21 Microwave Cooking Hacks You'll Wish You Knew Sooner

The microwave oven is a mainstay in the vast majority of kitchens, and many of us use it every day for reheating leftovers or cooking frozen dinners. Yet we must ask ourselves: Are we using it to its full potential? In most cases, the answer is a resounding no.

The miniature oven in the corner of your kitchen is capable of cooking (and doing) so much more than most of us realize — and it can help save time. From giving a second life to stale bread to restoring the texture of honey, your microwave can make you more efficient in the kitchen.

Let's explore the 21 cooking hacks that will transform the way you view your microwave and reduce the time spent preparing meals. Psst! You may never spend an hour making a baked potato or risotto again.

Get more juice out of citrus fruits

Lemons are a delicious pantry essential, and they are packed with vitamins — and always ready to add a zingy lift to sauces and dressings. When it comes to extracting their precious juice, however, they can be reluctant to let go of it, leaving you with a disappointing dribble to add to your dish.

The key here is temperature. When the lemon is cold, the membrane inside is less pliable, and by warming the fruit a little, the juice can flow more easily. Popping the lemons (limes and oranges work in the same way) in the microwave will heat them up enough to get the juices flowing, allowing you to get more juice without any extra effort. About 20 seconds in the microwave should be just enough to encourage your citrus fruit to part with their juice and help you to brighten up your meals.

Improve the texture of stale bread

Biting into a piece of fresh, crusty bread is one of the great joys in life — but if your loaf has been sitting on the counter for a day or two, the experience could be disappointing. Before you consider throwing your stale bread in the trash or compost, your trusty microwave may be able to help you out, so you can get the most from that hardened loaf.

By wrapping your bread in a damp paper towel and heating it for 20 seconds in the microwave, your past-its-best bread can be given a second chance. This revival is due to steam being generated, restoring the moisture into the bread and giving it a softer texture. This effect may not last long, so be sure to enjoy it as soon as you can. You can also use this trick to revive stale bagels and other bread-like products. 

Peel garlic cloves

Garlic is a wonderful, fragrant ingredient that can elevate the flavor of so many dishes — but let's be honest ... peeling it can be a total pain. The stubborn skin clings on for dear life, usually resulting in chunks of garlic under your fingernails that you will be smelling for days.

Take the stress and stench out of peeling garlic by letting your microwave lend a hand. By cutting the end off the clove and heating it for around 20 seconds, the skin will soften and peel off easily, leaving your hands fresh and scent-free. The steam generated in the microwave slides between the clove and the skin, allowing it to slip off without a fight.

Make potato chips

If you're craving the crunch of potato chips but can't be bothered getting the deep fryer out, there's an easier way you can satisfy your urge — courtesy of your microwave. Slice your potato as thinly as you can — a mandoline will come in handy if you have one — then spray with some oil and a pinch of salt. Layer them onto a microwavable plate without overlapping, then pop in the microwave for around three minutes.

Keep an eye on the chips as they cook to make sure they don't end up burnt rather than crunchy. Once you've perfected the technique, try out different toppings. Garlic salt, dried herbs, or cajun seasoning will all work well, and you can even switch the potatoes for yams or parsnips until you find your perfect snack.

Dry out fresh herbs

If you have fresh herbs that you forgot to use and are about to go off, there's no need to throw them in the compost. With the help of your microwave, you can dry them out and preserve their flavor until you are ready to use them. This technique works best for woody herbs such as rosemary and thyme, so if you have tender herbs that are past their best, freezing them might be a better option.

To dry herbs, wash them, then make sure they are completely dry. Lay them between two paper towels, then heat in the microwave for one minute to start with. Check them and then continue for 15-20 seconds at a time until they are completely dried. You can then grind to a powder with a mortar and pestle or leave them as they are.

Poach eggs easily

When it comes to cooking eggs, poaching is famously the most difficult technique to master. How many of us have set out to cook a scrumptious brunch, aiming for perfectly runny yolks encased in a smooth white bubble, only to be left with a pot full of floating chunks of egg white and a solid yellow ball?

Well, prepare to become a pro of breakfasts as you discover how to poach an egg perfectly in the microwave. Fill a mug halfway with water and add a dash of white vinegar if you have some — it helps the white to set. Pierce the yolk with a fork or cocktail stick to prevent it from exploding, then cover the mug and heat it for around one minute. The result should be a beautifully poached egg, with zero tidy-up!

Make mug cakes

Though it may seem unlikely, with the help of your microwave, you can whip up a delicious dessert in just a few minutes — enter the mug cake. By throwing a few baking staples together and zapping it in the microwave, you will have a sweet treat ready to serve whenever the urge strikes.

For the most straightforward chocolate mug cake, you need flour, sugar, and cocoa powder, alongside baking soda, milk, oil, and water. Throw them all together in a microwave-safe mug and cook for a minute or until the cake is cooked in the middle. The result will be the easiest cake you've ever made — and you'll never have to ignore that chocolate craving again.

Cook rice perfectly

While rice is a universally loved staple that accompanies so many dishes, cooking it perfectly on the stove alongside the rest of your entree can be a difficult task. To save you from stressing about the pot drying up or your rice becoming too mushy, leave this task to your microwave.

Using roughly twice as much water as rice, add both to a microwavable bowl and cover, but leave a gap for steam to escape. Set the timer for 10 minutes, checking the rice regularly as it cooks. Let it stand for a couple of minutes, then fluff it up with a fork and serve. No one will know the difference, and you can feel less stressed knowing your rice will be ready and waiting as you plate up the rest of the dish.

Decrystallize honey

Opening a brand new jar of honey is one of life's great pleasures — it simply doesn't get better than spooning out that beautiful silky elixir to add to your dish and getting a sugary hit as you lick the spoon afterward. But fast-forward a few months, and it's a different story. The lid of your honey jar now seems to be stuck, and when you finally get into it, you are faced with a lumpy, crystallized mess that is significantly less appealing.

No worries! There's a simple way to restore honey to its former glory. If your container is microwave-safe, remove the lid and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds (at a time) until it has returned to its liquid state. Though the honey is perfectly safe to eat when crystallized, it is much more fun to drizzle over pancakes (and, you know, almost everything else) as a liquid.

Rehydrate dried fruit

As fantastic as dried fruit is, sometimes being able to rehydrate it would be super handy. And with the help of your microwave, you can do this easily. Rehydrating dried fruit simply involves putting back the water that has been removed, and this can be done by soaking the fruit for an hour or so. If time is of the essence, though, rehydrating them in the microwave is a much faster option.

Place your selection of dried fruits in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with water, then heat for one to two minutes. Leave them to stand for five minutes, then use the beautifully plumped-up fruits in your savory dishes and desserts.

Make pickles

When it comes to burger toppings, nothing beats a tangy pickle — and homemade ones are by far the best. But creating pickles the traditional way can take time, needing to be left in the pickling liquid for anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days. If your pickle needs are urgent, your microwave can help speed things up.

Start by slicing your vegetables thinly — cucumbers, carrots, and onions are all good options — then add to a mixture of vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices. Heat on full power in the microwave for five minutes, then one minute at a time until they are cooked. You can then transfer them to the fridge, and they will be ready to eat once they have cooled.

Toast nuts

Nuts are a perfectly good snack in their untoasted form, but sometimes you need a bit of extra crunch. Whether topping a salad or adding the finishing touches to a dessert, being able to toast nuts in the microwave quickly is a real time saver.

Spread a variety of nuts on a microwavable plate — you can leave them whole or chop them if you want them to toast even faster. Cook them for a minute at a time until you are happy with their level of toastiness. Using the microwave will result in evenly toasted nuts and should significantly reduce your chances of burning them.

Crisp up bacon

Cooking crispy bacon is a simple enough task, but it can come with a lot of mess. Cleaning up the greasy splatters from the stovetop afterward can sometimes leave us wondering if it was worth the effort. Your microwave can help speed up both the cooking process and the clean-up, giving you satisfyingly crispy bacon in minutes.

Place the bacon on a microwavable plate sandwiched between two paper towels to absorb any fat that leaches out and help it crisp up even more. Cook for four minutes, then a further minute at a time until you are happy with the texture. Give your microwave a quick wipe down inside, but the paper towels should have prevented a big mess, leaving you to relax and enjoy your bacon sandwich — or however you enjoy bacon! 

Bake a potato quickly

A soft, fluffy baked potato is a perfect midweek meal or hearty lunch and is often worth waiting the hour or more it takes to cook. But what if you're short of time but still craving that starchy goodness? No worries — with a microwave nearby, you can have your potato and eat it too.

Start by pricking the potato a few times with a fork to prevent any mini-explosions. Then, cook for around seven minutes before checking it with a knife for doneness. If you need to cook it further, do a minute at a time until it is perfect. Let it stand in the microwave for a couple of minutes while you prepare your baked potato filling, then enjoy the wonder of a delicious baked potato in less than 10 minutes.

Soften bananas

Is there anything more disappointing than reaching into the fruit bowl to find that all of your bananas are underripe? A little-known microwave hack can soften your banana instantly and give it the perfect texture for your smoothie or banana bread.

Pierce the skin of the banana with a fork to stop it from exploding all over the microwave, and heat it for 30 seconds at a time until it has softened. The greener the banana is, the longer it will take to give it a mashable texture. Though microwaving bananas is not the best option if you want to eat them as they are, for making banana dishes, it's a great option to give you a soft fruit in no time.

Make peeling veggies easier

If you've tried preparing vegetables such as butternut squash, you know getting the skin off can be a mission. To speed things up — and save your fingers from a nasty encounter with a knife — try microwaving the veggies first.

Cut your squash in half, take the seeds out, and place it in a microwaveable container with a splash of water. Cook it for a few minutes, let it cool, then try to peel the skin. It should slide off easily without you needing to wrestle with it. You can then cut it into wedges or cubes and add it to your dish. This significantly reduces your prep time and prevents wastage from over-peeling. 

Mulled cider

Mulled cider is a quintessentially festive drink, and the aroma of a pot bubbling away on the stove can fill the house and put everyone in a merry mood. If you don't have the time or inclination to make a big batch on the stove, you can create an individual portion of mulled cider in a few minutes with the help of your microwave.

Add some cider or apple juice to a microwavable jug with cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and some brown sugar, then cook for two minutes. Leave it for a few minutes to cool before pouring through a sieve and settling down to enjoy the flavor of the holiday season.

Make a speedy risotto

Risotto is a labor of love for many home cooks — standing over the stove for nearly an hour, spooning ladle after ladle of stock into the mixture and stirring regularly to release the starch that gives it the creamy consistency we all love. Sometimes, however, we just don't have the time to spare, so a speedy microwave risotto is a bonus.

The onions and garlic get cooked first, then arborio rice and hot vegetable stock are added and cooked for 10 minutes, or until the rice is cooked. You will need to stir the mixture at least once during that time, or the rice may stick together. Once the risotto is cooked, add a generous helping of grated Parmesan cheese, then stir to create a creamy, luxurious dish without sweating over a hot stove for half the evening.

Make small batches of jam

Making jam is a laborious process requiring lots of attention — simmering, stirring, and ensuring it doesn't stick to the pan. However, using the microwave can cut down on time and effort, allowing you to make small batches of jam easily. 

You can use any fruit you wish, from strawberries to apricots or blueberries. You may need to add extra sugar if you're using particularly sharp berries. Macerate the fruit by coating in sugar and squeezing lemon juice over the top. Leave in the sugar mixture for an hour or so before adding to a microwave-safe bowl. 

Cook the sugar-soaked fruit in the microwave for five minutes at a time until it has cooked down to a thick liquid. It will thicken further as it cools to create a rich jam, ideal for spreading on toast or adding to desserts.

Help dough rise

If you're making your own baked goods — bread, pizza, or cakes — the time waiting for the dough to rise can be a bit of a pain. With some items needing two rises or even three, the total time can often put us off. By using the microwave to cut the rising time of the dough, you can have a tasty homemade product in a much shorter time.

Place your dough in a microwavable bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Next to the bowl, place a cup of hot water and set the power to very low, around 10%. Heat for 10 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size. This will cut about 40 minutes off the usual rising time for the dough, meaning you have no excuse not to make delicious homemade bread and pastries much more often.

Yes, you can microwave pancakes

Making pancakes in a skillet is great fun, especially for a big occasion like Shrove Tuesday. Trying to flip the pancakes successfully can be a laugh, especially if you get the whole family involved. But sometimes you just want to make pancakes quickly, without all the fuss. On those occasions, your microwave can help you out. Making pancakes in the microwave only takes a minute. Once you have mixed up your usual pancake ingredients, spoon some batter onto baking paper on a microwavable plate, then cook for 60 seconds.

The result will be fluffy pancakes that will be piping hot and ready for your butter or maple syrup. They may not be as golden brown as the usual pan-fried ones, but they will certainly satisfy your pancake cravings.