10 Breakthroughs in TV Dinners

The Crisping Sleeve
The microwave susceptor produces radiant energy, like a conventional oven, to create a "browning" effect on everything from Hot Pockets to microwavable panini. Robert Linton/E+/Getty Images

Microwaves reduced TV dinner cooking time to five or so minutes, and brought convenience-loving, perpetually-in-a-hurry Americans one step closer to immediate gratification. But they still had to put up with certain dining formalities, such as using a knife and fork. But what if you could eliminate all those extras, and just strip dinner right down to the primal consumption experience, as if you were a latter-day caveman gnawing on a hunk of roasted mastodon, with nary a worry?

Ergo, the phenomenal appeal of hand-held frozen ready meals such as Hot Pockets. The famed "Hot Pocket" is a microwaveable frozen turnover containing meat and cheese, developed in the early 1980s by Paul and David Merage and their father Andre, an Iranian émigré family who resettled in southern California [sources: Hot Pockets, Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. Hot Pockets have become such a male dietary staple that late-night TV host Jimmy Fallon and his house band, the Roots, performed an ode titled "We Love Hot Pockets" on his show in 2010 [source: Brion].

The technological secret behind the rise of such frozen hand-held meals -- like egg rolls, panini, enchiladas and the ever-popular corn dog -- is the packaging itself, which is constructed of paper or cardboard and laminated with a metalized film called a susceptor, which converts microwave energy to radiant heat and allows the food to brown [source: Inline Packaging]. The first so-called crisping sleeve apparently was patented by Minneapolis inventor William A. Brastad back in 1981 [source: Brastad].

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