Why Does Chicken Pop in the Microwave?


After a long day at work, the microwave seems like your dearest friend. Especially on a hot day, the last thing you want to do is heat up the oven. When you put your chicken in the microwave, it starts making popping sounds! Most times you’ve probably wondered, why does chicken pop in the microwave?

Chicken pops in the microwave because its internal water evaporates into piping hot steam. Since the steam occupies more space than the water, it bursts through the chicken fibers to escape making a popping noise. 

But the question begs itself, why doesn’t chicken pop in a conventional oven the same way it does in a microwave? That’s what I’ll answer in this article. In addition, you’ll also learn why reheating in a microwave might not be as healthy as you think.

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Why Does Chicken Pop in the Microwave?

As the water molecules come to a boil, they start turning into hot steam. The steam occupies a bigger space than the liquid water. It then quickly starts ripping through the meat fibers until it reaches the surface, and that’s when you hear the unique popping sound. 

Chicken isn’t the only food that pops, though. You’ll almost always hear the same popping sound with any food that has some sort of firm, impenetrable skin. Examples include hot dogs, sausages, potatoes and so on. 

In fact, some of the previously mentioned foods can explode and make quite a mess inside the microwave. Therefore, it’s important to provide a safe way for the steam to vent through.

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Is It Bad For Chicken To Pop In The Microwave?

It’s not bad for chicken to pop in the microwave. Too much popping will make the chicken drier and change the texture to rubbery. The microwave will be unharmed from the popping. 

It won’t harm your microwave, and it’s certainly not loud enough to be disturbing. However, it might not be as friendly towards the food. 

See, as the chicken keeps popping inside the microwave, it loses more and more water. If you set the microwave on high for a long time, you’ll end up with a rubbery or chalk-dry piece of chicken with a terrible texture, not to mention the unappetizing taste.

The drying process can happen relatively fast with chicken breasts when compared to thighs. That’s because raw breasts tend to be significantly drier.

Therefore, seeing that popping is not ideal, how can you prevent it? 

Well, it all starts by learning the right way to reheat chicken in the microwave. That’s what I’ll explain in the next section.

The Best Way To Reheat Chicken in the Microwave

Popping or not, we’re most likely to continue reheating chicken in the microwave. Therefore, let’s learn how you reheat chicken in the microwave without drying it out or having it pop 1.

  1. Cut the chicken into small pieces so the meat can heat up faster, thus losing less water. You’ll expose the delicate fibers to the air which allows the steam to escape without popping at the surface.
  2. Arrange the chicken pieces evenly into a microwave-safe plate. Make sure not to stack pieces on top of each other because this will impair the heating process.
  3. Use a fork to pierce the chicken pieces. These holes will provide an easy way for the steam to vent without popping.
  4. Cover the plate with a microwave-safe cover. This type of cover will allow the microwave radiation to pass through while keeping the steam from escaping. You can also use a damp paper towel to get the same result.
  5. Power the microwave on the normal setting (around 1,000 watts) and heat the chicken for two minutes. Halfway through the process, flip the meat over to make sure it cooks evenly.
  6. After the timer goes off, taste the meat to see if it reached the desired temperature. If not, reheat for another 30 seconds, and repeat again as needed.
  7. When the chicken finishes cooking, let it sit under the cover for a couple of minutes outside the microwave before you start eating. This will allow some of the steam to settle back onto the meat.

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Why Reheating Chicken in the Microwave May Not Be Healthy

We already established that reheating chicken in the microwave may cause popping and ruin the texture, but it turns out it can also be unhealthy. Let’s talk about why!

Food Safety

According to the Washington State Department of Health, you should cook poultry to 165°F (74°C) because pathogens like salmonella will survive below that temperature 2. 

And after you finish eating, you should refrigerate any leftovers within a maximum of two hours or only one hour if the room temperature is higher than 90°F (32°C). This is important because bacteria can grow rapidly without refrigeration, increasing the risk of food-borne diseases 3.

But even with proper refrigeration, some bacteria can still grow on your food. So, when it’s time to eat again, it’s better to reheat the food to 165°F to eliminate any potential pathogens 4. 

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Why Microwaves Don’t Kill All Bacteria

Microwaves can cook food at an average of 200°F (93°C), exceeding the minimum value by about 35 degrees. Isn’t this enough for you to rest assured about food safety? No. 

As I said earlier, microwave radiation doesn’t possess any heat. Instead it cooks food by vibrating the internal water molecules. 

The thing is, you can’t guarantee that this radiation will reach every single bit of your food 5. Have you ever experienced hot and cold spots on microwaved food?

Chicken meat, in particular, has an irregular shape and non-uniform thickness. This makes it more likely for microwaves to overlook cold spots, and that’s where bacteria can thrive and make you ill. 

So What Are the Alternatives?

It’s simple — reheat in the same way you cooked, be it an oven, a pan, or a fryer. This habit won’t only eradicate all bacteria, but it’ll also restore the original flavor. 

To make sure these alternatives are actually healthy, the CDC conducted a study to analyze a minor salmonella outbreak in 2007 6. 

Thirty people participated in this study. The ten people who reheated the meat in a microwave became sick, while the twenty people who used an oven or a skillet showed no symptoms at all.

If you don’t want your chicken to dry in the oven, cover the baking dish with a double layer of foil to trap the moisture inside.

More About Popping Chicken & Microwaves

Although the topic we’re talking about is fairly simple, it’s better to revise some basic concepts about how the microwave technology heats the chicken and causes the popping. 

All Meat Contains Water

As you may already know, around 60% of the human body is water 7. Water flows in our skin, blood, organs, and even bones! 

Although chickens belong to a biological class that’s completely different from ours, their bodies contain a nearly similar amount of water — around 70% 8. 

How a Microwave Cooks Chicken

Inside each microwave lies a part that we call a magnetron. The name may sound intimidating, but it’s actually quite simple. All it does is transform the electric current into high-powered radio waves.

As these waves bounce off the microwave walls, they blast the chicken from almost all directions. But unlike the heat waves produced by ovens and stovetops, microwave radiation doesn’t carry any heat in the literal sense of the word. 

Then, how do microwaves heat chicken? 

It all happens when the radiation waves vibrate the water molecules in the chicken. That friction generates heat, much like how your palms feel warmer after you rub your hands together. 

Read Next – More Articles on Anti Aging Foods!

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How To Mince Garlic Without a Mincer

This Is How Much Kale You Should Eat Per Day

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. USDA: Cooking with Microwave Ovens[]
  2. Washington State Department of Health: Food Safety Myths[]
  3. Minnesota Department of Health: Proper Cooking Temperatures for Safe Food At Home: Use Proper Cooking Temperatures to Ensure Safe Food[]
  4. USDA: What methods of reheating food are safe?[]
  5. USDA: How can I safely cook meat or poultry in the microwave oven?[]
  6. CDC: Foodnet News[]
  7. USGS: The Water in You: Water and the Human Body[]
  8. USDA: Water in Meat & Poultry[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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