You’d be hard-pressed to find a household that doesn’t have a microwave, and when you do have one, it’s probably in use constantly. It’s an incredibly convenient, fast way to cook or heat food. However, have you ever wondered what the highest temperature a microwave can reach is? Can a microwave get too hot and shut down?
How Hot Does a Microwave Get?
In general, most foods that you microwave can reach a maximum temperature of about 212°F (100°C). This is the maximum temperature that microwaves can heat foods up to.
Now, you might be wondering why I answer the question of what the highest temperature a microwave can reach with the highest temperature that foods can reach in the microwave.
This is because the temperature of a microwave is not measured like a regular oven. Unlike regular ovens, microwaves don’t have heating elements and therefore do not generate heat themselves, but rather it is the microwaved objects that heat up, not the microwaves.
This is why it is practically impossible to answer the question “what’s the highest temperature a microwave can reach?” instead, the question should be “What’s the highest temperature objects can reach in a microwave?”
To understand this, we need to take a deeper look at how microwaves work.
The Highest Temperature Objects Can Reach in a Microwave
Microwave ovens heat food by penetrating foods with high-frequency radio waves. When these waves come in contact with food, it causes water molecules inside the food to vibrate and rub against each other. This friction creates heat, and thus a microwave oven heats food by exciting water molecules that are in the food itself.
The microwave objects will continue to heat up until either the microwave is turned off or until the objects reach the highest temperature that they can get. Because different objects have thermal properties, the highest temperature that each object can reach varies.
But since we commonly use foods in our microwave ovens, and most foods have water in them, we can assume that the boiling point of water (100°C or 212°F) is the highest temperature that a microwaved food can reach in the microwave.
When the foods are heated to their boiling point, all of the water molecules inside the foods have been excited so that they won’t be heated any further.
What Affects the Temperature in a Microwave?
Of course, nearly every household has its own microwave oven. While all of them are technically the same in terms of microwaves being the chief heating medium inside them, there are some factors that can affect how hot microwaved foods get.
Here are the most common factors that affect how hot microwaved foods get:
The Wattage of Your Microwave
Of all the factors that affect how hot microwaved foods get, microwave wattage is probably the most important thing you need to know. It is based on the size of the Magnetron, the part of your microwave oven that emits microwaves, and it ranges from 500 to 1,200 watts.
When it comes to microwaves, higher wattage means that they can heat food faster than microwaves with lower wattage. But bear in mind that more power is not always better.
For most cooking and heating tasks, microwaves with a wattage of 700 to 1000 watts are sufficient. Anything lower than 700 watts is too low for a majority of cooking tasks. As an illustration, 700 watts in the microwave would be like cooking at 350 degrees in a regular oven.
For every 100 watts of additional power, the amount of time it takes your food to heat up is cut by 10 percent. So, for example, let’s say your favorite recipe requires that you microwave something on high for two minutes in a 700-watt microwave.
If you use a 1,000-watt microwave, then you will need to decrease either the cooking time or the power level by 30% to avoid overcooking your food. This means you should decrease either the cooking time to 1 minute 40 seconds or set the power level to 7.
The problem with many people today is that they don’t know what their microwaves’ wattages are. To find your microwave’s wattage, you can consult your microwave’s manual or look for it on the inside of the door, on the back, or the bottom of the microwave.
The Amount of Water in the Food
As mentioned before, it is only where foods have water in them that we can expect them to heat up in the microwave. If you put something in the microwave with no water in it, the microwaves will not be able to heat anything inside.
But not all foods have the same amount of water, so the amount of time it takes for food to heat up also depends on how much water is in the food. For instance, vegetables and fish have more water than other foods, so they heat faster in a microwave oven.
The Size and Shape of the Food
The size and shape of your food items can also affect how hot microwaved foods get, which is why it is important to make sure that you are using the right-sized container when cooking in the microwave. Smaller foods usually heat faster than larger ones.
The Temperature of the Food
Even if you put a small and cold piece of meat in a microwave oven, it will still take longer to heat than a larger piece of meat already at room temperature. Likewise, if your food is frozen when you put it in the microwave, then expect it to take longer for your food to get hot.
Rules of Thumb When Cooking in Your Microwave
Here are some rules of thumb you might want to know when using your microwave oven:
- The denser the food, the longer you will need to cook it in the microwave.
- The smaller the food, the faster it will heat up.
- Adjust the timings in your recipes if you are using a microwave with a higher wattage.
- Liquids attract microwaves, so if you’re cooking a lot of foods that have a lot of liquid, be sure to always drain between batches.
- Arrange the thickest part of food towards the outside and thinner parts in the center.
- Break or remove hard skin from hard-skinned foods (such as eggs in shells) before cooking. This will reduce the chance of food bursting due to excess heat buildup inside.
Can a Microwave Get Too Hot and Shut Down?
Although it’s very unlikely that your microwave will overheat, it’s still possible. One possible scenario is if you are microwaving food that has little to no moisture in them.
If the food has no moisture, then it will heat up really quickly. If the microwave has no way to release this extra heat, then its magnetron can become overheated and cause a safety feature called an automatic shutdown to trip and turn off power to your microwave.
Another scenario is if the microwave fan stops working. The fan of your microwave is responsible for cooling the magnetron and getting rid of excess heat in the oven. If your microwave’s fan stops spinning, the microwave will heat up quickly and shut down.
Usually, you can tell if your microwave’s fan stops working by listening to it. If your microwave’s fan is not making any noise while it is turned on, then there might be something wrong with it.
If you find that this is the case, don’t risk microwaving food in your malfunctioning oven and contact a professional instead.
It is important to be aware of the high temperatures that these foods can reach when microwaving food. In general, most foods can be heated up to a maximum of 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
Always use caution whenever handling or eating microwaved food, primarily if you use a microwave oven with a higher wattage rating. Adjust the cooking times of your recipes to avoid overcooking and always follow the safety tips I’ve provided in this article.