Basics for Reheating Leftovers

After a recent post on why leftovers are wonderful, I was considering reasons people may not like leftovers. It occurred to me that if leftovers are not reheated properly, that could cause them to not be very good. Thus, I plan to do an overview of how to reheat different types of foods, based on the successes my husband and I have had with these methods.

Leftovers can be a delicious way to reduce stress (not having to cook dinner!) but only if you reheat them well.

Reheating Leftovers:

There are different techniques for reheating different types of foods, but here I focused on the basics of microwaving to get great results:

  • Usually can be reheated as is using the microwave, or in a small saucepan on the stovetop. If you choose to reheat on the stovetop you may need to add a little water, milk, or broth (depending on the base). Keep in mind that even though leftovers like these tend to thicken up when they are refrigerated for storing, they get thinner again as they are heated. Adding too much liquid for heating or heating too quickly could make these leftovers less desirable. Start with a small amount of liquid if necessary, and heat over low heat.
Breads/Baked Goods
  • Most of these leftovers that have only been sitting for a day will be fine gently microwaved for about 15 seconds (depending on size). Keep in mind that this option will NOT crisp up anything that was originally crispy. For those, you would want to use a toaster, a toaster oven, a Nuwave style oven, or your home oven. If the leftover has been sitting long enough to be dry, then cover or wrap it in a damp (not dripping!) paper towel before microwaving. Do not use the paper towel method with any heat source other than the microwave. Keep in mind that breads and baked goods tend to have some of the shortest shelf-lives as “good” leftovers.
Pasta/Rice/Grain Dishes 
  • Much like the aforementioned soup leftovers, you may want to add a small amount of liquid to these leftovers when you reheat them. The liquid (usually milk, broth, or water) depends on the base of the dish. For instance, macaroni and cheese is better if you stir in a small amount of milk before microwaving. It is even more important to use small amounts of added liquid with these dishes, because most people don’t want watery pasta. If you do happen to mistakenly add too much liquid, you can carefully dab it off with a paper towel or drain it off.
Meat Based Leftovers 
  • Leftovers that are mainly meat also reheat better with a little bit of liquid (usually water) added before microwaving. You can also try using a microwave cover* over the dish to help keep moisture safely in or cover with a damp paper towel (as seen for breads). A little bit of gravy if it was originally on the meat could also help keep it moist as it is reheated.
Cooked Vegetables 
  • Added liquid being beneficial to leftover vegetables usually depends on how they were cooked, and if they are straight vegetables or a vegetable based dish. Straight vegetables are usually okay microwaved without any added liquid. For a vegetable based dish, it would be better to see which category above it most closely follows. Then adhere to those general guidelines.

With all of these, experiment (safely) and do what works best for you. There is often more than one way to accomplish the same goal (I.E. reheat leftovers).


*NOTE*  Microwave covers are specially designed with steam holes AND are microwave safe. Please be careful what you use as a cover. They are generally used to prevent splatter in your microwave.

P.S. Leftovers might not be good after reheating if the person who made the leftovers needs a little more practice. This should be easy to figure out if the meal wasn’t very good before saving. Don’t be afraid to go to tutorial videos or food blogs for help. Practice is essential as well.