You can save a ton of money and time buying one whole chicken and making it into three wonderful leftover chicken meals. It's easier than you think.

Leftover Chicken: How to Cook a Whole Chicken to Make 3 Meals

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You can save a ton of money and time buying one whole chicken and making it into three wonderful leftover chicken meals. It’s easier than you think. And you’ll have multiple easy dinner ideas at your fingertips.

roasted chicken and herbs on a platter

Buying whole chickens is much more economical than just getting boneless skinless chicken breast. Whole chickens have a better variety of meat and nutrition available as well. Making delicious meals from leftover chicken is super easy.

Dark meat actually has more flavor than white meat and stays moister when cooked. People who only eat the breast are missing out on a lot of wonderful eating. I love the idea of not wasting any part of the chicken, so we are being respectful of the life of the animal. Click here to see more ways to cut down on food waste and save your money!

It’s so important to feed our families healthy meals. For help in how to transition to more real food meals, click here. 

whole cooked chicken from the crock pot for leftover chicken meals

What to do with leftover chicken

These recipes can be used for leftover chicken or the leftover turkey you froze after the holidays. Every time I used to roast a turkey for my husband’s family, my mother-in-law would sit at the kitchen table after dinner and tear all the meat off the bones and bag it up for me. It was such a blessing not to have to deal with all that later.

Since she taught me that, I have tried to continue to do it right away so I don’t have to find a place in the fridge for that big ole pan the turkey cooked in. It was a great tradition she started. I miss her.

I hate wasting food, so I try to use up every bit of what I buy. As soon as the meat is picked off of the bones of any whole bird I cook, I throw them in a stockpot of water and boil it up with some aromatics to make my own broth. Click here to see how to make your own broth for the freezer. I love using homemade broth in my recipes. It’s so much healthier and I know what’s in it.

I save vegetable peels and scraps in a bag in the freezer so I’m not throwing them away. Then, I dump those in with my bones to make a super flavorful and nutrient-dense broth. I love saving money on food by using up everything I buy. Click here to see more about how to save money by wasting less.

using leftover chicken
making stock out of leftover chicken, three cartons of fresh bone broth on the counter

Back to our leftover chicken. You can either roast a chicken in the oven like you do turkey, cook it in the crockpot or even the instant pot. They make a great easy dinner for family.

raw chicken covered in seasoning going into the instant pot

Cooking a whole chicken in the Instant Pot

To cook your whole chicken in the instant pot:

  • Place a cup of water in your instant pot.
  • Place the steam rack inside the pot.
  • Place your chicken on the rack.
  • Sprinkle with salt and pepper or other seasonings you’d like. (We like to use poultry seasoning that we make)
  • Lock the lid and make sure your steam vent is closed.
  • Set the instant pot to chicken and add 6 minutes for each pound of chicken.
  • Allow the steam to release naturally. (15 minutes)

I love the instant pot because you just set it and walk away. That’s the same reason I love my crockpot. The instant pot can pressure cook or slow cook, so it’s a super cool tool to have. I use both all the time. Click here to see how to cook your chicken in the instant pot when it’s fully frozen

chicken stock cooked in an instant pot

Cooking a whole chicken in the Crockpot

This time I cooked my chicken in the crockpot because it was already out. I just threw some cut-up carrots, potatoes, and onions in the bottom of my crockpot. Added my chicken, salt and pepper and put on the lid. Cook it for 4 hours on high or 6-8 on low.

Roast a whole chicken in the oven

If you want to roast a whole chicken in the oven, it’s a similar technique. Just place veggies in the pan, set the chicken on top and add seasonings. Roast chicken in the oven uncovered at 350 for about an hour and 15 minutes.

Any way you decide to cook your chicken, make sure the internal temperature of any poultry is 165. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, consider getting one. They are inexpensive and you can avoid illness from underdone meat. Just stick it in the thigh of the bird and see what’s up. Don’t touch it to the bone in there though, the bones are hotter than the meat. You can also wiggle the leg and if it’s loose in the socket, it’s probably done.

Once we cooked our whole chicken, we cut a few pieces off for dinner. We had chicken, the cooked vegetables from the bottom of the crockpot, and a side of other roasted vegetables we had on hand. It was super-duper delicious. It’s also great with this Cranberry Syrup Recipe as a topping too.

roasted chicken thigh and leg with some vegetables from the crock pot

After dinner, in mother-in-law style, I pulled off the rest of the meat from the leftover chicken and put it in two freezer bags in the freezer. I like to freeze my meat so I don’t feel rushed to cook it. I hate the thought of letting anything spoil, so I freeze a lot of things.

shredding the meat from a whole chicken with two forks
plate full of shredded chicken

Whole chicken on sale

When whole chickens are on sale, you can save a ton of money by buying one and stretching it in different ways. There are a million and one things you can do with the rest of that chicken that are sure to be crowd-pleasers for your family. Shredded chicken is great for tacos, enchiladas, shepherd’s pie, pot pie, fried rice, stir fry, and a ton of other things.

You can make pasta salads, pasta dishes, chicken spaghetti, and chicken salad. Chicken nachos are great, chicken chili, chicken soup, the list could go on forever. Chicken is so versatile! We made chicken fried rice and chicken enchiladas out of our leftovers. Leftover chicken is super versatile. 

Leftover chicken fried rice

Leftover chicken fried rice is one of our FAVORITE ways to reuse or leftover chicken. It’s fast, it’s full of flavor, and it’s full of veggies.

skillet full of chicken fried rice
skillet with chopped onions and hot peppers
flour and fat in a skillet with onions and hot peppers, making a roux for leftover chicken enchiladas
skillet full of enchilada stuffing and a pan with two rolled enchiladas
casserole dish full of rolled enchiladas, topped with remaining sauce and shredded cheese.
Baked chicken enchiladas from leftover chicken
two chicken enchiladas on a plate with lemon wedge

Leftover Chicken Enchiladas

Creamy chicken enchiladas with leftover chicken are another favorite. Click the link for the recipe. You won’t be sorry!

One of our favorites is chicken rotel spaghetti. We call it crack chicken. Without velveeta so we know the ingredients are healthy too!

I love how I can buy one meat product and stretch it to make so many great dishes. A whole chicken is fairly affordable and gives you a ton of options. I also love how much time I save when I leftover cook like this.

Once you get in the habit of doing it, a world of imagination will open up for you. You’ll think of all kinds of things you can do with less. And save a ton on your groceries. Click here to see how I made one pork roast stretch to five meals. And for more ways to cook a whole chicken, turkey, or duck, and even cornish hen, check this out. And who doesn’t love a tender delicious beef roast? You can whip one up in your crock pot with very little effort, all you need is time.

For more ways to use leftover chicken, check this out:

Kids love these and for more kid-friendly chicken recipes, click here.

If you need basic cooking skills, check this out. It can help!

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  1. That chicken fried rice looks and sounds delicious! Whenever I cook a whole chicken in my Le Creuset, it’s always 10000 better than just cooking individual chicken breasts – so juicy! Great ideas for using whole chicken parts over several meals.

  2. Great ideas! It looks like you have four great meals from that one chicken! I love your yummy looking Chicken fried rice! We have started making Chicken fried quinoa, which my family actually likes more than fried rice!

  3. We eat the roast chicken. Then with the leftovers I make a chicken and dumpling soup. If we have leftovers from that then I add some grated Parmesan cheese put it in a shallow pan. Put butter and garlic thick sliced bread over it and bake it in the oven until the bread is browned then I have chicken pot pie.

  4. I love doing this with chicken and turkey! It really stretches the budget. The favorite thing of my family I make with the leftover chicken is chicken and homemade noodles. The noodles are super easy to make and super cheap! I bet when I do chicken and homemade noodles, I can put together a meal of it for six daycare kids and my family of three for less than $2 for the entree! Add some veggies and you have a super cheap meal! I will leave the recipe for the noodles! My granny taught me to make these over the phone!

    Homemade Egg Noodles
    4 eggs
    3 cups flour
    Parsley Flakes
    Tablespoon or so of water

    Mix the flour, salt, paprika, pepper and parsley in a large bowl and mix. Make a “well” in the middle of flour not going all the way to the bottom. Put the eggs and water in the well of flour. Using fork, beat the eggs. The eggs will slowly pick up the flour. When you can no longer beat with fork, use hands to kneed the dough until it has taken all the flour it will take in. Remove from bowl and need a few more times to get a nice even dough. Roll out the dough as thick or thin as you would like your noodles and cut into noodles. I use a pizza roller to cut them. In your stock pot, place shredded chicken, chicken stock and any veggies you would like. Once it boils, add noodles and cook until done. Yummy!