Reheating leftovers not only saves time and money but reduces waste. It is an essential practice if you prepare foods in bulk.

However, if improperly reheated, leftovers can cause food poisoning — which can jeopardize your health.

It’s estimated that 1 in 6 Americans gets food poisoning yearly — and 128,000 of these are hospitalized. In severe cases, food poisoning can even cause death (1).

In addition, some reheating methods can make certain leftovers far less appealing to eat.

This article provides instructions for safe and tasty reheating of leftovers.

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When reheating leftovers, proper handling is key for your health and your meal’s taste.

Here’s what to do (2, 3, 4):

  • Cool leftovers as quickly as possible (within 2 hours), store in the fridge and eat within 3–4 days.
  • Alternatively, freeze leftovers for 3–4 months. After this point, they are still considered safe to eat — but texture and flavor may be compromised.
  • Frozen leftovers should be properly defrosted before heating by transferring them to your fridge or using the defrost setting on your microwave. Once defrosted, refrigerate and eat within 3–4 days.
  • It is safe to reheat partially defrosted leftovers using a saucepan, microwave or oven. However, reheating will take longer if the food is not completely thawed.
  • Reheat leftovers until steaming hot throughout — they should reach and maintain 165°F (70°C) for two minutes. Stir food while reheating to ensure even heating, especially when using a microwave.
  • Do not reheat leftovers more than once.
  • Do not refreeze leftovers that have already been defrosted.
  • Serve reheated leftovers immediately.
Summary Make sure your leftovers are cooled quickly, refrigerated and eaten within a few days or frozen for up to several months. They should be reheated thoroughly — though not reheated or frozen more than once.

The most common complaints with reheated steak are dried out, rubbery or tasteless meat. However, certain reheating methods retain flavor and moisture.

Keep in mind that leftover meat usually tastes better when heated from room temperature — so leave it out of the fridge for about 10 minutes before reheating.

Option 1: Oven

If you have time to spare, this is the best way to reheat steak to keep it tender and flavorful.

  1. Set your oven to 250°F (120°C).
  2. Place the steak on a wire rack inside a baking tray. This allows the meat to cook thoroughly on both sides.
  3. Once the oven is preheated, put the steak inside and cook for around 20–30 minutes, checking regularly. Depending on the thickness of the steak, cooking times will vary.
  4. The steak will be ready once warm (100–110°F or 37–43°C) — but not piping hot — at the center.
  5. Serve with gravy or steak sauce. Alternatively, sear each side of the steak in a pan with butter or oil for a crispy texture.

Option 2: Microwave

This is the best option if you’re short on time. Microwaving often dries steak out, but this can be prevented with a few simple steps:

  1. Set the steak in a microwavable dish.
  2. Drizzle some steak sauce or meat gravy over the top of the steak and add a few drops of oil or butter.
  3. Cover the microwavable dish.
  4. Cook on medium heat, turning the steak every 30 seconds or so until it’s warm but not too hot. This shouldn’t take longer than a couple of minutes.

Option 3: Pan

This is another speedy way to reheat steak to keep it deliciously tender.

  1. Add some beef broth or gravy to a deep pan.
  2. Heat the broth or gravy until it simmers, but don’t let it boil.
  3. Next, add the meat and let it heat until warm throughout. This should only take a minute or two.

Option 4: Resealable Plastic Bag

This option is perfect for keeping steak moist and scrumptious. Though it doesn’t take as long as the oven, cooking time is slightly longer than microwaving or pan-frying. It doesn’t work well if you have more than one steak to reheat.

  1. Place the steak in a resealable plastic bag suitable for heating and free from harmful chemicals like BPA.
  2. Add ingredients and seasonings of your choice to the bag, such as garlic and chopped onions.
  3. Ensure all air is pushed out of the bag. Seal tightly.
  4. Place the sealed bag in a saucepan filled with simmering water and heat until the meat is hot. This usually takes 4–8 minutes depending on thickness.
  5. After cooking, you can give the steak a quick sear in the pan if you like.
Summary If you have time, the best way to reheat steak for taste and texture is in the oven. However, microwaving in gravy or broth is quicker and can still keep it moist. You may also cook it in a pan — with or without a resealable plastic bag.

Reheating chicken and certain red meats can often lead to dried, tough food. In general, meat is best reheated using the same method in which it was cooked.

It’s still possible to reheat chicken and other red meat safely without drying out your meal.

Option 1: Oven

This method takes the most time but is the best option for moist, succulent leftovers.

  1. Set your oven to 250°F (120°C).
  2. Add meat to a baking tray, followed by a dash of oil or butter. Cover with aluminum foil to prevent it from drying out.
  3. This method usually takes at least 10–15 minutes. However, the length of time will depend on the type and amount of meat.
  4. Remember to check that the meat is reheated thoroughly before serving.

Option 2: Microwave

Reheating meat in a microwave is certainly the quickest option. However, reheating anything more than a couple of minutes usually results in dry food.

  1. Place the meat in a microwavable dish.
  2. Add a small amount of water, sauce or oil to the meat and cover with a microwave-safe lid.
  3. Microwave on medium heat for as long as necessary for the food to be evenly and thoroughly cooked.

Option 3: Pan

Although it’s a less popular option, chicken and other meats can certainly be reheated on the stovetop. You should keep the heat low to avoid overcooking. If you don’t have a microwave or are short on time, this is a good method.

  1. Add some oil or butter to the pan.
  2. Place the meat in the pan, cover and heat on a medium-low setting.
  3. Turn the meat over halfway through to ensure it’s cooked evenly.

This method usually takes around 5 minutes but depends on the type and amount of meat.

Summary Chicken and certain red meats are best reheated with the same equipment in which they were cooked. While the oven retains the most moisture, the microwave is quickest. Pan-frying is also a relatively quick option.

Fish can be reheated similarly to meat. However, the thickness of the filet has a big impact on overall flavor. Fatter cuts of fish — such as steaks of salmon — will retain texture and flavor better than thinner ones.

Option 1: Microwave

This is a good option if you are short on time and the fish isn’t breaded or battered. Keep in mind that this option usually results in a fishy smell in your kitchen.

  1. Sprinkle water or oil on the fish before placing it in a microwavable dish.
  2. Cover the dish and heat on low to medium power for 20–30 seconds at a time, checking regularly until the fish is done but not overcooked.
  3. Flip the filet over regularly to ensure even heating.

Option 2: Oven

This is a good option for retaining moisture and taste. However, it does require more time.

  1. Set your oven to 250°F (120°C).
  2. Unless the fish is breaded or battered, wrap it in foil and place on a baking tray.
  3. Cook for 15–20 minutes or until the center is steaming hot.

Option 3: Pan

Sautéed, grilled and baked fish reheat well when heated or steamed in a pan.

To heat:

  1. Add oil or butter to a pan.
  2. Place on medium-low heat. Add the fish.
  3. Cover the pan with a lid and check every few minutes, turning regularly.

To steam:

  1. Wrap the fish loosely in foil.
  2. Place in a steamer or rack over boiling water in a covered pan.
  3. Steam for around 4–5 minutes or until the fish is fully cooked.
Summary Fish reheats best in the oven, especially if it’s breaded or battered. Sautéed, grilled and baked fish reheats well in a pan. Microwaving, on the other hand, is quick — but makes breaded or battered fish soggy.

Rice — especially reheated rice — carries a risk of food poisoning if not handled or reheated correctly.

Uncooked rice may contain spores of the Bacillus cereus bacteria, which can cause food poisoning. These spores are surprisingly heat-resistant and often survive cooking.

While it is safe to reheat rice, never do so if it has been left out at room temperature for an extended period.

It’s best to serve rice as soon as it’s been cooked, then cool it within one hour and refrigerate it for no more than a few days before reheating.

Below are some good options for reheating rice.

Option 1: Microwave

If you are short on time, this is the quickest and most convenient way to reheat rice.

  1. Add the rice to a microwavable dish alongside a sprinkle of water.
  2. If the rice is stuck together, break it up with a fork.
  3. Cover the dish with a suitable lid or wet paper towel and cook on high heat until hot throughout. This usually takes 1–2 minutes per portion.

Option 2: Pan-Steam

This option requires a bit more time than microwaving but is still speedy.

  1. Add the rice and a splash of water to a saucepan.
  2. If the rice is stuck together, break it up with a fork.
  3. Cover the pan with a suitable lid and cook on low heat.
  4. Stir the rice regularly until hot.

Option 3: Oven

Although it takes more time, reheating rice in the oven is another good option if a microwave isn’t handy.

  1. Put the rice in an oven-safe dish alongside some water.
  2. Adding butter or oil can prevent sticking and boost flavor.
  3. Break up the rice with a fork if it’s stuck together.
  4. Cover with a suitable lid or aluminum foil.
  5. Cook at 300°F (150°C) until hot — usually 15–20 minutes.
Summary Rice should be cooled quickly once cooked and refrigerated no more than a few days before reheating. While the best way to reheat rice is in the microwave, the oven or stovetop are also good options.

Too often, reheating pizza results in a soggy, cheesy mess. Here’s how to safely reheat pizza so it’s still delicious and crispy.

Option 1: Oven

Again, this method takes the most time. However, you are guaranteed a hot and crispy leftover pizza.

  1. Set your oven to 375°F (190°C).
  2. Line a baking tray with foil and place it in the oven for a few minutes to heat it up.
  3. Carefully place the pizza on the hot baking tray.
  4. Bake for around 10 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Option 2: Pan

This method is slightly quicker than the oven. If you get it right, you should still end up with a crispy base and melted cheese topping.

  1. Place a non-stick pan on medium heat.
  2. Put the leftover pizza in the pan and heat it for around two minutes.
  3. Add a few drops of water to the bottom of the pan — not on the pizza itself.
  4. Put the lid on and heat the pizza for 2–3 more minutes until the cheese is melted and the bottom crispy.

Option 3: Microwave

Though this is the quickest and most convenient method for reheating pizza, your leftover slice usually ends up sloppy and rubbery. If you do choose this route, here are some tips to slightly improve the end result.

  1. Place a paper towel between the pizza and the plate.
  2. Heat on medium power for around one minute.
Summary Leftover pizza is best reheated in the oven or a pan to ensure a crispy base and melted surface. Microwaving is the quickest option — but often results in a soggy meal.

By far the best equipment for reheating roasted vegetables is the top broiler or grill in your oven. This way, the veggies retain their delicious flavor and texture.

Broil or Grill

  1. Turn the top broiler or grill on medium-high for a few minutes to warm it up.
  2. Lay leftover vegetables on a baking sheet in a baking tray. There’s no need for oil.
  3. Place the baking tray under the grill for 1–3 minutes before turning the vegetables over and repeating for another 1–3 minutes.
Summary To keep leftover roasted vegetables crispy and tasty, heat them under a grill or top broiler. Turn them halfway through for even cooking.

Casseroles and one-pot meals — such as sautéed, stir-fried or steamed veggies — are easy to make and are great for batch cooking. They are easy to reheat, too.

Option 1: Microwave

This is a quick and easy way to heat up your leftover casserole or one-pot dish.

  1. Place the food in a microwavable dish, spreading out in an even layer if possible.
  2. Cover with a slightly damp paper towel or sprinkle with water to prevent drying.
  3. Heat as appropriate. You may want to microwave individual dishes separately because different foods cook at different rates. For example, meat takes longer to reheat than vegetables.
  4. Make sure you regularly stir your dish for even heating.

Option 2: Oven

This option is best for casseroles but not so great for anything stir-fried, sautéed or steamed.

  1. Heat the oven to 200–250°F (90–120°C).
  2. Place the leftovers in an oven-safe dish and cover with aluminum foil to maintain moisture.
  3. Reheating time will vary depending on the leftovers.

Option 3: Pan

Pan cooking works best for stir-fried or sautéed vegetables.

  1. Add oil to a pan.
  2. Use low to medium heat to avoid overcooking.
  3. Add the leftovers and stir frequently.
Summary Casseroles and one-pot dishes are easy to make and reheat. While microwaving is quick and convenient, the oven works best for casseroles and pans for stir-fried or sautéed vegetables.

Cooking and reheating food can improve digestibility, increase the availability of certain antioxidants and kill potentially harmful bacteria (5, 6).

However, the downside is that nutrient loss is a part of every reheating method.

Methods that expose foods to liquid and/or high levels of heat for long periods tend to result in a greater loss of nutrients.

Because microwaving usually involves less liquid and shorter cooking times, meaning less exposure to heat, it is considered the best reheating method for retaining nutrients (7, 8).

For example, oven cooking’s lengthy duration may result in a greater loss of nutrients than microwaving.

Microwaving still depletes some nutrients, especially certain vitamins such as B and C. In fact, around 20–30% of vitamin C from green vegetables is lost during microwaving (9).

However, this is much less than other cooking methods, such as boiling — which can result in up to a 95% loss of vitamin C depending on the cooking time and type of vegetable (10).

In addition, microwaving is the best method for retaining antioxidant activity in several different foods (11).

Summary All reheating methods result in some nutrient loss. However, quick cooking times and reduced exposure to liquid means that microwaving is the best method for nutrient retention.

Leftovers are safe and convenient when you handle them properly.

You may eat a lot of leftovers if you regularly engage in meal prepping or batch cooking.

Ensuring leftovers are cooled quickly, stored correctly and reheated thoroughly means that you can enjoy them without fear of becoming sick.

Generally, leftovers taste best when reheated in the same manner in which they were cooked.

Though microwaving retains the most nutrients, it may not always be the best reheating method.

With these tips, you can safely enjoy a second round of any delicious meal.