A total game changer
When it was invented, the microwave was a total game changer in the kitchen. Yet over time, scores of home cooks have delegated the appliance to reheating duties alone, when it has the potential to be so much more.
One reason people are hesitant to use the microwave to its fullest is that they aren’t fully comfortable with all the features – and at the top of this list is the power-level button (though the popcorn button gets an honourable mention). “Think of adjusting your microwave’s power level similarly to adjusting the heat on your stove or your oven,” says Steph Chen, CEO and founder of the microwave cookware company Anyday. “You wouldn’t cook everything under your broiler or on high heat on your stove. The same thing goes for the microwave.”
Here, find out how to make the most out of the power-level button on your microwave and avoid the most common microwave mistakes.
What is the power-level button?
Just like the knobs on your stove allow you to adjust the heat beneath your pots and pans, the power-level button adjusts the temperature at which food cooks in your microwave.
“All microwaves default to cooking at full power [level 10]. However, the power-level button enables you to cook certain foods more gently,” explains Chen. “For most standard microwaves, the power-level function actually pauses the microwaves for short periods of time to allow the food to cook at a slower rate. You can even hear the microwave’s magnetron switch on and off if you listen closely.”
Here’s how this works: “During this ‘off’ period, the residual heat that’s generated in your food from the full-power cooking continues cooking your food without the more intense direct microwave heat,” says Chen. “This means that when you set your microwave to power level five, or 50 per cent power, there are waves bouncing around inside only 50 per cent of the time, allowing the food to cook more gently.”
She adds that microwaves that use inverter technology are the exception to this rule.
Why should you bother with the power-level button?
Most people think of food that’s cooked in the microwave all coming out the same. But if you use the power-level button, that won’t be the case. “The primary benefit of cooking on low power is that food is cooked more gently, often resulting in better textures, and cook times are more forgiving,” Chen says. “It’s harder to overcook!”
That’s a boon, whether you’re whipping up a fast batch of microwaved poached eggs, a bowl of oatmeal or a sweet cup of hot cocoa.
Using the power-level button also cuts down on bubbled-over food, making cleaning your microwave easier. “Certain foods, like grains and eggs, need a gentler heat to achieve the texture you want and avoid overflowing or burning,” adds Chen.