Foods you can — and definitely should not — cook in the microwave, according to experts

·6-min read
Are there foods you should never cook in the microwave? Experts weigh in on what's OK and what's not. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Are there foods you should never cook in the microwave? Experts weigh in on what's OK and what's not. (Photo: Getty Creative)

We're all looking for shortcuts to make mealtimes easier and faster. And, with busy schedules and late nights at the office, getting dinner on the table can be a challenge on some nights. But is it OK to use the microwave to cook foods when there's a time crunch?

Celebrated horror author Stephen King recently shared his hack for getting dinner on the table quickly on Twitter. His secret? Cook the salmon in the microwave for three minutes ... and maybe have a salad with it.

But followers of the author, who has written novels like Pet Sematary and the Shining, smelled something fishy about King's life hack, and the social media platform went ablaze with reactions. One Twitter user responded, "Still writing horror, I see #thefishinthemicrowave." Another joked, "Writing 12,000 words in an afternoon then eating some Bounty-poached salmon."

Can you cook food in the microwave?

Sure, you can cook in a microwave, but should you?

"With people's really fast-paced lifestyles, it's something that they should know how to do, but maybe don't know how to do it effectively where food tastes good," says Steph Chen, founder and CEO of Anyday, a cookware brand specifically designed for cooking in the microwave.

Chen suggests cooking anything water-based in the microwave for the best results. "Anything that is steamed, simmered, boiled or braised is perfect for the microwave," she says. "Essentially what the microwave is doing is it's vibrating the water molecules in the food itself and that translates into heat."

How do you cook safely in a microwave?

The key to having a safe meal from the microwave is cooking foods to the correct temperature, according to Josh Champion, owner of Take it Personal Chef Service. "The biggest mistake people make with cooking in the microwave is what we would call 'standing time,'" says Champion, who holds several food safety certifications. "That is simply the time that something would [need to] remain in the microwave after the microwave beeper goes off."

For example, he explains, poultry needs to be heated to 165 F to be safe to eat, according to USDA guidelines. Because of the fast and uneven way a microwave cooks, foods that require being heated to a specific internal temperature should remain at that temperature for a two-minute standing time, versus 15 seconds of standing time if a dish was cooked on the stove or in the oven.

If you're cooking leftovers, be sure to remember the 165 F rule as well. "All reheated food should always be taken to 165 degrees," says Champion.

But not all foods need to reach 165 F. If you decide to cook pork chops in the microwave, for example, the USDA food and temperature guide recommends cooking to 145 F. It's important to check for the appropriate internal temperature when microwaving any form of meat.

Other microwave cooking tips

While vegetables come to mind when steaming food in the microwave, Chen also says cooking grains in the microwave can result in a delicious end product. "The microwave is surprisingly amazing at cooking any kind of grain like rice, quinoa, farro and brown rice," she explains. "When you cook grains, you're steaming them, and grains are tough to cook on a stovetop consistently. Once you nail how to do it in your microwave, then it will come out the exact same way every single time, which is amazing."

Chen warns if you're trying to brown or sear a food, the microwave isn't the right tool to use for the entire cooking process. "You can start something first in the microwave," she says. "So whether it's chicken or vegetables [start with the microwave to cook it] then throw it under a toaster oven broiler, or just your regular oven boiler, for a couple of minutes just to get that char in."

Chen says bacon is an easy starter meat for learning the idiosyncrasies of your specific microwave. Yes, just like people, all microwaves are different and operate slightly differently. Chen suggests wrapping bacon in a paper towel before heating, then testing how long your microwave needs to cook it completely. "What you end up with there typically is an extremely crispy bacon," she explains.

Cookware companies, like Anyday, also make microwave-safe lidded dishes designed for cooking bacon. "The lid is what prevents the splatter and just after a couple of minutes, your bacon is essentially frying in its own oil," she explains, "so you'll have crispy bacon, and you'll also have the bacon fat that was rendered that you can use for other stuff."

Is there anything that shouldn't be cooked in the microwave?

From a food safety standpoint, Champion says there's no food that absolutely cannot be cooked in a microwave.

"I mean, you could literally throw an entire turkey in the microwave and as long as you cooked it long enough in your microwave to cook the center to 165 F [it would be edible]," he says. "It would be a terrible product and you wouldn't want to eat it, but nonetheless, it would still be safe in terms of it's not going to make you sick."

Eager to test out your newly-learned microwave cooking skills? Chen provides her go-to microwave meatloaf recipe.

Microwave Meatloaf

Courtesy of Anyday

(Photo: Anyday)
(Photo: Anyday)

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz (225g) lean ground beef

  • ½ cup (60g) onion, finely minced

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme or oregano

  • ¼ cup (20g) bread crumbs

  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 large egg

  • ¼ cup ketchup

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Instructions:

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine beef, minced onion, garlic powder, black pepper, salt, thyme or oregano, bread crumbs, Worcestershire sauce and egg and mix well. Pack the mixture into a microwave-safe baking dish, pressing to create an even surface.

  2. In a small bowl, mix the ketchup and brown sugar. Brush the top of the meatloaf with half of the sauce, reserving the rest.

  3. Cover with vented lid and cook for 4-5 minutes or until the meat is fully-cooked. Brush or spread the remaining sauce on top of the meatloaf while hot.

  4. Allow the meatloaf to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

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