Through the years, the microwave oven has become a standard appliance for all homes. It is safe to say that there is no home without a microwave oven. Since its emergence in the 1940s, we have depended on this metal box for heating and defrosting food, melting baking ingredients, and popping that popcorn for movie nights.
The microwave craze has not died down and there have been a lot of upgrades to this magical appliance through the passing of time. If you are looking for a microwave oven that best fits your needs, you are in for a major treat because this post is the ultimate guide for you.
Read more: 22 Surprising Things Your Microwave Can Do
What is a microwave oven?
The microwave is also called electronic ovens. It practically gets its name from the high-frequency magnetic waves (which are also called microwaves) which heat the food when they bounce around the metal casing. It is one of the most versatile kitchen appliances out there with its many functions ranging from heating, defrosting, de-crystallizing, and even roasting.
Just like most of history’s turning point discoveries and inventions, the microwave oven is an accidental discovery too. Archives tell that the idea behind the appliance came in the 1940s when an American scientist named Percy Spencer noticed that his metal radar equipment which he was working on melted the candy bar hidden in his pocket. From this idea, the metal box which can heat and defrost food came into work, and now we call it the microwave oven.
How do microwaves work?
The microwave gets the ability to heat, defrost, and pop food through the magnetron. It is a small piece fitted inside the oven. It is the core piece that produces high-frequency radio waves which in turn produces heat. While it is considered as the core piece, it does not end there. The second core piece is water.
When the radio waves bounce around the metal casing, they are absorbed by water. When the vibration ‘disturbs’ the water, it heats up and the heat absorbed consequently by the water is the one that heats up the food we put in there. This is also the reason why there is extra water inside the oven every time we heat our food inside it.
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Benefits of Using a Microwave Oven
There is no question about the range of benefits of using a microwave oven. In this section, we will have a general overview of these benefits.
For one, microwaves reek of convenience. It easily heats up, cooks the food faster and it is less likely that you will burn food because everything can be controlled using timers, preset cooking methods, and power controls. The convenience part also extends to its easy installation and its versatility to fit any kitchen aesthetic out there.
Microwaves are also beneficial in saving energy and energy costs. They have inverter technology and recipes cooked in it are again, faster to cook, requiring less energy. They are also known to preserve nutrients and the needed moisture for an evenly cooked food.
The heat from microwaves helps in breaking down the food enzymes evenly and properly so you can count on your microwave to flip you a healthy and hot meal. Just a tip, stirring the food once in a while can improve nutrient retention in your food.
Microwaves are not a one-way street and there are various types that you should be knowledgeable about before you narrow down your choices. You also must know this stuff because it will guide you in looking for specific microwave brands and the best installation type for your kitchen.
What is Solo Microwave?
They are considered as the conventional oven and the symbol of quick-cooking technology. They are built to function for simple heating and defrosting as well as quick and basic cooking. They are the cheapest compared to convection and grill microwaves.
What is a Convection Microwave?
This type of microwave is considered a 2-in-1. They can do the quick-cooking, heating, defrosting, and de-crystallizing but on top of it, they could also be used for roasting and searing. It can also do quick baking but with the standard pre-heating. It is really a quick fix for the more expensive baking oven.
What is Grill Microwave?
As the term implies, the grill microwave features a griller where the oven for quick baking purposes is at for convection microwaves. The griller’s heater is typically located on the underside of the top microwave. Below it would be a dripping tray where the excess juices from the meat or fish are caught.
Because of the good balance of heat, expect evenness and beautiful browning and searing. It also does not produce soggy food which is often an issue for microwave food.
Which Installation Type Suits Your Kitchen Best?
The next thing that you should know about is the best microwave installation type that will best fit your kitchen. Here are some installation types that you can consider.
Of all the installation types, this is considered the most inexpensive. It plays at a range of $60 and could go up to $400 tops. It is considered the common oven installation type. Practically, there is nothing to install when you have a countertop microwave. All you must do is plug it in and start doing the job.
Countertop microwaves are good for conventional, country-side kitchen designs. However, installing them may not feel like you have a posh or complete kitchen, so you really have to look for the best fit in your kitchen.
If you want a clear countertop space, opt for the over-the-range microwaves. They are usually installed on top of your cooktop or gas range instead of a gas range hood. They basically function the same as a countertop microwave minus the steam, smoke and odors from the cooked food thanks to its own ventilation system.
The ventilation system can work in two ways. One is through external ventilation just like how range hoods would do it or through air recycling using a filter.
This is a more common installation type among modern homes now because they save up space in the kitchen. As the name suggests, this means that the oven is installed on the wall, on a shelf, or installed directly in a cabinet space in a row of kitchen cabinets. It really is a good option for a chick yet space-saving kitchen. They come at a range of $150-700.
This is the most modern microwave installation, and you can find it in high-end homes. Basically, microwave drawers are installed as drawers in kitchen cabinets. Instead of swinging the microwave door, you open them like drawers. They are lined with the kitchen cabinets too but their plug can be much more hidden than built-in microwaves.
In terms of functionality, it has way more controls than the others so you can do more than just heating, baking, and defrosting with it. It also comes with more power controls as well as a whole range of cooking modes to choose from.
Types of Microwave by Heating Method
There are two types of microwaves according to the heating or microwaving method. They are the following.
- Turntable: If you’re buying a home or mobile microwave, you’re likely to get a microwave with a turntable or glass disc that rotates the food in order to get evenly cooked by the microwave rays (but rarely does get even cooking).
- Flatbed: A flatbed or turntable-free microwave is a microwave that instead uses a bottom feed rotating antenna at its base in order to microwave the food. Instead of rotating the food for even cooking, it’s the microwaves that are bounced around in an enveloping manner.
Popular Microwave Features
There are default microwave features that keep our familiarity with microwave ovens intact. But they have been updated and innovated through the years and you have to look out for upgrades in these popular microwave features.
- Preset Cooking Modes: Having preset cooking modes to choose from are a very convenient features. No matter how seasoned you are as a home cook, you will still need them once in a while. Typical preset cooking modes would be a popcorn button, heating, and defrost setting.
More modern microwaves include other preset cooking modes such as reheating pizzas, warming beverages, and baking side dishes like potatoes.
- Automatic Sensors: Microwaves featuring automatic sensors saves you a lot of time and energy while cooking. They basically measure the food’s cook time based on the amount of steam or smoke it emits. It is supported by precision buttons to control the cool-down time of the food. They also automatically stop the microwave when the food is done.
- Wattage: The rule of thumb is of course high wattage equates to faster cooking. Now, the default power outputs for all types of microwaves would be in a range of 600-1200watts. Most food recipes found in microwave controls need at least 800watts to be cooked evenly. If you have no issue in terms of usage plans, go for microwaves that start at 800watts.
- Cooking Functions: Before buying a microwave, you must ask yourself about what cooking function it could extend. If it offers other cooking functions like steaming, grilling, browning/searing, and even broiling and convection, then go for the plunge. Having these additional cooking functions are a good complement for an existing range.
- Quick Minute functions: This feature helps you in adding more cooking time for your food if you feel like it is not yet done. Some microwaves feature an ‘add minute button’ which you must press first before pressing the desired number of minutes to add. Some have a direct number of buttons to push to extend time. Pushing the quick minute functions will not affect the level of heat the food is getting.
- Turntables, Trays, and Removable Racks: Turntables are typically circular. They rotate the food so that all sides get the same amount of heat. There are now changeable turntables in a rectangular shape. They can come in handy when you are cooking in large platters or casseroles.
Accompanying microwaveable trays and removable racks for greater functionality (more dishes in one throw) are also major upsides to look for when considering a microwave oven.
- Power levels: Even if you have all these preset cooking modes, controllable power levels would still come in handy. For example, frozen foods require different heat levels and it is important that you can push low medium and high heat options. This will be helpful for all other foods too.
- Shortcut Keys/Common Task Buttons/Convenience Controls: A microwave with a wide range of shortcut keys featuring common tasks are one of the best options. Common task buttons include a popcorn button, separate defrosting buttons for frozen vegetables, and frozen food like pizza. High-end microwaves have additional shortcut keys for quick cooking for stew, grits, pasta, and oatmeal.
- Kitchen Timer: This is a default feature for all microwaves but what you are looking for in a good microwave would be the kind that gives you a maximum of a hundred minutes. Conventional microwaves have timers that only range from one second to 60minutes and you will have to extend again so go for those with longer kitchen timers.
- Keep warm feature: Microwave drawers usually have the keep warm feature in one of their extended drawers. These are good for pastries, pasta, and casseroles that need to be kept warm.
- Safety, Child Lock: This is a good feature to look for especially if you are going for microwave drawers or built-in microwaves and there are children around. You can time it as long as you want, and you can cancel it anytime too. Just make sure that it is on when the kids are running around the kitchen.
There are also microwaves with pre-installed child lock features. They allow you to set-up a password for the microwave before it can be opened up.
- Nonstick Interior: For microwaves, you must look for easy clean interiors. A good choice would be plastic interiors because they can just easily be cleaned with a wet cloth. Stainless steel interior is also a practical choice for easy wiping and on top of this, it will not absorb the hodgepodge of food odors cooked inside.
- Inverter technology: This is an important power-saving feature for homes that are always cooking it out with the family. This is found in newer, more modern, and high-end microwave models. It works by maintaining 50% power consistently instead of switching from 0 to 100% through longer pre-heating time, hence, more power consumption.
- Smart Microwave: Even microwaves have smart features nowadays. Aside from more preset-cooking modes, high-end microwaves with smart features include moisture sensors that will detect if the food is getting soggy. Automatic interior lighting when the food is thrown in is also a part of the smart feature.
Other smart features to look out for are wireless connections and navigation using Bluetooth or the internet. The issue with Bluetooth however, is that it can be brand-exclusive. But just imagine the amount of time you will save in checking the food every now and then if a notification would just signal you if there’s a problem, right? You can also just command Alexa from afar with this feature.
There is also a food recognition technology that will automatically preset the cooking time, automatic cooking for packed food, and what about choosing the popcorn size? If a microwave choice has these and more, go for it no questions asked.
What to look for before buying a microwave oven?
You have the microwave types, the installation types, and the popular features to look for. Now it is time to have a rundown of specific specifications and care tips that you should look for before buying a microwave oven.
What type of microwave do I need?
This one depends a lot on what you cook or how you use it, generally. If you are just a light user, which means that you are more into the basics like warming, reheating, quick-cooking, and defrosting, solo or convection ovens would suffice.
If you are someone who loves cooking often and experimenting with dishes, opt for microwaves with upgraded features, more preset cooking modes, and smart features. You should also consider safety features not only for the kids but also to prevent overcooking and cases of fire.
If you are keen on aesthetics, opt for the sleeker microwave drawer or built-in microwave.
What size of microwave do I need?
The answer to this depends on your household size and your average number of dishes cooked every day. For a family of four and up, you will need at least a family of full-size microwaves (1.4-2.0 cubic feet). For studio type apartments and compact kitchens, compact to mid-sized microwaves (0.5-1.3 cubic feet) is recommended.
The size ranges for microwaves include:
- Compact: 0.5 to 0.8 cubic feet
- Mid-size: 0.9 to 1.3 cubic feet
- Family: 1.4 to 1.6 cubic feet
- Full-size: 1.8 to 2.2 cubic feet
Where should you place a microwave?
This is an important decision to make even if microwaves are only small appliances. All types of microwave installation can be space-saving. The classic choice would be over the range, mounted where the hood/vent should be. For more compact microwaves, you can tuck them away in the upper or lower shelves of the kitchen. If you want a more ergonomic installation, place a trim kit.
Newer installations include wall ovens which are good for convection and built-in microwaves. Adding a separate trim kit will make it look more solid. The popular choices where to place the microwave, nowadays, are always the drawers and the cabinets.
Further reading: What are the Best Places to Put the Microwave in Your Kitchen?
What microwave wattage do I need?
Then again, the higher the microwave wattage, the faster the food will be cooked. If you are on the lookout for one, choose a microwave that is at least 800 watts and above. That is enough to ensure that you get to cook almost all types of food from packed meals to gourmet dishes.
Read more: Is a 900 watt Microwave Powerful Enough?
What microwave features and specs should I look for?
We have previously narrowed down the popular features that you should find in microwaves but for what it is worth, the following should be on your priority list.
- Combination ovens (microwave/convection)
- Programmable controls (power control and timers)
- Preset cooking modes
- Automatic sensors
- Safety buttons and child lock features
How often should I replace a microwave?
The average lifespan of a microwave is up to 10years. By the time it reaches the 8th year, rust and dents in the seal covering the door and the interior will become visible. If these come out earlier, you might have to replace your microwave earlier too. If it goes beyond the 10th year mark without any sign of wearing, you may still use it lightly but replacement is more recommended.
How much is your budget?
Price ranges for microwaves vary significantly. The budget depends on the brand that you are considering, the size and number of advanced features that it will have, and the installation type. Basic microwaves can be bought for $80-100 while high-end ones, no matter the type, start at $300 to a few thousand bucks.
How long are the warranties & protection plans on the microwave?
Unfortunately, warranties for microwaves could only last for a year. It has been standardized for new model microwaves but luckily, they now come with protection plans which you can explore. Protection plans can come in 3-5 year plans and they can range from $17-50 depending on the number of years and the type of microwave that you have.
What else do I need to know about microwaves?
There is more to know about microwaves and there might be some minute details and tips that you need to master.
- You may open the microwave and stir the dish once or twice through the entire cooking time to avoid overheating.
- If you want to let go of excess steam, cover the platter or dish with wax paper or paper towels.
- To hold the needed moisture in, use foil or plastic wrap.
- For easy cleaning, you may use dish soap, apple cider, or baking soda.
- Regular wiping using a damp cloth will also lessen grime build-up.
Now it is time to pit off microwaves with other trendy appliances that resemble the work of microwaves.
Conventional vs. Convection Microwave?
When in doubt, always choose the convection microwave over the conventional microwave. Conventional oven indeed does the job for basic cooking but it is not as even as what convection microwaves could offer. Aside from this, convection microwaves offer faster cooking time and you could easily switch it to conventional use if you need to.
Microwave vs. Toaster Oven?
In contrast to ranges, both the microwave and the toaster register more energy-saving rates but between the two, microwaves are more energy-saving over a toaster. Aside from this, microwaves have faster cooking time compared to toasters (the gap is in between 1200-1800watts).
In terms of thorough cooking, there is a debate between the two but toasters may win this criterion because they are better at low-temperature cooking.
Microwave vs. Air Fryer?
Sure, the hype is towards air fryers because of their convenience for easy roasting and frying. In this sense, microwaves are more versatile to work with. Air fryers work on rapid air technology, sucking out the moisture out of the food albeit the fast cooking. Microwaves specifically convection microwaves, ensure even cooking and more even heating. It is clear that microwaves are better than air fryers for many reasons.
What are the best microwaves?
Choosing the best microwave that will fit you is a tough job so here is a rundown of the best microwaves in terms of specific categories.
If you are looking for a solo or basic microwave and convection oven that are space-saving, efficient, and affordable, the Toshiba EM131A5C-BS and Toshiba EC042A5C-BS are a perfect choice, respectively.
For countertop microwave and small-space microwave, the most reputable choices would be Panasonic NN-SN966S and Whirlpool Countertop Oven, respectively. For a family size microwave, you might want to check out the Toshiba ML-EM45P(BS) Countertop Microwave oven or Panasonic Countertop.
- The Best Countertop Microwave: AmazonBasics Microwave
- The Best Over-the-Range Microwave: GE JVM3162RJSS 30″ 120 Volts 1.6 cu.
- The Best Built-in Microwave: Panasonic Countertop / Built-In Microwave Oven with Cyclonic Wave Inverter Technology
- The Best Countertop Oven Microwave + Broiler Grill: Panasonic NN-GN68K Countertop Oven Microwave + Broiler Grill
- The Best Microwave Drawer Oven: Sharp SMD2470AS Microwave Drawer Oven
- The Best Convection Microwave: Toshiba EC042A5C-SS Countertop Microwave Oven with Convection, Smart Sensor
Top brands of microwave
Having a list of the top microwave brands is also a strong guide in helping you to narrow down your choices for the best microwave for you. This list will give you a head start on where to look and what to look out for.
- Magic Chef
Microwave safety, care, and maintenance
To keep your microwave up and running, here are the most important safety, care, and maintenance pointers that you have to keep in mind.
- Clean interiors: Wiping the microwave interior regularly does not only keep the food safe from bacteria and grime but also diminishes the rate of corrosion and rust. Left-out water and food particles also lessen cooking speed. Checking the interior after use is a good practice. Only use the right cleaning materials such as damp cloth, dish soap, vinegar, or apple cider. Do the same drill for the exterior.
This video: How to Clean a Microwave
- Use microwaveable platters and containers only: Aside from leaving toxic components in the microwave posing risk to your health, it also causes sparks or burnt smells. Only use containers that are tagged with ‘microwaveable’. These are often fiberglass or ceramic containers. Never put any metal material inside or you will damage the microwave entirely.
- Cover the platters and trays: To prevent spilling and splashing, cover the platters and trays accordingly. You can use microwaveable lids, and plastic wraps. This would save you time in cleaning your microwave’s interiors.
- Close the door properly at all times: For this, keep in mind that when the door is not sealed properly, the microwaves escape making you more prone to radiation. Aside from this, you will not have properly cooked food.
Are convection microwaves worth it?
Yes. It is a compact microwave, easy to install and place anywhere, and does a 2-in-1 job. They are good for quick cooking, basic baking, and all the other standard features of a microwave.
When should I replace my microwave?
The first consideration is when it has reached its 10th year. Other considerations to look out for would be sparks, burnt smell or sparks, lessened cooking time or when the food is no longer cooked properly, weird popping sounds when it is on, buttons are no longer working, or when the door can no longer be shut in properly.
Does standing near a microwave put me at risk for radiation exposure?
Most likely, yes but this should not be a serious cause for concern. Just because it works on microwaves would mean that it is automatically risky. Statistics and research establish that we are 20 times at greater risk for radiation when we are in front of the television or when we are always holding our phones.
Why are there holes in my microwave door?
The dots in the microwave door/screen are there for a reason and not just for decorative purposes. They function by ensuring that the microwaves are evenly bouncing in all the parts of the metal casing. It also allows you to be able to check on your food every now and then.
Should you defrost meat in the microwave?
Health reports backed up by research from the USDA and other health organizations suggest that defrosting the meat in the microwave can pose a lot of risks because the heat encourages bacteria build-up. If you are doing this, the recourse would be to cook the meat immediately after defrosting it in the microwave or just stop doing it.
What foods should I cook in my microwave oven?
Truth be told, everything. You can cook pre-packed meals, frozen meat, vegetables, and leftover food, gourmet meals, side dishes, and pasta. All you need to know is the microwave time for each recipe because it slightly differs from stove cooking.
Can I cook a microwave meal from frozen?
Yes. In most cases, there are already microwave instructions at the back of the food pack. Typically, all they require would be a few heating times because they are already pre-cooked.
Microwave ovens are more than just default kitchen appliances. Food is something that we look forward to every day, alone or with family and friends. Hot meals are comforting and some days, we get extra enthusiastic to cook gourmet meals or experiment with some dishes.
As such, you must understand the basics of microwave ovens, the factors that you should consider, details about types and installation as well as reviews of the best brands and types before coming down to a choice.