Kitchen & Cooking

These are the buttons on your microwave you should never use

They could be ruining your food.

Microwave Credit: Rotislav_Seedlacek/Getty Images

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As someone who hates to cook (or is just too lazy), I use my microwave a lot. Boil water? Yes. Reheat leftovers? Absolutely. Cook pasta? Of course.

But apparently, not all the buttons on a microwave are created equal. According to one expert, the preset buttons (like "popcorn" or "defrost") may not actually work that well at heating or cooking your food. We asked our kitchen and cooking editor, Cassidy Olsen, to weigh in on the issue below, plus provide her top tips for microwaving better so you don't end up with hot-on-the-outside-but-frozen-on-the-inside food or, worse, burnt popcorn.

Why the preset buttons aren't as effective as you'd think

Food
Credit: Qwart/Getty Images

To press the defrost button or not to press it...

To understand what the preset buttons do, you first have to understand how microwaves work. "All microwaves operate on the same basic principle: A magnetron generates microwaves, which excite the water molecules in food and cause them to heat up," Cassidy explains. And while newer microwaves may have preset buttons that promise perfectly cooked food, all those buttons can really do is control the on and off interval of that magnetron.

So what's the difference between your standard "time cook" and the preset buttons? "When you set a time, your microwave heats up your food at full power for the time you enter on the keypad," Cassidy says. "But when you press a button like 'defrost,' 'popcorn,' or 'potato,' most microwaves simply alternate between 0 and 100 percent power for a predetermined period of time that can vary from model to model." A.k.a you never know what you're getting.

Are there any preset buttons worth using?

Actually, yes—the sensor cook button. "Sensor controls on your microwave generally adjust the cook time based on the amount of steam the food gives off, while newer and more expensive models use even more precise technology to determine when food is done cooking," Cassidy explains, adding, "If you want to take the guesswork out of microwaving something, consider a unit with a sensor cook option, like our top choice from Toshiba"

How to microwave your food better

Tips
Credit: Pyrex/Toshiba

The products you use can make a major difference.

Step one: Use the right containers for heating up your food. While a lot of plastic containers are now safe to use in the microwave, Cassidy still recommends glass so you don't burn yourself and so that your food cooks more evenly. Our favorite glass food containers are these popular Pyrex ones because they're super durable and even have a vent in the lid for easy and effective microwaving.

Another way to upgrade your reheating is to upgrade your microwave. When our experts tested some of the top models out there, we found the Toshiba Microwave Oven to be the best. It has everything we were looking for in a microwave, including 10 power settings, convenient one-touch controls, and, most importantly, a smart sensor that automatically stops cooking your food when it's done by monitoring the amount of steam released.

Get the Pyrex Ultimate 8-Piece Set from Amazon for $32.99

Get the Toshiba Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor from Amazon for $99.99

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.