In years past, if you bought a microwave oven from an appliance store, you could take advantage of microwave cooking classes. Nowadays, people pick up a microwave oven at big box stores, and you are on your own! (Open the box, plug it in and go.)
If you truly don’t know much about how to use your microwave oven to it’s full capacity, get your product manual out and start practicing! If you’ve lost your manual, a computer search will locate lessons via web sites and You Tube. Here are some microwave cooking basics from Linda Larsen at About.com.
I bet that most people guess their way through cooking or heating up a food item, punching a few numbers and hoping for the best. And because it seems so intuitive, maybe you feel you don’t need to know more. Well, here are my top 10 tips for microwave cooking do’s and don’ts:
- Use only “microwave safe” containers for heating and cooking; this means glass, ceramic, and plastics that are clearly marked “microwave safe”. Do not use leftover margarine, butter, cottage cheese containers or foam dishes that are meant for storing the original cold items and maybe leftovers from the restaurant. These types of cold containers could melt and chemicals could migrate into your food during reheating in the microwave. Transfer leftovers to an OK cooking container or a plate before heating.
- Do not use plastic storage bags to heat items in the microwave, unless they are clearly intended for heating (the “steamer” bags are OK).
- Safe for microwave use: Wax paper, oven cooking bags, parchment paper and white (non-printed) microwave paper towels.
- Not safe for microwave use: Brown grocery bags, newspaper, metal, or foil.
- Microwave heating is very uneven. If a recipe calls for stirring a food half-way through cooking, turning a food over, or letting the food sit after cooking, follow those directions to help distribute the heat.
- Microwave ovens are not ideal for cooking meat due to the uneven cooking. Some parts may get over cooked and toughened, while other parts barely get cooked. This is both a food safety and quality issue.
- It is OK to thaw meat, chicken or fish in a microwave, but only when you are going to be cooking the item IMMEDIATELY afterward. Because of the uneven heating, the meat will be in the danger zone for bacterial growth if you forget and leave it in the microwave a few hours.
- Don’t heat bread or rolls in the microwave. This is not a food safety issue, it is a quality issue. If you have ever tried this, you know the bread can turn out rock hard and not usable. Better to toast or gently warm bread in an oven.
- Do use your microwave as a quick and easy way to toast nuts. (How-to from Alice Henneman MS RD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension).
- You can use your microwave to dry fresh herbs, but look at these guidelines from Purdue University Extension so you don’t ruin them in the process.
For more reading on microwave cooking safety:
Happy microwaving! Please let me know if I forgot to address anything.