How to cook in a microwave

Forget shop-bought convenience foods - we're showing you how to make microwave meals from scratch. Jack Monroe gives her top tips for mastering microwave cooking...

How to cook in a microwave

Whether you're in a manic, midweek rush or just don't fancy slaving over a hot stove, the lure of a ready-meal is sometimes too tempting to resist. But why settle for peeling back the plastic from disappointing, pre-prepared dishes, when you can quickly whip up a tastier alternative in minutes? Read on for Jack's top tips for making microwave meals with fresh ingredients...

Getting to know your microwave

Microwave on kitchen counter with cutlery

Jack says: 'I first ventured into microwave cooking last year, as my friends all gave up chocolate, wine and sugar for Lent, I wanted to set myself a challenge, and promptly gave up my oven. I hunted in charity shops for battered copies of 1970s microwave cookbooks, and set about it with gusto. The little blue box in the corner of the kitchen, previously used only to revive forgotten cups of coffee, suddenly became a whole new challenge.

Like any new relationship, we had to learn each other's quirks and foibles, and many exploded eggs and soup volcanoes later, we were starting to understand each other. The response from my readers was phenomenal – grateful for quick and easy meals with little washing up, portable jars of lunch to take to sparsely equipped office kitchens and on shift work, and awakening the sleeping boxes in the corners of kitchens up and down the country. Viva la microwave meals – with a difference.'

Need to buy a microwave? Read our on-test team's best microwave review.

Jack's top tips

Always avoid metal
Never ever, ever put anything metal in the microwave, or any crockery with a metal trim. Metal reflects the microwaves and catches fire – with my firefighter hat on, it’s a common cause of kitchen fires, and kitchen fires quickly turn into house fires. If in doubt, leave it out.

Cover with cling film
When cooking dishes with a high liquid content, such as pasta, rice or soups, cover with cling film and pierce to contain the liquid and allow the heat to escape – this prevents messy explosions! I stand anything like this in a bowl to catch any escaping liquid and keep the bottom of my microwave clean.

Pierce for a perfect poach
For a perfect microwave-poached egg, crack it into a fat-bottomed mug, then pierce the yolk with a knife or fork – this is really important. The yolk cooks faster than the white, so leaving the membrane intact will cause your yolk to make a bid for freedom under the pressure. When pierced, cook it on Medium for 3 x 30-second bursts. If you’re cooking it with other food, you can use High, as the more things there are in a microwave, the less microwaves each one absorbs and the more gently everything cooks.

Clean up
In case of spills or dried-on food, simply place a slice of lemon in a bowl of water, and ping in the microwave for 30 seconds. Remove the lemon and rub it over any stains or baked-on residue to loosen it.

Jack's microwave recipes

Microwave kale & chilli eggs

Microwave kale and tomato sauce topped with two baked eggs
This tasty dish is just as good for breakfast, brunch, lunch or even a solo supper. Follow the instructions carefully and you shouldn't end up with egg on your face... or the roof of your microwave!

Microwave kale & chilli eggs recipe

Microwave chilli

Microwave chilli in a bowl topped with coriander and cream
Hearty, delicious, vegetarian and ready in just 15 minutes - this recipe couldn't tick more boxes if it tried. If you think you'll miss the meat in this kidney bean chilli, add a little chopped chorizo or salami at the beginning of cooking.

Microwave chilli recipe
Watch Jack Monroe making her microwave chilli recipe 

Microwave mac 'n' cheese

Microwave mac n cheese in a mug with spinach leaves
If you thought pasta always goes mushy in the microwave - think again! Jack's mouth-watering meal for one can be easily doubled - if you can bear to share, that is. You can even take it to work - simply pack the components separately, then pop in the microwave at the first signs of a pre-lunch tummy rumble.

Microwave mac 'n' cheese
Watch Jack Monroe making her microwave mac 'n' cheese recipe 

Microwave bacon & bean casserole

Microwave bacon and bean casserole in a bowl
Get two of your five-a-day in one seriously speedy, weeknight dinner. Shop-bought baked beans make a delicious addition to this solo stew with streaky bacon, thickening the sauce and adding flavour.

Microwave bacon & bean casserole

Microwave peanut butter & jam brownies

Microwave peanut butter and jam brownies

Fancy a freshly baked brownie without the long wait as you peer through the oven door? A few storecupboard ingredients and just 15 minutes are all you need to make this chocolatey sweet treat, which beats a plain old mug cake any day. It's microwave magic!

Microwave peanut butter & jam brownies
Watch Jack Monroe making her microwave peanut butter & jam brownies

Microwave penne pappa al pomodoro

Microwave penne pomodoro in tomato sauce with basil, in a bowl

This perfect personal portion of pasta can be on the table in a mere 25 minutes, with a rich garlic and herb tomato sauce that would have any Italian mama fooled into thinking you'd been slaving over a hot stove.

Microwave penne pappa al pomodoro

Microwave biriyani

Microwave biryani rice with vegetables in a bowl

An Indian-inspired rice dish that will become your go-to recipe to use up any leftover vegetables lurking in your fridge. Spiced with cumin, cinnamon and cardamom, this fast and flavour-packed one-pot makes a quick and easy midweek meal.

Microwave biriyani

Microwave recipes and advice

Best microwaves to buy
Best handy gadgets for your microwave
Video: How to use a microwave to make chilli
Best microwave recipes
Best microwave pudding recipes

Are you a fan of shop-bought ready-meals, or would you rather cook from scratch? What are your top tips for cooking in the microwave? Let us know in the comments below...

Comments, questions and tips

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Amit Chavan's picture
Amit Chavan
1st Mar, 2020
It must know for everyone. Because so many people even don't know how to cook in a microwave oven. Should you cook or not in a microwave oven?
Cindy Blair's picture
Cindy Blair
27th Aug, 2019
Shop bought ready meals or less than 15 minutes prep and cook time.
4th Apr, 2017
thank you so much. i am going to try out these recipes, starting with chili.
7th Feb, 2018
when the recipe instructions say stand for 1 minute, does it necessarily have to stay in the microwave, either at the beginning or end of the cooking time?
goodfoodteam's picture
12th Feb, 2018
Thanks for your question. No you can take it out if you like but keep the food covered for that period.
15th Dec, 2015
It would be useful to know what wattage microwave is used in the recipes on this site. It is all very well telling us to cook for 10 minutes on 'high', but is that in a 600 watt or 1100 watt etc microwave? It makes hell of a difference!
Granny strawberry
17th Apr, 2017
i have been cooking in a combi for 15 years.. Always use micro wave to saute veg for cassaroles and soups and cook fruit for tartssaves so much energy.