Do you have a love-hate relationship with your microwave? I know I do. I resent it when I use it. I resent myself for using it. But I also really, really need it sometimes, and if it is malfunctioning, it can ruin my entire day. Of course I wish I made everything fresh and from scratch, and didn’t put things in a little electric box to be zapped. But, I’m a busy lady, and sometimes I need to use the microwave. Sometimes, I need to poke a few holes in the film of a pre-made dinner, and just put it on that rotating hot plate for two and a half minutes, because I do not have it in me to chop, steam, boil, and grill broccoli, chicken, and rice, all on my own. And, since much of the fresh food I buy winds up going bad before I can eat it and I hate wasting money on food like that, I love a little frozen meal.
If you’re like me, then you likely just eyeball it when using the microwave. You toss something in for a few minutes. You don’t understand any of the preset buttons like the ones that say “defrost” or “reheat.” You understand some like the ones that say “popcorn” and “frozen,” but you don’t even use those. You just try to guess how long you should put that icy lasagna in there, and hope for the best. Sometimes you’re right, and sometimes, you take a bite of what is gooey and hot on top, and cold and hard in the middle.
You don’t have to have a love-hate relationship with your microwave. In fact, it can do a lot more than you may know about. It’s not just for reheating leftovers. It can help you make healthy sides and provides quick tricks for making what seems like a totally made-from-scratch meal. You just need to learn your way around it. Here are microwave mistakes you’re probably making.
Tossing in your Tupperware
If you’re eating leftovers to have a quick and easy meal, then heating them up in the very Tupperware you stored them in seems like a great idea, but it isn’t. * Unless your Tupperware explicitly says “microwave safe” on it *. Most Tupperware contains BPA, which can leak into your food when exposed to high temperatures. Transfer that food to a regular plate.
Covering it in saran wrap
If you want your food to retain its moisture, or just not splatter all over your pearly white microwave walls, you might be tempted to cover it in saran wrap, but don’t. This poses the same BPA-leakage risk as the Tupperware. Cover your food with a moist paper towel to help it retain moisture, or buy a microwave-safe splashguard to prevent a mess.
Your frozen meal lists wattage requirements for a reason. Putting it in a microwave with a higher wattage could mean a burnt meal, while putting it in a machine with a lower wattage could mean an undercooked one. If you aren’t sure your machine’s wattage, just look up the make and model and the information should be on the manufacturer’s website.
If you do have microwave-safe Tupperware, don’t reheat your food with the lid attached tightly. Between the heat and moisture buildup, the lid can either become so tightly attached that it’s nearly impossible to remove or the container could just explode. Leave the lid on loosely, and slightly ajar.
Thawing, then storing
If you choose to thaw food in your microwave, you must eat it immediately after. If that’s food safe to eat raw, that’s fine, and if it’s food that must still be cooked, cook it right away after microwave thawing, and consume it. Microwave-thawed food left on a counter or even in the refrigerator can grow harmful bacteria.
Never cleaning it
You knew this one was coming, and you were dreading it. But keep in mind that you put things like raw fish and meat in that microwave, which can contain harmful bacteria. Clean your appliance by simply placing one cup of white vinegar and one cup of water in a microwave-safe cup, in the microwave, for five to 10 minutes (put a wooden spoon in it to keep it from over boiling). That mixture will loosen up stains on your microwave walls, making them easy to wipe off without harsh scrubbing.
Hitting “start” and that’s it
The instructions tell you to heat it for, say, two minutes, pause it, stir it, and continue heating for one minute. You say, “Eh, I’ll just heat it for three minutes.” But the pausing and stirring step is very important, as skipping it can lead to partially uncooked food, which could make you sick.
Putting in your fine china
Never put your fine china inside the microwave. Whichever ancestor gave you that would roll over in her grave if she saw you doing that. China should not go in the microwave, and furthermore, it probably contains metallic trim, which can cause sparks when exposed to high heat.
Unfortunately, if you forgot to take your meat out of the freezer hours ago for thawing, you may just need to make something else tonight. Thawing frozen meat in the microwave leads to a cooked, rubbery exterior and a frozen interior, which doesn’t make for safe or appetizing preparation.
Reheating breast milk
Even though busy moms deserve all the shortcuts they can get, breast milk should not be reheated in the microwave. It can cause hot spots that can scald a baby’s mouth. You still need to heat this stuff the old fashioned way, like by running the bottle under hot water in the sink.
Putting anything but food in there
Wet socks. Sponges. Or whatever else you like to toss in there to quickly warm up or dry off. The microwave is not meant for anything besides food and microwave-safe food containers. Anything else could be a major fire hazard, so don’t listen to your friend’s tip about zapping sponges in that appliance.
You don’t use this garlic trick
This isn’t a mistake but rather a very helpful trick you may be skipping. Peeling garlic by hand leaves you with partially peeled garlic, plenty of the stuff under your fingernails, and stinky hands. Just put your cloves in the microwave for 20 seconds and the peel will fall right off.
Heating up oily foods
Beware of reheating food in the microwave that contains tons of oil, especially oil with a low cooking point. Olive oil can quickly burn and create smoke when exposed to high heats, like those found in the microwave. That’s part of the reason your marinara sauce gets everywhere in there—it’s filled with olive oil that pops and splatters.
Putting in the takeout containers
Frightening as it is, sometimes takeout containers say “microwave safe” when they are definitely not. Your Chinese takeout boxes, for example, may come in microwave safe materials for the most part, but if they have a metal handle, that handle can create sparks in the microwave. Styrofoam, on the other hand, can leak dangerous chemicals into your food.
Not monitoring it
Don’t just hit “start” and walk away. You should always monitor your microwave (don’t stand right in front of it, of course) in case anything goes wrong like sparks begin to fly or smoke begins to rise. You never know when you may have accidentally put something you shouldn’t have in there, and you need to catch those mistakes sooner rather than later.