America likes convenience, especially when it comes to cooking. But with microwave sales waning, is there a new trend to take its place? Enter the dishwasher. Yes, you read that right. Search the term “dishwasher cooking” on the Internet and you’ll get more than 48 million hits. Fans say this method produces even tastier and more-tender food than traditional cooking methods and, to boot, saves energy.
Actually, the idea of cooking in the dishwasher is not completely new. An article in the Los Angeles Times in 1986 reprinted a recipe for “Dishwasher Poached Salmon” supposedly dating back to the 1970s. It calls for wrapping a whole seasoned salmon in a double layer of heavy-duty tin foil and then running it through a full dishwasher cycle (without soap). The newspaper credits a Department of Water and Power home economist for the original concept.
In more recent years, the chef and restaurateur David Burke made headlines by cooking a “perfect” Thanksgiving turkey (breast, not whole turkey) in the dishwasher, as shown in this video, while Oprah’s website featured instructions for how to cook an entire meal—salmon, asparagus, and noodles—in this ubiquitous kitchen appliance. Today, countless bloggers and foodies extol the virtues of this quirky cooking method, while some food experts warn of the risks.
The hot water and steam of the dishwasher cook the food, similar in ways to poaching and sous vide cooking. Foods reportedly made with success include fish, vegetables, eggs, potatoes, couscous, pears—and even bagels, lasagna, and apple pie.
If you want to try it yourself, keep these points in mind:
• The food must be sealed tightly—for obvious reasons. While some recipes say the food can be wrapped in tin foil, it’s better to use well-sealed, heat-safe plastic bags or mason jars, which ensures that the foods won’t get wet (or soapy) and that they are heated more evenly.
• Dishwasher cooking can save energy—but only if you wash your dirty dishes at the same time. That is, you have to use the appliance simultaneously for cooking and cleaning—which can be an unappealing thought, even if the food is properly sealed. Otherwise, running a full cycle just to cook is a waste of water and energy.
• It can be risky. Depending on your dishwasher’s temperature and cycle times—which vary across machines—foods may not always reach sufficient temperature needed to kill all harmful bacteria. For instance, to be safe, fish and steaks need to be cooked to 145°F, poultry to 165°F, and eggs between 144 and 149°F. Dishwashers typically reach about 130 to 170°F. You could test how hot your dishwasher gets by running a cycle with a glass bottle filled with water and then checking what temperature the water reached. You should also use a food thermometer to check that the cooked food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature. Or use the dishwasher only for cooking low-risk foods like vegetables.
Bottom line: Faster than a crockpot but slower than a microwave, dishwasher cooking is a novel way to prepare meals—and can make for good conversation if you’re entertaining. But it’s hardly the most practical or timesaving way—and, of more concern, it has potential health risks. For meat and other higher-risk foods, young children, pregnant women, and anyone who is immunocompromised or in frail health should stick to foods cooked to proper temperature in more conventional appliances.
With reporting by Leslie Pepper.
Also see 11 Facts About Microwave Safety.