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When thinking of how to prepare wild game I often think of the iconic scene from Forrest Gump where Bubba is explaining all the methods to prepare shrimp… fried shrimp, shrimp kabobs, shrimp gumbo, etc. Venison and most game meats are highly versatile, and are consumed in countless dishes and cuisines from around the world. You may now be thinking, “Fried deer, elk burgers, goose kabobs”… the list goes on forever. Each wild meal I prepare is a chance to extract the most out of whatever cut of meat I am preparing, combining those rich flavors with quality, seasonal ingredients to create a mouthwatering and delicious meal for my family and friends. I constantly evaluate and think through the steps of preparing wild meat, but I can honestly say, microwave cooking has not entered my mind once.
Now don’t get me wrong, I grew up a product of the microwave cooking generation. One of my favorite childhood recipes, which was my grandmother’s meatloaf, was always prepared in the microwave/convection oven. As an adult, I have maintained my love for meatloaf, but moved away from preparing the dish in the microwave due to palatability. I have even moved away from reheating my game meat in the microwave because I discovered an unpleasant taste to be consistently present which should not exist on day two. Arguably, the flavor should be better as the ingredients have had more time to marry their flavors. The faint microwave aftertaste led me to research more into how microwave cooking and thawing affects food and more specifically the effects on wild game.
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How Do Microwaves Cook Food?
Microwave ovens cook food using electromagnetic radiation in the form of microwaves. The microwaves are created inside the oven and bounce around the metal casing of the oven in different patterns. The water molecules in your food easily absorb these waves causing the water molecules to vibrate. The vibration of the water molecules, known as intermolecular friction, cause the food to warm. In simple terms, your hands become warm when you rub them together just as the water molecules rub together with other molecules in the food. An increase in waves or exposure to waves when you add more time to the cooking cycle creates more heat, thus heating your food to a higher temperature.
Microwave ovens cook food faster because the microwaves pass through all aspects of the food at the same time. In contrast, a pan uses conduction, which provides heat at the point of contact with the pan. You must flip and move your food around to cook more quickly and evenly. Microwaves allow the food to be cooked both internally and externally simultaneously, but due to the nature of waves, create cold spots in the food. Waves inside of the oven can cancel each other out as they collide, creating dead zones inside the cooking area itself. This concept is why you often have one side of your meal scalding hot and another section luke warm. To remedy this fault, microwave oven manufacturers have added a spinning plate in most modern models, which moves your food around to be heated more evenly.
How Does Microwave Cooking Affect the Meat?
Research has been conducted, which also evolved into a large amount of speculation, that food prepared in the microwave retains more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals than food that is boiled or cooked in a pan. It is true that all food loses some nutrients as it is cooked, but foods that are prepared quickly, exposed to less heat, and a minimal amount of liquid retain the most nutrients.
Some argue that microwaving is one of the best methods to retain the most nutrients because they meet the requirements listed above. While there are very few studies of microwave cooking of wild game, research has been conducted on other meat types. An example of this was shown using chicken legs. “Thiamin retention ranged from 77% in conventionally cooked chicken breasts to 98% in microwave cooked chicken legs.” (4) Thiamin is an important B vitamin that helps the body break down carbohydrates into usable products. Other vitamins, such as Riboflavin and folate, have also seen a higher retention in meat prepared in the microwave.
On the opposite side, there are health risks and sensory quality concerns that exist with the microwave preparation of meat. Do you know that blood-like substance that accumulates when you thaw meat? It is not actually blood; it is a proteinaceous fluid that scientists call “purge”. The loss of that meat is what affects the juiciness of the meat when you eat it. More rare meat has a higher amount of the fluid, while well done meat has a lower amount. The expelling of this fluid is why you see meat shrink during cooking. If you enjoy juicy cuts of meat then you will want to retain this liquid. During microwave cooking and microwave thawing, the meat increases the amount of proteinaceous fluid released from the meat, yielding a less juicy cut of meat in the end.
For the visual person, it will be possible to get that nice sear on meats because of the short cook time and dispersed heat caused by the microwaves. The meat will generally be the same color throughout. “While the meat heats up inside, there is mass transfer from the interior to the outside, resulting in a tough, dry and flavorless product.” (4) As mentioned previously, microwaves can have dead zones within the cooking space. Those zones lead to inconsistent cooking within the meat. Varying temperatures inside the meat make it challenging to get a consistent temperature throughout. Bones also reflect microwaves so the meat closest to the bone may experience overcooking in comparison to the entirety of the meat.
One of the most disconcerting facts about the inconsistent cooking and colder patches in the meat is when you think about the chance of bacteria or parasites surviving in a small, undercooked portion of the meat.
Picture this, as you insert a thermometer into the center of a piece of meat, you are taking the average lowest temperature within the proximity of the probe. If you measure 170 Fahrenheit then you may feel safe to eat that meat, but with microwave-cooked meat, there could be colder spots to the right or left of that probed location that are under the safety threshold. I understand that more diligent probing can eliminate this problem, but why risk it.
Several instances of trichinosis outbreaks, investigated by the CDC, resulted in identifying multiple individuals eating microwaved wild pork sausages. Despite cooking the sausages on high for 2 minutes, the individuals contracted trichinosis. It has been theorized that, “microwave cooking is less efficacious than conventional cooking in destroying bacteria in meats” because the “lowered thermal reduction of bacteria in microwave-cooked meats was related to the quick rise in temperature and, therefore, shorter exposure of the bacteria to lethal temperatures.” (7) I know many wild game species are without a high rate of bacteria or parasites, but again, why risk it.
In the end, there is more negating information than support for microwaving. Research shows that you take the chance of getting an overcooked, dry flavorless, possibly bacteria ridden hunk of meat each time you cook with the microwave oven. Personally, I am not a fan of the “cooked” taste that I often notice when I used to reheat my wild game leftovers at work. After conducting this research, I will not be cooking any raw food in the microwave and I doubt I will be reheating much either. Overall, I will maintain the practice of traditional cooking methods like the stovetop, oven, BBQ, or good ole open flame to prepare my wild game….and meatloaf.
- CDC Investigation – Trichinosis — Hawaii
- CDC Trichinosis Surveillance
- How Do Microwaves Cook Food?
- Microwave Processing of Meat
- Probing Question: How do microwaves cook food?
- Do Microwaves Zap Nutrition
- Efficacy of Microwave Cooking for Devitalizing Trichinae in Pork Roasts and Chops