Do Microwaves Still Have a Place in Our Kitchens?

September 16, 2015

Or are they becoming obsolete?

Might you be tempted to microwave these frozen dumplings?

The other night, I fell asleep before I had a chance to eat dinner and awoke at midnight with a strong need to fill my stomach's empty void. The options: frozen ratatouille, leftover Indian food, salted peanuts, wasabi peas, or cereal and milk. 

I chose the leftover Indian food, which I ate cold, straight from the refrigerator. 

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To paraphrase the wise Peter Miller on a recent Food52 podcast: Never buy a microwave. Just tell the world you need one and one will find its way to you. And because I haven't come into a microwave yet, my best 12 A.M. option, lest I risk turning on the stove and waking the roommates or causing a stupor-induced fire, was cold (and a bit congealed) food. 

When Kristen suggested the world put eggplant in the microwave, she risked her life (and her job).

I had a microwave at the last apartment I lived in because the people I was subletting from did; I had a microwave in my college dorm because my roommate did. And over all those years, I probably used the microwave twice: Once in college to melt chocolate for truffles; once after college to defrost some vegetable stock.

Even though I've never been a frequent microwaver, there are times—like when I'm eating very cold Indian food in my Paul Frank pajamas—that I wish I had one. Or when it's 8 P.M. and I'm just realizing that all that's edible is frozen.

You can use your microwave to temper chocolate.

Yes, you can reheat food in the oven or on the stove, but it takes more time, it often requires dirtying extra dishes (because a storage container normally can't go directly into an oven or onto a burner), and—in the case of turning on the whole oven—requires a lot more energy. (World/Mom: Consider this my plea for a toaster oven.) 

Plus, I'd argue that there are times when the microwave does what other appliances cannot. It will heat your leftover lasagna without creating a strange dry crust; it'll steam vegetables almost too quickly, no contraptions necessary; it will gently melt chocolate (even Amanda and Merrill agree). 

Case in point: The other day, my roommate received a package of slightly stale flourless oatmeal cookies from The Cheese Shop in La Jolla, CA (note: if you have this recipe, please share it). I desperately wanted to zap them in the microwave, as I knew that would make them squishier and more tender. I had thoughts of putting them in the oven, but feared it would make them even drier. So stale cookies we ate.

It's easy to make puppy chow when you can melt the chocolate in the microwave.

The number of recipes we feature that call for (or even advocate) the use of a microwave is very small. And, for all of the photographs of other appliances on our site, I had trouble finding even one of a microwave. Why this microwave shaming? Is most of the stigma related to health concerns or to the kind of cooking—frozen to table—the microwave represents? Is it worth it to own one just for reheating food? What if your kitchen is shoebox-sized?

My question: Is there a time and a place for microwaves, or are we moving away from an appliance that, at least for a time, changed the way we cooked and ate? 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Judy franklin
    Judy franklin
  • bread angel
    bread angel
  • Catherine
  • Lori R.
    Lori R.
  • Emma Thompson
    Emma Thompson
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Judy F. May 16, 2017
My new GE microwave has many features, example - a button for potatoes. The potatoes come out perfectly baked, unlike the old ovens. Also does microwaving potatoes to mash - perfectly cooked.
bread A. September 29, 2015
Is this some kind of a food snob article? I love my microwave and use it all of the time, as I am certain many, many people do. Living alone, one is always looking for convenience and a microwave fulfills that purpose. I guess I am a bread snob though, and have no need for a bread machine.
Catherine September 19, 2015
I use my microwave all the time. I have a very small stove and sink, so saving dishes and burners can help keep the frustration level down.

I boil water, steam veggies, reheat food, melt chocolate and butter, or quickly warm syrup or jam when throwing together my traditional Saturday breakfast. It's good for warming milk or stock if I want to make risotto or a roux-thickened sauce. Since I make a lot of preserves, a few minutes in the microwave can help thicken or thin (if adding a bit of water) the consistency if I didn't get it right before canning. I also proof bread with a cup of warm water in the microwave, and use the space to keep my cats from getting into any frozen desserts that I'm thawing. In fact, if I'm interrupted while prepping for a dish, I will store anything that might tempt a feline in there for a bit while I'm gone. If you are smart and watch carefully, it works wonderfully for defrosting meat. (Just take it out before it's thawed all the way so you don't start cooking it.)

I love reheating a rice dish and turning it into dinner by making a little well and adding a raw egg on top before nuking it.. The egg steam-cooks with the rice, and when I take it out and stir it around, the runny part of the egg makes the rice delicious and saucy.

Finally, I also concur with the reader who suggested Kafka's Microwave Gourmet. With a little fiddling, I've been able to adapt the recipes for my 1100W microwave, and veggies have never been easier.

I could live without my microwave, but that could be said for lots of modern technology that makes my life so much easier.
Lori R. September 19, 2015
I could live without it, but my husband works odd hours and is starving when he gets home, and by that hour lacks the patience to do an oven reheat.
Emma T. September 18, 2015
The issue is more that microwaves are good for reheating, but not cooking. It does weird things to textures. Weird, unexpected things.
Margaret L. September 18, 2015
If a microwave were the size of a wooden spoon and had a similar price tag, I'd probably have one. But it does not earn its place in my kitchen. I could not live without my convection toaster-oven, though. For leftovers I use oval porcelain gratin dishes in the toaster oven, arranging a meal in each one, like a nicely plated frozen dinner ; leftovers are hot in 15-20 minutes. We often eat from the gratin dishes, so no extra pots and pans needed for re-heating. Soup goes into the toaster oven in its own bowl or in a mug. I couldn't do that with a microwave, since many of my dishes have a gold band.
Sarah J. September 18, 2015
I love the thought exercise: "Imagine if TK appliance were the size of a wooden spoon and with a similar price tag..." I would like a wooden spoon-sized, wooden spoon-priced Vitamix, please!
peg D. September 18, 2015
I use my microwave daily. I use it to cook corn on the cob with the husk on, to heat my coffee, and to warm leftovers. I would not have a kitchen without a microwave, as the energy the microwave uses is so much less than my oven uses. And, my kitchen has a designated cabinet for it!
Dea H. September 19, 2015
The microwave is great for fast corn on the cob. I think it's better than boiled corn on the cob. If I have time, I do prefer it grilled or roasted, but when corn is at its peak in summer, there's so much to do that having a quick meal with fast corn on the cob can't be beat.
linda September 19, 2015
Really? how?
Judy F. May 16, 2017
Leave husks on, microwave for 4 minutes for one ear. Husks and silks come off easily, and ear is very clean.
Lynell I. September 18, 2015
My over the range microwave died 2 years ago and I still haven't replaced it. I found I missed it mostly for the timer, of all things, and the vent over the stove. I DO use a microwave nearly every day at work to heat up lunch leftovers, but at home, we have some old Corelle dishes that we make up our dinner plate on and heat, then it's straight from the oven to the table, on a trivet, so no extra dishes. Takes a few extra minutes but we just became accustomed to it and it doesn't bother us anymore.
ChefJune September 18, 2015
I wouldn't have a microwave if I had to relinquish any counter space for it. Mine have always hung on the wall.
Jillian B. September 18, 2015
I think in the last year, I have used a microwave 3 or 4 times. We have a small kitchen and I just do not see the need for one. I recently just bought a bamboo steamer, and was surprised how quick and evenly it defrosted a dinner roll.
GretchinF September 19, 2015
Completely agree! I've found a bamboo steamer can help in nearly all I-wish-I-had-a-microwave scenarios.
Dea H. September 18, 2015
I cook. I use the microwave to steam vegetables and cook popcorn. When I make large batches of soups and stews, we reheat individual servings in the the microwave. The same goes for large casseroles. I also use it to soften cream cheese and to melt chocolate and butter. I could live without one if I needed to, but I would miss it.

My partner uses it to reheat exclusively. He would miss it a lot more than me. The stove an oven freak him out (I am trying to get him to cook more, but he won't do it unless I stand next to him.) He would really miss the microwave. When our last microwave broke, he was anxious until we got a new one because the idea of heat up a portion of soup in a pot instead in the serving bowl in the microwave freaks him out.
Dea H. September 18, 2015
I forgot to add that it is perfect for old-fashioned oatmeal. I make it in a giant cappuccino bowl (it will bubble up). I use the same proportion of oats to liquid, then I nuke it for one minute. Give it a stir, and nuke it for another 30 seconds. It's as fast as instant, and it tastes better. As a bonus, I control exactly how much sugar goes in.
silverspringcat September 18, 2015
Use it almost every night since I cook on the weekend for the entire week and when I get home I don't want to use a pot or the oven to reheat - takes too long and involves washing pot or plate or etc.
loriann September 18, 2015
I had to buy cans of Pam spray for a reason other then cooking! Well you can break your Mico habit if you have Pam! I went to EBay and bought a few small vintage French cooking dishes, and have never heated anything in my Mico again! It's a really good excuse to buy some new cooking items!
Ollie September 18, 2015
I must be older than the rest of you. I still remember when we got our first toaster oven! My in-laws wanted to give us a microwave as a wedding gift and I told my fiancé that I really couldn't see needing one for anything other than heating up my tea! So they gave us a combo microwave/convection oven. We ended up cooking most of our meals in there, for years. I now have an oven with a smaller upper oven, so I use that quite a bit and my new microwave (the old one lasted 25 years) no longer has the convection feature but I still use it every day. Steaming all vegetables (including potatoes, before popping them into the oven to roast them), starting a frozen lasagna then finishing it in the oven, softening butter, warming up soup right in its bowl, all kinds of things. I can't imagine being without it :)
linda September 19, 2015
I must have the same one! It's huge, really dominates the counter and it works perfectly. A bit of an eyesore at this point, unless you like 1984 style.
it's 31 years old
Andrew M. September 18, 2015
I'd much rather have the worktop space.
Maria M. September 18, 2015
At my old apartment I used to keep my microwave on top of the washer because I barely use it and I needed the counter space. Now my laundry is in the basement, I still need the counter space. I barely use the microwave but I still have it. Maybe time to rethink this. I use the microwave at work every day to heat up left overs but at home I hardly ever use it.
Jen September 18, 2015
We haven't had a microwave since we were in college 20 years ago. I've raised 3 active kids without one and have only wished maybe twice that we had one. The only people who seem to think we need one (other than my teenage boys who don't cook for themselves...) are the people who have them themselves. It's not even a matter of being anti-microwave (although my Grandmother NEVER let us stand in front of hers when she used it), it's just the simple fact that we've never really seen a huge need to have one. Now, my crockpot? THAT I couldn't live without....
maryvelasquez September 18, 2015
I don't have a microwave anymore because the extra counter space was more valuable. I miss the microwave for its defrosting powers when I take things out of the deep freeze. That's it though.
Judith R. September 18, 2015
Well, yes, there is a time and place for a microwave, just like there's a place for a blender or food processor. A ways back, Barbara Kafka wrote a book called "The Microwave Gourmet", and while it hasn't been updated to today's higher powered microwaves, there are some very, very fast recipes that are very, very good there. Like really speedy polenta, and brownies that are to die for. That said, mine gets used for all the usual melting jobs, quickly heating single servings of soups and stews. Those who use saucepans for reheating must have more time than I do to get home cooked food on the table, and like to wash pans... and also like coffee that's gone cold in the mug.
Noolie T. September 18, 2015
I don't have a microwave, since I find that an induction cooktop and a handy selection of enameled cast iron pots cover most of the stuff I'd do in a microwave. Everything heats very fast and is easy to clean up. I also love being able to stir what I'm reheating, adding seasoning, extra liquid or something like that in the process.

My oven also has some kind of "reheat" option, so I don't feel at loss.