Microwave Cooking

 Most of this knowledge is from experience; forty years of trial and error. That’s about as long as anyone has been cooking with a microwave; commercial kitchens have never used them for anything but reheating.
Some, like restaurant owners, think that microwaves are good for reheating but not for cooking, which is completely understandable. You learned to cook on a stove, have years or decades of experience cooking on the stove, but never learned to cook in a microwave, or practiced those skills. Different technologies require different methods; ask someone who learned to cook on a gas stove, then was forced to use an electric stove. A microwave is far more different from either than they are from each other.
The art of cooking with external heat has been practiced for three hundred thousand to three million years; they’re not sure how long. Microwaves are less than a century old; at least, our manipulation of them is. We first used microwave radio frequencies for radar in World War Two for detection of enemy aircraft.
Then in 1945 a man named Percy Spencer, who worked for Raytheon on their military radar, noticed a candy bar in his pocket melting. He used this discovery to invent the microwave oven, and the first thing cooked was popcorn. The second thing was an egg, which, as Wikipedia says, “exploded in the face of one of the experimenters.”
There are a lot of people still alive for whom there was never such a thing as a microwave oven in their youth. Compared to the campfire, or even the stove, they’re brand new. This explains why there is so much misinformation about microwave cooking; it’s too new.
So I’m going to start with breakfast. Eggs, because there are so many misconceptions about microwaving eggs; actually, microwaving in general. But we’ll start with eggs.
It has been written, incorrectly, that if you cook an egg in the microwave it will explode and possibly start a fire. You can see from the early history of the microwave why this was believed.
It is incorrect. Well, a little incorrect.
Some think that you have to poke the yolk with a pin or it will explode. Also false. However, poking the yolk with a pin will help your egg cook evenly, as otherwise the whites will cook faster since he whites have more water, and it won’t turn out as good. I pierce it with the shell, if it doesn’t break when it’s dropped in the bowl.
With eggs or anything else, especially meat, you will sometimes hear little explosions. They’re harmless. At the worst you may have to wipe up a little spilled food from the oven.
My ex-wife used to boil eggs in the microwave. That is, until one day a quarter of a century ago when she and my youngest were in the back yard hanging clothes after turning the microwave on, and the oldest and I were in the living room. She was watching television and I was reading, and there was a very loud BOOM that sounded like it was a big explosion in the back yard. My daughter and I both ran to the back door looking out of its window, and they were out there hanging clothes like nothing had happened.
Then I heard an intermittent buzzing behind me. The microwave door was open and smoking, and sparks were shooting out. I hurriedly yanked the plug.
What had happened was that the water had boiled dry and the eggs, in their shells, exploded. That was the last time she boiled eggs in the microwave! Also the last time that particular microwave ever worked again, it was ruined.
Left out of water and microwaved in its shell, an egg will indeed explode. If you’re going to boil eggs, do it on the stove! However, you can still cook eggs in the microwave.
Now, when cooking anything in the microwave, the first “secret” of microwave cooking: the food’s not done when the microwave beeps. Microwaves cook from the inside out by exciting water molecules. When the oven signals it’s done, that only means that the transmitter has ceased transmitting radio signals and the turntable has stopped turning. It needs another minute for the heat to radiate. Note that this is only when cooking, not reheating.
Illustrating this, If you get a bowl of pre-made frozen chili like the Converse Street Bar sells, the instructions will say to cook the frozen bowl for three minutes, let it set for a minute and a half, and cook it for another two minutes. This is because the grease will have floated to the top of the bowl before it was frozen, and while the liquid is boiling, the grease is still frozen, since there is no water in grease. The heat rising from the chili melts the grease as it sits. A better way is to microwave it for two minutes, remove the lid, break up the grease and submerge it in the chili, and nuke it for another half minute to a minute and a half. Then let it set, then remove it from the microwave and remove the lid. It will be too hot to eat, but not as bad as the package directions. It illustrates how the microwave cooks; water in the food produces the heat that cooks the rest of it.
My old microwave, the one I bought to replace the one that exploded in the ’90s, took a lot less time to cook; it was 1000 watts, the new one is 750. Energy Star; the oven is less powerful but uses the same amount of electricity to cook!
Your tax dollars at work. Remember, government employees are mostly no smarter or knowledgeable than you, don’t use their brains any more than they have to, like you, and get paid less than you do if you’re working the same job in the private sector.
My mother, who considered the microwave oven to be the greatest invention of the 20th century, once wondered aloud if you could cook bacon in the microwave. “Yes, you can!” I told her. “In fact, some packages of bacon give you cooking instructions for frying, baking, and microwaving.” I’m pretty sure that my mom never read bacon packages, as she had been cooking bacon almost since God invented pigs. It’s about the only kind of meat that comes out okay, at least that I’ve seen.
The time will vary from a minute to five, depending on your oven’s wattage and how crisp you like your bacon. As I wear false teeth, I no longer eat crisp bacon; it gets under the dentures and is painful. The look and texture of the bacon may not be what you’re used to, but the taste will be the same.
To cook bacon in the microwave, place it on a plate and cover it with a paper towel, because it will splatter like it’s fried in a pan. Even cooked with an egg, it will splatter.
The bacon package directions, when available, say to place the bacon on paper towels to soak the grease, but I never do. When it’s done I pour the grease in a jar for later use, like my grandparents and your great grandparents did.
A really quick breakfast is to lay a piece of bacon in a shallow bowl, crack an egg in it, and stick it in the microwave for two and a half to three minutes. That’s with a 700 watt oven, a higher wattage will use less time; it was two minutes with the old, more powerful oven. You will have to experiment, since power isn’t standard with these devices. That’s why your prepackaged microwave items have instructions like “6 to 7½ minutes”. Don’t forget to let it set for a minute or so before removing it. It will still be too hot to eat and needs to cool a minute. Sssh, it’s a “secret”!
It’s easier, quicker, and far cheaper than one of those Jimmy Dean breakfast bowls; two eggs and a slice of bacon are less than a dollar, but a pre-made breakfast bowl is three or four bucks and you have to pierce the plastic wrap, cook it for two minutes, stir it, and cook it for another minute. Or crack a couple eggs into a bowl, add a slice of bacon, and microwave.
If you don’t like the idea of the egg and bacon mixed, you’ll have one more thing to clean. Throw the bacon in the bowl, cover it with a paper towel, and cook it. Then remove the bacon and put it on a plate, then crack the egg into the bowl with the bacon grease.
The egg won’t stick badly to the bowl, but if you’re just cooking an egg or two by themselves, you should add butter, grease, or oil, as I found out when I bought my first anti-stick skillet and tried it out with an egg. It fried okay, but was the blandest egg I’ve ever eaten. The microwave is the same, you need a blandness remover. This is one reason why some think microwaved food isn’t tasty. If you’ve cooked something on the stove with something like oil to keep it from sticking, the oil is part of the taste. If you use oil in a pan, use it in the microwave, too.
You can scramble it first, or just crack it into the bowl. You may be able to make one sunny side up, I haven’t really tried; the egg in the illustration had a solid yolk. It’s likely it will be as difficult as cooking chicken in a microwave and far more trouble than frying it. The yolk cooks only slightly slower than the white, so you would have to separate the yolk and set it aside, cook the white until it started to congeal, then add the yolk back. Way too much trouble when a sunny side up egg is so easy to cook on a stove.
Often I just put it in the bowl and forget to pierce the yolk. Sometimes the yolk breaks and sometimes it doesn’t.
Another secret is anything you cook in your kitchen, no matter how you cook it, will taste better than something pre-cooked and frozen, like those Jimmy Dean breakfast things or TV Dinners. A homemade chicken pot pie will taste far better than one from a food factory, if you’re any good at cooking at all. Even home-made potato chips are better than corporate potato chips.
As most everyone has discovered by now, a microwave will make stale bread soft. You can’t bake in a microwave; the “oven” moniker is very misleading. You can heat a pot pie in the microwave, but you can’t bake one. You can make a Shepherd’s Pie in the microwave, since it has no crust. I just buy them from D’Arcy’s Pint; I don’t really like to cook.
I like to make omelettes, and they’re especially good in the microwave. I make a Denver omelette; a Denver omelette has egg, meat (usually ham), cheese, green pepper, onion, and tomato. That’s a Western Omelette with added tomato. Sometimes I add hash browns and corned beef and call it a Western Irish Omelette. I usually lay the cheese on top. A pat of butter in the bowl makes it better.
If you’re making a Denver omelette in the microwave, it will need to cook longer to evaporate the water in the tomato. Also, as might be expected, two eggs take longer than one egg.
To make a Dr. Seuss omelette, add a drop of blue food coloring to the scrambled egg and microwave it with ham.
I had an astronaut omelette this morning, a cheese steak omelette with a little steak I had left over from yesterday. I seldom made omelettes before I found out how good eggs were from the microwave, if cooked properly, because it’s a lot more work on the stove.
I bought a food processor to chop all the stuff up, and discovered that shredded potatoes turn black overnight in the refrigerator, obviously oxidizing. I doubt they’re bad for you, but I’m not eating black hash browns! So I’ll give the food processor to a daughter. I’ve since bought a small handle-operated cheese grater to shred the vegetables for my omelettes, and started buying the smallest potatoes I could find. I also found that shredded potatoes keep well in the freezer, but start darkening as soon as they start thawing.
I’ve bought pre-shredded frozen hash browns, and they kept in the refrigerator for weeks, so they must have added BHT (Beta Hydra Tolulene) to keep it from oxidizing. As the Food and Drug Administration has limits on how much BHT you can add to your pre-processed food, it’s probably not very good for you. Actually, any pre-processed food isn’t much good for you.
My sister and her husband won’t use their microwave for anything but heating a cold cup of coffee because “I heard that the microwaves change the chemistry of the food.” It’s true, but the change in chemistry is from the heat, not from the microwaves themselves. The chemistry of the food changes exactly the same in a convection oven, microwave, or a pan on the stove. The differences are in moisture, especially the microwave because of how a microwave produces heat.
Now, when people hear the word “radiation” they think of radioactivity and call microwaving “nuking”. But your gasoline vehicle has a radiator, and houses with steam heat used to have radiators; heat was radiated from them. In a microwave, the radiation is simple radio waves, like the radio in your car. The only difference is the frequency; the same difference as the difference between two radio stations, and enclosing those radio waves in a steel box.
About “frequency,” AC stands for alternating current; DC is direct current that travels in one direction, while AC switches directions, the frequency being the speed at which it changes. American wall current is 60 Hz (Hertz, named after Heinrich Hertz, who proved that Maxwell’s “electromagnetic waves” were real), meaning it changes direction, or “polarity”, sixty times a second. European electricity is 50 Hz. FM radio is in the middle of the television frequencies, 88 mHz (mega Hertz, or eighty eight million cycles per second) to 108 mHz. Microwave ovens are 2.45 gHz; gHz is giga Hertz, billions of cycles per second; 2.45 gHz is 2,450,000,000 Hz, or two billion four hundred fifty million cycles per second.
It’s roughly the same frequency as the telephone in your pocket, which is why people have ignorant, superstitious fears that cell phones cause brain cancer. If these fears had actually been warranted, brain and groin cancer rates would have spiked in the quarter century since cell phones became common. They haven’t.
But “radiation causes cancer!” Again, the word “radiation” can mean different things depending on what is radiating and how it radiates. A radio, like your phone or a TV broadcasting station, radiates electromagnetic energy; it’s exactly like waving a magnet around. In fact, if you take a bar magnet, drill a hole in the middle and stick a stick loosely in the hole, if you turn on an induction cooker and hold it just above the burner, the magnet will spin at the same speed as the cooker’s frequency. You will have built an electric motor.
Light is electromagnetic radiation, just like the low frequency magnetic radiation an induction cooker uses, or the colors you can see, or the signals beaming to your TV set and car radio and telephone, or your microwave oven. All are light. We just can’t see most of those colors with our eyes.
Radioactivity is also light, but unlike the colors you can see, or the colors a microwave oven or telephone transmits, the photons that make up gamma rays and X-rays contain enormous amounts of energy. Comparing microwave frequencies to gamma ray frequencies is like comparing a candle flame to the sun, each at a distance of a thousand miles. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.
Your phone uses microwaves, those extremely high frequencies, because with digital signals, the higher the frequency the greater the bandwidth; meaning the more phones the towers can connect to. Your microwave oven uses those higher frequencies because it’s the frequency that excites water molecules. The reason you shouldn’t put metal in a microwave is because metal is opaque to microwave frequencies of light, so it will reflect back to the transmitter and ruin it, like a high powered laser pointed straight at a mirror.
A gas stove produces its heat by burning natural gas, and a traditional electric oven produces heat by passing electricity through an electrically resistive coil.
There is a new type of electric stove, the induction cooker. It heats a steel pan with a low frequency electromagnetic wave. Rather than microwave, it’s a long wave about the frequency of the AC from your wall These won’t work with anything but a steel or iron pot or pan; like a microwave heats the food directly and needs water to work, the induction cooker heats the pan or pot directly and needs a ferromagnetic material like iron or steel to work. Like microwave frequencies react with water (hydrogen is actually a metal, making water like burned metal. Rust is burned iron), those extremely long wave frequencies react with iron. However, laying a steel plate on top of the cooker makes it as if it’s a normal electric burner.
In either case, the heat is introduced from outside the food, like a campfire and unlike a microwave. The microwave energy is a radio frequency that excites water molecules; the water inside your food heats up, so it’s cooked from the inside out rather than the outside in, but the chemical changes are identical. The difference is how and where the food’s water escapes as vapor, which is why a convection oven can bake a pizza and a microwave can’t (although there are some special pizza boxes that “kinda” do, heating a pre-cooked frozen pizza without making the crust soggy).
Because of this, it’s extremely difficult, almost impossible, to cook edible chicken in the microwave, or to even heat it up in the microwave because of how fat is situated in the meat of a bird, unlike mammal meat. I’ve managed to cook edible chicken breasts in the microwave, but it’s so hard to do you’re better off cooking them in the convection oven, or deep frying them. If I want chicken I’ll just buy it already fried; frying chicken is hard work and a mess and I’m too old for that shit! I’m not one who loves to cook, I cook for the same reason I worked: to eat.
Mammal meat doesn’t cook well in a microwave, either; the taste is almost the same, but it comes out very unappetizingly ugly. Here’s a photo. I tested part of a raw T-bone, putting it in the microwave for two minutes. It came out like the photo here, but the taste was almost identical to the piece cooked in a frying pan, except for being more juicy and tender than the part I cooked on the stove. Yes, that’s science. One steak, part cooked on the stove and part in a microwave. Better science would do that hundreds of times and document all of the results.
Afterwards, I experimented with barbecuing a pork steak, again, with most of it cooked in a pan. I thought perhaps the sauce would disguise the looks.
I was wrong. It still looked disgusting when it was done. That’s what science is for; testing preconceptions. Some things that seem to be a certain way really aren’t.
Of course, what was cooked in a pan was nowhere as good as one cooked on a grill. I put a small piece on a plate and microwaved it for three minutes, fearing undercooked pork.
It was way overcooked; chewy, but didn’t taste any different than the barbecue in the pan. Had I overcooked it that badly in a pan it would have been like burned shoe leather.
However, with the exception of chicken or fish you can reheat it, again being sure to reheat it, not recook it. The biggest reason mammal meat doesn’t cook well in a microwave is because you can’t brown it in a microwave.
However, if the meat is in a dish, like ham and beans, or beef stew, or chili con carne (that’s Spanish for “chili with meat”), maybe a casserole (I never tried making a casserole in the microwave because I don’t much care for casseroles), it cooks fine in the microwave.
If you’ve fried a steak or a hamburger or a pork chop or such on the stove or grill, and find when you cut it or bite it that it isn’t done, a minute or two in the microwave will finish its cooking without altering its taste or appearance unless you cook it too long.
That is, unless it’s a fats food burger, those are really nasty reheated. They slap the condiments and tomatoes and other garbage on them to cover the taste of the very low-quality meat. Just give it to your dog, if he will eat it.
But good quality hamburger you cooked on the stove heats well in a microwave, unlike a fats food burger. No, that wasn’t a typo, “fast food” is; it’s no faster than a sit-down restaurant with wait staff, but it will make you fat.
One thing I discovered about forty years ago was that if you barbecue pork on a charcoal grill, refrigerate the leftover meat overnight, then re-heat it in the microwave the next day, it tastes twice as good as when it was first cooked! It probably has to do with the water heating the fat, but that’s just a guess.
Anything that you normally boil will be identical in the microwave. I’ve found that it doesn’t have to boil to cook in water, making your food healthier, since less water will evaporate.
You should always use filtered water when cooking, either in a pot on the stove or in a microwave, because evaporation will concentrate all of the inorganic poisons, like lead and arsenic. If you drink filtered or bottled water, you should cook with it, too, or you’re wasting your money. If there are 135 parts per million of nastiness coming out of your tap, like the last time I tested Springfield water (my filter pitcher came with a tester), boiled halfway down doubles that to 270 PPM.
I have yet to find any vegetable that doesn’t come out of the microwave tasting delicious, as long as it’s cooked well, which in most cases is just heating long enough. But some require extra for the best taste. I mentioned bacon grease earlier; when I was growing up, whenever my mom made green beans she cooked them in a pot (there were no home microwave ovens back then) with water and bacon. I understand that’s how most Americans except Jews and Muslims cook green beans.
In a microwave, I’ve used the bacon itself, but the way I cook dinner makes it better to just put the frozen beans and filtered water in a tall ten ounce cup, and add a little bacon grease.
The tall cups allow me to heat three vegetables at the same time. Maybe I should have subtitled this “Cooking for One or two”. Before, I used bowls, and was thinking about buying two more microwaves, but don’t have the room in my little kitchen. If you’re cooking for one with the microwave, you’ll need to pre-cook most vegetables until they’re the desired softness. In the microwave, of course.
The tall cups also, unfortunately, boil water a lot faster than in a bowl, and as soon as it boils, it boils over. The obvious answer is to not leave it in long enough for it to boil. Test it first with just tap water so you will know the maximum time it takes your microwave to boil water in a tall cup. With the cups I have and the microwave I use and the liquid at room temperature, a minute and a half is the maximum without making a mess. Veggies straight from the freezer can take two minutes; you can test this with cold water and an ice cube. When it beeps, start it again until it’s done.
Now, another misconception about microwave cooking is that you should only reheat food in a microwave once or it will somehow become poisonous, the old “microwaves change the chemistry” nonsense. If you overcook anything, whether in a microwave, on the stove, or in an oven, it will taste nasty. It won’t be poison, but I can see how you might think that, although if you use tap water there’s a tiny grain of truth in it. Again, water that some of has evaporated is in fact more poisonous than before heating. Whether cooking on a stove or in a microwave, you should use the purest water you can.
The biggest microwave cooking “secret” is getting the food just hot enough. A lot of people have a really bad habit of overcooking in the microwave, probably because it’s so much faster than other cooking methods. I once saw someone put a TV dinner in a microwave for ten minutes, then complained about how badly it tasted. I looked at the box—the instructions were cook it for two minutes, turn the meat over and stir the potatoes, then cook it for another minute to a minute and a half. No wonder it sucked! But back before microwaves they came in an aluminum tin and took half an hour to forty five minutes to cook in a convection oven.
Remember that if it’s not done enough you can put it right back in the microwave, but uncooking a thing is physically impossible.
It’s been said that “everything’s better with butter.” That’s simply not true. I tried cooking buttered broccoli and cauliflower and it was awful! You would think that butter beans would be better with butter. Ironically, buttered butter beans are disgusting.
Broccoli and cauliflower are best just cooked in water until they’re soft, or eaten raw, the most nutritious way to eat them, although cooking will kill bacteria. Of course, there are probably some very delicious recipes with those vegetables. Butter beans and Lima beans are also best just cooked in water. Peas are very good with minced onion.
Corn, carrots, potatoes, are all better with butter, and the more butter the better. If you buy or grow fresh carrots you’ll be amazed at how much stronger the taste is than canned or frozen. I’ve started to buy fresh vegetables when they’re available, and freezing them myself. They’re cheaper, more nutritious, and taste better; they must boil the hell out of carrots, peas, and green beans before they freeze them to get rid of the taste and nutrition. I’ve never liked canned peas, but love them fresh or frozen.
A good rule of thumb is whatever you put with any given vegetable when cooked on the stove will work with a microwave, like butter with corn, or bacon with green beans. Often it will taste better than on a stove top. Again, that includes anything you put in the pan to resist sticking.
The most rational way to cook is to use the method that produces the best results; taste and nutrition, ease of preparation, and costs the least. Of course, with any kind of food, there will be trade-offs between those three variables.
Cooking with microwaves has many advantages, for things like eggs, vegetables, and soups. Actually, anything except meat, and as long as it is in a recipe, like chili or beef stew, you can cook meat in it, as mentioned before.
Microwaved vegetables are more nutritious than vegetables cooked on a stove, because on a stove, most of the vitamins and minerals are poured down the drain. As it takes longer to cook on the stove, there will be more poison from the evaporation on a stove, compared to the microwave. On cold winter days when the air is dry I put a big pot of tap water on the stove to boil. It keeps my lips and sinuses from cracking, and the flu virus can’t live in higher than forty percent humidity. You should see what’s left in the pan when the water’s boiled out!
A gas stove may be cheaper to cook on than a microwave; that would have to do with what you’re paying for each form of energy. But in the summer, that gas stove will run your electric bill up from making your air conditioner work harder; that’s the appliance that uses the most electricity in your house. At least in the summer and possibly all year, the microwave costs less to run.
An electric stove will cost a whole lot more to cook on than a microwave, whether a traditional resistance stove or a new induction cooker. Each separate burner in a resistance stove uses up to 2400 watts, an induction burner uses up to 1800 watts. Your microwave maxes out at 750 to 1000 watts, and it runs for less than a fourth of the time it takes to cook on the stove.
The microwave is a lot less work than the stove, especially cleaning up the mess. In the microwave, there are no pots, pans, or skillets, you serve the food from the container it was cooked in. Except the vegetables; you will need a slotted spoon to dish them out. There are no tongs or spatulas to wash because when food is cooked from the inside rather than the bottom, you don’t need to turn it.
Now, where do all the myths come from? Mostly, as I said, misunderstanding something that’s been heard. But also from those dishonest rich people who stand to make more or lose less money because of the myths: gas and electric companies. If you cook your vegetables on a gas stove, the gas company gets paid, but not if you cook it in a microwave. If you have an electric stove, the power company prefers you use the stove because it takes a lot more electricity than a microwave, so they make more money from you.
It’s better to throw away the myths and keep your money.

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