Understanding Power Settings & Other Microwave Uses

microwave oven

When it comes to reheating food, we’re used to popping something into the microwave, throwing it in for a minute or two and voila! Reheated food, fast. But did you know that there are a variety of microwave settings that can make your food taste even better? How about cooking full parts of a meal instead of just defrosting? When it comes to microwave uses, this appliance deserves to be less of an afterthought and more of a front-and-center part of cooking your meals.

How to Use a Microwave’s Power Settings

Most microwaves come with two power settings: high and low. In many cases, the low setting is used for defrosting and the high microwave setting can both fry and steam your food. Use these guidelines when cooking your meal and you can shave off minutes—or even hours—of your cook time.

In the event your microwave does not follow "high" or "low" power settings, your best bet is to look on the inside door of your microwave to determine the wattage of your microwave. From there, determine what 25%, 50% and 75% of the wattage is and correspond those to the power settings.

  • 100% or High - Good for reheating leftovers and convenience items such as soups, beverages and vegetables. You can also cook small pieces of meat, poultry and fish.
  • 75% or Medium-High - Use this setting for reheating rice, pasta or casseroles you can stir. You can also cook whole fish or a meatloaf at this setting.
  • 50% or Medium - Cooking at half the wattage is good for sensitive foods such as cheese and egg dishes and set casserole dishes like lasagna. Also use this setting for cooking hams, whole poultry items and pot roasts as well as heating up bakery goods.
  • 25% or Low - This is typically used as a defrost setting for meats, poultry and fish, but can also be used to soften delicate foods such as butter, cheese or ice cream.

Other Microwave Settings

Are there buttons on your microwave that you don't exactly know what they mean? The first thing you should do is consult the manual you received when you first bought your microwave. However, many come with the following settings for popular microwave uses:

  • Defrost - The automatic defrost setting can be a lifesaver when you're using the microwave to defrost that night's meat. To defrost in the microwave, unwrap and dispose of any packaging, and separate food pieces as much as possible. The defrost setting typically requires that you enter the weight and type of the food being defrosted.
  • Popcorn - This is used for a standard 1.75 oz bag of microwave popcorn. Cooking time does vary by brand and butter content, so be sure to stand by to listen for the kernels to slow to popping every one to two seconds and stop the cook time.
  • Reheat - Most reheat settings immediately set the power to 75% and a five-second cooking time. From there, you can increase cooking time by pressing the [+] or [-] buttons on your microwave.

How to Use a Microwave Steamer

Steaming food is the best way to keep in nutrients, color and the natural flavor of the food. Because microwaves heat the water molecules in the food, using a microwave to steam vegetables is considered by some the healthiest - and easiest - way to cook them. When steaming vegetables, a good rule of thumb to follow is that the smaller the piece, the more evenly it will cook. Cut large vegetables into smaller, more manageable pieces so that you can serve them easier and fit them on your fork.

Once you've gotten your vegetables down to a reasonable size, arrange the larger pieces around the outside of the dish and the smaller pieces toward the center. You'll want to make sure you're using a bowl or plate that is both microwave-safe and not deep so that the vegetables are able to remain flat. Add about a quarter to a half cup of water, cover the bowl with a heavy plate or lid, and set the microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Of course, microwave time will vary depending on the vegetable and the amount you're cooking. Be sure to check in every so often to make sure you're not overcooking your vegetables!

For more microwave tips on everything from softening old honey to using a lemon to remove dried food, check out our blog post on unique microwave hacks.


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