Leftovers reviver, popcorn maestro, mug cake wizard: Your microwave wears many hats, but might be the most underrated tool in your kitchen. Since this handy appliance was invented some 70 years ago, it’s become a staple in American homes: 97 percent of U.S. households own one, according to U.S. Census data. Yet believe it or not, you might not actually even be using this essential to its full potential.
Microwaves can save you a ton of time—not only on food preparation, but with non-food-related applications, too. We talked with experts to learn their best hacks for this ubiquitous appliance, covering all meals of the day and beyond. (Note: Not all of these are approved uses according to microwave manufacturers, so proceed with caution—and a friendly reminder, never microwave anything that might contain metal.)
WATCH: Brilliant Microwave Hacks
1. It’s your new favorite disinfectant.
Did you know you can use your microwave to get rid of gross bacteria lurking on some of your kitchen’s dirtiest items? One study shows that microwaving sponges for 2 minutes at full power kills more than 99 percent of all living germs, including E. coli. Be sure to thoroughly wet the sponge first and place it in a bowl inside the microwave. Some sources say you can also use a microwave to disinfect things like soft pet toys and baby toys, but be sure to test the items first to ensure they won’t melt.
2. It’s the easiest way to make eggs.
Skip dirtying a pan and make a breakfast sandwich in the microwave instead. Simply beat two eggs in a 2-cup glass Pyrex measuring cup misted with cooking spray, then microwave for 60 to 90 seconds until firm, says Summer Yule, a Connecticut-based registered dietitian and recipe developer. Pop out the egg patty and place it on a toasted English muffin, along with a slice of cheese (the heat of the eggs will melt it, Yule says).
3. It’s a handy tool for homemade cheese.
Making lasagna tonight, but forgot the ricotta? You can easily make your own homemade ricotta with your microwave and a few simple ingredients. Sarah Bond, the nutritionist behind vegetarian food blog Live Eat Learn, shares how: In a microwave-safe bowl, combine 2 cups whole milk, ¼ cup lemon juice or white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon of salt, then microwave on high for 3 to 5 minutes. When milk is bubbling at the edges and you can see that it has curdled, remove from the microwave. Next, place two layers of paper towels in a wire mesh sieve and set over a large bowl, then gently pour the milk mixture over the sieve to strain out the liquid. Let this strain for up to an hour, and you have fresh ricotta ready to use.
4. It makes the best crispy bacon.
You may never reach for a frying pan again once you’ve tried the microwave method for making extra-crispy bacon. Simply place a few layers of paper towels on a microwave-safe plate, lay about six slices of bacon on top, then add two more layers of paper towels on top. Microwave for about 4-6 minutes, checking periodically after the 4-minute mark to ensure the bacon doesn’t burn. The paper towels absorb much of the fat, making for a super-easy cleanup (no pans to scrub or bacon grease to deal with!).
5. It can whip up a sweet breakfast in minutes.
You’ve heard all about microwave mug cakes, which are everywhere on Pinterest and even infiltrating restaurants (chef Jason Vincent even has a blueberry microwave cake on the menu at the acclaimed Giant in Chicago). But there are also plenty of recipes out there for people who have a sweet tooth for breakfast, including microwave French toast and a microwave blueberry muffin. All you need for both is a mug, a handful of pantry staples, and a few minutes in the microwave, and a weekend-worthy breakfast on a weekday is yours.
6. It’s a fool-proof way to brown butter.
Using the microwave to brown butter (to make things like these delicious haricots verts, cider-glazed chicken, or carrot-apple spice cake) is less messy and can even be faster than doing it on the stovetop. A major benefit of doing it this way is that you can avoid sputtering butter all over your kitchen, too. To brown butter in the microwave, place butter in a large, covered bowl and microwave on high for 6-10 minutes, checking on it in regular intervals after 6 minutes, says baker Jessie Sheehan, a recipe developer and cookbook author. When it’s darkened in color and smells nutty, and you can see brown bits on the bottom of the bowl, it’s ready to use.
7. Surprise—it can cook a full turkey!
If only you’d been armed with this information for Thanksgiving! If your oven is stuffed full of side dishes, you can actually use your microwave to cook a full turkey (up to 12 pounds). This method is Butterball-approved, with its Turkey Talk Line experts offering the following instructions: First, thaw turkey (never microwave a frozen one). Place it on a microwave-safe plate, breast side down, and microwave 4 minutes per pound on full power. Remove drippings, then flip it over on its breast and cook at 50 percent power for 8 minutes per pound in four intervals, checking the turkey temperature at each interval (look for 165 degrees). The downside to this method is you won’t get the golden-brown, crispy look of an oven-roasted turkey, so be sure to baste and add a browning sauce for a little extra color.
8. It can add major flavor to your stovetop dishes.
But not in the way you might think. You can use this kitchen appliance to help prep other ingredients you’ll be adding to dishes cooked on the stovetop, such as herbs. Chef Vincent of Giant microwaves fresh herbs, uncovered, on high in 5- to 10-second bursts for a total of 1-2 minutes, tossing them in between. This is an excellent way to “dry” fresh herbs—it works best for ones with woody stems, such as rosemary, oregano, marjoram, and thyme, which can stand up to the heat, Vincent says. Similarly, Executive Chef Ryan McQullian of Plough in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, microwaves fresh herbs on high for 3 minutes between two paper towels. Then, he puts them in a spice grinder to create powders to use in spice mixtures. This is an excellent way to use up herbs before they go bad, too.
9. It can make a seriously annoying kitchen task easier.
Peeling garlic can be one of the most frustrating jobs of cooking, especially when the peels stick to everything and make your hands smell like garlic for days. Enter the microwave hack: Pop cloves in the microwave for 10 seconds, and you can squeeze them right out of their paper skins, says Chef Ellie Golemb of cooking gift box company Culinarie Kit. “It’s not long enough to cook the garlic, so you can still retain that spicy, raw garlic flavor with less fuss,” she says.
10. It can make Mexican night even better.
There’s nothing worse than prepping for Taco Tuesday and realizing your avocado is still as hard as a rock. Luckily, you can get it ready for guac in just a few minutes, says Shena Jaramillo, a registered dietitian with Peace and Nutrition. Simply prick the skin of your green avocado with a fork a few times, then microwave for 30 seconds. Test firmness and repeat until the avocado reaches your desired texture. Jaramillo says this method won’t affect the flavor of the fruit. You can also use your microwave to make tostadas the easy way, says Maggie Unzueta, who runs a Mexican food blog. Place a corn tortilla in the microwave and cook on high for 1 minute, then flip it and cook another 30 seconds. Voila: You’ll have a crunchy base ready for topping, no oil required.
11. It works as a proof box.
Baking cinnamon rolls and in a hurry for them to rise? Enter the microwave. Help your yeast dough recipes rise faster by placing a cup or bowl of hot, boiling water in the microwave, then putting your dough beside it, says Joe Martinez, founder of meal delivery service Healthy Meals Supreme. Keep the door closed so none of the steam escapes, and your dough will rise quicker than standing out on the counter, he says.
12. It can be put to good use for a DIY spa day.
Copy the hot towel method used at many spas and nail salons. Wet a towel of your desired size and squeeze out excess water, then place it in a bowl inside the appliance, says Martinez. Microwave on 30-second intervals until you reach the desired temperature (be careful, as the towel may get very hot). The hot towel can then be used for facials, hair treatments, and more when you need added moisture, Martinez adds.
13. It can help you repurpose old candles.
If you finish a scented candle and want to repurpose the pretty jar, it can be time consuming to try to chip out the remaining wax from the bottom, but your microwave is up to the task. First, carefully remove the bulk of the wax with a knife, says Lily Cameron, cleaning supervisor at Fantastic Services. Then, pop it in the microwave for 20 seconds to melt the remaining wax before using a paper towel to wipe out the inside.
14. It’s the perfect incubator.
Want to keep a dish warm for a family member who’s running late to dinner, or maybe your Uber Eats delivery arrived before you’re ready to dine? Instead of leaving the food on the counter to get cold, place it in the microwave and close the door, advises Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company. The confined, insulated, air-tight space will help insulate the food and keep it as fresh as possible for about an hour, he adds.
15. If you don’t use it often, consider it an extension of your cabinets.
Say you’re on a raw diet or just don’t use your microwave regularly. You can repurpose those few square feet taking up space in your kitchen by using your microwave as a storage space for items like bread or baked goods, keeping them out of sight and also well preserved. (Just don’t forget to remove them before using it again!)