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Microwave Mishaps, Dangers, and Uses

Old family recipes make the most satisfying meals and are always a hit with family and friends. Here are some of Stephanie's favorites.

Learn the pros and cons of using a microwave.

Learn the pros and cons of using a microwave.

Microwave Mishaps

The convenience of a microwave is hard to beat! On busy days, what could be easier than zapping leftovers in a microwave, or even cooking your dinner? I’m one of those people who just loves new technology. We were the first ones on our block to get a microwave in the 1970s. We invited the neighbors over to watch popcorn popping in a paper bag and water boiling in a Styrofoam cup.

My fascination with microwave cooking led me to try heating and cooking all sorts of things in the microwave that were not listed in my little instruction manual. Unfortunately, my inclination to test the limits of this fascinating appliance led to some unforgettable microwave mishaps.

6 Things Not to Cook in a Microwave

I know from personal experience!

  • Don’t try to hard cook an egg in its shell in your microwave. It just doesn’t work, and exploded egg is really a mess to clean off the microwave walls, door, and ceiling.
  • Don’t cook chicken livers in your microwave. Chicken or turkey livers are some of those foods that seem to get hot spots inside. At some point this will cause them to explode, and the disintegrated bits will stick to the walls, door, and roof of the microwave. Then it’s really hard to scrape off enough to make that pate…
  • Don’t melt lard or shortening in a Styrofoam cup. (Don’t even ask why I know this!) The fat will get hot enough to melt the Styrofoam, and you will have a large puddle of hot grease in your microwave. If you are lucky, it won’t run out the door and onto the counter when you open the door.
  • Don’t overcook popcorn in the microwave. I learned this little tip at work when zapping up an afternoon snack for my office mates. Popcorn that is over heated in the microwave can and will catch on fire. Your co-workers will hate you for the burnt smell that will permeate your office for a week. They probably won’t like the fire alarm going off, either. Nor will the rest of the building or the fire department that shows up. We won’t even mention the sprinkler system… Take my word for it, nuke that bag of popcorn carefully! Oh, yeah, personal experience!
  • Don’t put gold-rimmed dishes in the microwave. Heat your coffee in a gold-rimmed china cup, and you can produce all kinds of interesting sparks and fireworks. You might even kill your microwave oven. Apparently you can put a metal pan in the microwave with no ill effects (so they say), but a little gold trim on the coffee cup will make fireworks… it’s one of the mysteries of technology!
  • Don’t warm up your dinner rolls for more than 10-15 seconds—unless you're planning to build something from dinner roll bricks. Why is it you learn these things when you are having company for dinner?

Microwave Oven—Love It or Not?

Microwave Dangers

Sure you’ve probably received one or more of those scary emails about the dangers of microwaves. Most of them are false. Here are some of the facts.

  • Microwaving food in plastics. Don’t Microwave food in plastic unless the container is labeled “microwave safe.” Only microwave in containers that are labeled “Microwave safe” as these containers are regulated by FDA for safety and supposedly will not leach harmful chemicals into your food. Other plastics can leach chemicals onto food or can melt onto food when they get hot. Generally, it’s safer to transfer any food to a glass or ceramic dish before microwaving.
  • Microwaving baby bottles. Don’t microwave baby bottles to heat them. The outside of the bottle can seem cool while liquids inside are hot. Liquids can heat unevenly, and can easily get too hot and burn baby. There is also the danger of a steam buildup inside the bottle that can cause burns. Always stir and test microwaved liquid or food before feeding to a child.
  • Exploding liquids. This is not a myth; it can actually happen. Liquids that are heated too long in clean glass or ceramic containers can become superheated and the glass container can prevent bubbles from forming. This could cause the liquid to explode when it is stirred or disturbed as the heat is violently released . To prevent this from happening, place a wooden spoon in the container and heat only for the recommended amount of time. Yes, I've had it happen to me when heating coffee too long. I put a spoon in to stir it, and the whole cup full boiled over.
  • Dangers of uneven heating. Microwaves can heat unevenly leaving hot and cold pockets. When microwaving raw meat, be sure to follow instructions carefully, including standing time which helps to distribute heat and cook more evenly.

Find out the truth or hoax behind unsolicited e-mail warnings about the dangers of microwave cooking or anything else for that matter.

What I Learned About Microwaving

  • A whole egg in the shell will explode when microwaved too long. And it's inedible because there are bits of shell all through it.
  • Drying herbs in the microwave is a great idea as long as you don't put them on a paper napkin and nuke them too long. I had to put out a small fire from over-drying herbs.
  • Burning herbs don't smell as bad as burning popcorn.
  • When taking photographs for this article, I should have done the egg photographs last because the bits of exploded egg are really hard to remove from the microwaved walls and doors. Some egg specks still stuck to the microwave are visible in all the other pictures.

10 Surprising Uses for Microwave Ovens

Now, here's some good news! Here are some surprising uses for your microwave that don't actually involve cooking:

  • Sterilize garden soil. If you’re starting seeds and need sterilized soil, just pop a tray of dirt in your microwave for a couple of minutes until the soil begins to steam.
  • Dry herbs. Microwave small bunches of herbs for a couple of minutes until they crumble to the touch. What I learned: Start out with 1 minute and check for dryness every 30 seconds. It is possible to set herbs on fire if you heat them too long!
  • Disinfect sponges. Add some white vinegar or lemon juice to water and soak sponge in it, remove from water, then heat the sponge on high for 1 minute.This is great for disinfecting sponges you’ve used to clean up raw chicken juices. The sponge has to be wet for it to work. What I learned: Be sure to remove hot sponge with tongs or an oven mitt. They get very hot!
  • Disinfect plastic cutting boards. Wash the board well, rub with lemon and heat for 1 minute. The board should be damp when placed in the microwave.
  • Heat up hot packs (not metal wrapped). This works great for the heating pads made with beans or rice.
  • Soften up hardened brown sugar. Heat in a closed container with a couple of teaspoons of water or a quarter of an apple for 15 seconds.
  • Get more juice from citrus fruit. Heat lemon or orange in a microwave for about 20 seconds before squeezing to get the most juice from your citrus fruit.
  • Toast nuts or bread crumbs. Spread out on a paper plate and heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Warm plates. Sprinkle some water on your plates and pop in the microwave for a half a minute to warm them. What I learned: This doesn't work without the water.
  • De-crystallize honey. Heat crystallized honey in the microwave and the crystals will disappear. What I learned: Be sure to take the cap off the jar of honey before heating. Only heat until honey is warm and crystals are gone.

Microwaving—The Ugly, the Bad and the Good

Microwaves are now in 90% of American households, and have been for many years. They have so many uses in food preparation that it's hard to imagine life without one once you become used to using this handy, time-saving appliance. I hope you have learned a few new uses and a few No-No's from reading my article. As you can see there are some dangers when using your microwave inappropriately as well as some wonderful and surprising uses for your microwave oven.

Have you had microwave mishaps? Do you have any tips for avoiding microwave dangers? Do you use your microwave for something unusual?

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Questions & Answers

Question: Why has my microwave started burning food at 20 seconds?

Answer: It sounds like your microwave is not operating properly. I would suggest getting it checked out at a repair center. I can't think of any food that would actually burn after 20 seconds.

Question: Could I heat a brick in the microwave?

Answer: I wouldn't try it. Heating a brick in your microwave sounds a little dangerous to me.