The Mystery Behind Microwaves

I remember our first microwave. It weighed 800 pounds , had a dial instead of a touch pad—and I thought it had to be the neatest thing since sliced bread! My, how things have changed! They now make microwaves small enough to carry in your car and plug into your cigarette lighter for tailgating! It seems every kitchen has this appliance. The  need for quick meals and snacks has increased with our fast lifestyles. I can’t imagine living without one. Frequently, we get phone calls from individuals asking what they should look for in a microwave. I hope what follows is helpful to them, and to you!

Size is classified by interior capacity:
It ranges from subcompact (0.5 cubic feet), which may be used in a dorm, to full or family size, which may be over 1.4 cubic feet. You should look for one that has a large enough inside to fit your cooking needs (and pans), and small enough to fit in your kitchen. Cooking time and watts are very important. Bigger microwaves usually cook foods faster.

How do you know the wattage on your microwave?
You may or may not know the wattage of your microwave. There is an easy way to test it by using the chart at:  Taken from: Microwave Cooking for One by Marie T. Smith.

Options to consider:

  • Turn tables—helps food cook evenly without having to turn halfway through cooking. Most can be placed in the dishwasher for ease of cleaning.
  • Short cut keys—defrost, popcorn and other cooking options are very useful (but only if you are going to use them). They may also toast, grill and brown.
  • Convection microwaves—these can function as an oven and a microwave. They are always more expensive, but may be cheaper than purchasing a second oven.
  • Wattages—make sure you purchase one big enough to meet your cooking needs. A smaller wattage microwave may be fine if you are just re-heating or cooking frozen dinners.
  • Built-in versus stand alone—depends on your kitchen design. Some microwaves also contain ventilation hoods, so it can be placed above a range or built-in cook- top.
  • Some now have non-stick interiors for easy cleaning. This is especially great if you have children.

Testing dishes to see if they are microwave safe:
Place one cup of water in a glass measuring cup. Place this besides the dish you are testing. Microwave one minute on high. If the dish becomes hot, it is not microwave safe. If just the water heats, then the dish is probably fine. Only use dishes labeled as microwave safe. Certain plastics are safe, check the bottom of the container. Glass is safe.

Do not use the following in any microwave:
-Recycled paper towels—they have bits of metal flakes in them and will start a fire.
-Metal rimmed dishes/china—they will cause arching (sparks). Microwaves bounce off of kids-christmas-pictures-021.jpgmetal and may cause a fire.
-Used food containers, such as whipped topping or cottage cheese containers, as they will melt.
-Paper grocery bags or zip style plastic bags, unless specifically labeled for the microwave.
-Metal dishes/pans of any sort (see china)
Do not warm clothing, dry tennis shoes, or small pets—yes—it has been done and the results were disastrous.

Extra Advice:

  • When cooking eggs or baked potatoes, always prick them, as they will explode if you do not.
  • Cover all foods when cooking—this will keep them moist and keep the inside of your microwave clean.
  • I always shop the bookstore clearance racks for cookbooks. They usually have a fairly recent book on microwave ovens. Check one out—they do more than they used to!
  • Always let foods sit for two minutes after the microwave has stopped, as foods continue to cook. This is called standing time.
  • Carefully vent any foods as they come out of the microwave, as it will build up, and could burn you.
  • Do not operate the oven when it is empty. This can also cause arching.
  • Visit for recipes and more information.

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