What would be the main differences between frying hamburgers and cooking them in the microwave oven?
I'm stuck in a hostel with only a microwave oven and a water cooker.
In short, kind of, but only with the proper accessories/equipment. You'll never match a grill or griddle but you can get surprisingly close.
As was mentioned in other answers, what you're going to lose most is the sear.
I was given a Corningware Microwave Browning Dish a while back and found that it actually works pretty well when you're stuck with only a microwave. They were apparently popular when microwaves were new and exciting, but people didn't know how to use them well and they faded into oblivion. I've seen them on sale on eBay so you might be able to find a good price there if you're going to be stuck in the hostel for a while.
The basic idea is, there's a special kind of microwave-safe metal inside the base of the casserole. You heat this with nothing on it for 3 minutes to get it nice and hot. When you drop the patty on, it immediately sizzles. You use the microwave function to heat the inside, while the hot surface sears the outside. Although you're likely not going to get a perfect burger, you do get a real nice Maillard reaction on the outside of both sides (assuming you flip halfway) and if you play with the cooking time and power (to reduce that rubbery texture from overcooking), you can get something that's (in my opinion) a good 75%-quality burger compared to a griddle or grill. I actually burned pork chops on it once, that's how hot the surface gets.
As a bonus, similar to a nice Boos block, there is a gutter around the outside and the plate is slightly concave, so the juices run off into the reservoir and the burger won't sit in fat during the cooking.
After reading the other answers (ElendilTheTall's specifically), I would think if you combined the steaming method to cook the burgers, with the microwave browning dish to sear, you could probably get a really good result. If the burgers were fully cooked via steaming you could probably heat the dish and sear the burgers without even turning the microwave on (except to heat the casserole initially).
I believe Alton Brown did an episode where he talked about a specific type of brick that you can find at most hardware stores which is microwave-safe for the same searing purpose, but I can't find that info right now.
I don't get it. A questions was asked: CAN I? YES! You can! I live out of my microwave. I make hamburger patties in the nuker all the time (as well as pasta and rice, which everyone says DON'T! I say Why not?!)
I buy my 85/15 patties from SAMs club so they're pre-made, not very thick. Paper plate, 2 pieces of paper towel on the plate, 2 frozen patties on the plate, one piece of ppr towel over the patties, 5-6 min on 50% power gives me medium/medium-well patties. IF THAWED you could probably do it in 3-4min. If I season the patties I do so after about 4min and remove the top ppr towel. If I'm making a cheese burger, after the burgers are done I add the cheese slices, add 30sec @100% power and leave them in the microwave to 'rest' and melt while I prepare my plate. You may need to adjust the length of time a bit depending on your microwave and your desired wellness of the patties.
Perfect burgers? No. As good as coming off the grill? No. Still perfectly OK burgers for a quick meal in about 8min total.
Honestly, you can't. You'll miss the Maillard reaction on the outside of the burger, and the oil and fat heating it through. There are different types of heating, and the microwave is really not suitable for red meat.
I would suggest reshaping the meat, and possibly adding a few more ingredients and making meatballs in the water cooker. You could probably make a decent sauce in that cooker too.
I'll admit that my gut instinct was "build a fire outside and put a frying pan on that", though. And I'm a peaceful vegetarian.
When you fry you get all kinds of "goodness" that you won't get from microwaving; caramelizing and texture, for example. I'm certain somebody will post a Wikipedia link to the real word I'm looking for. I hate to recommend this, but you might want to look for a frozen hamburger product that's designed to be microwaved.
I did see an episode of Man vs. Food a while back that featured a burger joint that steamed its burgers along with a hefty chunk of cheese - but you'd have to experiment a lot to get decent results. As Uncle Brad says, you wouldn't get a nice browning on the burgers, because microwaves work by heating the water content of the food.
Yes - cooking hamburgers in a microwave is possible.
Tonight I made some using 3 minutes on high (1100W), with 1 min flips (i.e. flip three times). I used a rotating microwave with a plastic dish and no fancy stuff. (There was a bit of juice in the dish afterwards.) Leave the dish alone for a minute or so after cooking as it'll be really hot. The patties shrink a little so make them flatter than you require.
It actually helps if you hollow the inside of the burger out and put your cheese and peppers/onions and a little bread crumbs to suck up and keep the flavor/juice from running out. It also hastens the cooking due to the added moisture residing in the middle. It makes for good even heating.
Steak is also very easy to cook in the microwave, however you need to make sure all your red meats are 36F and below when keeping cold or 155F and above for heat for your health. Without an option, the microwave can still "with a bit of imagination" provide many good meals and lessen cooking times.
Just remember that the moisture content you cook off is also the majority of the flavor of your meat. Try instead of salt, soy sauce! It sounds peculiar but I use soy sauce instead of salt for everything. It adds additional moistness to your meat and just tastes so much better then plain old salt. That said don't use soy sauce for sweets (durr)!
Hope you have some spices the microwave oven can be exciting and pleasantly surprising if used correctly.
I put a 1 pound (450 g) patty, fresh, not frozen, in a deep glass dish (perhaps you could call it a "casserole") which I precoated with a bit of olive oil, nuked on high for 3 minutes. It still looked a bit too bloody for me, so I gave it 2 more minutes. Then I lifted it out of the liquid in the bottom that had cooked out, let it drip a moment, then set it on a folded paper towel on a plate. Let it cool a bit and put it between whole wheat bread. It's delicious. Next time, I'll try 4 minutes. The bread crumbs in the middle idea is interesting, but I don't like to handle ground meat any more than absolutely necessary. Working it, reforming it, kneading it, anything like that, seems to adversely affect the texture.
I just put one frozen 1/4lb Costco Kirkland patty between two paper plates and nuked it 4 minutes. Put it between two pieces of onion miners bread (Ralphs) added miracle whip, tomatoes and seasoning and it was great. Wife is away first time in 50 years. I am home surviving. I lived in the brush in War time so I will survive lol