The Best Ways to Reheat Leftovers

The Best Ways to Reheat Leftovers

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Christine Gallary
May 21, 2015
(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Wouldn't it be amazing if reheated food tasted just as good as it did when it was freshly made? It sure would make eating leftovers more exciting. And while you probably can't reheat French fries to their original crispy state, you can get darn close if you know the best reheating method.

Here's a guide to help you figure out if you should reheat your food on the stove, in the oven, or in the microwave, with some tips to help you do each. Reheat with confidence!

The Basic Rule of Thumb for Reheating

If you have the luxury of a full kitchen at your disposal when reheating food, this is the basic rule of thumb in deciding on the best method:

Reheat food in the same place where it was originally prepared.

This generally works well, like reheating soup in a pot or roast chicken in the oven, because using the same method probably means that your food will heat up close to how it originally was.

But there are times when you might only have an office microwave or you might not want to use the original cooking method for reheating, like deep-frying chicken again. So what do you do in these instances?

Here are the three main appliances used to reheat food and some tips on the best foods to reheat in each!

1. Foods to Reheat in the Oven or Toaster Oven

The toaster or toaster oven is usually my go-to reheating appliance because it provides even, gentle heating. If you're worried that food will dry out, just cover it with foil. Aim for a low-temperature oven (no more than 350°F), and check on it once in awhile until it's heated through.

These are foods that reheat well in an oven or toaster oven:

  • Crusty breads. Refresh that French bread so it's crispy on the outside and soft on the inside with just five to 10 minutes in a warm oven (about 350°F). More: The Best Ways to Store & Reheat Bread: Advice from a Baker
  • Fried or breaded foods. Fried foods have the best chance of re-crisping in the dry heat of an oven or toaster oven. Breaded ingredients should also be reheated here.
  • Baked goods. Pies, muffins, tarts, and most baked goods in general reheat best in an oven so they don't get soggy. You can also give stale cookies new life with just a few minutes in the oven!
  • Roasted or grilled meats. Reheat BBQ chicken and other meats in the oven, as the even heating means the meats won't overcook or dry out.
  • Seafood. Overcooked seafood is unpleasant, so don't try to zap it in the microwave. Heat low and slow until just heated through.
  • Pizza. If you have a lot of pizza to reheat, stick with the oven. (If you just have a slice or two, try our stovetop method below.)
  • Grilled sandwiches. Leftover grilled cheese or panini heated up in the oven can be crisp on the outside but warmed through on the inside.

2. Foods to Reheat in the Microwave

The microwave is undoubtedly one of the fastest ways to heat or reheat food, but the texture of some foods can suffer in the process. Foods that don't have a crisp crust generally reheat well in a microwave, like:

  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Sautes and stir-fries
  • Steamed or boiled vegetables
  • Rice, pasta, and noodles
  • Casseroles

When reheating food in a microwave, technique is important. Spread food out in an even layer, cover with a damp paper towel to help create some steam while the food is heating so it doesn't dry out, and stir every so often to promote even heating, as there are usually hot spots even in microwaves with turntables.

And if you're heating more than one kind of food on the same plate, it sometimes isn't a good idea to throw everything on the plate and into the microwave at the same time. If there is a denser food like a pork chop, microwave that by itself until it's almost warmed through before adding in quick-heating things, like rice and vegetables. That way, everything finishes heating at the same time but nothing is overcooked.

3. Foods to Reheat on the Stovetop

Reheating on the stovetop is a great way to return a lot of foods close to their original texture, especially things with a lot of moisture like soups and stews. Stick to low to medium heat, and stir often to promote even heating.

When reheating on the stove, choose the right cookware for the food you're reheating:

Pots and Pans

  • Soups, stews, and chilis. With these foods that contain a lot of moisture, a saucepan or pot with a lid will do the trick.
  • Pizza. If you're just heating a slice or two of pizza, throwing it into a frying pan with a lid will yield a crisp crust and oozy cheese. Read more: The Best Way to Reheat a Slice of Pizza
  • Rice, pasta, and noodles. I love reheating these things on the stove, but they usually needs a splash of water, stock, or milk to add a little moisture back in. It's best to use a liquid that was in the original dish.
  • Sautes and stir-fries. A shallow pan or frying pan over low heat does a great job of reheating these dishes.
  • Meat. Get some delicious seared meat flavor by reheating meat over relatively high heat in a cast iron pan. Turn it frequently so it doesn't overcook. Read more: Reheat Meat in a Cast Iron Skillet

Double Boiler

A double boiler means you set a bowl inside a pan of simmering water, which helps regulate the temperature of the bowl since it's not sitting directly on the heat. This is a great place to reheat delicate items, like sauces or mashed potatoes, that you don't want to risk coming in contact with direct heat and scorching or separating.

More: How To Keep Mashed Potatoes Warm: The 4 Best Methods

Steamer

Steamed foods rely on moist heat for cooking and can dry out once they've cooled down and been refrigerated, and they can also lose a lot of moisture if they're not stored in an airtight container.

The best place to reheat steamed food, like steamed fish or dim sum, is to put it back in the steamer so the food is exposed to moisture again while it's reheating.

Do you have any tips on reheating food?

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