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Microwave Cooking Basics

By TBSP Susan
Created March 10, 2017
Microwaves ovens are for so much more than heating water and defrosting. Heres a crash course.

Despite what you might have heard (or your own past experience), not all food cooked in a microwave comes out flavorless and texture-challenged.

While microwaves are especially useful for defrosting and reheating, you can cook delicious food in a microwave if you follow certain basic rules, including covering food to lock in moistness, stirring or turning frequently to cook thoroughly and evenly, and keeping a close eye on cooking times.

Cook the right kinds of foods with a few key tips in mind, and you can prepare delicious quality meals—even in a microwave!

Foods That Microwave Well

Moist fruits and vegetables cook well in a microwave because they don't dry out easily. Anything that requires melting does well in a microwave, from butter and cheese to chocolate. In general, breakfast foods, like eggs and oatmeal, and side dishes, like potatoes and corn, are better suited for microwave cooking than dinnertime main courses.

Cooking meat from start to finish in a microwave may not produce the juiciest, most tender results, but defrosting meat in a microwave is one way to cut down on overall cooking time without sacrificing tenderness, taste or texture. If you must cook meat in a microwave, pre-slice it before cooking for best results.

Of all meats, fish probably cooks best in a microwave, for the same reason fruits and vegetables do so well—because of water content. By the same token, any food that steams well tends to taste just fine out of a microwave.

Reheating in a Microwave

Besides defrosting, reheating foods is the other most useful purpose for a microwave. Whether you've prepared a meal in advance of your guests' arrival or you're heating up last night's leftovers for this afternoon's lunch, a few minutes in the microwave can often produce just the result you're looking for.


What shouldn't you cook in a microwave? For one, anything that requires browning. Unless you're using a microwave-conventional oven hybrid, browning simply can't be done in a microwave. It's also very difficult to adapt a conventional recipe to a microwave if it doesn't already contain microwave-specific directions.

Maintaining Moistness

Cover food to keep it moist, but be careful not to completely seal the container. Even a paper towel (where appropriate) can help lock in moisture and, as a consequence, flavor. They're also especially helpful in preventing splattering. If directions say cover tightly, then at least peel an edge back to let steam vent.

Avoiding Overcooking

Always err on the side of undercooking in order to avoid overcooking. Since you don't have to reheat a microwave after you open the door, there's no harm done in stopping it and checking the food periodically to see if it's finished sooner than you had anticipated. Undercooked food can always be cooked further but overcooked food is past the point of return. And in the case of overcooked food in a microwave, it's probably past the point of palatability too.

Cooking Thoroughly and Evenly

To cook food thoroughly and evenly in a microwave, you may need to remove it for several minutes at a time during the cooking cycle in order to let it cool down some so the inside has a chance to thaw before the outside overcooks. If you're making a dish that can be stirred, this is even easier as you can just stop the cooking cycle periodically and stir. If you don't have a rotating plate on the microwave, you may also want to turn it occasionally during the cycle.

Follow these tips next time you cook in the microwave and the people you feed may never even know the meal they're eating wasn't prepared in an oven!