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In terms of kitchen tools, aluminum foil is surprisingly useful and pretty inexpensive. But what about when you want to heat up some foil-wrapped leftovers or make foil-packet dinners on the fly? Can you put aluminum foil in the microwave?
Technically, yes. But it requires taking safety precautions (and using good judgment). (Learn more about whether you can microwave cardboard.)
Microwaves are so convenient because they use high-powered radio waves to cook food quickly. They do this through radiation—which is also how we feel the heat of the sun. They use the shortest radio waves, which are filled with energy, and blast these into food. The insides of microwaves are reflective, allowing the radio waves to bounce around and travel through the food, causing the molecules inside the food to vibrate. The faster they vibrate, the more the food heats.
The radio waves are at a frequency where water, fats and sugar can absorb them—but some plastics, glass and ceramics don’t (which is why you can put them in the microwave without burning yourself on the container).
Metal, meanwhile, is reflective, causing the radio waves to bounce off without giving the food a chance to heat up. But what about aluminum foil? It’s thinner, which means it can be overwhelmed by the microwave currents and catch on fire.
But if you follow certain safety precautions, you can put aluminum foil in the microwave.
What about microwaving other leftovers? Check out our guide to microwaving takeout containers.
When it comes to microwaving, it’s always best to play it safe. If you have any doubts, toss your leftovers into a microwave-safe container. In the meantime, we’ll be zapping some of these delicious microwave meals for dinner.