View of countertop KitchenAid® microwave

Microwave Defrost: What is it and How Do I Use it?

Most microwave ovens feature a “Defrost” symbol or setting, allowing you to rapidly thaw frozen foods, so you can get your culinary creations started. Some models give you the option to set the weight or food type to properly calculate defrosting time. Whatever microwave you have, this function reduces the power to about 30% and uses standard microwave heat. Always refer to your user manual to familiarize yourself with the defrost setting on your microwave.

Person putting food into microwave Person putting food into microwave

Can you defrost food in the microwave?

Yes. You can defrost different meats, produce, poultry, bread and fish. Whatever you choose to thaw out in your microwave, the defrost process may vary and require microwave-safe dishes or bowls.

Is microwave defrost safe?

Yes, it is safe to thaw foods in the microwave. However, plan on fully cooking foods immediately after defrosting to avoid any concerns. According to the USDA, leaving defrosted or half cooked foods, or improper defrosting can cause a few safety issues due to bacterial growth. It's also not recommended to defrost any foods that have been sitting out at room temperature for 20 minutes or more. In this situation, slowly defrost it in the fridge or a bowl of cold water.

How to defrost meat, soup, fish and produce in the microwave

Defrosting your foods in the microwave can be a helpful shortcut when you’re pressed for time. A little assistance from your trusted appliances never hurts.

  • Microwave-safe containers: glass containers, long-term-use plastic containers, plain paper plates and microwave-safe zipper-top bags.
  • Kitchen scale, optional

  • Timer, optional

Packaged food in freezer

Step 1: Remove food from packaging

Food packaging should not go into the microwave. Place your food product in a microwave-safe container. A glass container typically works best, but before using any type of container for defrosting, refer to the manufacturer or owner’s manual for microwave safety and use.

View of microwave settings

Step 2: Choose the defrost option

Certain microwave types may ask you to input weight or select specific food options. These would be your optimal options to properly defrost your food items. To find your food product’s weight, check the packaging or use a kitchen scale.  


If your microwave does not have a defrost icon, you will need to adjust the power levels to cook at 20%–30% of its full power or consult your owner’s manual with more specific directions for your microwave.

 Food heating in the microwave

Step 3: Set a timer

A helpful tip to consider on how to defrost meat in the microwave is that it typically requires 8–10 minutes per pound. For all other foods as well as fish or seafood, times may vary. Refer to the packaging for more instructions and guidance, or input weight into your defrost settings.


If time to prepare your dish is not an issue, other safe defrosting options include moving foods from your freezer to the refrigerator or placing food items in cold water.

Person removing bowl from microwave

Step 4: Rotate, stir, flip, separate or break apart foods

To ensure even defrosting, periodically rotate food items–especially meats. You may need to break apart larger chunks that are stuck together.

Person cooking on stove

Step 5: Promptly cook defrosted food

Letting defrosted food sit out at room temperature too long can cause bacterial growth. Avoid leaving out uncooked or partially cooked food by getting ready for the next step in your recipe while it defrosts in the microwave.

How does defrost on a microwave work?

A magnetron is a unit in your microwave that generates high frequencies that heat food. The defrost setting on your microwave cycles that magnetron on and off. Rather than running at 100% power as your microwave does for all other uses, the defrost setting reduces power levels between 20%–30% so it thaws food quickly without cooking it.

Food defrost times by weight

This is a general guideline to follow for time defrost vs. weight defrost. Your microwave model and wattage may create different results. Consult your owner’s manual for additional guidance and keep an eye on your foods as they thaw. Below are guidelines based on a 1000-watt microwave.

Meat defrost times by weight Approx. 8–10 minutes per pound
1 lb 8–10 mins
1.5 lb 12–15 mins
2 lb 16–20 mins
2.5 lb 20–25 mins
3 lb 24–30 mins
View of KitchenAid® microwave and stove View of KitchenAid® microwave and stove

How long does it take to defrost food in the microwave?

Consult your owner’s manual or instructions on frozen food packaging to verify the correct defrost microwave setting and consider both the weight and food type. Meats other than seafood will take the longest—generally 8–10 minutes per pound. Fruits and vegetables can typically take 2–3 minutes.

Microwave defrosting vs. other defrosting methods

Outside of microwave thawing, there are additional methods for defrosting that would require more time as well as thoughtful planning. Refrigerator thawing times will depend on the food type. Smaller foods such as a few chicken breasts will likely require a full day and will need at least 24 hours to defrost while larger items like a whole turkey could take several days. Other variables to consider are cold spots in your refrigerator and longer thaw times in refrigerators that are set at 35°F rather than at 40°F. Plan accordingly. 

Cold water thawing is typically quicker than utilizing the refrigerator, however, you will have to pay close attention to bag leaks that could introduce bacteria from the surrounding environment into your food. You will also need to change the water every 30 minutes and thawing should take a few hours.

Microwave thawing is generally the fastest option and can help you get started on your delectable dish in a matter of minutes. Once food has defrosted, plan to cook your food immediately in order to avoid bacterial growth.

View of KitchenAid® under-counter microwave View of KitchenAid® under-counter microwave

Tips for microwave defrosting

  • Follow instructions on frozen food packaging for best results.

  • Use microwave-safe containers for thawing out frozen foods. Ensure that those containers can handle certain temperatures.

  • Some microwaves may prompt you to move food around, break apart or flip your food. It will help with thawing foods evenly.

  • Cook your food immediately after defrosting.

  • Food can be refrozen after it's been cooked.

  • Properly clean your microwave after defrosting and thawing foods.

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