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Photo: Zyn Chakrapong (Shutterstock) I love having a microwave. I use mine to whip up mashed potatoes , roux for gumbo , even lemon curd . It’s a versatile appliance, and I think everyone should have one. I’m not, however, in love with its defrost function. How does a microwave’s defrost function work? Before we get into why the microwave’s defrost function kind of sucks, let’s talk about how it works. All microwave ovens are equipped with magnetrons, which are not a kind of Transformer, but a device that emits electromagnetic (micro) waves. These waves oscillate quickly—about a billion times per second—causing the water molecules in your food to rotate at a similar clip to align themselves with the magnetic field. This rapid rotation increases their temperature and heats your food. According to Cook’s Illustrated , unless you have a fancy and expensive science oven, the intensity of this radiation cannot be decreased (or increased): Here’s the catch: In most microwave ovens, because the magnetron is designed to emit a single wavelength, the intensity of the radiation can’t be altered. It can, however, be turned on and off, and that’s exactly what power levels do. When you lower the power level in a microwave oven, you decrease the amount of time the magnetron stays on. Cook’s Illustrated goes on to explain that microwaves “penetrate only the outer ¼ to 1 inch of food,” which “can quickly superheat these regions.” Turning the radiation off and on gives the heat a […]