Living Without a Microwave: Stove-Top Alternatives

Living Without a Microwave: Stove-Top Alternatives


Typical Manhattan Kitchen
Typical Manhattan Kitchen

Living without a microwave takes some getting used to but after an adjustment, you really will not miss this appliance. I haven’t owned a microwave since living in nyc. Kitchens and your apartment in general is smaller than you’re used to. Counter space is a precious commodity!

Many apartments weren’t supposed to be apartments and have strange set-ups. Or have been remodeled so the layout no longer makes sense. For example, my kitchen has one outlet and it is on a wall that is opposite the counter. There is not an outlet accessible on my counter! I only have one electrical appliance (excluding refrigerator) out in the open, my stand mixer. This sits on a table in my foyer, where there is an outlet. Thankfully it’s a short distance between the two.

Usually I see microwaves on a table in the ‘living room’ or on top of the refrigerator making an awkward cord stretch to the nearest outlet. In such a small space, a microwave really isn’t necessary. Let’s think about the common things we use microwaves for and I’ll share my stove-top/oven alternatives.

Stove-Top Popcorn

My preferred method of microwave popcorn was using a paper bag and kernels. Thankfully I still had a lot of kernels leftover from my microwave days so I could use them to make stove-top popcorn. The only downside of making popcorn this way is you’ll have to wash an extra dish. But other than that, it tastes better and takes just as long as the microwave version.

This my favorite way to make stove-top popcorn. It never burns and practically all the kernels get popped.

Popcorn Recipe

  • Pour 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil into a pot and put it on high.
  • Throw in 3 popcorn kernels.
  • When the kernels pop, then the oil is hot enough.
  • As soon as they pop, remove pot from heat, then pour in 1/4 Cup of popcorn kernels.
  • Start counting to 30 and shake the pot (use potholders!) to get all the kernels flat and covered in oil.
  • This also helps the kernels to all heat up to the oil’s temperature so when you put it back on the burner, they will pop all at once.
  • After the 30 seconds, put it back on the burner about medium/high. Cover but keep the cover open just a little bit. Letting a teeny bit of air will help keep the popcorn crispy.
  • This part is the same as the microwave, when you hear the popping slow down, turn off the heat.
  • Keep it covered as some may still pop.
  • Then, shake it all up.
  • And pour into a bowl for delicious delicious popcorn.

You can also customize this to add any flavors or additions that you want. I put some salt into the oil so I don’t need to add as much later on. You can also put some salt on the unpopped kernels right after you put them in the oil. Or just wait until after. It’s flexible.

Cooking Oatmeal Without a Microwave

If you’re using the oatmeal packets, ditch them! There is so much unnecessary sodium and sugar in there. If you’re using the microwave to cook your oatmeal, forget it! Using the stove means no exploding cups of oatmeal.

To recreate the texture of the oatmeal packets, you’ll have to invest in a $9 food chopper. Even the frugal of you should be able to handle that. (They’re very multi-use. I also use mine to make hummus frequently).

Oatmeal Recipe

  • In your food chopper add: 2 Tablespoons of quick oats (1 min.) oatmeal, some brown sugar, dash of salt
  • Optional to add: walnuts or almonds, dried fruit like cranberries
  • Blend in your food chopper for about 30 seconds
  • Mix the oatmeal blend in a bowl with an additional 2 Tablespoons of quick oats.
  • The blended mixture is to help thicken your oatmeal and making it creamy without having to add milk
  • From here, you can simply heat up water (not boiling) on the stove then add it to your bowl. Stir, wait 2 minutes, then eat.
  • Or pour into a pot on the stove. Add 1 1/2 Cups of cold water. Heat on med/low and stir continuously.
  • In either method, do not let the water boil or it will scorch your oatmeal

  • This is my standard quick method. Oatmeal is so flexible. Honey and maple syrup are also great sweeteners. If you like creamier oatmeal, feel free to use milk. I just never have it on hand.

    Stove-Top Hot Chocolate From Scratch

    Here’s another ditch-the-packets item! Hot cocoa is essentially cocoa and sugar. You don’t need to buy a packet for that. Heating up cocoa on the stove is simple. But requires lots of stirring so the milk doesn’t scorch. This isn’t hard work.

    Hot Cocoa Recipe

    • Mix 1/2 Cup white sugar, 1/4C cocoa powder, dash of salt in a saucepan. No heat.
    • Stir in 1/3C hot water (from the faucet).
    • Heat over medium, stirring regularly, let boil 2 minutes
    • Stir in 4 Cups of milk.
    • Heat over medium/low stirring non-stop. Do not boil as this will scorch the milk.
    • Continue stirring until it’s at a drinkable temperature. Keep testing it.
    • Remove from heat, add 3/4 teaspoon vanilla

    That’s the basic recipe I use. You can also jazz up your hot cocoa with some cayenne in the dry mix.

    Pour directly into mugs or use a ladle to serve.

    Heating Soup Without a Microwave

    The hardest part to adjust to cooking without a microwave is that it requires some patience. Not a lot. But not all food will be ready in a minute. Soup is one of these. Of course it took me a while to figure this out. As initially I would put the burner on high, then come back to the pot 1-2 mins later to find it scorched. I still ate it of course.

    To properly warm up soup on the stove, keep the burner on low and stir. The good part is that you can eat it whenever it gets to your preferred temperature. I know you’re used to taking it out of the microwave boiling hot just to have to wait 5 minutes before it’s safe to eat.

    Just keep taste testing it on the stove. Then take pour it into your bowl to eat when it’s just hot enough to be yummy without burning your tongue. If you’re eating canned soup, feel free to jazz it up with some spices you might have on hand. Pepper and parsley work well. Just stir them right in.

    Reheating Leftovers Without a Microwave

    Now that I’ve been spoiled by reheating things on the stove or in the oven, every time I use the microwave at work to heat my lunch, it’s pretty gross. The outside is atomic hot and the inside is cold. Or the pizza is soggy. It’s never as good as it first was. Sure it only takes 30 seconds but it’s hardly worth it.

    It will take longer to reheat food in the oven or on the stove. Again, this is nice in a way because you can take it out when it’s just warm enough for you to eat.

    The key to oven reheating is setting the temperature at 200 or “warm”.

    You want to warm it up, not cook it! This also prevents concerns about burning.

    Reheating in the oven works great for pizza and casseroles. Even things like rice I’ve put in a baking dish covered with aluminum foil and reheat on low.

    Sauces can be easily reheated on the stove.

    Reheating via oven/stove also means you can add additional spices or add-ons to your leftovers to jazz it up. Add chicken to that mac n cheese. Or don’t. Totally up to you.

    Melting Chocolate on the Stove

    You probably know by now that scorching stuff on the stove is very easy to do and should be avoided at all costs. Chocolate is no different.

    The preferred method is a double boiler. You can recreate this by heating water in a sauce pan on medium. Then put a stainless steel bowl inside the pan but not touching the water.

    The idea is to heat the bottom of the bowl indirectly.

    Add your baking chocolate pieces. There should be directions on the package as some melt differently.

    Like most things on the stove, stir frequently! Stirring keeps everything in motion so they don’t have a chance to sit on the heat and burn.

    As soon as the chocolate is melted through, turn the burner to low/off and use the chocolate asap. It can harden pretty quickly. If you need to soften it back up, just put the bowl back over your pot of water on low temperature.

    Working with melted chocolate can be a pretty tedious process regardless if you’re using the stove or microwave.

    Softening Butter Without A Microwave

    Look, you shouldn’t be using a microwave to soften butter anyway!

    You might not like this but you really gotta plan ahead. The best way to soften butter to make perfect cookies and other baked goods is simply by setting it out at room temperature. Yes, this requires some thinking ahead. But it is the only way to ensure they are melted through evenly.

    If your butter is too soft your cookies will spread. If it’s too hard, they will stay flat. Butter is really important.

    My personal trick for softening butter only works because my pilot light runs warm. I can put a stick of butter in the oven, with the oven off, and it’s warm enough to soften the butter (without melting it) faster than merely at room temperature. However, even this still requires planning ahead.

    If you have the storage space, there are some electrical kitchen appliances that are useful and are good alternatives to a microwave. They don’t need to be kept out all the time taking up valuable counter space.

    The first useful microwave-alternative is a rice cooker. It’s smaller and more portable. And it’s practically a crockpot. Here are some ideas for your rice cooker:

    • Perfect rice just by dumping everything in and walking away. Don’t come back until it beeps.
    • Oatmeal using old-fashioned (not quick) oats
    • Steam vegetables (at the same time as making rice!)
    • One-pot meals by adding raw vegetables, butter, spices, etc right into the water with your rice.

    The second useful microwave-alternative is an electric tea kettle. This is also small and portable. This will save you from having to boil water on the stove every time you want to make oatmeal, tea, or whathaveyou.

    An unavoidable caveat to not having a microwave is that you will dirty more dishes. One solution is to buy several oven-safe bowls for reheating that can also be eaten out of. But for things like soup or oatmeal in the pot. you will be dirtying two dishes. The pot you made it in and the vessel you ate it out of. It’s something you get used to.


    12 Replies to “Living Without a Microwave: Stove-Top Alternatives”

    1. I love not having a microwave! I used to consider it a “necessity” but living without one has been ridiculously easy and I wouldn’t take a free one if it was offered. Plus, stove top popcorn is far superior to microwave — that’s all I’ve eaten since I was a kid!

      1. I wouldn’t take a free one either just because of the space issue. And they’re heavy. And it’s definitely not something you use all the time, or for more than what, 30 seconds a day?

    2. Our kitchen is kinda the opposite – we have a two hob burner and no oven but we do have a microwave. So no roasts or baking for us unless we buy a benchtop oven.

      One thing we don’t have is a kettle – don’t need one.

      1. I also don’t need a kettle, a pot works just fine for me. But I could not live without an oven! That was definitely a requirement when apt hunting as some places here don’t come with them either.

    3. For reheating pizza specifically, if you put a LITTLE oil in a pan, put slice in, and heat on a low temp until cheese gets melty, it actually tastes BETTER than when you first ate it (at least to me). It crisps up the crust very nicely!

    4. We’ve also not had a microwave for years and it’s great! The only thing that makes me wistful is when I see recipes for 1 minute “mug cakes” or “microwave brownies”, etc.

    5. Our new place didn’t come with one, and we didn’t get one because we don’t have that much counter space either. I’ve been wishing for an electric tea kettle, but can’t seem to justify it over just boiling water in a small pot. The teapot has to be stored somewhere too!

      Like you said, it is really just a matter of planning ahead. And switching to quick oats so i don’t have to wait 20 min for breakfast in the morning. :) I mostly used the microwave for oatmeal at our old place.

      PS – your oatmeal recipe says oil instead of water. I think it was a typo!

      1. Thanks for catching that, I have corrected it. That’s the main thing, I don’t miss it. There are times it would be nifty but for the amount of space it takes up, it’s really not worth it.

    6. When I first moved into my place, I intended to figure out some way to make a microwave fit (a shelf or somesuch) but honestly, after living without one for a few months, I realized I didn’t miss it much! I totally agree that it’s pretty easy to find alternative ways to do almost everything–after all, microwaves are a relatively recent invention (1980s or so?) so people did without them for a long time.

      1. I think about that too! I’m sure when people first started using microwaves they thought they were amazing (like cell phones)! But then the novelty wears off and you can take a step back to decide if it really adds that much to your life.

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