The Best Way to Reheat Your Leftovers So Every Bite Is Fresh and Delicious
You expect to end up with plenty of leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. But everyday meals like a fried chicken dinner or an extra-large pizza from your favorite restaurant can also result in lots of leftovers, especially if you live alone or in a small household. After consulting the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen as well as the USDA's food safety guidelines, we found the best ways to safely reheat leftovers to maintain the texture and flavor you had in that first meal so no food goes to waste.
How to Safely Reheat Leftovers
First, cool and refrigerate your leftovers to 40°F or below within two hours to prevent bacterial growth. The safe temperature for reheating leftovers is 165°F, so it's a good idea to keep a food thermometer ($14.99, Bed Bath & Beyond) handy to make sure you destroy any harmful bacteria. You can heat leftovers to this safe temperature using whatever appliance you want: stovetop, microwave, oven, toaster oven, or air fryer. It's also generally a good idea to cover leftovers while reheating to retain moisture and ensure the food heats all the way through. Just make sure the covering is safe for the appliance you choose (no foil in the microwave, no waxed paper in the oven, etc.). If you're reheating previously frozen leftovers like pancakes or a fruit pie, it is safe to refreeze any thawed uneaten portions.
How to Reheat Leftover Pizza
Many swear by eating leftover pizza right out of the fridge for breakfast, and that's fine as long as it wasn't just sitting on the counter all night. Your leftover pizza should be eaten within a few days of ordering or baking it. Instead of the takeout box, keep pizza refrigerated in an airtight container or reusable storage bag ($19.99, Bed Bath & Beyond) to maintain its freshness. There are many methods to reheating pizza, but here are a few we recommend.
- Air fryer: Place in the basket and cook at 325°F for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Microwave: Wrap a slice in waxed paper or parchment paper and microwave 45 to 60 seconds.
- Toaster Oven or Oven: Place on a baking sheet and cover with foil. Bake at 275°F for about 25 minutes. Covered and baked longer at a lower temperature keeps the cheese melty and hot without drying out the crust.
How to Reheat Leftover Chicken
The reheating time for chicken will depend on the part of the chicken you already cooked.
- Stovetop: For a cooked chicken breast or thigh, place in a skillet with enough broth to coat the pan and just heat through for 5 to 10 minutes. The broth will retain moisture and help destroy harmful bacteria.
- Microwave: If you have a cooked chicken dish (preferably in a sauce to keep it moist), you can reheat the leftovers covered in a microwave-safe dish ($39.99, Bed Bath & Beyond) until it reaches the safe temperature.
How to Reheat Leftover Fried Chicken
To restore fried chicken to its delightful crispy exterior, use your air-fryer ($59.99, Target), toaster oven, or oven. The timing will depend on the size of the piece but could take up to 15 minutes at 375°F to reheat.
How to Reheat Leftover Steak
So you mastered the art of grilling steaks to the perfect temperature, but now you have some leftovers. Let's face it: reheating your nicely done steak could dry it out, making it tough and chewy. According to our Test Kitchen, one of the best solutions to reheat leftover steak (and still enjoy it) is to reinvent it by cutting it into bite-size strips and quickly stir-frying in a skillet with oil over medium-high heat. At this point, you could enjoy it on a salad or in a quesadilla. Stir-frying some peppers and onions with the steak could also turn into some delicious fajitas.
How to Reheat Leftover Pasta
Reheating pasta depends on whether the sauce is already mixed in with the noodles. So if you're reheating leftover spaghetti covered in sauce, nuking it in a covered, microwave-safe dish is your best bet. You'll want to use the temperature guide above to ensure it's heated through. Check out our extensive guide on freezing and reheating cooked pasta for more tips.
Reheating Leftovers in the Air Fryer
If you happen to have one of these handy appliances sitting on your countertop, utilize it for leftovers. The high heat is able to reheat your food quickly, creating a crispy exterior and tender interior without adding oil. You can reheat chilled or frozen cooked foods such as chicken strips, meat loaf, and more. Alternatively, you can reheat your leftovers using a toaster oven or the convection setting on your oven for the same effect.