You might have a leftover kebab that you would like to warm, or you have bought a frozen corndog on a wooden kebab stick. Just as you are about to pop these items in the microwave, you are hit by the sudden worry about the safety of skewer sticks in the microwave.
Should you be doing this? Will it cause a problem with the food or damage the microwave?
Wooden kebab sticks can be safely used in the microwave for short periods. They will not damage the microwave oven or cause leaching of chemicals into the food. Caution should be used if you intend to microwave wooden skewers for a longer period as there is a possibility of fire.
Wooden skewers are some of the most useful kitchen utensils that have been invented. They can be used for a variety of foods and are available for purchase at most grocery stores.
What Should We Know About Wooden Skewers and Microwaves?
Wooden skewers can be used in anything from creating kebabs to sticks for candy or caramel apples. Corn dogs and popcorn balls also usually come attached to wooden skewers.
Inevitably when skewers are used in so many foods, there will come a time when you want to put one in a microwave. To understand if wooden skewers are safe in microwave ovens, you must know how microwaves work and how wooden skewers are made.
How Does a Microwave Work?
Microwaves work using non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. That is quite a mouthful of long words, so what does it mean. Microwaves are part magnetic and part electrical energy that moves through space.
Ionization is the process where enough energy is generated to release electrons from atoms making the substance radioactive. Fortunately, microwaves cannot move the electrons, so our food does not become radioactive.
Microwaves heat substances by causing the particles in the food to vibrate and create heat energy. Microwaves are particularly effective on water, so food with a high water content will cook quicker than dry foods.
What Are Wooden Skewer Sticks Made From?
Wooden skewer sticks are made from thin round pieces of bamboo, birch, beech, or other suitable hardwoods. They are not treated with any resins or preservatives as this will make the wood unsuitable for use with food.
It is best to choose thicker wooden skewers as these will be more durable, less likely to burn, and less likely to leave splinters in your food than the thin ones.
It is not wise to try and make your own skewers from unknown wood that you have in your timber shed. Many kinds of wood have toxic oils which can be released when heated, effectively poisoning your food and you.
What Do Microwave Ovens Do to Wood?
Microwaves can pass through wood without changing the wood structurally in any way. The only exception is that microwaves excite water molecules present in the wood, resulting in the wood drying out.
It is not a good idea to use wooden bowls in the microwave as drying the wood will cause damage to the bowl. As wooden skewers are made for a single-use, it is of no concern if they dry out and cannot be used again.
Could Wooden Skewers Catch Fire in a Microwave Oven?
Wood is flammable and dry wood is even more combustible. As microwaves dry out wood, there is a risk that if you leave the wooden skewer in the microwave oven for long enough, the wood could burst into flames.
To prevent a fire in your microwave, you should adhere to the following precautions when using wooden skewer sticks in your microwave:
- Only heat the food containing the skewer stick for a few minutes to warm it.
- If you need the skewer stick to be in the microwave for more than four to five minutes, cook the food using short bursts of cooking time. Allow intervals where the skewer stick can cool down.
- If you need to cook food containing a skewer stick for a more extended period, soak the skewer sticks in water for one to two hours before inserting them in the food. Soaking wooden skewers is also a good tip for using them over an open flame, such as a barbecue.
If you take these precautions, your wooden skewer stick will not set alight in your microwave oven.
Can Plastic or Metal Skewer Sticks Be Used in a Microwave Oven?
You should never use plastic in a microwave oven unless specific manufacturer labels say it is safe for microwave use. Microwaves alter and melt regular plastics, which exude toxic substances that can cause immediate poisoning and long-term health problems such as cancer.
Metal skewer sticks should not be used in microwave ovens as they could damage them and cause a fire. Microwaves are reflected by metals and cannot pass through them.
The metal reflects the microwave, which crashes into other microwaves, causing the amplitude of the microwave to increase. A bigger amplitude means more energy and more heat, which could cause a fire or damage the metal housing of your microwave oven. Ask my three-year-old son, who decided to try his hand at working the microwave!
Microwaves Are Different, and You Need to Use Them Accordingly
Each microwave is made differently and has different settings and power modes. It is critical to read the instructions for your microwave carefully. The manufacturer may specifically mention whether wood can be used in the microwave and the best settings for this use.
Wooden skewers can be used in the microwave whether you are warming up food or cooking an item with a skewer. The most significant danger is a potential fire that can be averted by following instructions, soaking the skewer, or cooking in short intervals.
Always consult your microwave oven manual and follow directions carefully. Microwaves are safe to use, but they must be used with a good dollop of common sense, as with all kitchen appliances. Happy microwaving, and enjoy your kebab!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.