We Tested 7 Ways to Reheat Rice and the Winner Tasted Like It Was Freshly Cooked

published Jun 10, 2022
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Seven different ways to reheat rice displayed on a countertop; text: the best way to reheat rice: microwave with damp paper towel, microwave with mug of water, microwave with ice cube, microwave with water and plastic wrap, oven with water, microwave on high with damp paper towel, stovetop with water
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Whenever I cook rice, I always make enough for leftovers. But in my experience, it’s not always easy to reheat rice to get the soft, fluffy texture of freshly prepared rice. When stored in the refrigerator, the rice’s starch molecules start to form microscopic crystals, resulting in dry, hard rice. This dry texture is actually preferable for making fried rice, but if you are looking for the perfect moist, fluffy texture of freshly cooked rice you’ll need to baby the rice a bit when reheating.

But what is the right way to reheat rice? How does the trendy TikTok method using the microwave and an ice cube to reheat rice fare against a tried-and-true method like reheating rice on the stovetop? To satisfy my curiosity, I tested seven methods of reheating rice to find out which is the best technique. Along the way, I made some tweaks and found the perfect way to revive leftover rice.

So What Is the Best Way to Reheat Rice? 

In my tests, I found a number of passable methods for reheating rice. But in the end, my favorite was reheating it on the stovetop with a bit of water. Read on to learn why that method ended up on top, and to find a shortcut method that works almost as well if you’re pressed for time.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

A Note on Storing Rice You’re Planning to Reheat

It’s always handy to have a big batch of rice in the fridge, but there are a few things to keep in mind for safe storage. Cooked rice can be stored in a refrigerator for three to four days, and in the freezer for up to a month. To avoid food poisoning, never refrigerate hot rice and do not reheat rice more than once. Before storing, you’ll want to first cool the rice by spreading it out on a flat surface like a plate or a baking sheet. Once the rice is cool, which takes around 15 to 20 minutes, transfer the rice to a resealable plastic bag or lidded storage container, and place it in the refrigerator. Cooked rice should be used or discarded after three to four days. (Read more about how to know if cooked rice has gone bad.)

A Few Notes About Methodology

Ingredients: Each method was tested with batches of two different types of rice: long-grain Jasmine rice and short-grain Calrose rice so I could judge whether the methods performed differently with short- and long-grain rices.

Tests: I cooked each batch in my rice cooker and then cooled the rice as described above. I then separated the rice into one-cup measurements, transferred the rice to zip-top bags, and stashed the bags in the fridge. The next day, I took out all the bags and set them on the counter and performed the tests.

Timing: The total time for each method starts when the rice is removed from the refrigerator and ends when the rice is ready to serve.

Ratings criteria: For each test, I tasted the rice before and after it was reheated. The goal was for the reheated rice to taste as close as possible to freshly cooked rice — soft, fluffy, and tender but not soggy.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Reheating Method: Microwave on Low with Damp Paper Towel

  • Total time: 5 minutes
  • Rating: 1/10

About this method: After I spread the day-old rice on a heat-proof plate (you could also use a shallow bowl), I wet a paper towel with lukewarm water and squeezed the excess liquid out. I covered the rice with the damp paper towel and microwaved for 4 minutes at 50% power. I then let the rice sit in the microwave for an additional minute before taking it out.

Results: Even before I tested this method, which I found on wikiHow, I knew it would fail. Four minutes, even at half the power, seemed excessively long in a microwave. Both the Jasmine and Calrose rice were dried out, crunchy, and overcooked.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Reheating Method: Microwave with Mug of Water

  • Total time: 3 minutes
  • Rating: 3/10

About this method: I placed the rice in a heat-safe bowl and set it in the microwave along with a mug filled halfway with water. I set the microwave on high for 2 minutes, then let the rice rest for an additional minute.

Results: The idea for this technique, recommended by the blog Microwave Meal Prep, is that the steam created by the boiling cup of water adds moisture to the day-old rice. It didn’t work. The long-grain rice was dry and chewy; the short-grain rice fared slightly better — but not by much.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Reheating Method: Microwave with Ice Cube 

  • Total time: 1 minute
  • Rating: 5/10

About this method: Of all the methods, this TikTok-famous method for reheating rice with an ice cube was the one I was most excited to try. I spread out the rice on a plate and tucked an ice cube in the middle of the rice. I covered the rice with a damp paper towel and microwaved it for about 1 minute.

Results: As highlighted in the TikTok videos, the ice miraculously did not melt. I was pleasantly surprised by the reheated short-grain rice’s soft texture, and I can understand why this is such a trendy, popular method. However, the long-grain rice retained its dry and chewy texture, so this wouldn’t be my go to method for long-grain rice.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Reheating Method: Microwave with Water & Plastic Wrap

  • Total time: 4 minutes
  • Rating: 5/10

About this method: This technique from the Foods Guy blog suggested adding 3 to 4 tablespoons of water over rice that’s spread in a large bowl. He didn’t specify how much rice he was reheating, and 3 tablespoons seems a little too much for a cup of rice. So, I improvised and added 2 tablespoons of water to the rice, covered it with plastic, and microwaved on low for 2 minutes.

Results: The rice looked and tasted the same as before it was microwaved — soggy with a hard, crunchy texture. I put the rice back in and microwaved it on high for 2 more minutes. The plastic wrap trapped the steam created by the high heat and the result was slightly better for both the short-grain rice and the long-grain rice. Although the end result was tasty enough, this method lost points because I had to make adjustments to the method to get it to work. I’m also trying to limit my usage of plastic in my kitchen. Plus, there are better, easier ways to reheat rice! 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Reheating Method: In the Oven with Water

  • Total time: 20 minutes
  • Rating: 8/10

About this method: The Carolina Rice website has a number of options for reheating rice, but I decided to test out their oven method. First, I preheated the oven to 300°F. Then I spread the cup of rice in a glass oven-safe dish and mixed in 2 tablespoons of water (the instructions call for 2 tablespoons of water per cup of rice, so it’s easy to scale up if you have more rice). I covered the dish with foil and baked for 20 minutes.

Results: When I uncovered the foil, a waft of steam escaped from the dish. Instantly, I knew the method worked well, at least for the short-grain rice, which turned out soft and fluffy. But while the long-grain rice was soft, it was missing the succulent texture of freshly cooked rice.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Reheating Method: Microwave on High with a Damp Paper Towel

  • Total time: 1 minute
  • Rating: 9/10

About the method: After the failed results of microwaving rice for 4 minutes, I wanted to shorten the time to see if it would make a difference. So, instead of microwaving for 4 minutes at 50% power, I microwaved the damp paper towel-covered rice for 30 seconds on high. Then I took the rice out, fluffed it with a fork, and re-covered it with the paper towel and microwaved for another 30 seconds. 

Results: Just as I suspected, this method worked a lot better with less time in the microwave. Both the long-grain rice and short-grain rice tasted light and fluffy. The big pro is that it’s quick and easy. If I’m in a time-crunch, this would be my go-to method.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Reheating Method: Stovetop with Water

  • Total time: 20 minutes
  • Rating: 10/10

About the method: For the stovetop technique, I turned to Mahatma Rice’s website for ideas. Per their instructions, I left the batches of long-grain and short-grain rice on the kitchen counter for about 10 minutes, until they reached room temperature. In a small pot, I added 2 tablespoons of water to each cup of rice and turned on the stove to low heat. I covered the pot and heated the rice for 5 minutes.

Results: When I first tried the rice, it tasted a little too soggy. So I placed the cover back on the pot and let the rice sit in the steam for an additional 5 minutes. That small tweak turned out to be the secret to soft, fluffy rice — both long-grain and short-grain — that tasted like it did right out of the rice cooker.

Final Takeaways

I learned some important lessons during this rice-o-rama. The two crucial steps when reheating rice are adding some moisture and covering the rice to create steam. I also found that short-grain rice is a lot more forgiving than long-grain rice. If you want something quick and easy, microwaving rice covered with a damp paper towel for a minute will do the trick. But for the best fresh-tasting reheated rice, I would definitely recommend using the stove, which adds a gentler heat to the process.

For more rice help, see our instructions for how to fix undercooked rice.