The microwave oven has become an indispensable tool in many home kitchens. With its ability to quickly heat, defrost, and cook food, the microwave saves us time and effort on busy weeknights. However, many home cooks don’t take full advantage of all that this appliance can do. With a few tips and tricks, you can get the most out of your microwave and make delicious meals in a fraction of the time.
1. Microwaves cook food very quickly and have benefits like efficiency, convenience, safety, and nutrient retention.
2. Understand microwave power levels and use lower power for dense foods to prevent overcooking.
3. Use techniques like stirring, venting lids, and allowing standing time for optimal results.
4. Only use microwave-safe cookware to avoid sparks and damage. Shallow dishes cook faster.
5. Microwaves have many uses beyond cooking like melting, steaming, sterilizing, and more.
6. Follow tips like arranging in a ring, adding liquid, and flipping halfway for even cooking.
7. Invest in accessories like lids, steamers, and bacon cookers. Avoid mistakes like uneven cooking and superheated liquid.
Benefits of Microwave Cooking
First, let’s look at some of the benefits of using your microwave:
- Speed – Microwaves can cook food incredibly quickly, often much faster than conventional ovens. This super power can get dinner on the table when you’re short on time.
- Convenience – Food can go directly from freezer to microwave for easy defrosting and reheating. No need for planning ahead.
- Energy efficiency – Microwaves use less energy than an oven or stovetop, saving you money.
- Nutrient retention – The quick cooking helps lock in vitamins and nutrients that may be lost with prolonged heating.
- Space saving – Microwaves have a small footprint, perfect for cramped kitchens.
- Safe – No hot surfaces to burn yourself on. Microwave cooking avoids the safety risks of stovetops.
With all these advantages, it’s no wonder the microwave is a staple appliance for busy cooks!
Microwave Power Levels
One of the keys to success is understanding microwave power settings. Most microwaves have power levels ranging from 10% to 100%. Here’s a quick guide:
|Quick reheating of liquids or cooked foods. Defrosting.
|Gentle simmering or poaching.
|Reheating rice or pasta. Cooking vegetables.
|Melting chocolate or butter. Cooking eggs.
|More delicate tasks like warming bread or making fudge.
|Defrosting meat, fish, or poultry.
|Softening butter, cheese, or ice cream.
Start on a lower power for dense foods like meat and potatoes, then increase to finish cooking quickly. Lower power prevents overcooking.
Microwave Cooking Techniques and Tips
Follow these top tips to master microwave cooking:
- Stir and rotate – Stirring or turning food halfway through the microwave time ensures it cooks evenly. Microwaves penetrate food to a depth of about 1-1.5 inches. Stirring brings the hotter outer layers toward the center and the cooler center layers outward so there are no cold spots. Rotating the dish also promotes uniform cooking.
- Lift and vent – When covering a dish with plastic wrap or a lid, lift up one corner of the covering and vent it before microwaving. This allows excess steam to escape so food doesn’t turn soggy. Venting prevents a dangerous steam build up that can lead to eruptions of hot liquid when the covering is removed.
- Allow standing time – Food will continue cooking for a few minutes after the microwave stops due to residual heat. Allowing food to stand for 2-5 minutes after microwaving gives the interior time to fully cook through. Skipping standing time can lead to cold centers.
- Use microwave-safe cookware – Cookware must be specifically labeled as microwave-safe. Metal pans, aluminum foil, dishes with metallic paint or trim can damage your microwave and cause sparks. Microwave-safe plastics, glass, and ceramics allow microwaves to pass through and heat the food.
- Use a lower dish – Shallow, wider dishes cook food more quickly than a deep, narrow bowl in the microwave because there is more surface area exposed. Opt for a dinner plate rather than a soup bowl for faster cooking.
- Adjust quantity – Standard microwave cooking times are based on a typical 1-2 portion recipe size. If you double a recipe, add about 50% more cook time. For half a recipe, decrease cook time. Account for increased or decreased mass.
- Elevate food – Place a microwave-safe rack or overturned bowl under your dish to raise it up during cooking. This allows microwaves to hit the bottom of the dish and promotes air circulation all around the food for thorough, even cooking.
- Watch it cook – Monitor food as it microwaves and remove it early if it appears fully cooked. Some microwaves have lights inside so you can see inside and check doneness. Stopping early prevents overcooking.
Follow these tips and you’ll be amazed at the dishes you can whip up with your microwave!
Handy Microwave Uses Beyond Cooking
Your microwave has a variety of handy uses beyond just cooking up meals:
- Melt chocolate – For recipes or dipping fruit, chop chocolate and microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring until smooth.
- Soften butter – Cold butter is no match for the microwave. Softens butter perfectly in just a few seconds.
- Toast nuts – Toasting nuts brings out their oils and flavor. Spread in a single layer and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Make popcorn – Use microwave bags or popcorn makers to whip up fresh popcorn in just 3-4 minutes.
- Steam vegetables – A microwave steamer basket cooks vegetables quickly while retaining nutrients.
- Sterilize sponges – Kill germs on your sponges by microwaving 2-3 dampened sponges for 1-2 minutes.
- Warm towels – Take the chill out of a bath towel or wet cloth by microwaving it for 30 seconds before use.
With this wide range of uses, the microwave truly does it all!
How to Cook with a Microwave
Follow these top tips and tricks for microwave mastery:
1. Arrange food in a ring
Arranging food in a ring around the outer 2-3 inches of the dish allows for more even penetration of microwaves and cooking. The very center of a microwave tends to get the most intense waves and overcooks faster, while the outer edges get less exposure.
2. Add a bit of liquid
For foods like vegetables, grains, or leftovers that can dry out in the microwave, add a tablespoon or two of water before cooking. The water will turn to steam and help cook the food gently without drying it out.
3. Cover with a damp paper towel
Laying a damp paper towel over foods traps in steam to speed up cooking time without drying out the exterior of foods. The steam softens and moistens the food’s surface.
4. Flip and rotate meat halfway
To prevent one side of meat cooking much faster than the other, flip thicker cuts over about halfway through cooking. Also rotate the dish to improve microwave penetration from all sides.
5. Allow standing time
Just like carry-over cooking that happens when roasted meat rests, microwaved food will continue cooking for a few minutes after the microwave stops. Let food stand for 2-5 minutes to allow the insides to fully cook through.
6. Use lid or vented plastic wrap
Covering food helps hold in steam and reduces cook times. But leaving plastic wrap or a lid sealed can lead to explosions of superheated liquid. Lift a corner of plastic wrap or the lid to vent and let excess steam escape.
7. Double the recipe? Double the time.
Microwave cooking times are based on a typical 1-2 portion recipe size. Doubling a recipe means doubling the density and mass, so cooking time needs to also double for thorough cooking, otherwise the center will be cold.
8. Elevate food for air circulation
Raise food up off the floor of the microwave with an overturned bowl or special rack. Air circulation underneath means the microwaves can better penetrate the underside of the food for even cooking.
9. Spread it out
Cooking food in a shallow, wide dish rather than mounded in a deep bowl allows for faster cooking thanks to more surface area exposed to microwaves.
10. Heat liquids on lower power
Heating liquids like soup or hot chocolate on full 100% microwave power can cause it to rapidly bubble up and boil over dangerously when removed. Use 50-70% power and stir periodically to gently heat liquids.
Must Have Microwave Accessories
Equipping your microwave kitchen with a few handy accessories can make cooking easier and optimize results:
- Microwave lid – A vented lid traps in steam while allowing pressure to escape.
- Microwave egg poacher – Cook eggs in the microwave without the mess!
- Microwave vegetable steamer – Quickly steam veggies to perfection.
- Microwave rice cooker – Fluffy rice without tending a pot on the stove.
- Microwave bacon cooker – Safely cook crispy bacon between sheets of paper towel.
- Microwave splatter guard – Prevent messes when cooking saucy foods or reheating soups.
- Microwave muffin tin – Bake in single portion sizes with a non-metal tin.
- Microwave popcorn popper – Make movie theatre-worthy popcorn.
- Microwave pasta cooker – No need to boil water, just microwave in this handy container.
Investing in a few handy tools will open up a world of easy microwave meals!
Top 10 Foods to Cook in the Microwave
Now let’s look at some of the top foods perfectly suited for microwave cooking:
1. Eggs – From scrambled to poached to omelets, eggs cook up quickly in the microwave.
2. Potatoes – Save time by “baking” whole potatoes in 5-10 minutes.
3. Bacon – Lay bacon between paper towels and microwave for crispy cooked bacon.
4. Vegetables – Quickly steam greens, carrots, broccoli, and more in minutes.
5. Chicken breasts – Cook boneless chicken breasts in just 8-12 minutes.
6. Fish fillets – Delicate fish stays tender when poached in the microwave.
7. Oatmeal – Perfectly cooked oatmeal without lingering over a stove.
8. Frozen meals – Defrost and reheat packaged frozen meals with ease.
9. Pizza – Get freshly delivered pizza oven hot again with a quick zap.
10. Desserts – From mug cakes to fruit crumbles, satisfy your sweet tooth in minutes.
The microwave is the busy home cook’s secret weapon for quick and easy meals!
Common Microwave Cooking Mistakes to Avoid
While microwaves make cooking convenient, there are a few common mistakes to steer clear of:
- Uneven cooking – Not stirring or rotating food leads to cold spots.
- Scorching – High heat and cookware hot spots blacken food before it’s cooked through.
- Superheated liquid – Liquids can erupt when taken out of the microwave. Allow standing time.
- Soggy bread – Excess steam makes bread soggy. Use lower power and vent plastic.
- Overcrowding – Too much food decreases airflow and leads to uneven cooking.
- Inappropriate cookware – Metal pans or trim spark and can damage the microwave.
- Not adjusting cook times – Standard times won’t work for double recipes. Adjust accordingly.
- Lack of standing time – Food will continue cooking once the microwave stops. Allow it to rest.
Avoid these snafus and you’ll be microwave masting in no time!
Microwave Cooking FAQs
Let’s answer some frequently asked questions about microwave cooking:
Is microwave food less nutritious?
Actually, microwaved food retains more vitamins and nutrients versus other cooking methods because the quick cooking avoids nutrient loss.
Is it safe to microwave in plastic?
Microwave-safe plastic containers will not melt or leach chemicals into food at regular cooking temperatures. Opt for glass containers if concerned.
Can the microwave make you sick?
As long as you use microwave-safe cookware and don’t consume superheated liquids that can burn, microwaved food is safe.
Why do eggs explode in the microwave?
The dramatic explosion happens when the yolk overheats and rapidly expands. Always poke yolks before microwaving eggs!
Can metal spark or damage the microwave?
Yes! Never put metal like foil, cutlery, or cookware with metal trim in the microwave. It can damage the appliance.
Why does microwaved food lack browning and texture?
The lack of hot dry air and surface heating of an oven means microwave food won’t brown. Adding a finishing crisp under the broiler can help.
With its speed and convenience, the microwave is an indispensable tool for any busy home cook. However, simply pressing start doesn’t unleash the microwave’s full potential. Understanding power levels, arranging food properly, and using specialized accessories can take your microwave meals to the next level.
Avoid common pitfalls like uneven cooking and superheated liquids, and you’ll be amazed at the dishes you can whip up. Follow these tips and tricks to make the microwave your kitchen’s MVP. Master its features and functions, and you’ll save time and effort while serving up quick, easy meals with the microwave magic.