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Microwave Buying Advice

    • 1064 posts
    January 31, 2023 6:34 AM EST

    Microwaves are not just for reheating and popcorn anymore - they have become an essential appliance in every kitchen. Some new features like convection technology have made the ovens more versatile, while others like SpeedCook have made it possible to reduce cooking times dramatically. Aside from the cooking technology, there are a lot of features to consider when buying your next microwave oven.

    Power and Size

    Microwave power is measured in watts. Microwaves can range from as low as 600W to as high as 1300W. More wattage means faster cooking times, but the difference of a hundred watts in either direction is negligible. If you'll be doing more than reheating in your microwave, look for models that offer at least 800W, which is the bare minimum recommended for many recipes.

    The capacity of a microwave is measured in cubic feet and can range from .5 to over 2 cf. Singles, couples and people who use a microwave for occasional reheating and defrosting will be fine with compact models, which generally range from 0.5-0.8 cubic feet. For frequent microwave users or cooks who rely on the microwave to cook larger quantities of food on a regular basis, mid-sized microwaves (0.9-1.6 cf ) and full-sized microwaves (1.7-2.3 cf) are the better option. Typically, the larger the interior capacity, the larger the overall physical dimensions, with the exception being microwaves that double as convection ovens. The fan used in convection cooking adds to the size of the microwave and a convection microwave with .9 cf capacity will be larger than a basic microwave with the same .9 cf capacity. Beware, too, advertised capacity ratings, as manufacturers often include corners in their cubic feet rating that don't contribute to usable space.

    Where will it go?

    Today's microwaves fit in your kitchen in a variety of ways. As their name suggests, countertop microwaves sit on your kitchen counter. While they take up more physical space than over the range (OTR), built-in or under-the-cabinet microwaves, they usually offer more usable cooking space inside. If you have room on your countertop or a utility cart, a countertop microwave will give you the most cooking capacity and is the best choice for frequent users who rely on the microwave for a lot more than the occasional reheat.

    Over-the-range models get the microwave off your countertop but don't hold as much inside. It is important to know that OTR models come with a built-in range hood vent. The hood vents found in OTR microwaves don't work as well as standard range hood vents, in part because they don't provide coverage for the front burners. If you use your range a lot, what you gain in counter space will be lost in ventilation. Is something always simmering on the stovetop? Don't give up a full-sized hood vent in exchange for an OTR microwave. Instead, consider a microwave that can be mounted under or inside of a cabinet. It offers the same interior capacity as OTR microwaves without the hood-vent drawbacks. If you don't need a large-capacity microwave, or don't have space on the countertop, an under-the-cabinet model is an excellent space-saving choice.

    Cooking Technology

    Be sure to choose a microwave that offers you a minimum of three power levels. Generally, these are High, for regular cooking (100% power); Medium, for simmering (50% power), and Low or Defrost (usually about 10%-30% power). If the model you're looking at comes with more levels, that's even better it won't necessarily add to the cost.

    Microwaves with convection technology include a heating element and a fan. The fan circulates the air, which helps crisp skins and brown foods (no more chewy leftover pizza). Convection technology adds significantly to the price of a microwave ($100 to $200) and the fan adds to its physical size. If you turn to the microwave more than you turn to your oven, the convection technology is worth the investment for the versatility you'll get, not to mention the option of not heating your standard oven on hot days.

    You'll also find microwave ovens today that feature SpeedCook technology. SpeedCook microwaves use halogen or quartz lights to heat food, which may call to mind the EasyBake Ovens from your childhood. However, you won't have to wait an hour for a cupcake; cooking with a SpeedCook microwave can be up to three times faster than your conventional oven, plus you don't have to preheat it. If you're a heavy microwave user now, you may want to invest in a SpeedCook microwave for the ultimate in convenience and time-saving meal preparation.

    Some microwaves offer new inverter technology that keeps the power level constant during the cooking process, versus the traditional microwave method of cycling power on and off. Inverter technology is billed to help microwaves cook food more evenly, but if you've got a turntable and are familiar with your power levels, you won't see a large difference with inverter technology.

    Cooking Functions

    Microwave cooking functions run the gamut from the basic defrost to advanced sensor technology that prevents overcooking. Next to reheating, defrosting is the most frequent use for the microwave. Using your microwave to defrost meats and frozen leftovers can shave hours off meal preparation. Look for microwaves that feature a timed defrost option or defrost that will automatically turn off when the defrosting is finished.

    Advanced sensor technology turns your microwave off when it senses the food is too hot, which prevents overcooking during the reheating process. These sensors add to the cost of the microwave ($10 to $50), but experts say the sensors do work. If you've removed one too many rubbery dishes from your microwave, spend the dollars and be happier with your end results.

    No matter which microwave you purchase, you'll want it to offer a turntable to ensure even cooking and reheating. Traditional turntables are round pieces of glass on a motorized loop that rotates the food in a microwave as it is heated. This helps the microwaves to penetrate evenly and heat the food more efficiently. Some microwaves now replace traditional round turntables with rectangular slabs that slide side-to-side. Another feature to look for is turntable control. If you regularly cook with oversized or oddly shaped dishes, you'll benefit from a microwave that gives you the option of an off/on button for the turntable. When the turntable is off, you can fit oversized or oddly-shaped dishes into the microwave.


    Microwave controls are now as varied as the units themselves, but microwaves with advanced controls are only as useful as your ability and tendency to use them. Most manufacturers offer pre-programmed controls for popular functions, like popcorn or a baked potato, which you may use often. Other microwaves offer a delayed-start option, which makes it easier to time meals when you're using the microwave for only a course or two. SpeedCook microwaves often come with pre-programmed recipes, which is useful because SpeedCook times can be much faster than traditional oven preparation times. Purchase a microwave with the minimum of control features you need, plus a few more you think you might use. If you have small children, look for models with child locks that prevent the microwave turning on without items in it.

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    • 4 posts
    March 9, 2023 3:47 AM EST

    Hi everyone. I wouldn't recommend using a microwave oven at all because they are unhealthy.