Aluminum foil trays are a kitchen staple – they’re inexpensive, lightweight, and great for baking, storing leftovers, and takeout. But can these handy trays go in the microwave?
This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about microwaving aluminum trays, with practical tips for doing it safely and suggested foil alternatives.
Here’s a quick answer: Yes, you can microwave aluminum trays safely by removing any lids, placing the tray in the center of the microwave without touching the sides, microwaving one tray at a time, and staying nearby in case of sparking. This allows microwaves to be absorbed by the food rather than reflecting off the tray sides which can cause arcing. Follow any manufacturer instructions for microwave use.
An Overview on Aluminum Trays in the Microwave
The good news is yes, you can microwave aluminum trays – with some important caveats.
The key is making sure you follow microwave safety guidelines to prevent any unfortunate mishaps like arcing (sparks that can damage your microwave).
As long as the tray doesn’t have any sharp edges that can concentrate electric charge, and you take precautions like removing the lid and keeping it from touching the sides, aluminum trays will heat food perfectly fine in the microwave.
Below we’ll go over exactly how and why this works, along with actionable tips to keep your aluminum cooking as safe as possible.
How Microwaving Aluminum Trays Works
Microwaves work by causing water molecules in food to vibrate rapidly, producing heat through molecular friction.
When you put an aluminum tray in the microwave, the metal walls reflect the microwaves rather than absorbing them. This reflection directs the energy toward the food, allowing it to heat effectively.
The key is making sure the tray isn’t arcing. Arcing happens when electric charge builds up on sharp metal points or edges, discharging in dramatic sparks.
To prevent this, aluminum trays should have relatively smooth walls and no lid during microwaving. The food inside absorbs the microwaves instead of the walls.
Safe Microwaving Tips for Aluminum Trays
Follow these tips whenever reheating food in an aluminum foil container:
- Remove any lid or covering. This gives the microwaves direct access to the food.
- Place in center of microwave. Keep the tray away from the sides to prevent arching between the metal and cavity walls.
- Don’t let it touch sides. Make sure there’s open space between the tray edges and microwave surface.
- Only microwave one at a time. Having multiple can cause arching between trays.
- Stay nearby. Stop the microwave if any sparking occurs.
- Follow instructions. Use any heating directions provided for microwave use.
- No empty trays. Fill trays with food so microwaves are absorbed.
Why You Can’t Microwave Other Metals
Aluminum is unique in that its smooth surface reflects microwaves when formed into a tray. Other metals like steel or silver will absorb the radiation, leading to overheating and arcing.
Utensils like forks are also dangerous, as their narrow tines and points concentrate charge easily. Even small bits of foil can arc if they have sharp edges.
For safe microwave heating, avoid any metal that isn’t a smooth aluminum tray or container.
Is Microwaving Aluminum Unsafe?
There are no proven health risks to microwaving food in aluminum trays. While trace amounts of aluminum are absorbed through cooking, research shows it passes through the body quickly and poses minimal concerns for healthy adults.
Of course, take standard precautions like avoiding old, scratched trays, and don’t microwave any trays with aluminum coated in nonstick surfaces, as these can decompose from the heat.
Alternative Microwave Covers
If you want to play it extra safe, consider these aluminum foil alternatives:
- Parchment paper – Prevents splattering and keeps moisture in.
- Paper towels – Easy microwave cover that absorbs extra moisture.
- Ceramic plates – More durable and wider microwaving surface.
- Glass containers – Reusable and transparent for monitoring food.
- Microwave lids – Special vented lids designed for microwave use.
Microwave Safety Tips
In addition to aluminum tray advice, keep these general microwave recommendations in mind:
- Stop immediately if you see sparking or arcing.
- Don’t microwave empty containers.
- Rotate food halfway for even cooking.
- Use microwave-safe cookware only.
- Check internal temperature after heating.
- Stand nearby in case you need to stop it.
- Never use metal products not intended for microwave.
FAQ About Aluminum Trays in Microwaves
Can you microwave any type of aluminum?
Only smooth aluminum designed for cooking should go in the microwave. Avoid foil with sharp edges or points that can cause arcing.
Should I always remove aluminum lids before microwaving?
Yes, removing the lid allows microwaves to heat the food directly. Closed lids reflect the waves and make food cook unevenly.
What happens if aluminum touches the microwave sides?
This can create electrical discharge between the metal and interior cavity, potentially damaging your microwave or starting a fire.
Can I use aluminum foil to cover food in the microwave?
You can loosely cover parts of food with smooth foil to prevent overcooking, but food should never be completely sealed in foil.
Is it safe to microwave aluminum takeout containers?
Most takeout trays are microwave-safe, but always check for any microwave heating instructions and remove the lid before reheating.
Aluminum foil trays can be a convenient solution for reheating leftovers or baked goods in the microwave. As we’ve covered, these handy trays are microwave-safe as long as some basic precautions are followed – remove the lid, place in the center away from sides, microwave one at a time, and stay nearby.
By taking simple steps like these, you can continue enjoying the benefits of aluminum trays without worrying about sparks, uneven cooking, or other microwave mishaps. If you do choose to use foil alternatives like parchment paper or glassware, be sure they are also microwave-safe. With some wise precautions, aluminum trays can be microwaved safely and effectively.