What's the Best Way to Reheat Leftovers?

The microwave is not always the answer.

Photo: Yunhee Kim

Who doesn't love leftovers? Having leftovers to reheat for lunch or add to dinner is always a boon for the home cook, but what is the best way to reheat those leftovers? Simply put, that depends on what you are warming up! There are lots of choices to get the job done, and what's best for warming up last night's pizza isn't necessarily great for your leftover pasta.

The Microwave

Almost everything can be warmed up in the microwave. It's the best method to employ when warming up pasta because it heats everything up without overcooking the pasta, keeping it fairly close al to dente. Soups and stews also do very well in the microwave, as do most vegetables. One surprising food that does especially well with this reheating method? Nachos, which retain their signature crisp chips and melty cheese. But nachos are an anomaly, and many foods do not fare as well as in this countertop appliance as they do.

Avoid heating anything with a crispy coating, as that crunchy exterior that was so delicious the first night will likely turn mushy in the microwave. And any bread made with yeast—this includes pizza crusts—will disappoint when heated in the microwave. Initially, it will turn very puffy and soft, then very quickly turn tough and dried out. When microwaving, be sure to loosely cover the container with parchment paper, and add a little water to prevent the food from drying out. Check it regularly, stirring and turning over occasionally.

The Oven

Because it takes a bit of time to heat up your oven, and then to heat the food itself, save this method for when you have some time and are warming up large portions, like whole lasagnas or potato gratins. Pour a little drizzle of water or milk around the edges and cover with foil to keep the food moist.

The Toaster Oven

The perfect place to warm up smaller items, like a slice of pizza or piece of cornbread, is the toaster oven. It's much faster than the oven, and it makes speedy work of heating up just about anything. It's also great for warming up proteins and vegetables, especially if you don't mind adding a little browning to the outside.

A Skillet

Did you know a skillet is the best place to warm up leftover pizza? Sure, the toaster oven is fine for a slice or two, but for a larger amount, the skillet delivers. The crust will crisp up nicely and the cheese will get perfectly melty. It'll be nearly as good as when it came out of the oven.

A Saucepan

Though it takes a little more time than the microwave, warming up soups, sauces, and stews works perfectly well in a saucepan. You may need to add a little more water to prevent the food from drying out. Be sure to stir frequently for even heating.

A Steamer

Don't forget about bamboo steamers or metal steamer inserts. They are perfect for foods that love a little extra moisture or need a little gentle hand. Think that lovely piece of fish from last night, a handful of leftover asparagus, or even a slice of frittata.

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