The Ideal Setting If You Absolutely Must Reheat Meat In The Microwave

Reheating foods in the microwave has a bad reputation. We've all experienced that frustrating moment when we put last night's steak or chicken leftovers into the microwave and it is zapped into a stringy, tough, and unappetizing mess. While it might be ideal to reheat meat in a pan or oven to avoid that feared, rubbery texture, these methods take time. No one wants to wait for an oven to preheat or wash a pan during lunch hour. 

If you are short on time and need a quick and convenient meal, microwaving leftovers or meal-prepped dishes might be your best, time-saving option. And when you absolutely must use a microwave to reheat your leftover meat, there's an easy adjustment you can make that changes the way the unit heats food. The key to reheating meat is to use a lower power setting on your microwave to retain juices, which keeps leftover meat more flavorful and tender, even when you have to eat it the next day. 

Low power means more moisture control

At its core, microwaving is all about moisture control. Microwave ovens have several power level settings, each of which is suited for different types of foods. Some foods, particularly meat, get tough with a high heat setting — the default power level on many ovens. 

After entering a cook time on your microwave, hit the button that's often called "power level" or "cooking power." On microwaves that have levels running from one to 10, four or five is likely the ideal setting for reheating meat. For other models that use a percentage, a medium setting of around 50% should be enough. When you use a lower power level, you're allowing heat enough time to reach the center of the food without overcooking the outside.

While the actual cook time will depend on many factors, including the size and type of meat, USDA guidelines say meat should still reach an internal temperature of 145 F to 165 F, which can be checked using a meat thermometer. The formula for keeping meat succulent in the microwave is low power for a slightly longer period of time. 

Other microwave reheating hacks

Another hack that helps ensure a better quality reheated meal is adding liquid to your meat while it's in the microwave. Placing a damp paper towel or sprinkling water directly on the meat can help preserve moisture while it heats up. You can even sub out the water for a splash of stock, wine, soy sauce, or other flavorful liquid condiment to enrich the meat. Other tips include flipping your meat every 15 to 30 seconds in the microwave to ensure even heating. Even arranging your foods in a donut or ring shape along the edge of your plate, where the microwave tends to heat more, can help avoid cold spots and the need to leave your meal in the microwave longer.

The microwave doesn't have to be the enemy for reheating food. In fact, it might just be your biggest, time-saving tool for tomorrow's warm, delicious, leftover roast chicken or steak.