A 60-second nuke on day-old pizza is what we love about microwaves.
But that cute little metal box is trickier to navigate than you might think… have you ever looked into the number of microwave-related hospital admissions? (21 a day across the USA!)
So stay safe by following these tips for using your microwave. There’s a few neat tricks thrown in to help you get the most from your oven, too, for good measure.
1 Use microwaveable materials
Materials like plastic, glass, ceramic and paper are perfect for use in microwave ovens as the waves pass straight through them so they don’t heat up. Just make sure it says “microwaveable” or something similar on them. Plastics can leach into your food, especially BPA plastics. And the water in some ceramics can make them unstable.
You absolutely must not use metal. Among other issues, metal will reflect the waves and can cause build-up of energy which can break your microwave or cause sparks to fly.
2 Heat to full temperature
Whether you’re cooking something for the first time or reheating some leftovers, you should never just heat the food up until its “warm enough”.
The purpose of heating food is (largely) to kill viral or antibacterial pathogens and you should aim to cook all food to the safe temperature of 75°C or 167°F (pretty darn hot!)
As another plus point, the hotter your food gets, the more evenly the heat will be spread out when you come to eat it.
3 Stir your food (if needed)
One flaw of microwave ovens is they don’t cook evenly, particularly cheap ones. This is why the food is placed on a turntable which rotates, changing the focus point of the microwaves. For foods like soup, curries, mashed potatoes or scrambled eggs, it’s very important to stir during cooking to ensure even heat distribution.
4 Understand how versatile your microwave is
Microwaves are unbelievably useful and can be used for so much more than reheating day old pizza. Check out my article here for lots of tips, tricks and recipes for getting the most out of your microwave.
Imagine spending 20 seconds to have perfectly spreadable, room temperature butter? Or having a super simple way to cook scrambled eggs with none of the mess? Chocolate cake? Cookies? I’m not making this up!
5 Throw a little water when reheating
Microwave ovens naturally dry out food as they cook by heating up and evaporating the water molecules inside the food. Spritz a touch of H2O on any dish to prevent it turning out too dry. This works especially well with rice and pizza.
6 Leave your food to stand
You know how an outdoor grill has a serving rack where your burgers and steaks stand for a while before serving? That’s because the internal temperature of the food is still high and will continue to cook even after removing from heat. The same is true of a microwave.
When your food has finished its three minutes (or whatever), the food itself is still hot and it’s still cooking. Leaving it to stand for a few minutes ensures that the food is fully cooked and also means the food itself will be cooked more thoroughly and evenly.
7Spread your food out
Microwaves cannot pass more than a centimeter or two into solid food until they are absorbed, so try spreading your food out around your plate.
This allows more absorption of the microwaves (which are spread around the oven) even if it comes at the cost of making your food look a bit rubbish.
8Cover your food
Use a lid or some cling film to create a barrier to cover your dish. This prevents steam escaping which dries out your food while simultaneous keeping heat in and cooking your food faster.
Do make sure there is some kind of hole for steam to be released as you don’t want to cause a build up of pressure.
By using a lid or some cling film you can create a barrier that prevents steam escaping which dries out your food and also retains heat which will cook your food more quickly. Make sure there is some kind of hole for the steam to be released as you don’t want to cause a buildup of pressure.
9Make sure the turntable rotates
The turntable at the center of your microwave is there for a VERY important reason. The way your microwave emits heat, the waves focus on certain areas creating “hot spots” which receive most of the heat.
Your food needs to rotate in the oven so that these hot spots are distributed evenly across your food. A microwave oven with a static plate will have burnt and cool spots in the food. Not ideal.
10Pierce your foods / film lids
Microwaves can cause a dangerous buildup of steam due to heating the water molecules inside food. Puncture the film lid a couple of times with a fork when cooking a microwaveable meal to stop this happening. Likewise, when heating something dense like a potato, it’s wise to give it a few pokes as well.
11Make sure the door is closed
If the fan, light or turntable are running when the door is open then DO NOT use the microwave as it is faulty. The electromagnetic waves your microwave produces are literally radiation and are potentially very dangerous.
The microwave door with its sheet of holes and black metal protects you because the waves are too large to pass through those holes. If the microwave runs with the door open you are at risk of absorbing radiation. These cases are very rare but be smart. Get it fixed or replaced.
12Be careful of “super heated” water
Your microwave can be great for heating water to boiling point very quickly, but this can also be dangerous because it can make the water extremely hot without the same visible signs of boiling that you get with a kettle.
This “super heated” water can explode with just a slight disturbance and is one of the leading causes of injury resulting from a microwave. Adding something like milk or instant coffee greatly lessens the probability of this happening.
13The more dense the food, the more time needed
Microwaves work by heating up individual molecules in food and water (that is in your food). So the denser the food, the more molecules and more time needed to heat. It’s why a large potato can take upwards of 10-15 minutes when the same amount of water heats up in 60 seconds.
14Don’t thaw meat
The defrost function on a microwave is awesome but can be an issue when it comes to meat. The problem is that the heat, even at lower power, will partially cook the meat.
Thawing meat is always best when done slowly by placing it in a fridge or on a countertop overnight.
15Clean your microwave
It’s easy to think that microwaves don’t need much cleaning as the food is cooked on bowls and plates that are removed from the oven after each use.
Actually, a surprising amount of food waste and consequently germs and unhealthy bacteria can accumulate from uncovered dishes or general “spattering”. Regular cleaning can keep your microwave perfectly hygienic and you can be safe in the knowledge that the food you cook in it is as healthy as can be.
16Learn what all the buttons do
Microwaves these days are equipped with a plethora of useful features to help you out around the kitchen and save you tons of time.
On the higher end, you have things like “inverter technology” and humidity sensor cooking and reheating. You might also be interested in child safety locks, sound on/off buttons or pre-programmable functions that everyone ignores.
Not sure what some of these words mean? You might be missing out on a whole world of fun.
17Don’t put two grapes into a microwave!
We’ll finish with a fun tip… grapes are the perfect size to cause a buildup of microwaves inside them and putting two grapes together creates an electrical field that can quite literally cause sparks to fly. Don’t believe me? Check out this video.