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What are the pros and cons of microwave cooking?

Speed is the name of the game in microwave cookery. Most foods cook in one-quarter to one-half the time that other basic cooking methods require because the food cooks from within. Microwave cooking costs less because it requires about one-quarter the power that a traditional oven uses. A microwave oven also causes less splatter and hardly heats up the kitchen.

Baked goods rise higher in a microwave oven. On the other hand, bread, rolls, and other baked goods do not brown as well as they do in a traditional oven. Neither does meat, which means it won't develop the desirably flavorful crust caused by the Maillard (browning) reaction. Some microwave producers deal with this problem by adding convection fans and electrical heating elements. These devices do work, but their results pale compared to those of dedicated conventional and convection ovens.

Cooks face other problems as well. Microwave cooking tends to give meats a dry, mushy texture. It's also harder to predict the proper cooking time, especially for a large cut of meat. Consequently, microwaved food is more likely to come out of the oven undercooked or overcooked.

Frozen foods can take a long time to cook in a microwave oven. Since the water molecules are frozen solid, the electromagnetic waves cannot agitate them. Until enough water molecules liquefy and then become hot enough to thaw the adjacent frozen water molecules, the cooking process proceeds at glacial speed.

Another inconvenience is that of not being able to use your metal pots and pans or aluminum foil containers in a microwave oven. Oven manufacturers warn against the use of metal because of the possibility of arcing - an electric spark jumping between the metal pot and microwave oven wall when the pot is placed too close to the wall. Arcing can damage the unit's magnetron tube. Although the chance of arcing is relatively low in quality oven models, there is another strong reason not to cook in metal. It reflects electromagnetic waves and therefore causes uneven cooking. Finally, there is always a chance of radiation leakage, though, unless the unit is old or damaged, the possibility of a radiation leak with today's equipment is remote.

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