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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn

The Best Way to Reheat Pizza

updated Aug 19, 2022
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There are plenty of leftovers that get better with time, but most of them typically fall into one of two categories: Those, like grain salads, that you can eat straight out of the fridge, and those, like soups and chilis, that want a little love from the microwave or stovetop first.

Then there’s pizza. It’s a food that many people love to consume straight out of the fridge the next day (hello, pizza-for-breakfast), and yet it’s also something that can benefit from the right kind of reheating.

What to Consider When Reheating Pizza

There are obstacles to overcome, of course. Pizza’s layered nature means the tomato sauce will, after a while make the crust soggy. Improperly wrapped slices (see note, below) can go stale. Then, there’s the cheese. It tends to separate and get oily when it’s heated more than once.

I’m not, I’ll admit, a big fan of cold pizza. But I’m even less of a fan of letting leftover pizza go to waste. So I had a wood-burning desire to know if there is, in fact, a “best way” to reheat pizza. Kitchn has long recommended simply using a skillet to reheat pizza, but I wanted to know if, somewhere else on the internet, there was a better idea. I decided to get takeout in the name of science, and test all the ways I could find to achieve a superior second-day slice. Read on for the results.

Note on storing pizza: You want to store pizza as airtight as possible to preserve its freshness. Pop slices into resealable plastic bags, or use plastic wrap followed by foil is also acceptable (though only you can decide whether that’s worth the effort). Never, for the love of all that’s good, store pizza in the box it came in. It will end up dry and stale. Even frat boys should know better.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn

How We Tested Pizza-Reheating Methods

First, I dug around for some of the most interesting and reliable-looking methods out there. It turns out there are plenty of recommended methods that are not good ideas. After several hours of research, I had five methods that were from reliable sources and/or seemed to have good reader responses — so I was willing to give them a test. Those methods were: the microwave, the air fryer, the oven, the grill, and a skillet method that was slightly different than our own.

In order to test this on actual leftover pizza — not a fancy slice of homemade pie I made myself, I ordered one medium, regular-crust cheese pie from my local pizzeria — I’m with John Stewart on deep-dish not counting — and in a feat of will only achievable for the greater good, I let the entire thing (mostly) cool to room temperature before wrapping it tightly in plastic and foil and refrigerating it overnight.

The next day, I tested each method below using a single slice.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Method: Microwave

  • Time: 45 seconds – 1 minute
  • Rating: 2/10

About This Method: Everyone who has ever attempted to microwave pizza (and we’ve all been there) knows it typically leaves you with a melted puddle of greasy tongue-singing cheese and an even more objectionable limp, soggy crust. Because microwaves essentially work by turning the water content in food to steam, it’s generally difficult, if not impossible, to get food crispy in there.

A method from Spoon University, however, claims that the simple addition of a glass of water will prevent pizza from getting soggy. Spoon’s theory (admittedly unsupported by any science) is that, because the liquid in the glass will absorb some portion of the energy, it “reduces the amount of energy going to the pizza” and keeps the crust from getting chewy. 

Results: Now, microwave power can vary from device to device, but I found that 45 seconds barely got my slice warm. The water, which I got from my refrigerator filter, was also lukewarm. The crust was noticeably limp and chewy. I wouldn’t say this method has much of anything going for it. It might be a decent way to start heating your pizza, but if you want a crisp crust you’d need to finish cooking it somewhere else, such as in a skillet. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Method: Air Fryer

  • Time: 9 minutes
  • Rating: 4/10

About This Method: Air fryers, for the uninitiated, are basically like downsized convection ovens. They have a reputation for crisping up foods you’d traditionally fry using a fraction of the oil, so it made sense that you could use one to heat a slice to crunchy perfection. And it was likelier to be faster, too, since preheating a countertop fryer (I used a 1500-watt Crux model) was faster than bringing an entire oven up to temp. Oddly enough, some of the most popular directions on this method come from a site called Dutch Oven Cookware, which recommends setting the temp to 320°F, sliding a slice into the basket (dry, no oil), and cooking it for three to four minutes.

Results: After four minutes, the cheese looked perfectly melted, but I quickly discovered the crust was almost as limp as the slice from the microwave. Dutch Oven recommends checking it “every 30 seconds” until the pizza is “cooked through,” but the pizza was heated through, so more cooking would have resulted in an over-done slice. Overall, my air fryer pizza was fast, easy, and required minimal clean up — but it lacked a quality crust.

Credit: Christopher Michel

Method: Gas Grill

  • Time: 11 minutes
  • Rating: 7/10

About This Method: Pizzas are cooked at extremely high temperatures, so it might logically follow that you’d want an equally hot surface to reheat one. Gas grills (as well as broilers, which are just upside down grills) can reach 500°F fairly quickly. The idea is that you just toss a slice directly on the grates, wait for the cheese to melt, and then chow down. I followed the instructions on Art of Manliness, which suggests six minutes on “medium high” heat.

Results: I tossed my slice directly onto the grill, and then set my timer. The biggest improvement was in the crust. The grill was the first method to finally put some crunch back in it. But there were some burned bits and the cheese wasn’t as gooey as I would have liked. The problem with this method is the extreme temperatures caused by direct fire: You get much less even heating than you do when cooking low and slow, and going too hot too quickly is what tends to make cheese separate. (If you are using a broiler rather than a grill, you have to worry about places like the crust, which is higher than the rest of the slice, turning black and burning as well.) Plus, dragging the grill out just to reheat leftover pizza somehow doesn’t seem worth it. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Method: Oven

  • Time: 35 minutes
  • Rating: 8/10

About This Method: The oven has been my personal preference for day-old pizza resuscitation. Typically, in my impatience for saucy, cheesy goodness, I just throw the pizza in cold without waiting for the oven to preheat. Cook’s Illustrated, which has one of the more popular pizza-reheating methods on the Internet, agreed, with a caveat: They recommend placing slices on a rimmed baking sheet covered tightly with aluminum foil. The gradual heat increase allows the crust “ample time to release moisture [from starch molecules] and soften” while the foil cover prevents it from drying out. They also recommend placing the baking sheet on the lowest oven rack so that it heats from the bottom up.

Results: This method was a real winner, and worth the extra time it takes. (Apparently skipping preheating only feels faster.) The crust came out much crunchier than other methods, without being dry, and the cheese was fully melted. I deducted minor points because the cheese inevitably began sticking to the foil cover. Overall, I thought this was about as close to fresh pizza as you could get.  

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Method: Skillet

  • Time: 4-7 minutes
  • Rating: 9/10

About This Method: As I noted above, Kitchn has long recommended reheating pizza in a skillet; our method is to throw it in a covered pan on the stove for six minutes — simple, but effective. I was curious when I stumbled across this method, from Food52, which includes a small twist. Their instructions also have you throw a slice in a skillet on medium-low, but you leave the pan uncovered, and wait until the crust begins to crisp (looking for the telltale glistening of grease as the cheese just starts to melt). Then you add a few drops of water to the pan, away from the pizza, turn the heat to low, and cover with a lid for one minute, so that the cheese is steam-melted.

Results: This method was every bit as good as it sounds, though using a cast iron pan is important: It holds and disperses heat evenly. Plus, having the entire crust make full contact with the pan gives the leftover slice a perfect level of crispiness. A 10-inch pan takes zero time to heat, although I did need longer than the two minutes specified to heat my slice through fully. But the real genius is those few water droplets to steam the cheese to gooey heaven. Though I’m holding back one point — just because there might still be a better way out there — I’m a convert.

Your turn: What’s your go-to way for reheating pizza — or do you eat it cold, straight out of the refrigerator?