Do you remember the first time you saw a microwave being used? The crazy thing is that in the not too distant past microwave ovens were cutting-edge technology. You can always tell when cutting edge technology has suddenly become accepted mainstream technology though based on the simple fact that nobody talks about it anymore – which is the case for microwave ovens.
The reality is that you’re not going to be in a position very often where you need to buy a microwave oven, plus technology changes fast so what you currently know about microwaves is probably out of date.
So the goal of our guide is to explain the basic types of microwaves you’ll find retailing in stores and help you come up with a list of key features you need to look for in one, making your entire shopping experience that bit easier too. One major recommendation is that you figure out exactly what your budget is for buying a new microwave before you go shopping – they cost anywhere from $30 to well over $1,000. We’re also going to provide you with some short microwave oven reviews towards the end of this feature article too.
Table of Contents
- 1 How Does A Microwave Work?
- 2 Are Microwaves Safe?
- 3 The Different Types of Microwaves
- 4 The Top 3 Things To Include On A Microwave Shopping List
- 5 Microwave Oven Features To Watch Out For
- 5.1 Cookware Sizes
- 5.2 Wattage
- 5.3 Controls
- 5.4 Shortcuts
- 5.5 Turntable Or Tray?
- 5.6 Sensors
- 5.7 Easy To Clean
- 5.8 Our Top 5 Microwave Oven Reviews
- 5.9 1) Whirlpool Countertop Microwave Oven Review
- 5.10 2) Panasonic NN-SN651WAZ Countertop Microwave Oven Review
- 5.11 3) Kenmore 70913 Countertop Microwave Oven Review
- 5.12 4) Panasonic NN-SD775S Microwave Oven Review
- 5.13 5) Sharp R1874T 850W Over-the-Range Convection Microwave Oven Review
- 6 Conclusion
How Does A Microwave Work?
Basically this type of oven cooks your food with a type of radio wave, at a frequency of about 2.45GHz. When this radio wave is “beamed” inside your food it causes the water molecules inside your food to become energetic, or basically it makes them vibrate really, really quickly. The quicker something vibrates the more heat it generates, so as the liquids inside your food vibrate they cause the food to cook – but much more quickly than when you use an external heat source like fire. At the very heart of your microwave oven is something called a magnetron which is what generates all those radio waves that cook your food for you – it’s also the reason why all microwaves require a small amount of shielding on them too.
Are Microwaves Safe?
Although there’s been a lot of scaremongering around cooking food with microwaves there’s been no proven link between eating microwave food and any health issues – no matter how hard some people have tried to make that connection. If you use your microwave as directed then you’re not going to have any health issues to worry about, although it is advisable to avoid microwaving food in cheap plastic containers.
The Different Types of Microwaves
There are 3 different physical types of microwave oven, although we know that most people are looking for a countertop model. That being said we wanted to offer complete information on all the other types of microwaves you can buy too – so here it is!
These are the most common and the most budget-friendly microwaves you can buy. You’ll obviously need a power outlet nearby to plug it in. The only real downside to this style of microwave oven is that it takes up permanent space on your worktop.
This type of microwave oven will be located directly above your cooking range, so you’ll need to make sure it’s vented properly. Obviously using this type of microwave keeps your countertops free but they do cost more to buy and install than your typical microwave.
This type of microwave oven is fitted flush with the rest of your kitchen cabinets, making for a very consistent feel in your kitchen decor. Built-in microwave units are more expensive to buy however, plus you’ll also need the help of a professional electrician to install one.
As the name suggests this style of microwave is actually fitted inside a drawer, so when you need to use it you open the drawer, place your food inside and close it again. The microwave drawer is a clever way of keeping your microwave within easy reach, and also not consuming any valuable countertop space at the same time.
The Top 3 Things To Include On A Microwave Shopping List
There are a couple of really important things you need to think about before you even start shopping for a microwave, and they are as follows:
Shopping without a set budget is economic suicide – your bank account might never recover! As we mentioned earlier you can spend several hundred dollars on some microwaves, which is crazy when a model for $100 would have done what you needed it to do. Look at how much you can afford to spend and stick to it – and if that means bargain hunting then that’s no bad thing either.
How Much Space
Measure out exactly how much space you have in your kitchen for your new microwave and then measure it again. The mistake most people make is that they measure the future home of their microwave to within fractions of a centimeter, but never take into consideration whether or not the microwave is actually accessible there i.e. can you open the door without knocking something else over, or damaging the microwave door itself? The allocated space for your new microwave should be enough to allow it to slide in and out of position easily, and there should also be a power outlet nearby – avoid stretching power cords behind other appliances where you can.
How many people are you actually going to be cooking for? Larger families will require a larger microwave oven, which can accept larger cookware, while also being able to cook more quickly and evenly. The cooking capacity of your microwave isn’t a feature you want to cut corners on – it’ll only cost you more money over the long-term.
Microwave Oven Features To Watch Out For
Now we come down to the individual aspects of each microwave you’ll have to take into account when making your final buying decision.
Take the largest dish you own and measure it, make a cardboard cut-out and make sure that your replacement microwave oven can accommodate your favorite cookware comfortably by fitting the cut-out inside it. If not then you’re going to wind up spending any money you saved when buying this cheaper microwave on new cookware instead.
The vast majority of microwaves you’ll find selling online or offline will have a wattage rating of between 600 and around 1200-watts. All you need to know about the wattage rating is that having a higher number of watts allows you to microwave your food more quickly. Realistically you should avoid microwaves with a power rating of less than 700-watts, unless of course you’re not in any hurry to have your food cooked and/or you live alone. If you have a large family then you need to be aiming for a microwave oven with around 900-watts of cooking power at the very least.
Some people prefer mechanical controls on their microwave, usually in the form of a dial of some kind, where others will prefer to have a touchpad type control interface for their microwave oven. Microwaves which have been designed for use in large canteens might still have mechanical controls, but the vast majority of microwaves are using a digital keypad control system now instead – so that’s what you should be looking for with yours.
The very earliest microwaves tended to have the bare minimum of cooking functions built into them, like “On”, power settings and an “Off” switch. Nowadays a microwave oven is expected to have all kinds of cooking shortcuts for everything from popcorn to pasta, as well as several shortcuts for defrosting certain types of food. Having these kinds of shortcut keys on a microwave oven saves you having to remember what power settings goes with which food type, but too many of these shortcut buttons will just get in your way in the end.
Turntable Or Tray?
If you want your new microwave oven to cook your food evenly then you’re going to need a microwave with a turntable built into it, which is what you’ll find on at least 90% of microwaves on the market. Some manufacturers use a tray that oscillates from side to side during cooking, but it’s simply not as effective as the turntable style of microwave cooking, in our humble opinion at least.
The most modern microwaves out there will have sensors which can detect when your food is properly cooked, preventing your microwave from turning it into leather, mush or stone – depending on what you’re actually cooking. Anyone who has ever nuked a chicken breast for more than 10 minutes will know how useful these types of sensors are in helping you not ruin a meal.
Easy To Clean
Sooner or later you’re going to have some oatmeal, eggs or pasta go “Boom” inside your microwave, leaving it look like a scene from a Danny Trejo movie. When this does happen (and we can assure you it will happen) you’ll want a microwave oven interior which is easy to clean and doesn’t react with cleaning products either. A stainless interior is the easiest to clean by far and there’s nowhere for bacteria to lodge, plus it won’t absorb any of the smells from food you’ve cooked either.
Our Top 5 Microwave Oven Reviews
Now let’s get stuck into our microwave oven reviews, highlighting the key features of each of the products in our line-up.
1) Whirlpool Countertop Microwave Oven Review
With 750-watts of cooking power and 10 individual power settings the Whirlpool WMC20005YD will make short work of the vast majority of microwaving tasks, often cooking as quickly as a comparable 1000-watt oven. This compact microwave oven has a rounded back on it so it can fit snugly into the corners of a countertop. The controls are very easy to read and equally easy to use, and with a retail price of just under $160 the Whirlpool WMC20005YD microwave is a great choice when you’re not cooking for a large number of people.
2) Panasonic NN-SN651WAZ Countertop Microwave Oven Review
This Panasonic is one of the larger, countertop style microwave ovens in our reviews, with a 2.2 cu. ft. capacity and 1250-watts of cooking power. This microwave has 10 different power settings, a turbo defrost mode and also has 5 separate multi-stage cooking options. The controls are the usual keypad type with shortcut keys for things like popcorn and your food is cooked evenly on the internal turntable. The Inverter technology also allows for food to cook evenly all the way through, without getting overcooked on the outside first and it also features a multi-lingual menu function too. You can get a Panasonic NN-SN651WAZ microwave oven online now for a little over $150.
3) Kenmore 70913 Countertop Microwave Oven Review
This is one of the more functional microwave ovens in our round-up because it has a number of shortcut keys which are obviously designed around regular household use. Although the capacity of this microwave is just 0.9cu. ft. its 900-watts of cooking power should be more than enough for all but the largest of families. The Kenmore 70913 countertop microwave retails online for just under $149.
4) Panasonic NN-SD775S Microwave Oven Review
This Panasonic is pretty large and pretty powerful, with a combination of a 15-inch turntable being big enough to accept the vast majority of cookware, and then you have a full 1250-watts of cooking power, which is enough for even the largest of meals. The 1.6 cu. ft. capacity is slightly smaller than its cousin the Panasonic NN-SD775S, but still more than adequate for most cooking tasks. This microwave also has 10 different power levels, a popcorn key and retails for less than $145 at the time of writing.
5) Sharp R1874T 850W Over-the-Range Convection Microwave Oven Review
If you prefer to not have your microwave oven taking up space on your countertop then you could always choose an over-the-range model like the Sharp 850-watt featured here. This microwave has recirculating, horizontal and vertical venting options and also features 10 separate cooking power levels. You can get this Sharp microwave oven for just under $220 online.
You should now have more than enough information to help you make the most informed possible choice when buying a new microwave oven, so hopefully you’ve enjoyed our article and our reviews of microwave ovens too of course!