The Best Way to Reheat Leftovers in the Microwave

These small adjustments to your microwave routine will yield tastier leftovers — every time.

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Microwaving 101

Even for people who love to cook, the microwave is a basic mealtime necessity. It can revive leftovers in minutes, but as anyone who as ever suffered through a dinner of soggy microwaved pizza can attest, some items are just better reheated in the oven — think breads, fries and crispy coated foods, like chicken fingers. That said, almost everything else is fair game for this ubiquitous machine. And if you play to its strengths you can reheat most dishes with great results.

By Angela Carlos for Food Network Kitchen

Reheat in Intervals

Ever heard the phrase “nuke it?” You aren’t actually applying nuclear radiation to your food, but the concentrated energy produced inside the microwave makes it possible to heat food quickly — sometimes too quickly. Cook in 30-second to 1-minute intervals, stirring liquids and rotating or flipping solids in between for even reheating. You'll keep oil- and butter-based sauces intact so the dish maintains the flavor you loved the first time around.

Deconstruct Your Meal

Consider what you're reheating before putting it in the microwave. If it's last night's burger, warm up the bun and burger separately, so you don’t end up with a perfectly warmed patty and an overcooked, chewy bun. Likewise, instead of reheating a everything on a buffet plate at once, start with the densest items (say, a pork chop), and add the mac-and-cheese and collards partway through. Have a grain bowl that just needs the chill removed? Pick out the fresh herbs and raw ingredients before microwaving, then re-add them before serving to preserve the freshness of the dish.

Keep It Moist

Microwaves seem to be proficient at drying out food. Remember the time you tried to reheat leftover macaroni and cheese only to be left with burnt cheese sauce and gummy noodles? To prevent this, add a splash of water, stock or sauce to your dish before popping it in the microwave. Or you can cover the plate with a damp towel to create steam, which has the added bonus of preventing sauce splatters inside your microwave. (You can also use microwave-safe plastic wrap, wax paper, parchment paper and white paper towels to prevent messy splatters.)

Spread in Even Layers

While piled high plates might look nice (like the one in this photo), they aren’t optimal for microwaving since the outside edges will heat faster than the thicker middle. Arrange foods in a single even layer on your plate to ensure the waves from the microwave have an equal opportunity to warm each part of your meal.

Use the Right Container

Sparking foil offers a strong indication that it doesn't belong in your microwave, but did you know that the USDA also recommends staying away from paper bags, as the glue used to hold the bag together can create toxic fumes when heated? Also a no-go: last night's takeout containers, which could warp or melt when heated transferring harmful chemicals to your food. Be sure to transfer leftovers to the best dish for the job, such as microwave-safe ceramic or glass bowls and plates.