Microwaves are handy devices that use micro-sized radiowaves to excite the water molecules of a given dish, whether it’s a soup, coffee, or casserole. From there, the food immediately gets hot within a minute or much faster than what it takes to preheat a traditional oven.
So what happens if you microwave too long your food and beverage? Superheating happens or when water content reaches temperatures past the boiling point. You could have something charred or you could start a fire inside your oven!
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What Happens If You Microwave Food for Too Long?
Obviously, if you microwave food for too long, it burns. It doesn’t burn quite like how it would on a stovetop or a conventional microwave since both use conductive heat to cook food. Instead, it cooks and burns the dish from the inside than out.
Hot spots could form if you don’t shake or stir the dish in the middle of microwaving as well. This leads to some spots burned while the other spots remain cold. If food is microwaved for too long or at a power level higher than recommended by the recipe, the food will first dry out.
Some food will end up overcooked while others end up undercooked. With eggs or bread, this results in rubbery food. If you cook something even further, its liquids could become so superheated that it could ignite or burst into flame.
Terrible Things Could Happen to Microwaved Food
Use the recommended cooking time listed on the recipe of what you’re cooking. Check the state of the food at the minimum time. Let the standing time finish the cooking, so if it takes 4-5 minutes to cook the food, let it cook for 3-4 minutes and let it stand for a minute.
The extra time when food sits inside the microwave can cook it even further than how you intended. The contents could dry out, the soup could boil over, the nutritional value of the vegetables could disappear, or the dish could end up a charred mess with the consistency of dry crackers.
Adjust Settings and The Nature of Microwaves
Even though you can also make food too hot on a grill or oven, it’s different with a microwave. It cooks from the inside out so it affects taste. Slightly burning on a grill can lead you to still great-tasting steak while burning steak on a microwave can lead to rubbery meat.
The good news is that the radiowaves themselves don’t affect the food nutrition unless you dry out and burn the dish altogether.
Microwaves Won’t Zap the Nutrition Out of Your Food
The only way the nutritional value of your food and beverages is affected if it gets too hot than what the recipe calls for—overcooked food regardless of how you overcook it will be less nutritious and delicious than food you correctly cooked.
On the plus side, the hotness from microwaved food can also kill bacteria. The key here is to heat your food enough to cook it and leave it bacteria-free while not overcooking it to the point of also killing its nutrients.
Some Parts Overcooked while the Rest are Undercooked
Aside from avoiding overcooking or over-microwaving your food, there are several other things you should keep in mind. You should know how to even out microwave-induced heat.
There are some microwave recipes out there that require food to be stirred, rotated, or turned midway while being cooked. Follow such directions properly. Actually, all your microwaved food should be cooked that way.
Microwave-type food recipes assume refrigerator temperatures for items put inside the fridge while room temperature for other dishes. Shorten the cooking time if the food starts cooking at a temperature warmer than normal.
Observe the state of your food prior to microwaving and during the microwaving process.
Things to Watch Out for When Microwaving Your Food
If your food remains full of hot spots or it unevenly cooks when microwaved, it might be because of incorrect food arrangement on your microwave-safe plate or bowl. Place the smaller, thinner pieces at the center and thicker, larger pieces outward.
Food Arrangement on the Container
If you’re cooking or reheating a single item, place it in the center. Watch out for things like pizza rolls or empanada, those get nuclear heat from the inside when microwaved. Arrange multiple items in a spiral from the center blooming outwards.
If you can’t stir the dish, you should instead rotate it. The turntable can only do so much in distributing the microwave heat. Cover if needed. The cover helps cook the food better because of the trapped hot steam.
Lower the Power Level and Extend Cooking Time
Another way to prevent overcooking your food is to lower its power level of your microwave then extending the cooking time inversely proportional to the amount of power you’ve decreased. For example, if the power is halved, double the cooking time.
Shorten the cooking time as well if you’re cooking a smaller amount or portion of food compared to what’s recommended by its recipe.
Blending or Mixing Ingredient
You should also double-check to see if the ingredients of the dish are well blended or mixed when push comes to shove. Before cooking the food, make sure it’s completely defrosted since that will make it likelier to create hotspots and uneven cooking.
If possible, use a round or ring-shaped container instead of a boxy one or even an oval plate. Ring-shaped containers lack a center or corners. This results in more even and faster-microwaving all-in-all.
The Ring-Shaped Container
A donut-like container lacks a center, resulting in a fast central or spiraling heatwave that moves outwards like the microwave radiation itself. No energy is wasted.
Microwave rays more naturally heat up food on a ring-shaped container. The corners on an oblong or square containers absorb microwave energy from multiple directions—bottom and top as well as every corner.
Other Things You Should Notice
Leaving food in the microwave oven without taking it out can lead to extra cooking time since all that heat is trapped. Even if you’ve set the time correctly, you should also remove the contents (carefully) after the microwave beeps.
Don’t leave the microwave on for too long because it will leave your food dry or burnt. Don’t set the time for longer than 5 minutes without stirring or shaking your food to distribute the heat. Cook food incrementally at 30 second or 1-minute intervals for best results.
- Lauren J. Young, “Demystifying the Microwave“, ScienceFriday.com, July 25, 2017
- “MICROWAVE – FOOD IS TOUGH, DRY, OR OVERCOOKED/UNDERCOOKED“, GEAppliances.com, Retrieved May 19, 2021