Do you really need a microwave? Chefs and home cooks share their thoughts on this everyday convenience

With busy lifestyles, microwaves offer a convenient way to quickly heat up meals and snacks. However, some chefs and home cooks debate whether this popular appliance is really necessary. Here’s an in-depth look at the pros and cons of owning a microwave, along with thoughts from experts.

Common uses for microwaves

Microwaves are known for their speed and convenience. Here are some of the most common uses:

  • Reheating leftovers – Microwaves heat food quickly, making them ideal for reheating last night’s dinner or those leftovers from a restaurant.
  • Cooking frozen foods – Pre-packaged frozen meals and snacks specifically designed for microwave use are heated up rapidly.
  • Melting butter or chocolate – Microwaves can melt butter for baking or chocolate for dipping in just seconds.
  • Warming up beverages – Microwaves make it easy to heat up a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.
  • Making popcorn – Microwave popcorn bags pop corn in just 2-3 minutes.
  • Steaming vegetables – A microwave-safe bowl with a bit of water can lightly steam fresh or frozen vegetables.
  • Baking potatoes – Russet or sweet potatoes can be baked whole in the microwave in 8-10 minutes.
  • Cooking bacon – Microwave racks or cookware allow you to cook bacon neatly in the microwave.
  • Cleaning kitchen sponges – Moist sponges can be disinfected by microwaving them for 1-2 minutes.

So in a nutshell, microwaves provide speed and convenience for reheating, cooking, melting, and more. When you’re pressed for time, they can be invaluable.

Benefits of owning a microwave

Speed – This is the #1 reason most people purchase microwaves. They heat food up incredibly fast. Meals can be ready in minutes, rather than waiting for an oven.

Convenience – Modern busy lifestyles mean people want convenience. Microwaves offer an easy way to cook and heat foods.

Efficiency – Microwaves use less energy than conventional ovens, making them an efficient appliance. They save time and money.

Compact size – Microwaves are smaller than traditional ovens, making them ideal for apartments, dorms, offices, RV’s and other tight spaces.

Easy to use – Microwaves have simple controls and preset programs. Even kids can safely use them to heat up snacks.

Cleanliness – Food cooked in the microwave doesn’t splatter grease across the interior like an oven. This makes cleanup quicker.

Multifunctional – Many microwaves have options like convection cooking, grilling, air frying and more. One appliance can do the work of many.

Reheats evenly – Microwaves don’t have hot or cold spots, so leftovers heat up evenly throughout.

Downsides of microwaves

However, microwaves aren’t perfect. There are some downsides to consider as well:

Limited cooking abilities – Microwaves work great for reheating and steaming, but they can’t properly brown or crisp foods. Meats, chicken, and breads won’t get a crispy finish.

Creates rubbery textures – Some foods like eggs or vegetables can become rubbery in texture if cooked too long in the microwave. It removes moisture unevenly.

Leaks nutrients – Some studies show that microwaves deplete nutrients in foods more quickly compared to other cooking methods. Vitamin C and antioxidants are reduced.

Doesn’t impart flavor – Foods cooked on the stovetop or oven develop delicious caramelization and aromas. Microwaved food can be bland in flavor.

Can’t cook large quantities – Microwaves work best for heating small portions. It’s tough to cook large batches of food all at once.

Food safety issues – Cold spots in food may not get heated to safe internal temperatures, so microwaved foods could potentially cause illness if not cooked thoroughly.

Takes up counter space – While smaller than ovens, microwaves still require precious counter real estate in kitchens.

So microwaves do have some limitations in terms of cooking performance and food quality.

Expert opinions: Do you need a microwave?

With the pros and cons in mind, what do cooking experts think about the role of microwaves in the kitchen? Here are some opinions:

“I do 90% of my cooking on the stovetop or oven, but I still think a microwave is essential. It’s so useful for quickly reheating leftovers or a cup of coffee. I couldn’t live without mine.” – Ellie Krieger, RD, cookbook author and TV host

“Microwaves definitely aren’t necessary, but they can be a helpful tool. Use them judiciously for tasks like melting butter or making oatmeal. Just don’t rely on them too heavily for actual cooking.” – Alton Brown, food show host

“I’m not a fan. Microwaves deplete nutrients faster and give food a rubbery texture. With a little planning, you can reheat leftovers effectively on the stovetop or oven.” – Mark Bittman, cookbook author

“Microwaves can be a busy cook’s best friend! They save so much time. Just be careful not to overcook delicate foods. Use microwave-safe dishes and adjust power and timing as needed.” – Rachael Ray, TV host and cookbook writer

“If you have the counter space, a microwave can be convenient. But with basic time management skills, you can absolutely work around not having one too.” – Bobby Flay, chef and restauranteur

“Don’t be afraid to use your microwave! It’s perfect for tasks like reheating coffee or steaming veggies. You just need to understand its limitations for more intensive cooking.” – Martha Stewart, TV show host and lifestyle guru

So while expert opinions differ somewhat, most agree that microwaves can be useful but shouldn’t be the only cooking method you rely on. With some care, they have a place in most home kitchens.

Tips for healthy microwave cooking

If you do choose to use a microwave, there are ways to get the most from it while maintaining food quality:

  • Use microwave-safe cookware – Ceramic, glass, and plastic containers labeled “microwave-safe” won’t leach chemicals when heated.
  • Adjust power settings – Cook on lower powers like 60-80% to prevent rubbery textures and uneven cooking.
  • Stir and rotate – Stirring and rotating food mid-cooking helps prevent cold spots.
  • Allow standing time – Let food sit for a minute or two after cooking so the heat can evenly distribute.
  • Use lids or parchment – Covering food or using microwave-safe parchment paper keeps in moisture.
  • Add a bit of liquid – A tablespoon of water in a dish can create steam to cook food more gently.
  • Elevate foods – Placing food on a microwave-safe rack promotes air circulation for better results.
  • Cook in short bursts – Cooking food in 1-2 minute intervals lets heat penetrate evenly. Check and stir between each burst.
  • Keep an eye on things – Monitor food closely and stop cooking if you see arcing sparks or discolored areas.

Following these tips will help you cook food in the healthiest way possible in the microwave.

Creative ways to use your microwave

Beyond just reheating leftovers, there are also some surprising and creative ways to utilize a microwave:

  • Make homemade popcorn – Dollar store popcorn kernels + a paper bag = quick homemade popcorn.
  • Bake potatoes – Potato wraps, twice-baked potatoes, and potato salads are easy with microwave spuds.
  • Steam artichokes – Fresh artichokes become tender and cooked with just water and a few minutes in the microwave.
  • Warm cookie dough – Prepared cookie dough bakes up with a soft center when given 20-30 seconds in the microwave before baking.
  • Melt coconut oil – Solid coconut oil easily melts into liquid for use in recipes with a quick microwave burst.
  • Warm plates – A quick 10-20 seconds warms plates so food stays hotter when served.
  • Soften brown sugar – Microwave old hardened brown sugar with a slice of bread to make it soft again.
  • Make microwave mug cakes – Individual chocolate cakes and mug desserts cook up fast right in the microwave.
  • Dry herbs – Fresh herb leaves dried in the microwave retain more flavor than air drying.

With some creative thinking, you can discover even more handy uses for the microwave.

Is it worth purchasing a new microwave?

If your current microwave is outdated or malfunctioning, is it worth purchasing a new one?

Here are some factors to consider when deciding:

  • Your cooking habits – Do you rely on the microwave daily for meals or just occasionally? Frequent users will get more value from upgrading.
  • Age of current model – Microwaves tend to last 7-10 years. Older ones become less efficient and may have safety issues.
  • Power level – Newer microwaves often have higher wattages for faster cooking times. This can improve convenience.
  • Features needed – Consider if you’ll use presets, convection modes or sensor cooking controls before purchasing.
  • Style – Today’s microwaves come in stylish finishes like stainless steel, so you can likely find one that matches your kitchen’s decor.
  • Budget – Basic microwaves start around $50-75, while high-end models with extra features can cost over $150+. Determine how much you can spend.

Taking stock of your needs and cooking habits will help determine if investing in a new microwave is worthwhile or not.

Common microwave myths and truths

There are plenty of myths and misunderstandings that persist about microwave safety and use. Here are some common myths along with the real truths behind them:

Myth: Microwaves expose you to harmful radiation.

Truth: Microwaves generate non-ionizing radiation which does not have enough energy to damage cells or DNA. They do not make food radioactive.

Myth: Microwaves destroy a food’s nutrients.

Truth: Some nutrient loss can occur, but microwaving typically has less impact than boiling or conventional cooking. Proper cooking methods minimize loss.

Myth: Microwaved water is dangerous to drink.

Truth: Microwaving does not create toxins in water. However, microwaving creates superheated water that can explode, so caution should be used.

Myth: Microwaves cook food from the inside out.

Truth: Microwaves actually penetrate food about 1-1.5 inches deep, so heat is generated throughout the food. Stirring helps distribute heat evenly.

Myth: Microwaves can start to leak radiation over time.

Truth: Modern microwaves have safety mechanisms that prevent leaks well beyond their usable lifespans.

Myth: Microwaved plastic containers and film will leak cancer-causing dioxins into food.

Truth: As long as containers and wraps are labeled microwave-safe, there is no risk of chemical leaching.

Knowing microwave facts helps you use them safely so you can feel confident harnessing their convenience.

Do you really need a microwave? Final takeaways

  • Microwaves provide undeniable convenience – They reheat leftovers quickly and cook some foods faster than conventional methods. This can be a lifesaver for busy home cooks.
  • However, they have limitations too – Microwaves can’t properly crisp or brown foods. And overuse can lead to rubbery textures and nutrient loss.
  • Most chefs and experts agree they have a place – When used judiciously and as a complementary cooking method, microwaves can be very useful.
  • Employ best practices for optimal results – Adjust power levels, stir food, use proper containers, and don’t over-nuke foods.
  • Consider your habits before replacing an old model – Frequent microwave users will get more value from purchasing a new one. Use, features, and budget are key factors.

So while a microwave shouldn’t be your sole cooking method, it can be a helpful tool in many home kitchens. With care and common sense, microwaves can safely provide convenience for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions about microwaves:

Is it unhealthy to microwave food in plastic containers?

Microwaving food in plastic containers is fine as long as they are labeled “microwave-safe.” This means they will not leak chemicals into foods during heating. Avoid old, cracked or stained containers.

Can the microwave make you sick?

Used properly, microwaves do not expose you to radiation or contaminate food. The FDA closely regulates microwave safety. Illness could occur from eating microwaved foods that were not cooked to proper temperatures.

Why do microwave baked potatoes come out hard inside sometimes?

This happens if potatoes are not rotated during cooking. Microwaves penetrate the potato about an inch deep, so rotating ensures even thorough cooking. Prick potatoes with a fork before cooking as well.

What foods should never be microwaved?

Avoid microwaving whole eggs with shells, grapes and tomatoes. These can superheat and explode. Also don’t microwave breastmilk or baby food since microwaves heat unevenly.

Is reheating rice in the microwave dangerous?

Rice can contain spores of Bacillus cereus bacteria. These spores can survive cooking and produce toxins when rice is left at room temperature. Reheating cooked rice thoroughly to steaming hot reduces risks.

Do microwaves kill nutrients in food?

Some nutrient loss can occur when microwaving, especially of water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C. Using proper power levels and minimum cooking times will help preserve nutrients.

Why do microwave turntables fail?

With heavy use, the lubricant around turntable spindles can dry up. Dropping or applying too much weight onto turntables can also damage components over time.

How often should you replace a microwave?

On average, expect to replace a microwave every 7-10 years. Signs it’s time include frequently burnt food, door seal issues, turntable problems, visible damage or just outdated technology.

Are convection microwaves worth the extra cost?

Convection microwaves have fans which can mimic regular oven convection cooking, crisping foods more effectively. For those wanting to cook full meals in a microwave, it can be a worthwhile upgrade.

What is the best wattage for a microwave?

Higher wattage means faster cooking. General home use microwaves range from 600-1200 watts. 1000+ watts provides fast reheating times, while 800-900 watts can cook food more gently and evenly.


Microwaves undoubtedly provide convenience, but shouldn’t be the only cooking method relied upon. Using proper techniques and cookware along with moderate use can allow you to gain the benefits of microwave cooking while avoiding the potential downsides. Evaluate your kitchen needs and cooking style carefully when deciding if purchasing a new microwave oven is worthwhile. With some smarts, microwaves can be an integral player in any home cook’s kitchen game plan.