The One Thing You Can Do for Smarter Microwave Cooking

published Mar 11, 2016
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

I never thought I’d be saying this, but the microwave is an underappreciated appliance of convenience. Sure, it does the job faster than the oven or the stovetop, but it’s not just a tool for reheating and boiling. Your microwave has the power to cook and (even bake) quite well — as long as you take advantage of its most important feature.

When it comes to stovetop cooking, there are rules. One of the most important being that a high flame is not the universal cooking temperature.

Well, the same applies to microwave cooking. High power is not a universal cook setting for all foods. And if you’ve ever wondered why microwaved foods get a bad rap, this is part of the reason. Defaulting to high-power cooking for every item you put in the microwave will leave many foods overcooked, rubbery, hard, and just all-around unpleasant to eat.

Get Familiar with the Power Settings

There’s a reason your microwave has a variety of power settings, and when used properly, this is the one thing that will give you a better result. The power settings are the key to properly cooking in the microwave — not just using it to reheat. And in fact, the lower and middle power setting are sometimes the best ones to use.

Microwaves vary in the amount of power they can put out, which is measured in watts. Adjusting the power setting adjusts how much power the microwave puts when it cooks food. Think of it the same way you’d think about the dial on your stovetop. At 100 percent (or high) power, the microwave is emitting the maximum amount of watts as it cooks, while reducing the power level to 50 percent, cuts that power down.

What to Microwave on High

What you’re cooking (or baking) should determine the power setting you use. Most recipes should indicate the most appropriate level of power, although some don’t, and sometimes we’re not using recipes at all. Stick with high power when heating or boiling liquids; cooking firm, thick foods, like baked potatoes and spaghetti squash; and with quick-cooking items like mug cake.

Recipes to Microwave on High Power

What to Microwave on Low

Low power works best with delicate ingredients and foods that can quickly overcook, like eggs and smaller vegetables. This setting also mimics the low heat of an oven, and works best when dehydrating ingredients.

Recipes to Microwave on Low Power