Microwaves: Do’s and Don’ts

A microwave with a desaturated green and red background

The do’s and don’ts of microwave cooking.

There are some basic rules you need to follow when you’re cooking in the microwave, some more widely known than others. So, although using a microwave oven is fast and convenient, there are still some myths and misunderstandings to bust, and hot tips to know.

If you want the low-down on everything you should and shouldn’t do, read on!

What are the Do’s and Don’ts for Microwaves?

DO take extra caution when thawing meat

Many believe that you should never defrost meat in a microwave. However, this isn’t the case. Meat is perfectly okay to defrost in the microwave, providing you ensure it is properly defrosted, and you cook it immediately afterwards. Be sure to first remove it from its original packaging, and check it regularly. Thin cuts of meat will begin to cook if left too long.

DON’T put metal in the microwave

You should never place anything metal in the microwave.  Metal will spark in a microwave oven and may even cause a fire or explosion. This includes any metal utensils, dishes with metal detailing, or anything else containing metal. If you have children in the house, it’s important that they are aware of the dangers too.

DO use microwave-safe containers

You should always ensure that any containers placed in the microwave are microwave-safe. Microwave-safe containers will have a label stating if they can be heated in a microwave or not. Non-microwave-safe plastic containers, for example, will melt in the microwave. They can also release toxic chemicals.

DON’T use containers that aren’t microwave-ready

Some plastic containers like salad bowls or food packaging aren’t designed to be put in the microwave and can melt. The smell alone should be enough to put you off, but the clean-up is even worse. Make sure any container you put in the microwave is microwave-ready.

DO check on your food

Microwaves achieve the best results if you regularly check on the food. This will help prevent your food from burning, drying out, or cooking unevenly. This is especially true when heating food without any given instructions, as it may be difficult to determine how long it will take.

DON’T leave the microwave unattended

Microwaves heat food quickly, but that doesn’t mean you should walk away and leave them running. Always stay nearby when using the microwave and check on your food regularly. This way, you can prevent overcooking, spills, or any potential issues that may arise.

DO stir regularly or turn your food

All too often when people are microwave cooking, the outer edges of the food become piping hot whilst the middle remains cold. This can be fixed by regularly stirring or turning your food. The instructions for how often to do this will usually be included in the instructions for any microwave meal. If you are just heating leftovers, we’d recommend doing this about halfway through the cooking time, or every 30 seconds.

DON’T microwave non-food items

Microwaves are meant for heating food, not non-food items. Never attempt to microwave items such as sponges, paper towels, clothing, or anything else that is not food-safe. Doing so can damage your microwave and may pose a safety risk.

DO follow the instructions for your microwave meal

If you cook a microwave-ready meal, you should read and follow the instructions carefully for the best results. There will be differing cooking times for microwaves of different power levels. For example, a 700W microwave will take longer to cook something than a 900W one.

DON’T overheat liquids

Liquids that are overheated will boil and splash, and may even explode inside your microwave. However, don’t be afraid to let your food bubble up or steam. This just means that it has been thoroughly cooked. Allow your food to get piping hot and then let it cool down a bit before eating it.

DO leave a gap for your food to breathe

Although it’s a good idea to cover your food when heating it in the microwave, you should still leave a small gap in the container for ventilation. This will allow steam to escape, and prevent the container from warping, or even exploding. Even microwave-ready Tupperware containers can warp or damage if their lid if left completely fastened. It’s therefore best to leave the lid loosely on top to ensure that doesn’t happen.

DON’T leave your food uncovered

When microwave cooking food that contains higher levels of liquid or fat, make sure you cover it up. It’s best practice to cover anything you’re cooking in your microwave oven, as it will cook quicker and more consistently. Also, little pockets of moisture can form in your food, and when heated these can lead to explosions. For example, pork sausages got their British pet name of ‘bangers’ because of their high moisture content during the war. When cooked, these would explode with a big bang! Covering your food will reduce the amount of times you have to clean the inside of your microwave.

DO allow standing time

After heating, let your food stand in the microwave for a minute or two before you take it out. This allows the heat to distribute evenly throughout the food, ensuring it reaches a safe temperature and is heated thoroughly. Standing time is particularly important for dishes like casseroles or large portions, which can continue cooking from residual heat.

DON’T overcrowd the microwave

While it may be tempting to cook everything at once, overcrowding the microwave can lead to uneven heating and poor results. Make sure there is enough space between items to allow for proper circulation of microwaves. If necessary, cook food in smaller batches to ensure even cooking and better quality results.

DO allow for different cooking times

Different foods and dishes require varying cooking times based on their density, moisture content, and the wattage of your microwave. Be aware that denser foods like meat and pasta will need more time than lighter foods like vegetables. Always start with the minimum cooking time recommended, then check and add more time as needed. Adjusting cooking times helps to avoid overcooking or undercooking your meals.

DON’T put things on top of the microwave

It might seem convenient to use the top of your microwave as extra storage space, but it’s not a good idea. Blocking the vents on the top of the microwave can cause it to overheat, leading to potential damage, or even creating a fire hazard. Keep the top of your microwave clear to ensure proper ventilation.


  • Can a dirty microwave make you sick?

While a dirty microwave itself may not directly make you sick, the food cooked or reheated in it could become contaminated if bacteria or mould are present. Regularly cleaning your microwave helps maintain food safety and prevents potential health risks.

  • Should you cover your food in the microwave?

Covering food in the microwave can help retain moisture, promote even cooking, and prevent splattering. However, it’s essential to use microwave-safe covers or lids to avoid potential hazards. Covering food also helps prevent cross-contamination and keeps your microwave clean.

  • Is it safe to microwave food without a cover?

Microwaving food without a cover is generally safe for many types of food, but it may result in uneven cooking, moisture loss, and splattering. Using a microwave-safe cover or lid helps improve cooking efficiency and maintains food quality while preventing messes inside the microwave.

  • How to microwave soup without it exploding?

As mentioned above, overheating liquids in the microwave can lead to explosions. This makes soup explosions particularly common. 

To microwave soup without it exploding, follow these two tips:

  1. Use a microwave-safe cover or lid to prevent splattering while allowing steam to escape.

  2. Microwave the soup in short intervals, checking and stirring frequently to distribute heat and avoid overheating.

  • Can you cook something in the microwave if the instructions call for an oven?

In short, it depends! In many cases, it is possible to adapt oven cooking instructions for the microwave. However, it’s essential to adjust cooking times and power levels accordingly to ensure proper cooking and prevent food from becoming overcooked or undercooked. It’s important to note that whilst some foods can be cooked in the microwave, they may not come out tasting great. For example, chicken becomes rubbery and pizza can become soggy and chewy.

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