Getting Started with Microwave Cooking

Getting Started with Microwave Cooking
1967 Amana Radarange Microwave Oven


So you want to learn to cook in the microwave?

Maybe you are picturing the images from the 1960’s when you think about your first microwave, or the ‘promise’ of what the revolutionary microwave would do for the household.

But as we all know, microwaves are mostly known today for zapping the life out of last night’s dinner into a rubbery dried out half resemblance of a dinner, or getting you in trouble at the office for being the person who burned the popcorn in the break room!

You might be a college student in a door room with no other cooking options, or a single person wanting to eat some real food without making too much of a mess, or if you are like me, you are a young wife and mother to 3 kids caring for a disabled husband – which due to safety concerns we can no longer risk injuries by using the stove or oven.  You can read about my story here.

No matter what brought you here, keep reading and you’ll be a Microwave Maven in no time like me!

Microwave Oven Cooking Basics and the Microwave Mantras

Oven Functions

There are basically two functions you will use your microwave for:

  1. Cooking
  2. Reheating

Believe it or not, there are HUGE differences between the two, let me explain.

Cooking is is the art of taking food items from it’s initial, uncooked state, applying high levels of power (generally 80-100 % power – but we’ll get to that) until food is adequately cooked to temperature whereas reheating is taking a previously cooked food and applying gentle heat to the item at anywhere from 50-70 % power.

Now, I know that each one of you is guilty of putting everything in the microwave at 100% power right?  Yes, I know you do.

When you use your microwave at 100% power it is the equivalent of using your oven at HI Broil (500°F) ALL THE TIME!  Now do tell me, do you bake all your meats and casseroles at 500°?  NO!!!!

If you did then your turkey would look something like this….

Nuked Turkey

This brings me to our very first Mantra……

Microwave Mantra 1

I will only use 100% power when cooking food.  When reheating my food I will not go higher than 70% power

Automatic Oven Functions

Prior to exploring the world of real microwave cooking I pretty much zapped everything for 1-2 minutes.  It seemed like everything only took a minute or two.  However, today’s microwaves are pretty darn cool in that they have done most of the work for you.

If you look on the front panel of your microwave you will find all these cool buttons that will do the hard part for you.  Now, it’s time to dig out that good old manual that you put away after looking at for 2 seconds.  You know, you put it in that place you will never forget where you put it?  Yeah, go there and dig it up.

OR if you are like me and too darn busy to think straight and actually got tired of keeping manuals because being a former military wife of 20 years I probably have about 7 manuals that were packed with each move (oops!) you need to go to this website to find your manual.

In the mean time you can just follow along:

I have a rather old (25 years to be exact) Maytag oven.  I have the following features:

Melt – will melt butter in 1 stick increments

Soften – will soften butter in 1 stick increments

Reheat – will reheat an average size dinner plate (P.S. microwave will auto cycle the power levels for you!)

Popcorn – USE your popcorn setting!  Most microwaves will have settings for the standard bag as well as those mini/snack size

Beverage – heating mugs

Defrost – I have an auto defrost, this is a preset option for the type of food, time defrost – I use this often as I know how long I want to defrost, and rapid defrost – well I have to go find that manual!

Baked Potato – use this ALL the time!

Poultry – I really have no clue!  I haven’t used this  yet and I don’t have my manual handy (hey, I said do as I say don’t do as I do!)

My most commonly used auto functions are the melt, soften, defrost, popcorn and potato.

Microwave Mantra 2

I will dig out my manual and read it.  I will get to know the automatic functions to get me started on the quickest path to making the microwave my friend.  If I don’t have my manual I will find it online.

Know your Microwave Oven’s Wattage

Watt?  Okay so what is a wattage?  Well it has been a long time since high school when we learned this stuff so I had to look it up.  Wattage is a measure of electrical power.  So is that clear?  Good let’s move on…..

Okay, I know I know, that doesn’t really help much does it?  So what does this mean for me, my microwave and how I cook in it?  A LOT!

It is very important that you know the wattage, or energy output, of  your microwave.  WHY???  Because, your cooking time in your oven may vary greatly than mine.

Factors that influence cooking times are:

  1. Age of oven – a newer oven is usually higher in wattage (most are 1100), BUT as your oven gets older it loses wattage
  2. Containers you cook in – square, round, etc.
  3. Thickness of the food

To test your microwave for accuracy follow the directions here on this blog.

Microwave Mantra 3

I will know and periodically test my microwave for wattage accuracy

The right containers

I’m sure you all have heard of the term ‘microwave-safe’.  Be sure that you heed that warning!  Not all products are safe for the microwave!

  1. Metal – NEVER put metal in your microwave!  Now there is one exception, newer microwaves can handle small amounts of foil in the microwave for the purpose of shielding.  I have done this and can show you how to do this properly.  Here is what the USDA has to say about it.
  2. Non-Pyrex glass – Pyrex is designed for your microwave.  While I have used other brands you must be careful as they can explode if there are pockets of air.
  3. Certain plastics – yes this is a very touchy subject and will be a topic for another post soon, but there are plenty of food grade, microwave safe plastics that you can use in your microwave.  If it doesn’t have the label on it then don’t heat in it.
  4. Rule of thumb, if the container is not cool enough to handle with your bare hands then it doesn’t belong in the microwave!

Microwave Mantra 4

I will only use microwave safe products to cook and reheat in my microwave oven

So there you go, you are ready to start using your microwave in a whole new way!  Visit the other pages to find cooking tips and recipes to start creating in your kitchen.

All the Best,


P.S. I highly recommend that you take a moment now and take inventory of your containers as well as your favorite recipes to get the fastest start.  Start by testing the wattage of your microwave, no really, go do it now!  Be sure to check out my list of recommended cookbooks to get started fast!  Happy zapping!