chicken riggies might satisfy your hunger (via Olga's Flavor Factory). This Italian-American invention combines chicken breast with rigatoni in a spicy tomato cream sauce for an addictive flavor you won't be able to get enough of.

Fried rice

Fried rice is the ultimate leftover buster. Not only is it a delicious use for leftover chicken, but it also comes out better when made with old leftover rice. It's dead easy too. With a little bit of practice, you can make chicken fried rice equal to or better than Benihana's in no time.

To make a simple, awesome chicken fried rice, all you need is some scallions, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice, eggs, and, of course, chicken. Saute the scallions and garlic in oil in a wok or big nonstick skillet, then add the rice and chicken and fry until heated through and the rice is coated in an even layer of oil. Push the rice to the side of the pan, add the eggs to the oil, and fry until mostly cooked, then mix with the rice. Season everything with soy sauce and sesame oil, and you have a tasty lunch. Once you have the basic procedure down, you can do infinite variations using different vegetables and seasonings.


We suppose this is another variation on a chicken sandwich, but shawarma is different enough to warrant its own entry on this list. To make a tasty chicken shawarma pita wrap, reheat your chicken with warm spices like cumin, coriander, and cayenne. Add the chicken to a pita and top with your garnishes of choice. We love tzatziki sauce, tahini, radishes, pickled vegetables, tomatoes, and lettuce, but the exact configuration is up to you. Wrap your pita in foil to give yourself the full kebab shop experience.

If you'd rather eat with a fork and knife, you can heat up your chicken with the same spices and turn it into a New York street cart-style chicken and rice plate (via Serious Eats). Just throw the chicken atop some yellow rice, make a batch of that amazing yogurt-based white sauce, and you'll feel just like you're walking the streets of Manhattan.