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How To Soften Stale Bagels – I Test 5 Methods [Pics]

This article was updated on 13th September 2023 for freshness and to incorporate new insights.

Have you got a few bagels that have turned hard and unappetizing? Don’t throw them out just yet, because I’ve experimented with five different ways to soften stale bagels so they’re as good as new.

The best way to soften a bagel is in the oven. Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Before heating the bagel, run it under the hot tap for a few seconds. Once the outside of the bagel is wet, place it on the oven rack and heat it for 5 minutes. This softens the bagel without burning the exterior.

Psst… I’ve also included information on how to store and freeze your bagels to keep them fresh. 

How I tested softening bagels

I got a batch of bagels from my local bakery and left them out overnight to get stale (so sad, I know!).

4 pieces of bagel on a wire rack after being softened using 4 different methods

The following day, I tested five different methods of softening the bagels to see which one worked best. I tested softening the bagels:

  • In the microwave: Bagel was a bit chewy.
  • In the oven: Tasted almost like fresh.
  • By steaming: Also almost as good as new.
  • In a toaster: Quick but ineffective.
  • Bonus method: In a skillet.

Bagel softening tips

The quickest and easiest way to soften bagels is by dipping them in something! Hot soup is perfect for this.

I always recommend heating your bagels whole rather than cutting them in half first because this allows you to keep the contrast between the chewy inside and the crisp outside. When you cut the bagel in half to heat it, the whole thing gets crispy (credit to this YouTube video for teaching me this).

Softening stale bagels in the microwave

Time: 20-30 seconds

  1. Cover the bagel with a damp paper towel.
  2. Microwave in 10-second intervals until warm and soft.
  3. Eat immediately.

If you don’t have a damp paper towel, spritz the outside of the bagel until it’s pretty moist. Or put a glass of water in the microwave next to the bagel.

10-second intervals might seem short but it means you won’t overheat the bagel, which would be a disaster because it will go rock hard. And as with reheating any bread-based thing in the microwave, moisture loss will mean the bagel goes stale very quickly as it cools down. So eat it as soon as possible!

Results: I like this method for a quick snack or breakfast, but it’s not perfect. While the bagel definitely got softer, it came out kind of chewy. If you want a little bit of crunch, pop the bagel into the toaster for 30 seconds after microwaving.

Softening stale bagels in the oven

Time: 5 minutes

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).
  2. Run your bagel under hot water until the outside is completely damp but not saturated (I don’t know why hot water works better, but it does).
  3. Place the bagel on a wire rack in the oven and heat it for around 5 minutes. 
  4. Remove the bagel once it’s soft and fluffy.

The water on the bagel will turn to steam in the oven and help rehydrate (i.e soften) the bagel.

Don’t worry about getting your bagel soggy from the water. The crust on the outside will protect the inside of the bagel. But if you still don’t want to run the bagel under the tap, here are some other ways of creating steam:

  • Put a tray of water into the oven while it’s preheating to fill it with steam, then put the bagel in. 
  • Put the bagel in a wet paper bag to reheat.
  • Mist the bagel with water and then wrap it in foil to warm. This will keep the outside crust soft too.

Results: While the oven was a bit slow, my bagels tasted almost fresh. The bread inside was soft, and there was a bit of crunch on the outside but not too much.

Softening stale bagels by steaming

Time: 3-4 minutes

  1. Set up your steamer as usual, bringing the water to a simmer.
  2. Spread the bagels in the steamer and cover with a lid.
  3. Steam for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. If desired, wipe excess moisture off before serving. Or let the bagels air dry for a minute. 

Be careful not to steam the bagels for too long, or they’ll get chewy. 

If you don’t have a steamer but want to try this method, you can create a makeshift steamer with a pan, a colander, and a lid.

Results: Steaming the bagels turned out to be my favorite method. It was fast, and the bagels were super soft, although there wasn’t much crisp on the outside. I was worried they’d be soggy, but this wasn’t the case.

Softening stale bagels in the toaster

Time: 1-2 minutes

  1. Moisten the outside of your bagel by spritzing it with water or even running it under the tap.
  2. Cut the bagel in half.
  3. Toast in the toaster for 1 to 2 minutes.

Keep a close eye on your bagel while it’s in the toaster. If it’s in there too long, it will become crouton-worthy.

Bonus tip: Tap your bagel on the counter before toasting it to remove loose crumbs. This will save you from the smell of burnt bread bits.

Results: This method was fast, and you can get a nice crisp on the bagel, but because you’re cutting the bagel in half, you lose the chewy texture on the inside and instead the whole thing gets toasty.

bagels being softened in 4 different vessels: toaster, steamer, oven, microwave

Bonus method: Using a skillet

Time: 1-2 minutes

Cut the bagel in half and melt some butter over medium heat in a skillet. Once the butter is bubbling, add the bagels cut side down. Press down on the bagels from above and heat for 60 seconds.

The resulting bagels will be oh-so-buttery and decadent.

How to store bagels

For short-term storage (1-2 days), wrap leftover bagels in foil or put them in a paper bag and leave them at room temperature. Go for plastic if you want a soft bagel and don’t mind losing the crunchy outside. Opt for a paper bag if you want to keep the crust crisp.

For longer-term storage, it’s better to freeze bagels because they will get stale after 2 days.

If your bagels are homemade, make sure they’re completely cool before wrapping them. Otherwise, condensation will build up in the packaging and turn the bagels soggy. 

Avoid keeping the bagels in the fridge. The cold temperatures speed up the staling process.

Can you freeze bagels?

Bagels freeze really well. In fact, the best way to keep bagels fresh for longer than a few days is to freeze them. Kept in an airtight container, bagels will last in the freezer for 3-4 months.

  1. Cool your bagels to room temperature (if not already).
  2. Wrap each bagel, whole, in foil. Foil is more airtight than plastic wrap. 
  3. Freeze for up to four months.

It’s best not to cut the bagels in half before freezing them. Cutting them in half exposes the inside and will accelerate moisture loss.

However, if you want to put them in the toaster straight from frozen, you’ll have to cut them in half. In this case, separate the halves with a piece of parchment paper so they don’t stick together.

How to reheat frozen bagels

I recommend reheating bagels straight from frozen to get the best texture. Preheat your oven (or toaster oven) to 300F/150C. Mist the frozen bagels with water and wrap them in foil, leaving a tiny vent hole. Heat for around 15 minutes and your bagel should be good as new. 

To speed up the reheating process, you can microwave the frozen bagel for 10-20 seconds to give it a head start on thawing. And to crisp the outside at the end, remove the foil for the last 5 minutes of heating.

If you want to thaw the bagel first, rest it on the counter in its foil package for a few hours before reheating it.

What to do with stale bagels

If you’re tired of the regular old cream cheese or butter-basted bagel, there are actually plenty of other things to do with stale bagels. Get out of your comfort zone and try these quick and easy ideas that will save those stale bagels and give them a new purpose.

  1. Crispy bagel chips: Cut your stale bagel into slices about a quarter of an inch thick. Put them on a baking sheet with some oil and whatever spices you want, then bake at 375°F (190°C) until crispy.
  2. Sweet bread pudding. Using a recipe of your choice, combine your stale bagels with eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter to make a delicious casserole.
  3. Crunchy bagel croutons. Tear up your bagels and toss them with oil and some light seasoning. Bake them on a sheet pan at 375°F (190°C) for around 15 minutes.
  4. Pizza bagels. Smear some pesto or pizza sauce on your bagel halves, add your cheese and toppings, then bake at 375°F (190°C) for ten minutes.
  5. Crispy, fluffy bread bowl. Gut your bagel by taking out all of the soft bits and leaving the hard crust. Put your soup, dip, or other fillings into the shell and bake in the oven at 375°F (190°C) until your filling is warm and your bagel crust is golden brown and crisp.

How To Soften Stale Bagels [Tested Methods]

In this short recipe, I show you the best way to revive and soften your leftover bagels.
5 from 2 votes
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Course: Ingredient
Cuisine: American
Keyword: bagel, soften bagel
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 1 person
Calories: 282kcal


  • 1 portion bagel
  • 1 portion water


  • Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).
  • Run your bagel under hot water until the outside is completely damp but not saturated.
  • Place the bagel on a wire rack in the oven and heat it for 5 minutes.
  • Remove the bagel once it’s soft and fluffy.


Don’t worry about getting your bagel getting soggy from the water.
The crust on the outside will protect the inside of the bagel.
There are also a few other options for re-moisturizing bagels in the oven:
Put a tray of water into the oven while it’s preheating to fill it with steam, then put the bagel in.
Put the bagel in a wet paper bag to reheat.
Mist the bagel with water and then wrap it in foil to warm. This will keep the outside crust soft too.


Serving: 100g | Calories: 282kcal

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