Ranking something silly: Best leftover foods

Ranking something silly: Best leftover foods

Being able to tuck into some leftovers instead of cooking an entirely new meal seems like you’re gaming the system, but some foods are better equipped than others to be enjoyed one or two days later.

Todd Lisenbee

By Todd Lisenbee

| Jan 11, 2024, 6:00am CST

Todd Lisenbee

By Todd Lisenbee

Jan 11, 2024, 6:00am CST

It is the beginning of the year and that means that for many of you, a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. If that’s your hope, this might not be the list for you. It turns out that one of the hardest parts of eating healthy is the constant preparation it takes to churn out food that you can pretend is palatable. Healthy foods don’t reheat well, as you’ll see in today’s list.

I’m also trying to get back on the healthy eating train, but that first meant a clean out of whatever leftovers were left in the fridge. There were some that I was excited to tuck into and others that I wasn’t quite sure why I kept in the first place. But what are the best foods to throw in the refrigerator and reheat later? I will answer that question in this week’s edition of Ranking Something Silly.

Here are the top leftover foods.

9. Fried chicken

This one makes the list because I can’t deny its popularity, but I think fried chicken the next day is overrated. It’s at least decent if it’s reheated properly, but cold fried chicken doesn’t do a whole lot for this rotund writer. It’s also very dependent on the brand and/or preparation of the chicken. If it’s of the extra crispy variety, it’s more likely that you’ll like it reheated. If it’s not extra crispy, reheating risks drying it out too much. I would also suggest dark meat to avoid dry leftover chicken. But then again, what kind of psycho doesn’t eat the dark meat first when it’s fresh?

8. Pie/cobbler

When you show up for a Sunday lunch at someone’s house and there’s pie or cobbler on display, there’s really only one way you can eat it, room temperature. When you put the pie or cobbler in the fridge, you have three options the next day. You can eat it cold, straight out of the fridge, you can eat it at room temperature, by just setting it out covered for a while, or you can cut off a slice/chunk and warm it up in the microwave to get it as hot as you please. My preferred method is the last one, piping hot, with freezing cold ice cream alongside.

7. BBQ

Some meats can be enjoyed cold, like brisket for example, but it all depends on the amount of grease in the dish. If it’s a greasier meat, such as pulled pork, it’ll need to be warmed up in the oven. What’s great about most places that you get bulk barbecue from is the container that it comes in. The disposable baking pan can simply be covered in foil, put in the fridge and taken out and popped in the oven the next day. If you’re a fatso like me, you can even use that pan as your plate for the leftover meal, saving you some extra time in the cleanup process.

6. Chinese food

You can put some Indian dishes and some Mexican dishes in this category as well, but any meat dish with a lot of sauce that goes with rice is perfect for reheating. The key is to mix the ingredients the night before. It allows the rice to soak up the flavor and it also keeps the rice from drying out. There are multiple ways to reheat the next day, but even cold, some of these dishes can hit the spot in a pinch. It’s no surprise that because of the ability to reheat most Chinese takeout places have the best dishes for both storing and reheating.

5. Chili/stew

There is a reason why in cultures with limited resources, chilis/stews are a go-to for multiple meals. The only downside to this process is the amount of real estate that the giant pot takes up in the fridge with the leftover stew or chili in it. The best part about reheating chili or stew on the stove is that each time you do it, it seems to pick more and more flavor. Stew is pretty one-note, but with chili, you can put it on hot dogs or a burger, throw it in with some rice or crackers, or my personal favorite, mix it in with some Instant Ramen for a poor man’s (and likely better) version of Skyline Chili.

4. Steak

I’m nothing if not a carnivore, and while I’ve been known to take out a cold steak and eat it as is, what makes steak a great leftover food is the versatility when you reheat it. You can cut up a good steak and use it in so many different dishes the next day. Steak and eggs, steak and rice, steak burritos, steak tacos, steak nachos, steak and pasta. I’m starting to feel like Bubba talking about shrimp now. You get the point.

3. Spaghetti/lasagna

The only downside to this leftover dish is that it doesn’t reheat particularly fast. This one is not for the impatient fridge explorer. It’s a slow burn, but man is the finished product worth it. I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I love cold spaghetti and/or cold lasagna, but if you can get a good, even reheat on these dishes, it’s almost better than it is right out of the oven the first time. With one or two days in the fridge, all of the tomato-based sauce permeates the noodles, giving it even more flavor than before. The next time you make spaghetti or lasagna, have it again two nights later, put it in the oven and sprinkle some fresh cheese on top to melt. It’ll be a little more crispy and cheesy than the first time around, but since when is that a bad thing?

2. Thanksgiving

On their own, most of the traditional Thanksgiving foods are hit or miss when reheated. Turkey and/or ham can be dry and mashed potatoes are hard to get consistently warm. Stuffing is always different based on the recipe and therefore heats up differently the next day. The same goes for rolls, some reheat well and some don’t. But for some reason, when you combine them all on the Friday, Saturday or Sunday after Thanksgiving, magic happens. It’s like the confluence of Brady and Belichick or Starr and Lombardi. Turkey on Thanksgiving Day while watching some football is good, but I would argue that the leftover sandwich while watching the college games on Saturday hits even harder.

1. Pizza

The first food that comes to mind when most people think of leftovers, pizza has a record akin to Rocky Marciano or the 2024 Michigan Wolverines. Pizza can be eaten cold or at room temperature, but to take leftover pizza to the next level, use the stove. Get a big skillet warmed up on medium heat and put a few pieces of pizza to one side. On the other side, pour in three to four drops of water and then cover. The steam inside the lid will reheat the pizza toppings. The hot skillet will keep it crispy and not too soggy. Perfection.

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Todd Lisenbee is the host of The Todd Pod with Todd Lisenbee on the Sellout Crowd network. He has been a producer/talk show host at WWLS, The Sports Animal and 107.7 The Franchise during a Oklahoma broadcasting career that spans to 2002. Todd has broadcast high school basketball, football and soccer play-by-play since 2003 and is currently the voice of the UCO Bronchos, a role he has been in since 2018. He can be reached at @ToddOnSports on Twitter/X or Instagram or via email at [email protected].

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