Who doesn’t love microwaves? They’re an excellent concept. They have a relatively affordable price, they’re versatile, and they offer amazing convenience in various circumstances or settings. Most use the microwave to warm up leftovers, defrost frozen meals, reheat coffee, and making popcorn.
With that said, what’s a countertop microwave? Which microwave type is it? How does it compare to microwaves that you place above your stove range like a hood vent?
What is a Countertop Microwave?
A countertop microwave doesn’t require mounting or special installation compared to built-in microwaves or over-the-range (OTR) microwaves. It’s also usually referred to as a freestanding microwave or a microwave not installed or mounted unto anything.
Even if you have limited countertop space in your small kitchen, there are a number of amazing compact microwaves out there. This microwave type is typically more affordable than its OTR counterpart. Many of them cost under $100 and special ones cost about $300.
Are Countertop Microwaves Safe to Use or Not?
X-rays are more dangerous to your health compared to microwave rays, but even then there’s a low possibility of them leaking off of your device as regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Furthermore, its electromagnetic radiation isn’t powerful enough to cause cell damage but it can burn you the same way they heat food up. It is capable of shaking water molecules in your food, causing their temperature to rise.
What are the Types of Countertop Microwaves by Function?
Here are the different types of microwaves in accordance to function.
- Solo or Simple Microwave: A solo microwave is typically defined as a home turntable type of microwave used for RVs and small apartments. It has a power level range of 600 watts to 1 kilowatt. It’s a solo microwave since it caters to 1-2 people usually.
It has basic functions that include simple cooking, reheating, and defrosting.
- Grill Microwave: It’s a basic microwave with a grill mode function. It uses heat derived from the microwaved food in order to heat up its grill. The hot grill then simulates the grilling effect of a standard grill oven, allowing you to bake or grill meals.
- Combo or Convection Microwave: This microwave can heat up food quickly while at the same time cook them from the outside with the use of heat convection care of fans that circulate the heat from the microwaved food.
It’s usually a little bigger than a basic solo microwave and requires a power output of 1 kilowatt and above. It simulates convection oven function with its fan and heating element.
Further reading: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Microwave Oven that Best Fits Your Needs
What are the Types of Countertop Microwaves by Usage Rate?
Microwaves—particularly commercial-grade countertop microwaves—can also be categorized according to power level and usage.
- Light-Duty Microwaves: These microwaves can accommodate being used 50 times or less in a day. It’s most any microwave rated as 1 kilowatt to 1.1 kilowatts (or below). Many if not most countertop microwaves fall under this category.
- Medium-Duty Microwaves: These commercial-grade ovens can be used 150 times a day. They also range from 1.2 kilowatts to 2 kilowatts of power. Many convenience stores and restaurant microwaves fall under this type.
- Heavy-Duty Microwaves: The busiest hotel or hospital restaurants serving hundreds of customers daily for room service make use of heavy-duty microwaves because they can be used 200 times daily. They’re fast cookers due to their use of 2 kilowatts or more of power.
Countertop Microwave Buying Guide
Let’s now talk about the things you should look out for when shopping for your own countertop microwave. To be more specific, let’s talk about the features of a good countertop microwave.
Not all countertops are made equal. Therefore, you should be aware of which ones belong to the cream of the crop.
Power or Wattage
Power or wattage tells you how powerful your countertop microwave is. The watts typically range from 650 watts to 2 kilowatts. If you wish for a microwave that cooks fast, choose at least a 1-kilowatt model.
A 700-watt to 900-watt microwave is enough to defrost a small quantity of vegetables, make popcorn, or reheat individual food portions. You’re better off with a 1-kilowatt power microwave to have more cooking options, particularly with preprogrammed settings.
A convection microwave tends to have 1 kilowatt or more power. Most packaged frozen meal heating instructions are based on 1.1-kilowatt microwaves. The fewer watts you have the longer it is to heat up the food.
Capacity or Interior Space
The capacity of a countertop microwave varies from 0.6 cubic feet to 2 cubic feet. Strangely, the cubic feet measurement tends to match the power level of the microwave, like in the case of a 700-watt microwave having a 0.7 cubic feet capacity interior.
You need 1.2 cubic feet of capacity to cater to large families requiring large meals. For smaller microwaves for RV or small apartment use, you’re likelier to have a 0.7 cubic feet model (such as a mini or solo microwave).
A compact countertop microwave can’t fit in an 11-inch dinner plate. Many measures 9-10 inches instead. You need to use smaller dishes or even paper plates without metallic or plastic coating in order to fit in your food.
Size (of the Microwave or Its Individual Parts)
Microwaves come in multiple sizes—from mini countertops to much larger commercial-grade units. Dorms, apartments, and RVs tend to have limited counter and kitchen space. Therefore, you might want to invest in as compact a microwave as possible without sacrificing power.
Read more: What’s The Best RV Microwave Out There? Learn and Find Out
The median size for a microwave is a solo microwave with 0.7 cubic feet of capacity and 700 watts of power. Make it 700 watts so you won’t have to wait forever for your meal to be cooked. When getting a smaller microwave, you tend to sacrifice power and functionality.
Smaller microwaves have less space for your large plates or even a huge touchpad, so you’re likely to get something with dials instead.
Timer, Digital Display, and Numerical Keypad
The timer indicates through a digital display the amount of time you’ve inputted to cook your food. The numerical keypad allows you to set the time.
The timer can use the Add 30 Seconds or 1 Minute button to heat the food for half a minute to a minute. You can use these buttons to add time to a setting you’ve already set as well without stopping the microwave process and inputting a new setting.
Above the keypad should be the preprogrammed settings or presets to allow you to cook things like popcorn or frozen vegetables without manually inputting the right time using the information found in your user manual.
Dials, Buttons, or Touchpads
Your microwave might have a knob or dial that’s simple to operate and you can use at a glance. Just turn the knob to the right increment of power or time then start the microwave. Other microwaves have buttons or touchpads with a numerical keypad and digital input.
For these controls, you need to input the specific time digitally on the keypad. Some controls even allow for presets or preprogrammed settings as well as memory slots for custom settings you’ve discovered.
Finally, there are microwaves you can control via voice command using apps like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Google Assistant.
Preset or Preprogrammed Functions
It’s a standard to have preprogrammed or preset functions on your microwave. Some even have a defrosting mode that defrosts based on quantity or weight for good measure. Regardless, more isn’t always better.
Presets also prevent you from overcooking or burning your meals as well as mistakenly pressing the wrong buttons that could lead to less than desirable results. It’s because there are fewer buttons to press.
They tend to be available in pricier models and they’re a staple in digital microwaves. If you’re going to avail of preprogrammed presets, at the very least learn how to program your microwave. This way, if you find the setting on cooking a quiche perfectly, you can save it in the appliance’s memory banks.
Add 30 Seconds and 1 Minute Buttons
Having these buttons might seem trivial, but they’re actually hugely useful. They allow you to quickly start the microwave, do simple tasks like reheat baby’s milk or your morning coffee that’s gone cold, or add time without resetting everything or pressing multiple buttons.
The 1-minute button allows you to microwave something for one minute in one button press and it works like the add 30 seconds button when adding minutes to your timer.
You, children, or the elderly can avoid burning or overcooking your food by putting in the wrong time or overestimating the amount of time needed for microwaving by getting a microwave with an auto shut-off feature.
This humidity sensor monitors the vapor content of the microwave’s interior. If it gets too steamy in there, the cook time will be cut short to prevent an overcooked mess. With this sensor, you won’t have to rely on guesswork to input a reheating setting.
Some people are concerned about radiation leaking. One need not worry about it because microwaves seal down the radiowaves from within it. There are also appliances that switch off automatically when you open its doors without turning it off.
Another feature to look out for in your countertop microwave is a child lock. It’s basically a code not that much different from your smartphone lock screen wherein you can only open the microwave if you put in the code. This prevents children from messing with your oven.
It also prevents strangers from accidentally turning on your microwave. An empty turntable microwave can have its glass turntable break if it’s heated up for a prolonged period of time without food catching those rays.
Rotating Turntables or Antenna
There are two types of heating methods for microwaves.
- Turntables: Turntables rotate the food in order to evenly heat it up. Without it, you’d have to stop the cooking cycle in order to turn the plate around and keep the food from being too hot in one spot and too cold in another spot.
Some models have the turntable go from side to side or rotate clockwise then counterclockwise. The removable glass discs are preferable because they’re easier to clean.
- Antenna: You can also avail of countertop flatbed microwaves that lack a turntable but can still cook your food evenly by using a bottom feed rotating antenna that deflects the microwaves from the bottom to the top in a way that surrounds the food.
Instead of the food being turned to avoid hot and cold spots, it’s the antenna deflecting the microwaves that’s doing all the 360 turnings.
Door Opening Styles
There are two-door styles for microwaves—pull-style or push-style handles or door openers.
- Push-Button Door: The push-button door is the standard for many microwaves. This gives the appliance a smaller footprint and makes it easier to store in closets if required. Just push the button so to release the latches on the door and have it swing open.
- Pull-Style Handle: A pull-style handle makes it easier for certain people—the elderly or those with hand injuries or arthritis—to open the microwave door instead of pushing the large button found in other microwaves in order to open the door.
Unsurprisingly, 96% of all U.S. households own microwaves and more than ⅔ of that percentage prefer freestanding countertop microwaves due to the ease of installation. This is because you can use countertops right out of the box without extra installation effort.
At any rate, we specifically recommend Toshiba EM131A5C-BS and AmazonBasics Microwave as the best countertop microwaves of their kind in 2021.
We love the Toshiba Microwave because it’s powerful at 1.1 kilowatts and large at 1.2 cubic feet while also having 10 preprogrammed presets. You can do other things like making poached eggs, crisping bacon, and steaming veggies much faster than a conventional oven or stovetop gas range.
As for the AmazonBasics Microwave, even though it has basic specs like a 0.7 cubic feet capacity and 700 watts power level, it also has Alexa integration via Echo Dot to allow you to operate it with voice commands. It can even update itself via Wi-Fi to allow for new settings and recipes.