Microwaves make everyone’s life a little easier. In fact, if you’re just using yours to heat up your frozen dinners, you’re missing out on a whole lot of features. Besides a convection tool, it can be a crafting companion, a baker’s assistant, a scientific laboratory, and so much more. Basically, the only thing it can’t do is spy on you. (Thankfully.) Almost anything else is within its wheelhouse. Need proof? In honor of National Microwave Day, here are 25 things you probably didn’t realize your microwave could do.
1. COOK DINNER FROM SCRATCH
Microwaves aren’t just for leftovers. They can be the main event when it comes to cooking, if you find the right recipe. Risotto? Enchiladas? Ropa vieja? Chicken and dumplings? All easy to throw together with just a little microwave know-how. Dorm chefs, rejoice.
2. BAKE A CAKE
Say goodbye to pre-heating the oven, because you can make a great cake in the microwave in a fraction of the time. Seriously, the perfect chocolate-cake-in-a-mug only needs 90 seconds of bake time in a microwave. Want to get fancier? You can throw together a three-layer cake for 10 to 12 people with just 10 minutes in the microwave.
3. MAKE A GREAT EGG
You didn’t think dinner was the only meal a microwave could master, did you? No matter how you like your eggs—scrambled, poached, sunny side up, or hard boiled—you can make them in the microwave in just a few minutes. In fact, according to a test by Good Housekeeping, poached and hard-boiled eggs taste even better made in the microwave than on the stovetop.
4. STEAM VEGETABLES
Throw away your steamer basket, because the key to perfectly steamed vegetables has been in your microwave all along. You can steam small servings of vegetables like asparagus, bok choy, and more by wrapping them in several layers of damp paper towels and throwing them in the microwave. (Serious Eats has an in-depth guide to how long to steam different kinds of vegetables in the microwave here.) You can also just toss your vegetables in a bowl with some water and cover the bowl with a plate, and the heat from the microwave will do the rest.
5. CRISP YOUR FOOD
We tend to associate microwaving with making our pizza soggy, so you may not realize that it’s actually a great crisper if you have the right tools. You just need a crisper pan, which you can get for as little as $13 on Amazon. These microwave-safe metal pans are essentially griddles that keep your leftovers crispy while they heat, even with foods like pizza or french fries. It’s also a great way to make bacon in your microwave.
6. PEEL GARLIC
Peeling garlic is one of the more tedious tasks associated with cooking, but it doesn’t have to be. Microwave the full head of garlic for 20 seconds, then peel it apart. Once the steam breaks the chemical bonds between the skin and the garlic itself, those husks will come right off, no knives required.
7. DRY HERBS
You can dry fresh herbs quickly using your microwave. Put four or five branches of herbs between two dry paper towels, then microwave them for 2 to 3 minutes. They should be brittle and dry. Microwaving herbs to dry them is actually preferable to drying them in the oven or hanging them, because the electromagnetic radiation of the microwave quickly evaporates the water from the herbs instead of heating the entire branch evenly, preserving more of the essential oils that give the herbs their flavor in the first place.
8. MAKE PARMESAN CHEESE BASKETS
The only thing better than topping your salad with cheese is topping your cheese with salad. You can mold Parmesan or Romano cheese into bowls by microwaving the grated cheese on parchment paper, then flipping the hot cheese onto the outside of an upside-down ceramic bowl. The warm cheese hardens in the shape of the bowl, and voila! You have yourself a cheese dish.
9. MAKE DOUGH RISE
Homemade bread might be delicious, but it’s also a huge time suck. But it doesn’t need to be quite so time intensive. Instead of waiting for the dough to rise on its own, save yourself a few hours and use the microwave to speed up the process. For a two-rise or three-rise recipe, you can warm up the dough on very low power (10 percent) using the microwave, shape it, and put it back in to rise again. Instead of waiting 45 minutes for a rise, you can achieve the same results in 10 or 15 minutes.
10. DRY YOUR ONION TEARS
Throw out your onion-chopping goggles and quit holding your breath. Here’s a super-easy way to keep your eyes dry during food prep: Just stick that pungent onion in the microwave. Cut off the tips of the onion and microwave it for around 30 seconds. Once it’s been heated, you don’t have to worry about tears! (Note that you can also use your microwave to sauté or caramelize your onions, too.)
11. SOAK BEANS
Even if you forgot to soak them last night, you can still have beans ready in time for dinner. Put your dried beans in the microwave with 3 cups of water for every 1 cup of beans. Microwave them on high for 15 minutes until they boil, then let the beans stand for an hour or so, and they’ll be ready to cook. (Some recipes suggest letting the beans boil in the microwave, then heating them on medium for another two minutes.)
12. SHUCK CORN
Similar to sticking your garlic in the microwave, doing the same with your corn makes it super simple to take off the husk. And even better, microwaving eliminates those extra strings that always seem to remain no matter how good at shucking you are. You just need to cut off the stalk end of the cob and put it in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute (you can do up to four cobs at a time). When it’s done, you can grab the cob by the uncut end of the stalk and shake. The corn should tumble right out.
13. FOAM MILK FOR YOUR LATTE
The only equipment you need to make milk foam for your at-home latte is a jar. Pour milk (the Kitchn recommends 2 percent or nonfat because the added protein helps it foam) into a jar, seal it, and shake it vigorously for up to a minute until it becomes foamy. Then stick it in the microwave for 30 seconds. The heat will stabilize the foam so it won’t immediately dissolve into your cappuccino.
14. HELP YOU GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR CITRUS
If you’re going to go to the work of squeezing citrus, you want to make sure you’re getting every last drop. And a microwave can help. If you’re trying to squeeze a lemon, pop it in the microwave and zap it for 10 seconds or so. Let it cool down for a sec, then slice it in half and squeeze away. You’ll get far more juice out of it. It works for larger fruit like grapefruits and oranges, but you’ll need to add a few more seconds on the timer.
15. TOAST NUTS
The microwave is a great way to roast nuts evenly, perhaps even better than in the oven or on the stove. Arrange them in a single layer on a plate, then put them in the microwave for one-minute intervals, rearranging them on the plate after each minute so they all cook evenly. Then, keep taste-testing until they’re done to your liking.
16. MAKE CHIPS
You don’t need a deep fryer or a kettle to make potato chips. Coat the thin slices of potato in vegetable oil, then lay them out in a single layer on a microwave-safe dish. Heat them in the microwave for three to five minutes until they are brown, wait for them to cool, and enjoy!
17. PEEL TOMATOES AND PEACHES
Your microwave is excellent at peeling thin-skinned fruits. If you’re baking a peach pie or making a soup that calls for peeled tomatoes, cut the fruit in half, put it on a plate, and microwave it for up to five minutes, until the skin starts to wrinkle. You should be able to peel the skin right off with a fork at that point.
18. REVIVE STALE BREAD
Soften stale bread in the microwave by wrapping it in a damp paper towel and microwaving it for about 10 seconds. That will soften up the bread and return it to its tasty glory. Instead of the damp paper towel, you can also put a glass of water in the microwave with the bread, and that will steam it right up, too.
19. FUSE GLASS
Your microwave can also serve as a kiln. A microwavable kiln kit will allow you to fuse glass and jewelry pieces in a few minutes. The ceramic of the microwavable kiln acts like a magnifying glass to focus the heat and fuse stained glass pieces for earrings, pendants, and other small projects.
20. DYE YARN
Your microwave is a crafting powerhouse. You can dye wool or silk using the vibrant colors of Kool-Aid. Mix the colorful drink powder into water, add in the wool, and microwave it for several minutes. The heat from the microwave will bond the color to the fiber, keeping it safe from fading.
21. MAKE A SOAP CLOUD
Zapping your bar of Ivory soap is a fun, easy science experiment that will require little cleanup. A little bit of electromagnetic radiation yields an expanding, fluffy soap cloud that kids (and adults) of all ages can play around with. After two-and-a-half minutes in the microwave, the soap will grow in size, creating a squishy cloud shape you can mold with your fingers. Just be sure to use the Ivory brand of soap, or a similar soap that contains enough air in it to float in water, or it won’t work.
22. MEASURE THE SPEED OF LIGHT
With a relatively simple science experiment, you can measure the speed of light for yourself using a microwave and some chocolate. You’ll need to remove the tray from your microwave so that the chocolate doesn’t cook evenly. Put a long piece of chocolate in the now-empty microwave, and cook it until it begins to become misshapen, around 40 seconds. Then you can measure the distance between the hot spots where the chocolate began to melt and pool. Next, follow these directions to calculate the speed of light based on that distance.
23. REMOVE A STAMP FROM AN ENVELOPE
If you need to take a stamp off of an envelope it’s already stuck to (or are looking to save a stamp for your collection), you can easily pry it off without damaging it. Put a few drops of water onto the stamp and put it in the microwave for approximately 20 seconds. When it comes out, the stamp will peel right off of the paper.
24. STERILIZE SOIL
If you’re about to plant some seeds, you might want to sterilize your soil first. You can buy pre-sterilized potting mixes, but if you’re just using the dirt in your garden, you can rid your soil of pests, diseases, and weed seeds using the microwave. Put a few pounds of dirt in a quart-sized container—ideally with a vented lid—and stick it in the microwave, zapping it 90 seconds for every couple of pounds. After that, your soil is officially ready for planting.
25. TEST WHETHER YOUR DISHES ARE MICROWAVE SAFE
Ideally, you’d know whether or not your dishes were microwave safe before you put them in said microwave, but sometimes, dishes aren’t marked or the symbol has rubbed off. So if you really want to be sure, you can do a quick test. Take a glass measuring cup or mug (that you already know is microwave safe) and fill it with 1 cup of water. Then, put that glass full of water on top of the dish you’re trying to test (or next to it, if you’re testing a cup). Microwave both for one minute, then touch them. If the water is hot but the testing dish isn’t, it’s safe to use to microwave food. If the dish is warm but the water is hot, that means it’s not microwave safe.