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How to Microwave Leftovers (Without Destroying Them)

Whether it's last night's steak or Sunday's quiche, we've found the best way to heat up your favorite meal one more time. These are our secrets to making the most of your microwave.

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Woman's Hands Closing Microwave Oven Door And Preparing Food At Home; Shutterstock ID 694624951; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH How To MicrowaveAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

How many times have you popped your favorite leftover in the microwave, anticipating a fab do-over from last night’s dinner, only to wind up sad and disappointed? Dry, rubbery food makes for poor fodder, but these tricks will keep your meals tasting just like they did on Day 1.

Psst: Be sure to have a lid handy to keep moisture in and messes out.

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Leftover containers of food in a refrigerator for use with many food inferencesJoe Belanger/Shutterstock

Safety First!

Food that sits out on the counter for too long can start growing harmful bacteria, so fridge or freeze as soon as you can. (Find out how long leftovers keep here.) When you warm it up again, be sure to check the temperature. You’ll want to test it in a few places, because microwaves tend to leave cold spots. Be certain the thermometer reads 165º. An instant-read thermometer is perfect for this.

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Southwestern rice, best rice recipeTaste of Home

Rice and Grains

The trick to reheating rice is simple: Keep it moist. Rice and other grains like bulgur or quinoa dry out pretty easily. But when Grandma sends you home with her famous rice dish, be sure to take the time to stir a tablespoon or two of water into your leftovers. Then cover it with a loose-fitting lid and microwave at 80% power for 1 minute. Stir and continue heating in 30-second increments until your dish reaches a safe temp.

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steak recipeTaste of Home

Steaks and Chops

If you’re grilling up one of our top 10 steak recipes, you’re going to want leftovers. Experts will tell you not to reheat these in the microwave, but truth be told, you can do this with success. As with rice, moisture is key. Community Cook Julie Herrera-Lemler swears by setting a small cup of water on the microwave carousel with her dish. Be sure to cover your meat loosely with wax paper or a reusable lid to keep all that yummy flavor in.

Do you know these secret uses for wax paper?

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Bacon hot dog recipeTaste of Home

Burgers and Dogs

Nothing makes a better on-the-fly lunch than yesterday’s bacon-wrapped hot dog or a juicy burger. A quick zap is the best way to bring these barbecue favorites back to life. Community Cook Helen Nelander likes to use a damp paper towel to cover leftovers before microwaving to keep them moist.  Then warm the grilled goodies in 30-second intervals on high until they’re heated through. Last, use the paper towel to swipe up any splatter inside the microwave.

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Grilled ChickenTaste of Home

Chicken

Microwaving chicken can be a tricky business. Reheat boneless, skinless chicken like you would steaks and chops, with a quick zap under wax paper. Alternately, skip the microwave and cube the cold chicken for a great (read: easy) salad. Reheating fried chicken is a challenge, though, and it rarely produces good results. Fortunately, if you make a recipe like our crispy fried chicken it’ll taste great cold, too! 

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pepperoni pizza on a sheet panTaste of Home

Pizza, Pizza!

Reheating pizza in a microwave isn’t ideal under any circumstances but it IS quick. While we think cold pizza is the perfect breakfast (especially this pepperoni pizza), you might want yours warm. In that case, invest in a crisper pan that’s meant for the microwave oven. A pan like this one will set you back a few bucks ($43 to be exact), but who can really put a price on great pizza?

Reheat your pizza this way and it’ll taste like Day 1.

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Muffin tin quichesTaste of Home

Eggs, Quiche and Breakfast Casseroles

Eggs are the perfect make-ahead breakfast treat. Whip up a big batch on the weekend (may we suggest these mini quiches?) and you’ve got an easy breakfast all week long. Eggs reheat very quickly because they’re full of moisture. Start by zapping for short 20-30 second increments to keep from overcooking them, and be sure to keep them covered so they don’t dry out.

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LasagnaTaste of Home

Lasagna!

Lasagna is the king of comfort food and always tastes better the next day. Thankfully, reheating lasagna is a snap! Cut your portion into smaller pieces. The big square sure is pretty, but small pieces heat more evenly in the microwave. Trying to heat it whole will produce hard, dry edges and a cold center. Add a splash of water to your dish (a tablespoon is more than enough). Then heat at 80% for 1 minute, stir and continue heating in 30-second intervals until hot.

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Sugar doughnutsTaste of Home

Day-Old Doughnuts and Sweet Rolls

We’ve all done it: left those doughnuts in the box overnight and the next day they’re a little, um, crunchy. No problem! Place your favorite fritter (or sweet roll) on a plate, cover with a damp paper towel and nuke it for 20 seconds. That sweet treat will be good as new. Be super careful with filled doughnuts, though. Hot jelly can cause a nasty burn and no one likes to start the day off like that.

Don’t have any sweet treats? No problem. We have dozens of ooey-gooey recipes to fix that dilemma.

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Sue Stetzel
Sue has been part of the Taste of Home family for over 16 years. Her collection of magazines dates back to the premier issue in 1993. When she isn’t writing, she’s answering your burning cooking questions and working with our team of Volunteer Field Editors.
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