Curbside pickup from fine-dining restaurants has elevated eat-at-home options, but the food doesn’t always arrive hot, and reheating it while preserving taste and texture has always been a challenge.
Chinese, Indian and other Asian cuisines have always done takeout well. These tricks will help you get closer to the dine-in experience with other cuisines. The answer starts with smart ordering…
Order your to-go meal “deconstructed.” Having the bread or roll packaged separately prevents soggy sandwiches and burgers. Getting sauces, gravies and dressings on the side helps, too. Salads made with hardy greens, such as cabbage, collards and kale, will hold up better with dressing than lettuces, such as Boston and Bibb, which have a higher water content.
Have cooked entrées packed as kits—with some “home assembly,” such as fajitas, tacos and rice bowls. If you are a real stickler for proper texture, you can order items fully prepped that you can bake fresh at home in your own oven, such as eggplant parmigiana, mac and cheese and meatloaf. If your favorite restaurant bakes from scratch, ask to have your bread dough raw and ready to bake for hot, fresh bread at home. Yes, doing this cooking yourself removes some of the ease of takeout, but it still saves you a lot of prep time.
Choose dishes that you will enjoy warm or at room temperature, rather than piping hot. Roast chicken is great to eat at what I call picnic temperature. Avoid cream- and/or cheese-based dishes such as pasta Alfredo and carbonara—they’ll get gluey if not eaten right away. Deep-fried items, such as tempura and calamari, become greasier once they’ve cooled off. Dishes made with tomato-based sauces and grilled foods are better options.
Request specific reheating instructions for foods you want to eat hot, such as ribs and potato- or rice-based dishes, to avoid drying them out. Ask that foods that are to be warmed in the oven be wrapped in foil so they’re ready to pop right in.
In general, take the extra minutes needed to warm food in conventional ways rather than in the microwave, which often changes its texture. For the oven, preheat to 350°F and use all your senses—how the food looks, smells and feels to the touch—to determine when it’s ready. Check every few minutes to make sure it’s not getting dry. For the stovetop, use a low heat to gradually bring up the food’s temperature to avoid overcooking.
Order drinks without ice so they won’t get watered down in transit. Cocktails and other large-batch to-go drinks will hold up well in your fridge.