Microwave, Microwave, Microwave

The ultimate convenience appliance isn't just for reheating last night's leftovers

Behold — the future of cooking has been here all along.

The sounds of the microwave are oh-so familiar. Whirrr… BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. Or perhaps yours simply goes "Ding!" In any case, it's time to breathe new life into the magic box, because it's not just for reheating last night's dinner anymore. The devil's tumbler (what, you've never heard it called that before?) was invented by Perry Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, in 1945. As with many great discoveries, however, this one was apparently a happy accident.

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Spencer was actually working on streamlining magnetrons — the device that is now at the heart of a microwave — for an entirely different project when he noticed a candy bar melting in his pocket as he activated the device. Curious, he attempted the same experiment with some popcorn. Surprisingly, the kernels popped, and the rest was history.

The first attempt at a commercial microwave oven was created in 1947, dubbed the Radarange, but it wasn't exactly home-friendly. It tipped the scales at 750 pounds, was 5 1/2 feet tall, and retailed for $5,000. There was clearly some work left to be done, but by 1967, after Raytheon purchased Amana, the device had been slimmed down, both in terms of size and price. It could fit on any kitchen counter, required a standard 100-volt outlet, and was priced affordably at $495. The microwave oven was poised to become the wave of the future.

Today, more than 200 million microwave ovens have been sold worldwide. It's hard to imagine life without a microwave — chefs shun them, but busy folks love them, and let's get real, the easiest way to reheat something is usually to pop it into the microwave.

But they can be useful for so much more. That's why The Daily Meal turned to Wendy Perry, personal chef, food stylist, and recipe developer. Perry taught microwave cooking classes at J.C. Penney's housewares department for eight years, and has a wealth of useful advice as well as recipes for you to try at home. Perry says, "Don't be afraid to be experimental with your microwave and to try stuff." Just make sure your containers are microwave-safe. Otherwise… melty melty.

Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.