The Best Fast Food Items To Keep As Leftovers

various fast foods
various fast foods - sweet marshmallow/Shutterstock

Much of the time, fast food is best straight off the grill and not great as leftovers after becoming cold and changing flavor and texture. However, some fast foods work well as leftovers. Believe it or not, some may even taste better on the second day. So, you may have been eating that Chipotle burrito or Panda Express takeout the wrong way all along.

The key to ending up with good fast food leftovers is knowing which have revival potential, how to reheat them, and how to repurpose them. While you may not be able to revive some fast food items to their former hot-from-the-fryer glory, there are plenty that taste pretty good or even amazing on day two. So, get ready to rethink the way you approach fast food by learning which ones you can transform into fast food indulgences that you'll look forward to eating the next day.

Read more: 16 Fast Food Orders That Are Surprisingly Good For You


a variety of bagels
a variety of bagels - Chandlerphoto/Getty Images

Bagels are an excellent fast food item to overbuy and keep as leftovers. Next time you go into a bagel shop to grab your favorite crusty bagel with a chewy inside, you'll want to grab a few extras for the upcoming day. Places like Panera Bread often donate leftover bagels at the end of the day, so they're clearly not trash-worthy at that point. It's possible to give old bagels new life by drizzling or spraying them with water before reheating them as usual in your oven or toaster.

If you've found that you bought too many to eat before they go stale, there are lots of ways to repurpose bagels. You can soften them by reintroducing moisture into them in dishes like French toast, bread pudding, stuffing, or breakfast casserole. You don't even have to worry if your bagels are stale or not if you decide to transform them into croutons, breadcrumbs, or bagel chips.

Barbecued Meat

pulled pork barbecue sandwich
pulled pork barbecue sandwich - Stphillips/Getty Images

If you ordered far more barbecued meat than you can eat, it's no problem -- it makes fantastic leftovers. So, go ahead and order multiple Arby-Q sandwiches or sandwiches from a local BBQ food truck because the meat will still taste just as smoky and amazing the next day. The best way to reheat barbecued meat is to wrap it in foil and bake it with a teaspoon of water or broth at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes.

There are lots of ways to repurpose barbecue. It makes an excellent sandwich, a meaty topping for homemade pizza, and a great burrito or quesadilla filling. We especially like it as a topping for loaded nachos and a meat filling for omelets. It substitutes well in any dish that calls for meat and some that don't (like grilled cheese), elevating ordinary recipes with a smoky and sweet undercurrent.

Refried Beans

refried beans bowl
refried beans bowl - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

If you end up taking a whole container of refried beans home with you, it will taste just as good, if not better, the next day. You can reheat them in the microwave for a couple of minutes, in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, or on the stovetop until warm. We suggest adding a little liquid (water or broth) to help hydrate them and stirring at least once halfway through cooking.

Leftover refried beans taste great in a variety of Mexican dishes, ranging from burritos and quesadillas to tostadas and enchiladas. You can use it as a base for a Mexican pizza, layer it in a Mexican lasagna, turn it into a bean dip, add it as a topping for nachos, use it to give body to Mexican soup, or add it to chili. So next time you're eating Mexican fast food, consider deliberately ordering more refried beans than necessary.


chicken and veggie burritos
chicken and veggie burritos - Adshooter/Getty Images

If you've avoided burrito leftovers because you were worried about dried-out or soggy tortilla wraps, we have news for you: Burritos make excellent leftovers. Redditor u/Angelfan23 said, "Chipotle burritos are better cold. The way the sour cream tastes cold is incredibly satisfying!" If that doesn't sound appealing on its own, there are several ways to revive them.

The first step to any burrito revival is to deconstruct the burrito, removing any parts that shouldn't be heated like lettuce and guacamole. Then, refold it to heat. The absolute best way to reheat burritos is in a 350-degree-Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes, wrapped in foil. This method will give you a soft rather than dry burrito.

If the tortilla seems like a lost cause, you can always scrape the ingredients out of the burrito and place them in a fresh tortilla after reheating them. Another option is to reuse the burrito innards for another Mexican dish. For example, you could warm up the inside ingredients and serve it over rice with salsa and shredded cheese.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

chicken salad sandwich
chicken salad sandwich - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

If you're feeling nervous about ordering a huge chicken sandwich like the one at Arby's because you know you can't eat it all, never fear; chicken salad sandwiches make great leftovers. Redditor u/glovato1 said Arby's "chicken salad sandwich holds up well in the fridge. I usually cut it in half and save it for lunch the next day." Fresh chicken salad is good for three to five days in the fridge, but you might err on the side of caution and give it a sniff if it's been in the fridge for a couple of days since you can't know when the restaurant made it.

If the bread has turned into a soggy mess from the liquid ingredients in the salad, you can always replace the bread with fresh bread or a croissant. You can add it to a tortilla to make a wrap or to sliced rolls to make sliders. However, there's no reason you have to necessarily turn it back into a sandwich since chicken salad has a little versatility. For example, you can use leftover chicken salad as a chip dip, green salad topper, pasta stir-in, or stuffing for peppers or tomatoes.

Chinese Food

Chinese takeout
Chinese takeout - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

One of the best things about ordering Chinese food is remembering you have leftovers the next day. On some occasions, all the flavors meld together to make the dishes taste even better than they did the first time around. The more time fat-soluble spices have to mix with any fats in the dish, the more you can taste them. Redditor u/Peppa_D says they like "Panda Express orange chicken ... better cold, it firms up the batter and the sauce gets thick and syrupy, but the chicken is still crispy somehow." If you don't scarf them down straight from the container, the best way to reheat Chinese leftovers is in a 325-degree-Fahrenheit oven for two to 10 minutes, covered with foil.

Beefy leftovers can transform into a cheesesteak sandwich, chicken leftovers make interesting quesadilla stuffing or can go into a salad, leftover pork can become a barbecue sandwich, veggies can go into an omelet, and shrimp can reboot as shrimp scampi. There are a couple of ways you can repurpose fried rice leftovers. You can mix it with egg and flour to turn it into rice cakes. Another option is to turn your fried rice into Japanese omurice, which is an omelet stuffed with fried rice and topped with ketchup.

Fried Chicken

fried chicken basket
fried chicken basket - Adshooter/Getty Images

Some people like leftover chicken cold and straight from the fridge, even if they don't like any other leftovers cold. Redditor u/AbideMan said they can "get a solid 2 or more meals out of that popeyes $10 box." However, there's no reason you have to eat it cold since it's possible to reheat it and achieve an excellent crunch level with plenty of moisture with the right reheating method. You just have to start by letting the chicken come to room temperature, and then reheat it on a wire rack on a baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes in a 400-degree-Fahrenheit oven.

If you're looking for a way to repurpose a whole bucket of fried chicken, there are plenty of options. Deboned, it's ready for sandwiches and wraps. Deboned and chopped or shredded, you can add it to soups, salads, casseroles, pot pies, pasta, or pizzas. You can add it to any dish that ordinarily calls for chicken without having to go to the trouble of making more chicken. Just use it like you would a rotisserie chicken.


biscuits in bowl
biscuits in bowl - Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock

Biscuits make perfect leftovers. You can store them in the fridge in an airtight container for up to five days or in the freezer for a month wrapped in foil and plastic wrap. The best way to reheat them is in the oven, wrapped in foil for 12 to 16 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, opening up the foil during the last half of cooking.

There are several ways to repurpose biscuits, which comes in handy if a restaurant gives you a lot or you're not a big biscuit fan. The most obvious option is to turn them into bread pudding or use them as a topping for chicken pot pie. You can also turn them into breadcrumbs or croutons to use later. Redditor u/whoUcallinP1nhead turned their leftover Popeyes biscuits into strawberry shortcake. In their words, they "microwaved the biscuit halves with some butter, brown sugar, honey, and salt. Then topped with some strawberries and whipped cream."

Chicken Nuggets Or Tenders

chicken nuggets and sauces
chicken nuggets and sauces - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

As is the case for fried chicken, a lot of people like chicken nuggets or tenders straight from the fridge without bothering to heat them. Redditor u/coreyryan94 said, "Chick-Fil-A nuggets are sooooo good cold. I prefer them refrigerated over hot sometimes lol. I get full trays all for myself to ensure I have a few leftovers for later." If you're going to reheat your nuggets or tenders, we suggest skipping the microwave and reheating them in an air fryer for a handful of minutes to prevent them from turning soggy. Since your leftover fast food nuggets or chicken tenders were already fried in oil, there's plenty left to help crisp up the chicken.

You can add chicken nuggets or tenders to dishes the same way you can add fried chicken. Only, you don't have to worry about needing to debone them since they already don't have bones. If you don't want to eat them alone, you can always turn them into a sandwich, wrap, slider, or tacos. You can use them in mashed potato bowls, to upgrade salads, as the chicken in casseroles, and as a pizza topping. They also work great as the chicken component of Chinese dishes like kung pao chicken.

Mashed Potatoes

mashed potatoes bowl
mashed potatoes bowl - DronG/Shutterstock

If you end up with leftover mashed potatoes from somewhere like KFC, you'll be glad you brought some home. They won't be as creamy as they were on day one unless they contain a lot of incorporated fat like butter or cream, but they'll still be good. You might see a layer of water develop on top, but that's because retrogradation is causing some of the water absorbed during the cooking process to separate again. Just stir the liquid back in to help moisturize the potatoes while reheating. You can reheat mashed potatoes on the stovetop, in a 350-degree-Fahrenheit oven for 15 to 20 minutes or covered in the microwave for 30-second bursts. Adding more dairy products like butter or serving them with gravy can help make them nearly as creamy as they were originally.

If you're feeling experimental about your potatoes, you can turn mashed potatoes into a variety of fun dishes. Some options include fried mashed potato balls, latkes (potato pancakes), tater tots, or potato waffles. You can also use them to thicken potato soup or as a topping for shepherd's pie.


cheesy pizza
cheesy pizza - VasiliyBudarin/Shutterstock

One of the best things about ordering pizza is having leftover pizza the next day. Redditor u/glovato1 said, "Papa Johns holds up the best while eating cold. Dominos and Little Ceasers are the worst cold pizza eating experiences." However, u/PlayedUOonBaja said, "Pizza Hut is the best in my opinion. Their crust/bread is so greasy that it stays crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside even when cold." The best way to reheat pizza slices is on a baking sheet with foil on top. Start with a cold oven on the lowest oven rack and heat it for 25 to 30 minutes in a 275-degree-Fahrenheit oven. This low-and-slow method allows the starch crystals in the pizza to heat gradually so that the crust stays moist inside while crisping on the outside.

If you end up with too much pizza -- if you believe there is such a thing -- you can transform the leftovers into something new. One option is to cut the pizza into fry-sized pieces and load them with ingredients like cheese, sour cream, chives, and bacon the same way you would load fries. You can use two pieces of pizza as the top and bottom of a sandwich. You can also turn them into a breakfast casserole by cutting the slices into cubes and pouring a mixture of eggs, milk, cheese, and other breakfast ingredients over your pile of pizza cubes before baking.

Roast Beef Sandwiches

roast beef sandwich
roast beef sandwich - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Roast beef sandwiches make delicious leftovers and tend to hold up pretty well in the fridge. So, go ahead and take advantage of an Arby's five for $5 deal and get enough extra beef to eat later. It can help to separate the bun and meat so that juices from the sandwich don't soak through the bun. If the bun is too soft, you can try toasting it. The best way to reheat the meat is in a 300-degree-Fahrenheit oven, wrapped in foil, with broth until heated through.

If you're looking for a way to use up the leftover roast beef without eating it the same way twice, you can use it anywhere you'd normally use beef. That means you can turn it into an Italian beef sandwich, pepper steak stir fry, boeuf bourguignon, or bulgogi, or serve it with potatoes and carrots like a pot roast.


cheeseburger black background
cheeseburger black background - Paulo PFZ STUDIO/Shutterstock

If you ever see a fast food hamburger restaurant advertising a whole bag of burgers for cheap, go ahead and get them. Redditor u/ThrasherLA said they like leftover McDonald's cheeseburgers best because they don't "have any vegetables like lettuce or tomato that get soggy." It's best to remove any vegetables before refrigerating to prevent sogginess. You'll also want to separate your bun and burger for reheating. The best reheating method is in a 350-degree-Fahrenheit oven for 14 to 20 minutes, flipping halfway through heating. You can add cheese during the last couple of minutes to make it melty and toast the bun.

Leftover hamburgers can experience new life in a variety of ways. Just chop up the patties and use them as you would hamburger meat. If the patties have condiments on them, try them in dishes like taco salads or stuffed bell peppers where you mix in other spices. They're also fun to use as a hamburger pizza topping, even with condiments on them.

Hot Dogs

hot dogs
hot dogs - WS-Studio/Shutterstock

If it turns out you can't manage to eat that whole Footlong Chili Dog from Sonic, you'll find out that hot dogs are just fine as leftovers. You'll want to remove the bun and toast it while you're reheating the hot dog. You can warm up a wiener quickly in the microwave as long as you cover it with a moist paper towel first. However, the best way to reheat a hot dog is by cooking it in a little butter or oil in a skillet on the stovetop for three to four minutes.

There are tons of ways to repurpose hot dogs. Probably the most obvious is to slice them and use them as the meat in pork and beans. However, there are other options, like roasting them with potatoes and veggies in the oven, adding them to fried rice, putting them in a tater tot casserole, or adding them as the meat for spaghetti. You can also wrap whole hot dogs in croissant dough to make pigs in a blanket.

Mac And Cheese

mac and cheese bowl
mac and cheese bowl - harexape/Shutterstock

If you don't like leftover mac and cheese, it's because you haven't been reheating it the right way. Armed with the information you need to reheat macaroni and make it taste great the second time around, that extra side of leftover mac and cheese you got from KFC will still taste dandy. The best way to reheat it is to bake it in the oven like your favorite homemade macaroni. We suggest adding a little milk and maybe even a little butter for moisture and heating it at 350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. You should cover it with foil for the first 10 minutes to help steam bake the mac and cheese.

If you're looking for ways to reuse it, you can turn it into mac and cheese pizza, cheese bites, use it to top a shepherd's pie, or add it as a burger topping. Other ideas include adding chili for chili mac, using it in goulash, or using it in baked spaghetti.


queso bowl
queso bowl - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Queso is another fast food leftover item that can be reborn with just a little work. The queso won't have the same consistency as it did when you were dipping your nachos in it at a restaurant like Taco Bell, but it will still be just as yummy. You can reheat it on low heat on the stovetop or in 10-second bursts in the microwave, but you have to watch it carefully so that it doesn't split, stirring often. You may also want to add a little cream or milk to help with the moisture content.

Leftover queso is great for dipping tortilla chips, but you can also use it pretty much anywhere you need cheese. So, use it as the sauce for macaroni and cheese, pour it over a baked potato, or use it as the cheese sauce for enchiladas, or even use it to add to and bolster the existing cheese in your grilled cheese.

Read the original article on Mashed.