Can stainless steel be microwaved? Microwave stainless steel
If you’ve ever seen anything resembling miniature lightning in your microwave, it’s because you’ve put something metallic in it. But metals and microwaves have a complicated relationship. What kind of metal can you put in the microwave?
Can you microwave stainless steel?
It is safest not to put stainless steel in the microwave, since the metal reflects the microwaves instead of absorbing them. This can cause sparks and is a fire hazard. This is especially true if the metal has complex shapes, like forks, or if there is more than one piece of metal.
In this article, you’ll learn why microwaving stainless steel is dangerous, and why in some cases it isn’t, as long as you take the proper precautions.
Microwaves and metal: What is the problem?
Before we get into the details of why you can or can’t microwave stainless steel, it’s important to know how this handy gadget works.
How do microwaves work?
Microwaves, as a type of radiation , fall between the categories of radio waves and infrared waves. These waves are absorbed by most foods, allowing them to be heated in a matter of seconds.
The atomic motion that these waves create in food causes it to heat evenly.
A microwave oven will heat your food unevenly only when it can’t get the waves to reach the center of the food, whether it’s a large piece of meat or a pile of leftover pasta with sauce.
Taking a minute to evenly distribute the food on your plate will solve the problem.
The waves are absorbed by fat, sugar and water in food. There is a misconception that microwaves cook food from the inside out, but this is not the case.
If it were, you wouldn’t end up with a Hot Pocket that’s melting on the outside and a block of ice in the center.
Microwaves actually heat by causing loose food molecules to spin , creating frictional energy, which is converted to heat. That heat is then distributed evenly by convection.
The misconception stems from the fact that this process heats the inside of the food much faster than an oven without browning or burning the edges.
What happens when you put metal in the microwave?
Now that you know how a microwave works, understanding the complicated relationship between microwave ovens and metal will be much easier.
As we have already said, microwaves are absorbed by fat, sugar and water. They are not absorbed by neutral materials such as plastic, ceramic or glass. Metal, on the other hand, is at the other end of the spectrum.
When you put metal in the furnace, it reflects waves , just like it reflects light.
Microwaves cannot penetrate the dense cloud of electrons in the metal, so instead these electrons become charged and electrical currents build up on the surface and are released as sparks.
Is it okay to microwave metal?
You may have heard that microwaving metal is a big no. While this is true and safest, there are a few cases where microwaving metal is fine.
Also, many microwaveable foods come in containers that contain a metal insert or are made with a thin layer of aluminum foil.
This thin metallic layer on food packaging, like microwaveable pizza, is there for a reason: it gets very hot and reflects heat evenly through the food.
Also, you probably noticed that there is metal in the microwave oven itself. The interior walls of the microwave, as well as the door mesh, are made of metal. They are there to keep the waves inside the oven.
So how is it that certain types of metals in the microwave are safe and even useful, while others can cause your kitchen to burn if you’re not careful enough?
Metals you can put in the microwave
Whether or not you can microwave metal doesn’t depend so much on the type of metal, but on its shape and surface.
A thin piece of tin or steel that lies flat in the microwave and does not touch the sides of the microwave may not cause a spark. Still, it’s important to keep an eye on it and not let it cook for too long.
A metal skillet, however, will. Its four walls, no matter how short they are, will continuously bounce waves from one side to the other, which will end up causing sparks and igniting your food.
Why shape is important
You may have left a spoon in your dinner when reheating it and not experienced any sparks. But the same has not happened with a fork. Why?
The reason why forks sizzle in the microwave while spoons don’t is that forks have sharp edges and corners. The waves cause the charged particles to move to the corners of the fork. They form an arc that creates the spark.
Since the shape of the spoon is smoother and has no sharp edges, microwaving it is safer.
In any case, you should avoid putting metal objects such as forks, spoons or knives in the microwave.
Plates with metallic edges are one of the objects that you should not put in the microwave either.
They can damage not only your plate, but the microwave oven itself. The metal part of the platter will overheat under the waves and form an electrical arc.
Why time is important
Even with sheet metal you can microwave, you shouldn’t microwave it for too long.
If you accidentally drop a spoon into the oatmeal while reheating it for 30 seconds, you’re not likely to catch your oven on fire.
Keeping the metal in the microwave for as short a time as possible is important if you don’t want it to sizzle.
How to heat stainless steel in the microwave
Stainless steel, which is normal steel coated with a thin layer of chrome, is no different from other types of metal when microwaved. It reflects waves in the same way as other metals.
A small flat piece of stainless steel, if used correctly, is unlikely to cause a spark in the microwave. Instead, a stainless steel pan or fork will do the trick.
Also, if you put a stainless steel object too close to the metal walls of the microwave, it can cause large sparks, damage your microwave, or even start a fire.
Stainless steel is a common material in the manufacture of travel mugs. Do not attempt to microwave these types of mugs.
Not only will your drink stay cold as a result of the shield the metal creates, but it will also damage your magical kitchen appliance.
Putting metal in the microwave: what you should know
If you’re not going to read this section to the end, the only thing you need to make clear is that it ‘s best not to microwave metal if you’re not sure it’s safe.
If you want to do it right, read the instructions . This refers not only to the instructions of the appliance you use, but also to the food you are going to heat, if it is about products that come in some type of packaging.
First of all, the manual that accompanies your device will establish the main rules that you must follow. It is important that you learn what you can and cannot put in the microwave.
Last but not least, follow the US Department of Agriculture guidelines . every time you are not sure about the safety of microwaving a certain material.
What about the aluminum foil?
Aluminum foil and the microwave can raise a lot of questions.
On the one hand, it is often advised to heat food in aluminum foil. For another, you may have seen videos where aluminum foil melts or sparks in the microwave. How is this explained?
If you put a ball of crumpled up aluminum foil in the microwave, you’ll see a lot of sparks come out. This occurs due to the sharp edges and intricate shapes of the aluminum foil. Aluminum foil can even melt due to the high heat that is conducted through it.
It is not advisable to microwave aluminum foil, but you can safely do so if you follow the proper steps.
If you follow the guidelines and use aluminum foil in the microwave in the correct way, you will be able to successfully heat your food.
Here are the USDA guidelines for using aluminum foil in the microwave:
- Wrinkled aluminum foil can cause sparks, so use only a new, smooth sheet of aluminum foil.
- If your microwave oven already has metal shelves or a metal turntable, don’t use more metal in your microwave.
- Lay the foil flat under your food, or otherwise only cover up to 1/4 of the food with the foil.
- If you are wrapping part of your food, shape the foil carefully and smooth the edges so there are no corners or protruding edges.
- Make sure the foil is at least 1 inch from the sides of the microwave.
- If you see any sparks, stop microwaving immediately and transfer the food to a microwave-safe plate.
The key is to use a sparing amount and make sure you don’t leave any sharp edges.
You should not completely cover the food with aluminum foil. Since the metal does not absorb the waves but rather reflects them, your food will stay cold. Not only that, but your microwave can also be damaged.
Therefore, aluminum foil can be used to cover certain parts of the food if you want to prevent it from overcooking.
If you want to wrap your food in something that will help it hold together, retain its moisture, and heat evenly, we suggest using waxed paper.
Can you still use a microwave after putting metal in it?
If you have seen small sparks in your microwave after heating metal in it, your microwave is most likely still working properly.
As long as the device is in good condition and has not caught fire or suffered any damage, there should be no risk.
That being said, even if you manage to heat metal in the microwave and have your appliance work properly, make it a habit not to leave metal or kitchen utensils in the microwave.