Whether you are buying a microwave for the first time or replacing an existing one, there are a few basic questions to ask yourself before you start searching. Once you have the answers to these, your search will be simplified and you will have a higher chance of getting a microwave that fits your kitchen, your cooking style and your way of life!
Where Will Your New Microwave Be?
In the kitchen…obviously…but where? If you are having your kitchen remodelled, you may like to consider an ‘Over The Range’ or ‘Built In’ model. Both of these are discussed in detail later in the article.
If you wish to have a straightforward ‘Countertop’ microwave there are a few points to consider:
- Measure the space on the countertop where you would like your microwave to sit. Don’t forget height, if there are wall cupboards and depth.
- Ensure that there will be room for the door of the microwave to be fully opened.
- If possible, ensure that there is adequate space in front of the microwave so that hot food can be placed straight onto the counter.
What Will You Use It For?
Many people who buy a microwave start out thinking that they will use it for a variety of cooking uses and then find that they only use it to heat up forgotten mugs of coffee or defrosting the meat that they forgot to take out of the freezer! If this applies to you, be realistic and just get a basic microwave that will meet these needs.
If you already use your existing microwave for cooking, or wish to do so, measure the dimensions of your favourite cookware and make sure that
- Your new microwave will house it adequately and allow it to rotate, if applicable to your new model.
If you will be using your microwave frequently, decide whether you need the following functions as they can affect the price:
- Controls, settings and buttons for specific foodstuffs or food groups.
- Automatic Defrost functions
- Easy cleanup – for example, a removable turntable, plate, tray or rack.
I Don’t Understand the Wattage…
The wattage is simply the power of your microwave. The higher the watts, the faster the food will cook. Some older models of microwave didn’t have their wattage specified, so to find out the wattage of an existing microwave, perform the following exercise:
Put 8 ounces of water into a microwave safe jug and put it into the microwave on high power. Time how long it takes for the water to come to the boil.
- If it takes less than 2 minutes your microwave is between 850 and 1000 watts.
- If it takes 2 – 3 minutes, your microwave is between 650 and 850 watts.
- If it takes 3 – 4 minutes, your microwave is between 400 and 650 watts.
Knowing the wattage of your ‘old’ microwave will help you to make the transition to your new one. For example, if you never found your old one powerful enough, just buy a higher wattage.
Now that you know what size and wattage you require, let’s take a look at the types of microwave available.
These are free-standing and can sit in any area of your kitchen as long as there is a power source nearby. This style is the least expensive and also offers the most variety of sizes and power.
The internal size (often referred to as capacity) of these microwaves can range from half a cubic foot to two cubic feet. Externally, they can vary in size but a larger unit may be as much as two feet wide, 14 inches high and 18.5 inches deep. This can take up quite a lot of space on your worktop – especially depth wise, so be sure to check the external dimensions of the model you are interested in and then check them against your own space. It can help to make a paper ‘template’ of the microwave size and lay it on the counter to help you visualise the space usage.
Their wattage, or power usually starts at around 600 watts and can go as high as 1300 watts.
If space is going to be an issue, look for a countertop model that gives you the option to mount it under a wall cupboard. This is invaluable in freeing up counter space and is safe because it gives you some work area to put a hot dish down, when you lift it out of the microwave.
Pricewise, these can start at well under $100 but don’t forget that you get what you pay for, so try not to be tempted by a bargain unless it fits your needs. If it does…go for it!
Overall, the biggest quest with these models is to find one that takes up the minimum amount of space but is big enough to meet your cooking requirements.
These are the same as countertop microwaves but they have the added advantage of getting rid of steam, smoke and cooking smells via their own integral ventilation system. They do this by being professionally installed over your existing cooker and have their own hood.
They are generally slightly bigger than ordinary countertop microwaves, usually starting at around .8 of a cubic foot internally (and 800 watts). However, they are sometimes not as deep, so check the measurements carefully, especially if you want to continue using a favorite piece of cookware in one.
These start at around $250 but don’t forget that you may need to pay a professional to install it, so if you are considering one, get some quotes before deciding.
If you have a bijou apartment or little countertop space, then you may like to consider a built-in microwave. These can be installed into a cupboard or into an alcove or space created in the wall.
Their dimensions and power are similar to the over-the-range microwaves but they can be more pricey, due to the cost of a more complicated professional installation.
What is Convection Cooking?
Some microwaves have a convection cooking option. Unlike a standard microwave, this option circulates air around the food, which cooks it more quickly and also browns and crisps it.
This is a nice feature to have if you use your microwave for a lot of cooking but if you only use it for warming or defrosting you probably wouldn’t make the most of it. Another thing that may put you off is the price. A Convection Microwaves is costly and can set you back around $1500.
When you’re trying to choose a microwave, you may find the extra features confusing. Here’s a guide to what they are and what they do. They are all useful but the more features, the higher the price, so decide carefully if you would need them before buying.
This feature lets you program two different cooking times and power levels for one dish. This means that you can start a dish off on one power, for your desired length of time and then it will finish cooking on your second choice of time and power. This gives you a lot of control, allows you to actually cook rather than simply reheat and gives you the freedom to cook more complicated meals.
This is a very useful feature – especially if you are prone to forgetting to take items out of the freezer in time! Automatic Defrost automatically calculates the level of power and the defrost time for the item and ensures that it is properly defrosted and ready to cook.
These keys are factory set to automatically cook certain foods at the press of one button. They are great for items like pizza or popcorn and children love them! As a general rule, the more expensive the model of microwave, the more convenience keys it will have.
This clever feature continually assesses the moisture level in food as it cooks and then automatically changes the level of power and the cooking time to ensure that the food is properly cooked.
This one is self-explanatory and very useful if you have small children as it stops them from switching on the microwave.
This feature is useful in three ways.
- Food cooked on a turntable is continuously rotated to make sure it is heated evenly.
- The turntable or tray is usually removable to make cleanup easy.
- If you wish to place a bigger dish into the microwave, remove the tray or turntable and then cook in short bursts and manually turn the dish.
- If you’re still not sure which model will be best for you, get a book on Microwave Cookery (or borrow one from the Library). See which types of meal you may be likely to cook and what microwave features you would need.
- Have a good look on the internet before ordering as there are bargains to be had!