Fun Ways to Use Your Microwave
Step aside, air fryer. There’s a new-old cooker in town that’s just as versatile. From mac and cheese to bacon brittle, here are dozens of easy recipes to make the most of the trusty microwave.
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Confession: I’ve been using the same microwave oven for over 25 years. And why wouldn’t I? It simply refuses to break. For the first decade or so, the old workhorse mostly got pressed into service for the usual things like popcorn, baked potatoes, and reheating takeout. Then I discovered, while it may not be trendy like an air fryer or Instant Pot, the microwave oven can do a lot more. A lot more.
Once I began to seek out creative microwave recipes, I saw possibilities everywhere. You can cook entire meals in there, as well as quick snacks and tasty treats. It’s downright essential when I’m cooking just for myself, since single-serve recipes abound.
These days, particularly in warmer months when I don’t want to heat up the kitchen, that homely gadget gets more use than anything in my kitchen except the coffee maker.
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Top tips for cooking with a microwave oven
With a handful of buttons, the microwave is certainly easy to operate. But if you want stellar results, you should know a few things.
1. Some metals are safe
When you were a little kid, your mother probably taught you never to put metal in the microwave oven. It’s not that simple. Microwaves can’t pass through metal, so you definitely shouldn’t, say, wrap something completely in foil if you want it to cook. But deployed carefully, foil can help shield food from overcooking. The USDA has guidelines for which materials can — and can’t — go in, including instructions for using aluminum foil.
2. For even cooking, cut up larger items
Microwave ovens sure are fast, but they’re not precise. The outer edges of food cooks first, so if you put in a big hunk of something-or-other, the outside will turn rubbery before the inside is cooked. Cut food into pieces of similar size and arrange with the thickest parts facing outward. Leave the center of the plate empty, if you can.
3. Stir food regularly
See item #2: If you want food to cook evenly, you need to stop the machine and distribute the heat by moving things around. Start it up again, and repeat as necessary.
4. Cover what you’re cooking
Foods tend to burp and splatter in there, so unless you enjoy wiping down the inside of the oven after each use, cover your food with plastic wrap, a specially-made lid, or an upside-down plate.
5. Paper towels are your friend
If you’re cooking an item that might get soggy, like a sandwich, wrap it in a white, unprinted paper towel to absorb the excess moisture.
Microwave breakfast ideas
Hurried mornings feel less stressful when you can prepare a hot, filling breakfast in a flash. Microwave meals are the way to go.
This has to be the easiest way possible to make a tasty bowl of cheesy, veggie, meaty scrambled eggs. The night before, you divide ham, bell pepper and onion, cheddar, and butter into individual containers. In the morning, grab one and transfer the contents to a mug, crack an egg into it, and nuke. (Be sure to check out the cooking tips for great results with microwave eggs.) Breakfast is ready in less than 2 minutes.
I often heat my tortillas in the microwave, but this clever recipe takes things a step further — you press the tortilla into a microwave-safe bowl and scramble an egg inside it. The whole thing gets microwaved for about a minute, then you add cheese and salsa, fold up the tortilla, and head out the door, breakfast in hand.
Normally I think of cinnamon rolls as something to make on a leisurely weekend, but this recipe only needs about 5 minutes to provide all the warm, spicy satisfaction I desire — and that includes a decadent swirl of cream cheese icing.
With a mug and a microwave, you’re 5 minutes from a sweet single-serving breakfast. It’s more like a bread pudding than true French toast (you won’t get the browning you’d get from a skillet) but this is so much easier. Plus, you can whip up a mug whenever you get a hankering, no muss, no fuss.
Microwave dinner ideas
When I need meal ideas that come together quickly — whether it’s a main dish or a side dish — I often seek out recipes that use the microwave. Some of these also work as microwave lunch ideas.
Sometimes you just want a bowl full of rich, creamy macaroni and cheese, without the fuss and bother of boiling water, cooking pasta, making cheese sauce, etc. When the craving hits, your microwave can get comfort food into your family's bellies in 30 minutes. (This recipe, which serves 2 rather than 4, takes only 5 minutes!)
I ate my fair share of instant ramen back in the day — yeah, the kind with all the sodium. If I’d only known it was just as easy to make homemade ramen in the microwave, complete with flavorful broth and frozen veggies.
When I wrote about ways to make risotto without all the stirring, I missed one big option: the microwave. With frozen butternut squash for added flavor (and nutrients), this recipe delivers everything you expect from risotto, with very little effort.
I think of meatloaf as a dish for cooler weather. Who wants to heat up the kitchen for an hour? When you make it in the microwave, the room stays cool — and the meatloaf is ready in less than 20 minutes. Mix ground beef, cracker crumbs, Parmesan, and a few other ingredients in a microwave-safe casserole. Hit the power button, and dinner’s almost ready. (I like to serve it with microwave corn on the cob, which cooks while the meatloaf rests.)
Easy microwave snacks
Just need a nibble? Your friendly neighborhood microwave to the rescue! You can use it to satisfy all sorts of cravings.
This has to be one of my favorite ways to get myself past the mid-afternoon slump. There’s almost always a little leftover rice in my fridge, and frozen vegetables in the freezer. That plus some soy sauce, ground ginger and garlic, an egg, and a measly 4 minutes is all I need.
Let me tell you, the day I learned how to make crispy, crunchy potato chips from scratch, with no oil and no mess, was a very good day indeed. This version uses sweet potatoes, but it works equally well with russet or Yukon gold.
Soft and sweet, baked apples are such a cozy treat, you’d never guess they’re good for you. When my son was little, I used to pop an apple into the microwave with a little cinnamon and a spoonful of granola in the cored-out center. When he dug in after school, he’d think he was eating dessert.
Microwave sweet treats
You’ve probably heard of mug cakes. Think of them as the gateway to a world of heavenly goodies that come together in minutes.
Yes, you read that right. This is microwave cake! Silicone cake pans make summer baking cool, easy, and fast. Each layer takes less than 3 minutes in a microwave oven, and you’ll be amazed how evenly it bakes. Frost it up, and nobody will guess this was made in such an outside-the-box way.
If you ask me, mug brownies beat mug cakes, hands down. I’m a sucker for moist, fudgy, and quick. This one’s studded with chunks of chocolate, but you can easily swap in chocolate chips. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream like in the picture, and I’m swooning.
I used to think of homemade caramels as a DIY I’d rather not D — it just seemed so messy, so easy to ruin. Silly me. Making caramel in the microwave is practically foolproof, using simple ingredients like corn syrup, brown and white sugars, and sweetened condensed milk. Soft, chewy, and buttery, these are dangerously good. The recipe makes 40, and in my home we’re lucky if they last two days.
Be warned: Microwave bacon brittle could set you on a path to daily microwave candy-making. It’s that easy, and that good. Smoky, salty bits of bacon take the place of the traditional peanuts, embedded in a shatteringly crisp sheet of molten sugar, corn syrup, baking soda, and butter. Vegetarian? Give regular microwave peanut brittle a shot instead.
Another kind of caramel (one that doesn’t get cooked at all) stars in this caramel apple recipe. It’s made in a food processor with medjool dates and almond milk, and it’s perfect for coating apples. Dunk those caramel apples into chocolate you’ve melted in the microwave (one of the appliance’s handier uses, if you ask me), sprinkle with nuts, and let it set.
More tricks for your favorite kitchen appliances
The fun doesn’t end here. Check out these recipes for easy microwave fudge, microwave caramel corn, microwave mug pizza, 5-minute microwave cheesecake, and one-minute Rice Krispies treats. And get more inspiration in these next articles.