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Microwave defrosting: how to use the defrost setting

Have you ever been thinking about dinner, only to realize that you forgot to take your main dish out of the freezer? Defrosting food can take a while, but fortunately there’s a kitchen appliance that can help you get dinner on the table in time. When done properly, microwave defrosting is a safe, easy way of getting meat, vegetables and other foods ready to cook.

A person selects a microwave setting from a control panel A person selects a microwave setting from a control panel

What is the defrost setting on a microwave?

Many microwaves have a defrost setting that lowers the appliance’s power between 20 to 30 percent. This allows the microwave to defrost food without cooking it, which allows you to thaw frozen food more quickly than in the fridge.

How does microwave defrost work?

The microwave defrost setting on your microwave works by cycling the magnetron (the microwave component that generates the extremely high frequencies that heat food) on and off.

As a result, microwave power is reduced to between 20 to 30 percent. In contrast, microwave settings that use higher power levels allow the magnetron to generate frequencies continuously, which means the appliance is running at 100 percent power. On some microwave models, you can indicate the weight or type of food you’re heating to calculate the appropriate defrost time.

Is microwave defrosting safe?

You may have heard some people warn against microwave defrosting in the name of food safety. This is because improper defrosting can put food into the “danger zone,” a temperature range that allows for the growth of dangerous bacteria. To avoid this, don’t let defrosted foods sit around – instead, remove them from the microwave and start cooking them right away.

Two chicken breasts on a plate in a microwave Two chicken breasts on a plate in a microwave

How to defrost meat in the microwave

When most people think of microwave defrosting, they generally have meat in mind. If you want to use your microwave to defrost chicken, steak, pork, ground beef or fish, follow these steps:

A meat icon

Step 1: Remove meat from freezer

Remove your meat from the freezer. Defrost times depend on the approximate weight of your food, so check the label or weigh your item.

Meat defrost times by weight Approx. 8-10 minutes per pound
1 lb 8–10 mins
1.5 lb 12–15 mins
2 lb 16–20 mins
2.5 lb 20–25 mins
3 lb 24–30 mins
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Step 2: Place meat in microwave safe container

Place your meat in a microwave safe container. While a glass container works best for defrosting, long-term-use plastic containers, plain paper plates and microwave-safe zipper-top bags are also good choices for defrosting meat. Before attempting to put any container for microwave defrosting, check the manufacturer’s information about microwave safety and use. 

A defrost icon

Step 3: Press the defrost button

Press the defrost button on your microwave. If you don’t have a defrost button, set your microwave to cook at 20–30 percent of its full power.

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Step 4: Set the cooking timer

Set the cooking timer. Keep in mind that most meats, such as chicken, beef or pork must defrost for 8–10 minutes per pound. The thawing time for fish or other seafood can vary, so check the packaging for more information. If your microwave has options for defrosting by weight or defrosting specific foods, consider using them for best results.

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Step 5: Periodically flip the meat

Do not leave thawing meat unattended in the microwave. Instead, stop the timer every few minutes to turn or flip the meat. This helps ensure even thawing.

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Step 6: Cook meat immediately

Remove the meat from the microwave and cook immediately. You can refreeze your food once cooking is complete. Failure to cook meat immediately after it’s finished defrosting in your microwave can cause bacterial growth. To avoid this, try to prepare the rest of your meal before or after you’ve finished cooking the meat.

A glass container with meat and vegetables in a microwave A glass container with meat and vegetables in a microwave

How to defrost produce in the microwave

While it may be faster to cook frozen vegetables in the microwave, there may be times when you want to cook produce on the stovetop instead. You’ll need to monitor frozen produce while it thaws, just as you would with meat.

A fruit and vegetables icon

Step 1: Remove produce from freezer

Remove your vegetables or fruit from the freezer. Check the weight of the produce or weigh it using a kitchen scale. As with the process for defrosting meat, inputting an accurate weight for fruits and vegetables before heating can ensure the appropriate heating time for each batch of produce you’re defrosting.

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Step 2: Place produce in microwave safe container

Place your produce in a microwave safe container, such as a glass bowl, a plain paper plate or a zip-top bag. Be sure to properly follow any manufacturer's use guidelines before using any product to heat food in your microwave.

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Step 3: Press the defrost button

If your microwave has a dedicated defrost button, press it to begin defrosting your produce. If you don’t see a defrost button on your appliance, you can defrost produce by manually setting the microwave to 20 to 30 percent power using the Power Level button. 

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Step 4: Set the cooking timer

Once the power level has been decreased, set the cooking timer for approximately 1 minute per every 4 ounces. Defrost times and other retailer heating recommendations may vary across produce types, so be sure to check the packaging on your frozen produce for specific information for optimal defrosting results.

A vegetables icon

Step 5: Separate produce

Separate pieces out as much as possible. By separating your produce while defrosting, you can help the food heat more evenly while remaining at a lower cooking power. For items such as cooked spinach, pull or squeeze the block apart into smaller pieces.

A defrost icon

Step 6: Continue defrosting

Check and stir the produce once the cooking timer has gone off, then repeat until the food is completely thawed. To determine whether the produce has been fully thawed, check the food for signs of ice or cold spots by touching the surface of the food gently with clean hands.

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Step 7: Cook produce immediately

Transfer to the stovetop and cook immediately. As frozen produce is heated in the microwave for defrosting, it may release water that can leave the food with a limp or soggy texture. Cooking the produce immediately can help maintain the texture of the food by not allowing it to sit for too long in the released moisture.

Two drink cups in a microwave Two drink cups in a microwave

What else can you do with a microwave?

Your microwave is great for defrosting, but this is obviously just a small portion of their overall capabilities. Whirlpool® microwaves are designed to help you cook and reheat all sorts of family favorites, making them a must-have kitchen appliance. Need to replace your current microwave? This buyer’s guide can help you find the perfect fit for your home and family.

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Properly defrosted food helps you manage the demands of meal prep with greater control. With the flexibility and convenience offered by Whirlpool brand microwaves, you can create delicious meals that the entire family will enjoy with ease. Discover the Whirlpool® microwave that’s the perfect fit for your kitchen.

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