Optimal microwave usage (e.g., not always using 100% power)

I was reading a sub over on reddit that was talking about how people don’t make good use of the different power levels in their microwaves. Provided yours has different power levels–the smallest (cheapest) ones don’t.

I got a new microwave a few months ago, and it has “sensor” uh, sensitivity… and I’ve read/followed the directions, but I still don’t think I’m getting the most out of it. For years I didn’t have a microwave, and I didn’t grow up with them. Do y’all use the different power levels, do two-stage cooking, defrost, etc?

What are your hot microwave tips?

Eh. I tend to stick with 100% power. When I’m microwaving something, I tend to want it as hot as possible, as quick as possible. Even defrosting, I used to futz with the presets, but found quicker, better results just from blasting on high for a shorter time, then letting it sit.

Okay, I’ll bite: What is the point of running the microwave at less than 100% power?

And am I remembering correctly that if you set the microwave to, say, 80%, that doesn’t mean it runs constantly at 80% power, but rather it cycles on and off so that it’s at 100% power 80% of the time?

You can warm up milk with little oversight without having it explode on you. I pour enough for the body of a cappuccino then put that in the microwave for 4 minutes at 3power. It will differ from one microwave to another and the amount of milk but once you have a sense of it, you can warm up milk quickly, easily and with no mess.
You can use a lower power setting whenever you want to have a given amount of total heat but want to limit peak heat. Like anything that will do an impression of The Thing when you expose it to too much heat too fast.

“Optimization,” that is, getting the best results by using the equipment in the best way.

I’m not sure the latest ones do the cycle-on-off-thing.

There are some good points in the reddit thread I linked to. That’s what made me ask the question.

I use low power for very big or very cold things. Also for fatty things, because they absorb the energy faster. It lets the heat distribute evenly.

I don’t want a chicken breast with a rubber outside and a rare inside. I don’t want the outer layer of beans exploded while the inside is still cold. IMO slower is always better unless it’s a straight-up reheating of a small or flat thing.

When I was eating bagels on a regular basis*, we kept them in the freezer. The spinner that rotates the food inside our microwave runs at 6 RPM so food placed on the edge nearest to the door returns every 10 seconds. To get the bagel thawed but not too hot to handle, nor too tough to eat, nor too frozen to separate the halves, I settled on 80% power for 20 seconds so I could twist it apart and toss it into the toaster.

I’m also a big fan of the plate reheat function on the microwaves I use at home and work. I bring frozen leftovers for lunch fairly often (small portions), and the reheat function takes it from semi-frozen to piping hot.

If I’m reheating in general I’ll use lower power settings to get more even heating. The on/off cycle allows the heat to dissipate from the hotter spots to the cooler ones. I also let food stand and stir it or rearrange it part way through reheating for the same reasons.

Gee, that’s also the standard reheating directions for most microwaveable meals. :slight_smile:


*I’ve mostly cut out all sugar and refined white flour from my diet, and lost 40 pounds doing so. White bread is kinda flavourless now.

When I cook rice in the microwave I first boil the water on 100%, then add the rice and cook at 50% - that keeps things from boiling over and actually cooks them properly.

If you’re just reheating stuff or cooking prepared frozen dinners 100% might be all you need. If you actually use it to cook that’s where the power levels come in.

This, exactly. If you just blast away at a larger piece of meat the outside will get steamed to death and the inside will not be warm. Cycling on and off lets the heat move through the food more evenly.

I do this all the time, but them I am a maestro at the microwave. I even know how the heat maps across the area. I can them place thicker pieces where the heat is highest for even better distribution. When I make two potatoes for us mine goes outside the hot zone since I like a bit of bite to the potato and the wife likes hers soft. They both get done at the same time.


When I reheat leftovers, I almost always do it at 70% rather than 100. The food seems to reheat more evenly without overcooking.

I routinely cook things at half power for twice the time on the package. It ends up less overheated, more evenly cooked, for little effort. Now sometimes I do what the SDMB microwave experts do, and get the water hot, then low power cook. But that’s rare. Bur full power all the time is only when I want to boil plain water.


Does the heat map tend to be similar across microwaves? If so, I’d like to know about that since this product seems a few years away still:

Another disciple of the judicious use of power setting on a microwave oven. Another adherent to the principle of heating food evenly without overcooking portions of it.

That used to be true for all microwave ovens. Now some (maybe all?) newer ovens use inverter technology so that if, for example, you set it to 80% it actually runs the whole time at 80% power instead of switching on and off.

That’s… kind of a non-answer, since what I wanted to know was when and how (or whether ever) running the microwave at less than 100% power was best/better.

I admit, I clicked the link in the OP but it was TL;DR.

Thanks to those who have responded here.

No it doesn’t. The only reason I am really aware of it to begin with is the tests at Consumer Reports. They placed slices of American cheese over the floor and watched to see if certain areas bubble up faster then others. A turntable helps somewhat but I recall them showing the results for ovens with terrible distribution. The hot spots generated bands of hot and cool spots as it rotated. The cheese looked like a bulls eye of melted and non melted bands.

I just learned the hot spot in my microwave by observation over the years.


That’s a good idea. I’ll try it, thanks.

Put down a layer of paper towels first. The cheese method is one of my favorite Consumers Union ideas. That lab is kind of like the Mythbusters at times.

I recall them testing toilets back when the low flush units were first appearing. They had to come up with realistic fake human shit. Oh, I’m sorry, Analog Human Waste. Semi-solid, kinda sticky, yuck!! They settled on little sausages made of peanut butter with a lot of sawdust in it. I can visualize the scene as they compared it to the real thing - you know they had to do that!