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Knowledge Base » Food Hygiene » Cooking in a microwave

Cooking in a microwave

Microwaves have been around since the 1940s and are present in the majority of kitchens today. They are a handy appliance to have, as they cook food much faster than other methods, such as grilling, boiling, frying and oven cooking. Some ovens can take up to ten minutes to pre-heat, then there is the cooking time on top of this. If you are short of time, oven cooking is not always the best option for heating your food.

There is often a misperception that cooking in the microwave is not as healthy as other methods. However, this is not the case. As cooking times are shorter, microwaving can preserve vitamins and other nutrients in food (Harvard Health).

So how does a microwave heat your foods? Microwaves produce energy waves, which cause water and other molecules in the food to vibrate. These vibrations create heat (thermal energy), which starts to build up quickly, and this is what makes your food hot.

When microwaving foods, always be mindful of the wattage on your appliance, as this will dictate cooking temperatures and times. The higher the wattage, the quicker your food will cook. Standard microwaves are typically between 600 to 1,200 Watts (W). The wattage should be on the microwave itself or in the manufacturer’s manual. Always check the packaging on manufactured foods, as it will detail the cooking times for the different wattages.

There are so many different foods you can cook in a microwave, and it is a more convenient method. In this article, we will look at what you can and cannot cook in a microwave.

Can you cook potatoes in the microwave?

Yes and no, as it depends on the type of potatoes. Raw potatoes can be cooked in the microwave to make jacket potatoes, mashed, boiled and wedges. Cooking times will depend on the size of the potatoes, the type of dish and microwave wattage.

There are ready-to-cook potatoes that can be microwave cooked, such as mash and baby. However, many can only be oven cooked or fried, such as roasts, fries, Parmentier, croquettes and rosti. Always check the packaging for the cooking method.

A bucket of potatoes being freshly picked

Can you cook a jacket potato in the microwave?

Yes, and it is a far quicker alternative to oven cooking. Cooking jacket potatoes in the oven can take up to 90 minutes. The microwave method can reduce this time to 8-15 minutes (full power – 900W) (depending on the size of the potatoes).

The only downside to microwaving jacket potatoes is that you will not get the nice crispy skins you do from oven baking. If you have the time, you can soften the potatoes in the microwave for 5 minutes and then finish them off in the oven to crisp the skins.

Be careful not to overcook the potatoes in the microwave, as they can go wrinkly and tough. Also, always prick your jacket potatoes or make a shallow cut down the centre to stop them from exploding during cooking.

BBC Good Food has a recipe for making basic jacket potatoes in the microwave.

Jacket potatoes that have been cooked in the microwave

Can you cook raw potatoes in the microwave?

Yes, you can cook raw potatoes (peeled or unpeeled) in the microwave. The exact method of cooking will depend on the type of potato dish.

To cook raw potatoes in the microwave:

  • Wash your potatoes thoroughly, but do not pat them dry.
  • Peel them if required, i.e. if you are doing mashed potatoes.
  • Prick each potato with a fork on all sides.
  • Put your potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl and add a splash of water.
  • Cover the bowl, i.e. with cling film, to steam the potatoes.
  • Set the microwave to full power or use the potato setting (if available).
  • Cooking times will depend on the size of the potatoes, but cook for a few minutes at a time, check your potatoes with a fork and carry on cooking until soft in the middle.
Raw potatoes in a bowl

Can you cook chips in the microwave?

Yes, you can. You can even get frozen chips for microwave cooking, i.e. micro-chips. You should always follow the instructions on the packaging for microwave temperature and cooking times. To cook chips from raw potatoes, follow the above methods.

Again, like most potato products, do not expect your chips to be crispy and fluffy if you are microwave cooking. The microwave method can make chips quite soggy. Where possible, cook your chips in a frying pan or oven (healthier option).

Chips freshly made

Can you cook a frozen pizza in a microwave?

Yes and no, as it will depend on the type and size of the pizza and its toppings. The manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging should detail whether you can cook it in the microwave from frozen. For a 900W microwave, a small 4-6 inch frozen four-cheese pizza will take approximately 3 minutes to cook on full power.

The base and crust will not be crispy if microwave cooked and can be somewhat bready or chewy. Therefore, if you have time, it is always best to oven cook your frozen pizzas.

Frozen pizza

Can you cook swede in the microwave?

Yes, swede is a root vegetable like potato, and you can cook it in the microwave. You can choose to microwave a whole swede or cut it into portions before cooking. There is no need to peel or prick it first, as microwaving makes it easier to remove the skin.

It can take 10-15 minutes to cook raw swede in the microwave on full power (depending on its size). Like raw potato, it should be put in a microwave-safe container with a splash of water and covered (so the steam does not escape). Microwave for 5 minutes and check the softness with a knife. Repeat this until the swede is soft in the middle.

Once cooked, you can peel and then mash, slice or dice your swede and serve as a side or mix with other ingredients.

Swede ready to be cooked in the microwave

Can you cook carrots in the microwave?

Yes, carrots are a root vegetable and will cook easily in the microwave like potatoes and swede. You can cook raw and frozen carrots in the microwave.

  • Raw carrots – Are always best steamed.
    – Wash, pat dry, trim the ends, peel and cut to suit.
    – Place in a microwave-safe bowl with approximately 30ml of water.
    – Cover the bowl fully to stop the steam from escaping.
    – Cook on full power for 3-4 minutes (depending on wattage and carrot size).
    – Uncover, check with a fork, stir and re-cover (be careful of the hot bowl and escaping steam).
    – Repeat the process until cooked to your liking.
  • Frozen carrots – Place in a microwaveable dish, cover with film and pierce several times. For an 800W microwave, cook on full power for 5 minutes and check halfway through cooking (sliced carrots). Cooking times will differ depending on the type and size of the carrots. Always check the packaging instructions.
Raw carrots freshly picked

Can you cook a poached egg in the microwave?

Yes, you absolutely can, and it is a much easier and quicker option than a pan on the hob. Be sure to cook just one egg at a time.

Half fill a microwave-safe cup or small bowl (with a suitable lid or cover) with water (cold). Crack an egg into the water and prick the yolk and white slightly to stop it from exploding. Ensure that it is completely submerged and if it is not, add a bit more water until it is. Cover the mug/bowl and microwave for 30 seconds on full power. Check the egg is cooked fully before serving. If it is not, cook again on full power for 15-30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve.

Poached eggs that have been cooked in the microwave

Can you cook a boiled egg in the microwave?

No, do not cook a boiled egg in the microwave. If you put an egg in the microwave, the pressure builds up, and it can explode. Not only will this cause a mess in your microwave, but it can also cause burns, as they do not always explode straight away.

There are some websites with instructions on how to boil eggs in the microwave. Some say put a hole in the egg or add salt to hot water. For the time it takes, it is better to cook boiled eggs on the hob safely. You can boil the kettle and use boiling water in a pan to speed up the process.

If you want to do eggs in the microwave, it is best to do them scrambled or poached.

Boiled egg can't be cooked in the microwave

Can you cook brownies in the microwave?

Yes, surprisingly, you can cook brownies in the microwave. You can put the brownie mixture in a microwaveable dish and cook on full power for 4-5 minutes (depending on the microwave wattage). Tesco Real Food has a recipe for microwave chocolate brownies.

Brownies can be cooked in a microwave

Can you cook porridge in the microwave?

Yes, porridge is very easy to cook in the microwave and is delicious. Remember Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and the bears all had different porridge? It is the same for us. We all have individual preferences on consistency, milk or water, sweet or salty etc. Therefore, this will influence cooking methods and times.

A general guide to cooking fine porridge oats in an 800W microwave:

  • Put approximately 40g of oats into a microwaveable bowl and add around 300ml of cold milk (or cold water).
  • Cook on full power for approximately 3-4 minutes (depending on how thick you like it) and stir halfway through the cooking process.
  • Remove from the microwave, add any toppings and serve.

Adjust cooking times and liquid quantities for jumbo oats.

Porridge being made from the microwave

Can you cook rice in a microwave?

Yes, you can cook any dry rice in the microwave by following this simple method (depending on the rice and microwave wattage):

  • Rinse the rice under cold water and remove excess liquid.
  • Put the rice into a microwave-safe bowl (ensure it can contain the expanding rice).
  • Add water (check the rice to water ratios on the packet; usually one part rice, two parts water).
  • Keep the rice uncovered and cook at full power for approximately 10 minutes.
  • After 10 minutes, check the rice and heat it on low power for up to 15 minutes.
  • Once cooked, use a fork to separate the rice.

There are also different types of microwaveable rice packets, which usually take 1½-2 minutes in the microwave at full power (800-900W).

Be careful of Bacillus cereus when cooking and storing rice, as it can cause serious food poisoning.

Rice freshly cooked

Can you cook pasta in the microwave?

Yes, as with rice, you can microwave some pasta ready meals. You can also cook different types of dry pasta in the microwave, and the exact cooking times will depend on the pasta.

Add your pasta to a microwaveable bowl and cover with cold water, but do not fill it too much, as it will expand and bubble over during heating. Do not cover the bowl. Cook in the microwave on full power for an extra 3 minutes to the time stated on the pasta packaging.

You can also use boiling water. If this is the case, cook in the microwave on full power for the time stated on the packet.

A pasta dish that has been prepared in a microwave

Can you cook meat in the microwave?

Yes, you can safely cook most types of meat in a microwave, but there is a risk of it drying out and becoming tough if you cook it on full power for too long. There is also a risk of undercooking because microwaves do not cook evenly. Therefore, it is important to cook most meats on a low-medium power.

Where possible, cook all types of meat by alternative methods, e.g. oven, slow cooker, grill or pan, to make it tastier. If you do not have an alternative or are short of time, you can get special microwave bags and containers for meat. Microwave cooking times will depend on the type of meat, its size and your microwave wattage.

Always ensure all types of frozen meat are fully defrosted before microwaving and thoroughly cooked before serving. Sometimes, it is best to use microwaves for reheating and not for cooking meat. See our article on what foods can be reheated.

Raw meat in freezer ready to be cooked

Can you cook beef in the microwave?

Yes, it is possible to cook beef in the microwave, but it works better for thinner cuts. You will not get the tasty browning, and it will not look as appealing as pan-fried/oven cooked beef.

Cooking times will depend on how rare you like your beef and the size of the meat. It is best to cook in 1-2 minute increments on a low-medium power (800W) and check it is cooked to your liking.

Thin slices of beef cooked in the microwave

Can you cook a steak in the microwave?

Yes, but it will not be the same as pan-frying, and it is not the best method for cooking steak.

However, if you do decide to microwave your steak, here is a general guide:

  • Pat your steak dry with a piece of paper towel.
  • Season both sides to your liking, but do not use oil as it can burn.
  • Microwave on medium heat for 30-second intervals and turn the steak over to ensure even cooking (the time will depend on the thickness, type and how well done you like your steak).

It is best to use thinner cuts of steak where possible, such as minute steaks.

Steak that has been cooked in a microwave

Can you cook a pork in the microwave?

Yes, you can cook pork in the microwave, but it is better to use this method for smaller boneless cuts. If you have a pork cut with bones, try to remove them where possible, as it will ensure more even cooking. You may need to add water, stock or other liquid to your dish to stop the pork from drying out.

Like all types of meat, cooking times will depend on the cut, size and microwave wattage.

Pork cooked in a microwave

Can you cook a lamb in the microwave?

Yes, but the cooking times will depend on the cut (chop, leg, shoulder, rack etc.) and weight. For example, a lamb leg or shoulder can take up to an hour on medium power (slow cooked). If you want to cook roast lamb, you should set the microwave to medium and cook for approximately 10 minutes per 0.5kg.

Some lamb ready meals, such as shanks, can be done in the microwave on full power for approximately 6 minutes (800W).

Lamb cooking times are hard to find

Can you cook a minced meat in the microwave?

Yes, but when you cook your mince in the microwave, it will not have the same flavour and colour, so it is best to use this method if you are mixing it with a sauce. Cooking times can vary depending on the type of meat in the mince, its thickness, its fat content and your microwave wattage.

Add any seasoning and other desired ingredients to your mince and mix well in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on medium-full power for 2-3 minutes. Remove, stir and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Continue with this method until fully cooked. You may need to add some water, stock or other liquid to stop it from sticking.

Minced meat ready to be cooked in the microwave

Can you cook sausages in the microwave?

Yes, you can cook raw sausages in the microwave, and they will be safe to eat if heated thoroughly, but it isn’t generally recommended. When you cook sausages in the microwave, the skins do not go brown and can split, which will not look as appetising as doing them on the hob or in the oven. However, you could use them in other dishes, such as casseroles.

If you are pressed for time and need to do your sausages in the microwave, you should separate them (if linked), prick their skins all over and place them in a suitable microwaveable dish. Do not put too many in, as they will not cook properly. Cover the dish with a lid or cling film. Microwave on full power for 6-8 minutes (six sausages) and check the sausages halfway through. Reduce the cooking time for fewer sausages. You may need to remove the skins, as they can become chewy.

Check the sausages are piping hot all the way through, ideally using a probe.

Sausages aren't recommended to be cooked in a microwave

Can you cook bacon in the microwave?

Yes, you can, and if you cook it correctly, it can still turn out quite crispy, and you will not have the mess that comes with frying.

To cook bacon in the microwave:

  • Put a sheet of kitchen towel (ensure it is microwave-safe) on a microwavable plate.
  • Lay the rashers out and ensure they are not overlapping.
  • Put another sheet of kitchen towel on top of the bacon.
  • Microwave on full power for 30-second increments until cooked.
Cooking bacon in the microwave

Can you cook turkey in the microwave?

Yes and no. It depends on the size and cut.

  • Whole turkeys – Microwave cooking is not recommended for whole birds, and most turkeys would not fit anyway. Never cook a stuffed turkey in the microwave. You could cut the turkey into smaller parts and cook separately, but it is best to do your turkey in the oven BBC Good Food has a webpage on how to cook a whole turkey in the oven.
  • Turkey drumsticks and wings (boned) – Microwaving is not recommended for cuts with bones, as the bones can affect even cooking.
  • Turkey breasts (boneless) – Place in a microwaveable container, add a small cup of water, cover and cook on medium power for 12 to 15 minutes per 450g/1lb.

If you do cook in the microwave, cooking times will depend on the size of the turkey and microwave wattage.

Turkey freshly cooked

Can you cook a whole chicken in the microwave?

Yes, you can, but do not expect it to be as delicious and crispy as a chicken roasted in the oven. If you need to microwave it, you can always cut pieces off your whole chicken, which will make it easier and quicker to cook.

If you want to cook a whole chicken in the microwave, the cooking time will vary according to the size of the bird. The larger the chicken, the longer the cooking time, with some taking up to an hour to cook.

Lakeland has a recipe for cooking a whole chicken (1kg) in the microwave, which takes 22 minutes on medium-high power (600W).

A whole chicken can be cooked for a long time in the microwave

Can you cook a chicken breast in the microwave?

Yes, you can, but it is not the best method for cooking chicken breast, and there is the risk of it being dry and chewy if there is not enough moisture and/or it is overcooked. Most supermarket-bought chicken breasts will advise oven cooking.

If you do decide to microwave your chicken breasts (fresh or fully defrosted):

  • Place them in a microwaveable dish (not overlapping and space between) with the widest side facing the outside.
  • Add water or stock covering a third of the breast.
  • Cover the dish with cling film and pierce several times.
  • Cook in the microwave on medium power for 12 to 15 minutes per 450g/1lb.
Chicken breast freshly cooked

Can you cook fish in the microwave?

Yes, some frozen fillets and fish ready meals are better cooked in the microwave as they are steamed or poached. The cooking time will depend on the type of fish, e.g. smoked haddock frozen fillets can take approximately 5 minutes on full power (900W), and whether it is fresh or frozen.

Some fish will need to be fully defrosted before cooking. Always check the packaging instructions. Always handle raw fish with care and ensure it is thoroughly cooked to avoid food poisoning.

Be prepared for a fishy smell in your microwave after cooking.

Frozen fish need to be fully defrosted

Can you cook salmon in the microwave?

Yes, it is safe to cook salmon fillets in the microwave, but some purchased products will still need to be oven cooked.

When microwaving salmon fillets, fully defrost if frozen (unless the manufacturer states otherwise). Always place the fillets skin side down in a microwaveable dish, add seasoning/oil and fully cover to steam/poach the salmon. Cook on full power (800W) for 3-4 minutes (small fillets). Adjust times for fillet size and microwave wattage.

Salmon can spit in the microwave during cooking, so it is best to cover it.

Raw salmon fillets

Can you cook cod in the microwave?

Yes and no, as it depends on the type of product. You can cook cod fillets in the microwave (see the section on ‘Can you cook fish in the microwave?’). There are also some ready meals containing cod that can be microwave cooked. Some even say this method will get the best results. The cooking method should be on the packaging.

Breaded or battered cod, and any other ready meals, should always be cooked as per the manufacturer’s instructions, which is usually in the oven. However, you can cook some dishes in the microwave if necessary.

Cod fillets can sometimes be cooked in the microwave

Can you cook fish fingers in the microwave?

Yes, but they will not be the same texture as being cooked in the oven, as the breadcrumbs/batter will not crisp. This method is probably better if you want a quick fish finger sandwich.

To microwave cook, lay your frozen fish fingers out separately on a microwaveable plate. On full power (800W), cook the fish fingers for 1 minute, turn them over and cook for a further 1 minute. Do the same again for another 1 minute (3 minutes in total). Adjust the time for different wattages and fresh fish fingers and ensure they are piping hot before serving.

Fish fingers can be cooked in the microwave

Can you cook fishcakes in the microwave?

Yes, but like fish fingers, the texture of the fishcakes will be different if cooked in the microwave, so it is better to do them in the oven as per the manufacturer’s instructions if you want them crispy.

If you do microwave your fishcakes, you can cook them straight from frozen. Place 1-2 fishcakes in a dish and cover. Microwave on full power (800W) for 1½ minutes, turn over and cook for a further 1½ minutes.

Fishcakes can be cooked in microwave but won't be same texture

What should you not cook in the microwave?

You can cook many different types of food in the microwave, but is there anything that you should not?

Yes, there are certain foods that you shouldn’t microwave, for example:

  • Whole eggs – Can explode, as you have learnt.
  • Bread – Can go very dry if cooked in the microwave, and if it is frozen, the moisture from the ice can make it soggy.
  • Frozen meat – Unless the manufacturer states on the packaging that you can microwave frozen meat, you should always fully defrost it in a refrigerator overnight before cooking.
  • Fruit – It is not a good idea to microwave fruit, as it can lose its taste and some can explode, e.g. grapes.
  • Uncovered sauces and soups – As liquids heat up, they can bubble over and spit, which will make a mess in your microwave. Always cover when microwaving.
  • Chillies – When you heat chillies, they release chemicals, which can burn your eyes when you open the microwave door.
Bread would go dry in the microwave

When choosing what to cook your food in, you must not use certain materials in microwaves, such as:

  • Metal – Creates sparks due to the reflection of the microwaves, which is a fire risk. Never use metal in a microwave, e.g. foil, and watch for the metal in plates, mugs and bowls.
  • Some plastics and Styrofoam – Cannot withstand the cooking temperatures and may melt during cooking, which can also release harmful chemicals into food. Ensure the container is microwave-safe.
  • Paper – Can catch fire in the microwave. Only use paper that is microwave-safe.

Remember:

  • Always ensure there is something in the microwave before switching it on, as it can damage your appliance and catch fire if it is empty.
  • Always check the receptacle you are using for cooking is microwave-safe.
  • Always be careful when taking anything out of the microwave, as the cooking receptacle can get very hot.
  • Always watch out for steam when you are uncovering your food, as there is a risk of burns.

Why not access our articles on what you can cook from frozen and how to defrost food safely.

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About the author

Michelle Putter

Michelle Putter

Michelle graduated with an MSc in wildlife biology and conservation in 2012, but her career has taken quite a different turn to the one expected. She started in health and safety in 2009 and has worked in several industries such as electrical engineering, aviation and manufacturing. She has been working with CPD Online College since 2018 and became NEBOSH Diploma qualified in 2020. In her spare time, Michelle's passions are wildlife and her garden. She has volunteered for many conservation organisations and particularly enjoys biological recording. Michelle also likes hiking, jogging and cycling.



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