When using a microwave oven for the very first time, you’ll want to be sure that you use it correctly and for the correct purposes. Most microwave ovens operate using the same procedure, although they may look vastly different.
For a step-by-step guide on how to use a microwave oven, whether you’ve never used one before or you just want to know more about how to get the most out of your microwave, keep reading!
1. Understand How The Microwave Oven Differs From The Conventional Oven
The microwave oven is generally meant for reheating foods, rather than for cooking them. This is because it won’t be able to cook at high temperatures like the conventional oven or stovetop can, and it can get a bit messy with certain foods. Because the microwave oven is much smaller than the conventional oven, it will only cook one small dish at a time, about one or two servings, rather than enough food for an entire family or gathering. The food you heat up in your microwave may also not have an even distribution of heat, as microwaves heat food from the outside in.
“A microwave is an appliance that heats food by using electromagnetic waves to agitate the water molecules in the dishes. While a convection oven is an appliance that cooks food by generating heat from its two heating elements and uses a fan to circulate the hot air around the cooking chamber.”Kitchen Infinity
The convention of heat (called microwaves) inside the microwave oven bounces around the microwave interior and off of the outer surface of the food. These microwaves, which pass through the dish and are absorbed by the food, generate heat by causing water molecules in the food to vibrate, but they won’t be able to get to all the food’s water particles or penetrate through the center of the food. Because of this, you’ll have to frequently stir your liquid foods or turn over your solid foods during the cooking process, depending on how many minutes are allotted for the cooking time. Otherwise, you may notice that your food has some cold spots and some hot spots, or that the food closest to the edges of your dish are overcooked.
On the other hand, there are many reasons people prefer using a microwave over a conventional oven. First, it’s more convenient and quicker than using a conventional oven, especially because you can easily reheat (or even cook) single servings and because you don’t have to wait for it to preheat. Full cooking recipes are best done using a conventional oven. There are also some different foods you may use a microwave for as opposed to a conventional oven. Everything you can microwave and more can be cooked in the conventional oven or over the stove, but not everything you cook in the conventional oven or over the stove can be microwaved.
2. Remember These General Safety Tips And Review The User Manual
When you use first use a microwave oven, you should look over the user manual, because every microwave is different. Each microwave oven will have a different set of buttons, and it’s important to look at what each of these settings mean. Take a look at your microwave. It should have a panel of buttons with different symbols, as well as a panel of numbered buttons. We will go over what the different symbols mean later on in this article. Your user manual will also have a list of these buttons, what they mean, and what kinds of foods you can use them for. The manual will also go over how to set up your microwave in the first place, which we will also go over.
Likely on one of the first pages in your microwave oven user manual is a list of warnings or safety tips. Luckily, a majority of these safety tips are the same for every microwave oven, because every microwave oven works the same way. Regardless of which kind of microwave oven you own and how old or new it is, the most important thing to keep in mind while using your microwave is to never cook anything inside with metal. This includes silverware cutlery, aluminum foil, and dishes made with metal. You should ensure that all dishes used in the microwave are microwave safe. Generally, if it’s not microwave safe, there will be a label at the bottom of the dish that says “Not Microwave Safe”, this means that it has metal particles that will spark and cause fires inside the microwave, or it’s made of a brittle material that could crack or shatter during the cooking process.
Another safety precaution is to make sure that the dishes you use to cook or reheat your food are cooled down before removing them from the microwave. One of the most common injuries that happen with using a microwave is that users burn themselves touching a hot dish. This happens because microwaves pass through and heat most microwavable dishes (especially ceramic, stoneware, and glass), making them hotter than your food. Be sure to allow the dish to cool down before removing it from the microwave, or use a hot pad to remove the dish of food.
In addition to metal, you should avoid microwaving anything that could be flammable, breakable, or could melt in the microwave. This includes single-use plastics like solo cups or plasticware, old mugs, twist ties, styrofoam, takeout containers, cardboard, or paper bags/paper plates.
Another thing to avoid doing is super-heating water. If you put water in the microwave to boil for a cup of hot cocoa or tea, make sure you don’t heat it too long so that it gets past the boiling point. Oftentimes, when it’s passed the boiling point, you won’t even notice it, as the water bubbles will look settled. Then, with any sudden movement to the water, the water can explode and burn your skin. You can avoid this by consistently checking on your water, and just allowing it to heat up to where there is a bit of steam, rather than to the boiling point. You can also reduce the risk of superheating your water by adding your instant coffee or hot cocoa to the water before microwaving it.
3. Make Sure Your Microwave Is Plugged In and Working
The first thing to keep in mind when setting up your microwave (if it’s not already) is that it’s placed on a flat, dry surface (if it’s not installed over your kitchen stove top) and ensure that none of the fan vents are blocked. You’ll see slats or a mesh-like texture on one side, generally the bottom, or at one or both of the sides. This is where your fan pulls in air and releases it. If you notice the fan is at the bottom, then your microwave is meant to be installed above your conventional oven and into your overhead cabinetry. If they are on the sides of the appliance, make sure to place your microwave somewhere these vents won’t be blocked by a wall or another appliance. If these fans are blocked, your microwave may not work properly, or the fans could be overworked, causing your microwave oven to stop working altogether.
Next, you’ll want to ensure that the microwave oven is plugged in and that it’s working. If you look at the front of the microwave you’ll notice a panel of buttons. Just above this panel is a small dark rectangular box, which is your microwave display. This is where the digital clock time will appear, as well as where your remaining cook time and whichever preset buttons you’ve selected on the microwave will appear. If you notice numbers illuminating inside this box, then your microwave is already plugged into a working outlet. If not, then your microwave is not plugged in. Find the cord attached to the bottom or back of the appliance and plug it into the nearest outlet. The display should illuminate with numbers. If the incorrect time appears, you can refer to the user manual to adjust the time.
You can ensure that your microwave will work by placing a microwave-safe cup filled with water into the turning plate of the microwave. The turning plate is glass, it comes with the microwave and is where you will cook everything. Make sure that this turning plate is centered and doesn’t budge with a gentle push. Close the microwave door and push the button combination 3+0+START. You’ll notice the microwave make a whirring sound and the turning plate begin to slowly spin. This means the microwave is working. Press STOP or open the microwave door to remove the cup of water. If your microwave doesn’t do this, your microwave is faulty or needs to be repaired.
4. Prepare Your Food For Microwaving
Depending on what you’re planning to use your microwave for, whether it be for cooking or for reheating, you’ll want to prepare your food ahead of time. The best way to cook and reheat something in a microwave is to cook it in small serving sizes or portions. You’ll want to divide the pre-cooked food into portions before reheating, whether you start with one small portion to consume first, then add more to the plate for reheating, or you divide the leftovers into separate plates. This will allow the food to be cooked more evenly.
The best way to cook food in the microwave is by cooking one ingredient at a time, then putting them together once each ingredient has cooked, or cooking one ingredient at a time and slowly adding more ingredients between each cooking interval. You’ll want to use a recipe that specifically instructs you how to cook the food in a microwave oven for proper direction order.
Sometimes preparing food, especially for reheating or thawing and heating frozen pre-cooked foods from the frozen food section simply takes placing the food on a microwave-safe dish.
Be careful with cooking raw meat inside the microwave, as food particles can spread around the microwave. You won’t be able to fully cook raw meat in the microwave to a safe temperature, but you can thaw it. If you’re thawing raw meat, make sure to disinfect the interior surfaces of your microwave afterward to avoid cross-contamination.
Foods you should not cook/reheat in the microwave:
- Baby formula/breast milk
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Processed meats
- Chicken (except for thawing only)
- Uncooked rice
- Leafy greens
- Hot peppers
- Hot dogs
- Uncooked potatoes
5. Place Your Microwave-safe Dish in The Microwave
During your food preparation, you should prepare your food on a microwave-safe dish, or transfer your prepared food onto a microwave-safe dish. Ensure that the material is listed as microwave safe or that the label at the bottom of the dish does not say “Not Microwave Safe.” Open the door of the microwave then place the dish on the center of the turn plate.
6. Cover Your Dish With a Dish Cover, Another Plate, or a Paper tTowel
This step is optional but can have many benefits. To keep food from splattering around the inside of your microwave and to allow your food to cook more evenly, you’ll want to cover your food. You can use a plastic dish cover meant for microwave use, or another plate or microwave-safe paper towel to cover up your food. These plastic dish covers are called microwave splatter covers, are clear, and can be purchased at most department stores or online. They also help keep the heat concentrated on the food, thus heating the food more evenly. Otherwise, you can simply use a paper towel that is microwave safe or place a plate upside down over your food dish. If using a microwave-safe paper towel, you can wet it to help it stick to the edges of your dish better. Make sure the plate or paper towel is balanced, then close the microwave door.
7. Input The Correct Microwave Setting And Time
Once you’ve closed the microwave door, you’ll need to tell the microwave how to heat your food and for how long you want to heat it for by inputting a microwave setting and time. Most of the time, you can simply input how long you want to heat your food by pressing the numbers for how many minutes, then pressing start. For example, to heat something for 3 minutes, press this button combination: 3+0+0+START. In some special cases, such as for thawing foods or heating a special kind of food, you’ll want to input a particular setting. You can do this by pressing the appropriate setting button and then inputting the cook level settings (if applicable) and the cooking time. Sometimes, the buttons will simply appear with text, but other times it will have a symbol.
Different microwave settings and what they mean:
- +30: Add 30 seconds to your cook time
- Popcorn/popcorn symbol: For popping microwaveable popcorn (following directions on your popcorn bag)
- Pizza/pizza icon: For reheating a slice of pizza
- Clock options: For resetting the dialog clock time
- Timer: For setting a timer
- Frozen entree/snowflake symbol: For thawing a frozen entree
- Defrost/snowflakes and water droplets symbol: For defrosting frozen item
- Soften/melt: For softening or melting things like chocolate or butter. Automatically sets microwave power level to a lower setting
- Beverage: For heating a beverage
- Soup: For microwaving soup
- Dinner plate: For reheating a plate of various foods
- Potato: For reheating pre-cooked potatoes
- Fresh vegetables/broccoli symbol: For cooking/reheating vegetables
- Frozen vegetables: For thawing and heating frozen vegetables
- Cook time: For setting cook time after inputting a different setting
- Cook power: For setting microwave to a lower cooking power level than the default (usually 1000 watts or 1200 watts)
- Cook: Heats food at 100% power
- Fan/fan symbol: Turn on the fan to absorb evaporation/smoke from the cooking stove beneath the microwave
- Start/play symbol: Start
- Cancel/Stop/X symbol: Cancel/stop the microwave
8. Check on Your Food Periodically
While your food is cooking, you’ll need to check on the food periodically to make sure it isn’t overcooking or scorching and to ensure it cooks evenly. While checking on your food, open the door by simply pulling it open or pressing the cancel button and then opening it, then, using a spoon or fork, stir your liquid foods or turn over your solid foods to ensure that it gets heated evenly. You’ll want to do this at least once if cooking for just a few minutes, or at least twice if cooking for several minutes. Close the microwave and then press start again if there is still time left on the display screen. If it’s gotten to zero, you’ll want to input more time and then press start.
9. After The Microwave Beeps, Let Your Food Stand
When the cooking timer gets down to zero, your microwave will stop heating and then begin to beep. You don’t want to take your food out immediately after it beeps. You can press cancel or open the door slightly to stop the beeping, but you’ll want to let your food stand inside the microwave for a few minutes. This allows the food to finish cooking while it sits and allows for the dish to cool off. Otherwise, you may risk eating underheated or undercooked food or burning yourself with the dish.
10. Carefully Remove Your Dish From The Microwave
Depending on how long your food was heating in the microwave and the type of dish it’s microwaving in, your dish may be very hot. Generally, dishes made of glass or ceramic will hold in more heat, so you’ll want to remove them using a hot pad or a dish rag, instead of touching the dish directly with your bare hands. If you microwaved your food with a plastic dish, it won’t be as hot and you may be able to carefully remove it without a hot pad. Just carefully touch the dish to ensure it’s not still too hot to handle. Grasp the dish firmly and remove it slowly to avoid spilling or dropping your food.
11. Wipe Out Your Microwave
If you notice any splatters or a mess inside your microwave, either on the turn plate, on the walls, or on the ceiling of the microwave, you’ll want to wipe it out. You can use an all-purpose cleaner or a spray bottle of water and ammonia solution with a wet washcloth to wipe out all the food particles from the microwave. If you allow it to sit too long, the food can harden over time and eventually burn, and it will get much more difficult to clean. If you thaw any raw meat in your microwave, be sure to wipe it out with disinfectant spray to ensure you don’t cross-contaminate with other foods. If you don’t clean out your microwave after every use, you should wipe it out at least once per week to ensure your food will be cooked sufficiently without any cross-contamination of food particles.