Mastering the Art of Reheating: Techniques and Tips for Deliciously Revived Meals​

Reheating food to ensure it is delicious

In our fast-paced lives, reheating food has become an essential skill for making the most of our precious time and resources. Whether it’s leftovers from a hearty dinner or your meal prep for the week, knowing how to reheat food properly can make all the difference between a lackluster meal and a satisfying one. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore various reheating methods, from the classic microwave to the versatile oven, ensuring your meals taste as good as new.

Please feel free to check out our many articles on this site about reheating certain foods, like how to reheat taco meathow to reheat chicken and how to reheat corn on the cob. If you are looking at home reheat certain foods, you can simply go to our search bar and type in what you want to reheat and you’ll probably find it. (If not, please drop me an email at claire@foodlve.com and I’ll try to write an article on the subject, as soon as possible.)

Reheating meat and baked carrots in the oven

The Art of Reheating: Things to Consider​

Before delving into specific reheating methods, it’s crucial to understand a few key considerations that apply across the board:

Safety First

When reheating food, it’s vital to ensure it reaches a safe internal temperature to kill any potential bacteria. The recommended minimum internal temperature is 165°F (74°C).

Avoid Overcooking

Overheating food can result in dryness or even a change in texture. It is best to reheat food in small batches, checking for doneness periodically.

Covering Matters

Covering food while reheating helps to lock in moisture and prevent uneven heating. If you will be reheating in a microwave oven, use a microwave-safe lid, plastic wrap with a vent, or a microwave-safe plate.

Stirring and Flipping

For more even reheating, stir or flip the food halfway through the process. This helps distribute heat and ensures consistent results.

Quality of Storage

Properly stored leftovers are key to successful reheating. Use airtight containers and label them with the date to keep track of freshness.

Reheating food in an oven is a time-honored method that often yields the best results in terms of texture and flavor.

Warming Up Food in the Oven​

Reheating food in an oven is a time-honored method that often yields the best results in terms of texture and flavor.

Steps for Reheating Food in an Oven:

  1. Preheat the Oven: Set it to a low to medium temperature, around 350°F (175°C), to avoid overcooking the food.
  2. Use an Oven-Safe Dish: Place the food in an oven-safe dish or on a baking sheet.
  3. Cover with Foil: This helps to trap moisture and prevent the food from drying out.
  4. Monitor Closely: Check the food periodically to prevent overcooking. Larger or denser items may take longer.

Reheat Food in an Air Fryer​

Air fryers are a versatile kitchen tool, known for their ability to quickly crisp up foods. However, they can also be used for reheating with excellent results.

Reaheating food in an air fryer. Delicious chicken wings

Here are the steps to Reheat Food in an Air Fryer:

  1. Preheat the Air Fryer: Set it to a low temperature, around 300°F (150°C).
  2. Arrange the Food: Place the food in the air fryer basket, ensuring it’s in a single layer for even heating.
  3. Reheat in Intervals: Start with short intervals, checking for doneness after each round. This prevents overcooking.
  4. Adjust Temperature as Needed: Depending on the food, you may need to adjust the temperature and time.

Reheating Food in a Microwave​

The microwave is the go-to choice for quick and convenient reheating. However, it’s important to use this tool judiciously to maintain food quality.

Steps to Reheat Food in a Microwave:

  1. Choose the Right Container: Opt for microwave-safe dishes, and avoid metal or aluminum foil.
  2. Cover the Food: Use a microwave-safe cover or a microwave-safe plate to trap steam and heat evenly.
  3. Use Short Bursts: Reheat in short intervals (30 seconds to 1 minute), stirring or flipping the food as needed.
  4. Check for Even Heating: Microwave ovens have hot spots; ensure the food is heated uniformly.

Reheating Food on a Stovetop​

The stovetop offers precise control over temperature, making it an excellent choice for reheating a variety of dishes but you need to be very careful about not over or underheating the food you are reheating.

Steps to Reheat Food on a Stovetop:

  1. Select the Right Pan: Choose a pan that’s large enough to hold the food without overcrowding.
  2. Add a Splash of Liquid: To prevent sticking or dryness, add a small amount of liquid like broth or water.
  3. Use Low to Medium Heat: Start with low heat and increase as needed to avoid rapid cooking.
  4. Stir and Monitor: Stir the food frequently to ensure even heating and prevent sticking.

Reheating Food in a Toaster Oven​

This is my personal favorite for reheating. As a toaster oven is small, there is generally no need for a lid and the heat will concentrate the flavors without drying out your food.

A toaster oven is a versatile appliance that can handle a wide range of reheating tasks.

Steps to Reheat Food in a Toaster Oven:

  1. Preheat the Toaster Oven: Set it to a low to medium temperature, usually around 350°F (175°C).
  2. Place Food on a Baking Sheet: Use an oven-safe dish or a baking sheet for even heating.
  3. Cover if Necessary: If the food is prone to drying out, cover it loosely with aluminum foil.
  4. Monitor Carefully: Check the food regularly to prevent overcooking. Adjust time and temperature as needed.

Reheating FAQs​

Is it safe to heat up leftovers more than once?​

Heating up leftovers multiple times can be safe, but it requires careful handling to prevent foodborne illness. Repeated heating and cooling cycles can create an environment where bacteria multiply, potentially making the food unsafe to eat. To ensure safety, follow these guidelines:

  1. Reheat Once: Ideally, leftovers should only be reheated once to minimize bacterial growth. If there are still uneaten portions, consider reheating only the portion to be consumed.
  2. Prompt Refrigeration: Refrigerate leftovers promptly after the initial meal to slow bacterial growth. Store them in airtight containers and label them with the date for monitoring freshness.
  3. Thorough Heating: When reheating, ensure the food reaches a safe internal temperature of at least 165°F (74°C) to kill any potential bacteria.
  4. Use Safe Reheating Methods: Employ reliable methods like the oven, microwave, stovetop, or air fryer for even heating and regular monitoring.

While reheating leftovers more than once can be done safely, it’s essential to exercise caution, maintain proper food storage, and use reliable reheating methods to enjoy your meals without risking your health.

Which leftovers should not be reheated?​

While reheating leftovers is a convenient way to enjoy previously prepared meals, certain types of leftovers should be handled with caution or avoided altogether due to safety concerns or changes in texture and flavor. Here are some leftovers that are best not to reheat:

  • Seafood: Delicate seafood like shrimp, lobster, or crab can become rubbery and lose their delicate flavors when reheated. Additionally, the risk of bacterial growth in seafood is higher compared to other proteins.
  • Leafy Greens: Vegetables like lettuce, spinach, and cabbage have high water content and can wilt or become mushy when reheated. They are best enjoyed fresh or in cold salads.
  • Fried Foods: Crispy fried foods like french fries, onion rings, or tempura lose their crunchiness when reheated and can become soggy.
  • Eggs: Hard-boiled eggs can release unpleasant sulfurous odors when reheated. Additionally, dishes like omelets or scrambled eggs tend to become rubbery when subjected to reheating.
  • Dairy-based Sauces: Creamy sauces and soups, such as Alfredo or clam chowder, can separate or curdle when reheated, resulting in an undesirable texture.
  • Delicate Herbs: Fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, or parsley should be added to dishes just before serving, as they lose their vibrant color, flavor, and aroma when reheated.

Remember, when in doubt, it’s best to exercise caution and use your senses. If a leftover looks or smells questionable, it’s safer to discard it rather than risk potential foodborne illness. Proper storage and timely consumption of leftovers can also help maintain their quality for a more enjoyable reheating experience.

How to heat up food on the go?

Heating up food on the go requires creativity and resourcefulness. Portable appliances like travel-sized microwaves or car plug-in food warmers can be invaluable. For a more straightforward approach, consider using insulated containers, thermoses, or heat-retaining lunchboxes. Prioritize foods that reheat well, like stews, soups, or pasta dishes. If access to a heating source is limited, opt for easily edible options like sandwiches, wraps, or salads. Utilize hot water from thermos flasks to rehydrate instant noodles or heat up pre-cooked grains. Planning ahead and choosing foods amenable to quick reheating ensures a satisfying and safe on-the-go dining experience.

Is Reheating food really considered cooking?​

Reheating food is not typically considered cooking in the traditional sense. Cooking involves the preparation and transformation of raw ingredients into a finished dish, often involving various techniques like sautéing, roasting, boiling, or grilling to enhance flavors, textures, and appearances. In contrast, reheating is the process of warming up previously cooked and fully prepared food to make it palatable again.

Reheating primarily serves to restore the temperature of a dish, not to significantly alter its composition. While reheating may affect the texture and flavor of food to some extent, it doesn’t introduce substantial chemical changes or develop new flavors as cooking does.

In essence, reheating is more about convenience and maintaining food safety than culinary creativity. It allows us to enjoy leftovers and pre-cooked meals without the extensive preparation associated with cooking from scratch.

What are the FDA Guidelines on Reheating?​

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety of our food supply, including guidelines for reheating food. While the FDA doesn’t provide specific instructions for reheating individual dishes, they offer general guidelines and principles to help consumers and food establishments handle leftovers safely:

  1. Safe Temperature Range: The FDA recommends reheating food to an internal temperature of at least 165°F (74°C). This temperature ensures the destruction of harmful bacteria that may have multiplied during storage.
  2. Refrigeration: Leftovers should be refrigerated promptly, ideally within two hours of being cooked. Store them in shallow containers to facilitate rapid cooling.
  3. Labeling and Dating: Properly label leftovers with the date of preparation and consume them within a reasonable timeframe. Most leftovers are safe to eat within 3-4 days when stored at or below 40°F (4°C).
  4. Reheating Methods: While the FDA doesn’t endorse specific reheating methods, they emphasize using reliable and even-heating appliances such as ovens, microwaves, stovetops, or air fryers. Ensure that the food reaches the recommended internal temperature throughout.
  5. Avoiding Cross-Contamination: Be cautious to prevent cross-contamination by using separate utensils and cutting boards for raw and cooked foods.

By following these FDA guidelines, you can minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses associated with reheating leftovers. Safe food handling and storage practices are essential for maintaining food quality and safety at home and in food service establishments.

Are 7-Day Leftovers Safe?​

Leftovers that are 7 days old may not be safe to consume, depending on the type of food and how it has been stored. The general guideline for leftover safety is to consume them within 3-4 days of being prepared. After this time, the risk of harmful bacterial growth increases.

If leftovers have been properly stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator at or below 40°F (4°C), they are more likely to remain safe for a longer period. However, even under optimal conditions, some foods, particularly those with high moisture content like dairy-based dishes or leafy greens, may start to spoil or become unsafe before the 7-day mark.

It’s crucial to use your senses when evaluating older leftovers. If the food has an off smell, unusual texture, or shows signs of spoilage like mold, it should be discarded. When in doubt, it’s safer to err on the side of caution and avoid consuming leftovers that have been stored for an extended period.

If your leftovers have come from a restaurant, then you don’t actually know when it was prepared and how much time the food was warm before being served to you. Also, there was time spent in bringing home your food and the food was probably transported at room temperature, so it is best to consume doggy-bag leftovers as soon as possible.

What is the fastest way to reheat?​

The fastest way to reheat food is typically by using a microwave. It’s designed for quick and efficient heating, making it a go-to choice for many. Simply place the food in a microwave-safe container, cover it with a microwave-safe lid or vented plastic wrap, and heat in short intervals, stirring or flipping as needed. However, it’s important to note that while the microwave is speedy, it may not always yield the best results in terms of texture and flavor compared to other methods like the oven or stovetop.

Is it better to reheat leftovers or eat cold?​

Whether to reheat leftovers or eat them cold depends on personal preference and the type of dish. Some foods, like soups or stews, often taste better when reheated. However, certain dishes, like salads or sandwiches, are designed to be enjoyed cold, and reheating may alter their intended texture and taste. Additionally, some foods, like pizza, can be delightful both ways. Ultimately, the choice between reheating and eating cold boils down to individual taste, but ensuring food safety and quality should always be a priority, regardless of the method chosen.

I would personally never reheat a steak, grilled chicken or other meat that has been rapidly cooked, as they can get overcooked very quickly. I generally toss meat leftovers into a salad. As a stew has already been cooked a long time, it generally is good to reheat, or even can be improved by reheating it.

Can you reheat Seafood?​

Be very careful about reheating fish or shellfish, as both go off easily. Also, these delicate meats tend to get very rubbery in texture when overcooked. If I’m very sure that there is no risk of it being too old (like I personally cooked it yesterday) then I’ll always eat seafood cold and i’ll feel safe in reheating it. Even so, I’ll tend to only eat fish or seafood cold, to ensure it doesn’t  get overcooked and rubbery. A cold shrimp salad can be quite delicious!

Why do people say potatoes should not be reheated?​

Potatoes, when reheated, can undergo undesirable changes in taste and texture. When cooked and then cooled, potatoes undergo a process called retrogradation, causing the starches to crystallize. This can make reheated potatoes grainy, dry, and less appealing. Additionally, reheating potatoes can lead to the production of a compound called acrylamide, which forms at high temperatures and has been linked to potential health concerns. To enjoy potatoes at their best, it’s advisable to consume them freshly cooked or prepare them in ways that minimize the need for reheating, such as by using them in salads or hash browns.

Why do people reheat food and when should you plan to make extra food to reheat later?​

Many people don’t have the time to make 3 meals a day, so will often make extra food when they cook to deliberately have leftovers. This can work well, particularly if you do something different with that extra food. For example, putting extra taco meat into a taco salad, or adding extra grilled chicken into a soup.

Also, when eating at a restaurant, they generally serve way too much food is served, so why not bring it home to enjoy later?

Reheating food is a great way to save time and money and also to exercise your creativity!


By mastering the art and science of reheating, you can transform leftovers into wonderful meals and make the most of your culinary creations. Remember, safety and quality should always be your biggest concern. With the right techniques and a bit of practice, you’ll be able to enjoy delicious reheated meals time and time again. Happy reheating!

Suggested Posts