The main tool in my kitchen used to be my microwave (heck, if it’s good enough for Stephen King, it was good enough for me). Before discovering the joy of cooking, I would stock up on easily nuked dishes like noodle bowls and pizza rolls and the occasional steamed vegetable packet to make sure I was getting some greens in my diet.
Now, I’m living microwaveless for the first time in my 31 years on this planet. What would have even just two years ago been a tragedy leaving me starving to death is now something I barely notice. And I’m still eating the occasional microwavable meal—I’ve just found new ways to prepare them that make them even better than before.
Old me wouldn’t even glance at other instructions on the back of a frozen food item. I’d scan for the word “microwave” and if it was present, I would toss it into my grocery cart without a second thought. My Google search history was riddled with queries like “cook hot dogs in microwave how?” But now I’m consulting the other writing on the back of those packages.
Most recently, I made a trip to Trader Joe’s that included a package of Chicken Chile Verde Burritos. Instructions for both microwaving and cooking in the oven were on the back, and while the microwaveable directions are certainly shorter, the oven guidelines weren’t much more complicated. If you’re using a microwave purely for ease of use, you won’t have to change much—instead of plopping the burritos in a microwave and pressing the buttons, you’re just preheating an oven and plopping them in once it’s ready (there will always be plopping involved).
In this particular case, there’s about a 20-minute difference between the two methods—while not listed on the packaging, you could also fry up a burrito on your stovetop in a pan, which typically takes about 10-15 minutes. In the grand scheme of life, what’s a couple of extra minutes of passive waiting time, especially if it means the result is crisp and hearty instead of the soggy mush that the microwave can often produce?
And it’s not just burritos. That Lean Cuisine sweet and sour chicken? Stir it up in a pan. Your Easy Macs? Boil water on the stove (or in an electric kettle) to mix in with your cheese packet. A Stouffer’s lasagna for one? Fire up the oven. Even popcorn can be whipped up on the stove.
When you skip the microwave, you’re not only going to get a better texture and have more ability to season and spice up your dish along the way, but you’ll also avoid the inevitable microwave splatter that is impossible to clean. Just remember that many microwaveable containers are not oven safe, so you might have to transfer the food to a different vessel before cooking it up.
Of course, microwaves don’t exist solely for frozen meals. Once I started cooking regularly, the two main things I used the microwave for were defrosting meat and melting butter. And folks, there are better ways to do both.
Defrosting meat in the microwave always scared me a little bit anyway—was I actually cooking up parts of the chicken that would affect how the dish would turn out? If you’re trying to safely and naturally defrost your meat, popping it from the freezer into the fridge is the best way to go. But that takes time, and if you’re turning to your microwave, you’re probably looking for a quick fix. These days I defrost completely frozen meat in a cold water bath, filling a mixing bowl with cold water and dropping in the still-wrapped meat. I can usually leave it in my sink and watch exactly one episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and then it’s good to go.
Butter can easily be melted on a stovetop, though you’ll want to make sure the heat stays very very low so that it doesn’t end up evaporating. If you’re looking to simply soften some butter as you cook, just turn on your oven and set your stick on the stovetop in a bowl or mug. That oven heat is radiating up and will start to warm up your butter blocks.
So, if you find yourself microwaveless, don’t worry. You can certainly get by without one, and you won’t have to give up your favorite frozen meals in the process.