Defrost vs Cook in a Microwave

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Updated August 19, 2022

If you’re shopping for a top-tier microwave, you need to know what the cooking modes can do. The most common microwave cooking involves frozen food. Therefore, you need to know if microwave defrosting or basic settings are your best choice for cooking frozen food. So, if you are unsure about which advanced settings to use for a frozen meal, read on to learn about defrosting vs cooking in a microwave.


  • Defrost allows you to quickly thaw your food in the microwave, using 20-30 percent of the standard power.
  • Microwave cooking uses electromagnetic radiation to heat the water molecules in your food. Unfortunately, standard microwave settings use too much power for defrosting.
  • Make sure to immediately cook your defrosted food to negate the risk of food poisoning.

Explaining Defrost and Normal Microwave Oven Settings

The microwave defrost setting helps you quickly defrost meat, frozen vegetables, or other frozen food packaging. Defrost works by setting your microwave power level to about 30 percent power to thaw your food but not cook it. Most modern microwaves act as a kitchen scale and allow you to set your cooking time to minutes per pound. Also, if you want to defrost large dishes, consider what size microwave you need.

Insider Tip

You should check the internal temperature of your defrosted food with a food thermometer. This is hugely important for avoiding harmful bacteria in larger foods.

Microwave defrosting with a typical power level is not advised. Using microwave energy outside of the defrost option will not defrost chicken or any other meat. Instead, your microwave will try to cook it, leaving your food outside of its safe temperature, possibly adding to the growth of bacteria.

Cooking Speed

Without a doubt, it is much faster to defrost or cook food in a microwave compared to traditional methods. Without a defrost option, you need to place your frozen ingredients in the kitchen sink or a bowl of water, leaving it to thaw for hours. With the microwave defrost setting, you will cut down the defrost time significantly. Of course, your food will also cook much faster with normal microwave functions, but these settings don’t work for defrosting frozen items.

Power Use

Your microwave only uses about 20-30 percent power on defrost. This ensures your food doesn’t cook while it thaws. If you have to use full microwave power for frozen vegetables or meat, try cutting it into separate pieces to quicken the thawing process.

You should investigate recirculating vs. convertible microwave vents if you plan on convection microwave cooking. Knowing the difference could cut down on smoke in your home.

For more info about power usage and cooking time, you’ll want to read our guides discussing energy use vs toaster microwave oven, microwave vs oven reheating, and microwave vs oven cooking times.

Healthier Cooking

Food prep is hugely important if you’re looking to make healthier meals, especially with frozen chicken or other meat. Defrosting your cuts of meat before cooking them decreases your risk of ingesting dangerous bacteria. That said, start your cooking process immediately after defrosting meat to stay safe. Lastly, whichever cooking mode you choose, make sure to use a microwave-safe dish. For a look at microwave material types, check out ceramic vs stainless steel microwaves.


Never try to cook raw meat with microwave energy. This is a dangerous cooking mistake that could expose you to foodborne bacteria.


Is microwave defrosting safe?

Using your microwave defrost option is safer than placing food to defrost in cold water for a few hours. That said, make sure to cook your food immediately after defrosting it.

Can I refreeze thawed meat?

As long as your meat hasn’t been thawed for over a day, you can refreeze it. That said, your food will lose flavor and texture due to the amount of moisture lost from thawing and refreezing.

Can I cook meat from frozen?

You can cook your food from frozen, but expect it to take about 50 percent longer than from fresh. Experts do not recommend cooking meat from frozen because it negatively affects the tenderness and flavor.

STAT: A US Department of Energy survey found that 10% of respondents own a built-in microwave. (source)

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