A microwave oven is one of the most essential appliances in any modern kitchen. With its ability to quickly heat, cook, and defrost foods, a microwave saves time and makes meal preparation easy. Choosing the right microwave for your needs and usage can make a big difference in your cooking experience. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to find the ideal microwave oven for your home.
What To Consider When Buying a Microwave
Several factors go into selecting the perfect microwave for your kitchen. Keep these key features in mind while shopping:
Size and Capacity
Consider the dimensions of the microwave and interior capacity. Microwaves typically range from 0.5 cubic feet to over 2.0 cubic feet. The right size depends on your available counter space and how much food you’ll be cooking at once. If you regularly cook for a family, look for a microwave with at least 1.5 cubic feet capacity.
A microwave’s power determines how quickly and thoroughly it cooks. Power levels are measured in watts, usually between 500-1200 watts. Higher wattage means faster cooking times. Look for a minimum of 900 watts for efficient heating and quick cooking.
Controls and Settings
Look for intuitive and easy-to-use control panels with options like one-touch settings, mute button, multi-stage cooking, and child lock. Make sure the microwave has sensors that automatically adjust time and power as food cooks.
Added features like turntables for even cooking, interior lighting, removable turntables for easy cleaning, and racks for multi-level cooking can optimize functionality. Consider options like convection cooking and grilling if you want microwave oven and oven hybrid.
Microwave prices range widely from $40 on the very low end to $1000+ for high-end models. In general, expect to spend $100-300 for a quality microwave with the power and size to meet basic everyday needs. High-end options with extra features and capacity will cost more.
Types of Microwave Ovens
Microwave ovens fall into three main categories:
Solo microwaves are the most common and affordable type. They use microwave technology solely to heat and cook food. Solo models have basic features and options. They are a good choice for basic reheating and cooking tasks.
Grill microwaves have an internal heating element that allows the appliance to also grill and brown foods like a normal oven. The combo of grilling and microwave cooking provides versatility. Grill microwaves are a great option for everything from crisping pizza to roasting vegetables.
Convection microwaves have a convection fan and heating element that allows for true baking and roasting. The convection setting circulates hot air like a traditional oven. Convection microwaves can bake cakes, cookies, and more. They are the best choice for replacing both a microwave and oven.
Top Microwave Oven Brands
Stick to reputable brands when buying a microwave for dependable quality and performance. Here are some of the leading microwave companies:
- GE: A trusted American appliance brand, GE makes a variety of microwaves from budget-friendly to high-end. Their models are known for reliability, intuitive controls, and consistent cooking.
- Panasonic: One of the pioneering brands in microwave technology, Panasonic offers an extensive microwave lineup with innovative features like inverter technology for precision cooking.
- LG: LG is a leader in digital touchpad interfaces and smart microwaves with wireless connectivity and high-tech features. Their microwaves deliver power and versatility.
- Samsung: Samsung offers premium microwave ovens focusing on elegant, user-friendly designs and specialized cooking abilities like air frying and convection.
- Sharp: Sharp is renowned for Carousel microwave ovens with advanced Japanese technology for even heating and multi-stage cooking programs.
- Breville/Cuisinart: Breville’s countertop appliance experience translates to well-designed, versatile microwaves sold under the Cuisinart brand name.
Sticking with these major brands generally means you can expect durability, quality construction, and useful features from your microwave purchase. Be sure to compare warranties – many quality microwaves come with at least a one year warranty.
Key Microwave Features To Evaluate
Here are some of the most helpful microwave features and settings to look for:
Inverter microwaves use continuous lower power rather than pulsating higher wattage to cook food more evenly with less risk of over- or under-cooking. For the best cooking results, choose an inverter microwave.
Microwaves with a humidity sensor automatically detect when food is cooked through and turn off heating. This prevents overcooking and eliminates guesswork.
Pre-Programmed Cook Cycles
Preset one-touch cook cycles for common foods like baked potatoes, frozen pizza, popcorn, beverages, and reheating make cooking simple. Just push a button and the microwave does the work.
This allows you to program a sequence of microwave and grill heating back-to-back for more complex recipes. You can customize exactly how food cooks.
Preset defrosting programs based on food type and weight make quick work of safely thawing frozen items. Sensory defrost even detects doneness.
Having a light inside the microwave lets you monitor cooking progress without repeatedly opening the door. LED interior lighting offers excellent visibility.
A mute option lets you silence beeping alarms and alerts, which is handy when you don’t want to disturb others in your household.
Must-Have Microwave Safety Features
In addition to cooking functionality, be sure to consider these important safety features when selecting a new microwave:
- Child lock to prevent little hands from operating the oven
- Safety interlock system that automatically turns the microwave off when the door is opened
- Double-strength tempered glass window and door that won’t shatter
- Non-slip base for stability
- External housing and interior walls that stay cool to the touch while cooking
- UL certified to meet safety standards for electrical products
- Compliance with FDA regulations on microwave energy emissions
Review all safety certifications and don’t compromise protection for lower cost when buying your microwave.
Top Rated Microwave Ovens
Here is a selection of some of the top-performing and best-reviewed microwave options across a range of styles and price points.
Overall Best Microwave: Panasonic GENIUS Prestige
- 1250 watts of high density power for fast, even cooking
- Inverter precision technology Excellent sensor cooking
- Easy pre-programmed menus One-touch genius sensor reheat and defrost
- 27 liter capacity with turntable
- Sleek modern aesthetics with stainless steel finish
Best Budget Microwave: BLACK+DECKER EM030LCW
- 700 watts of power
- 0.9 cubic feet capacity
- Manual knob controls for time and power Easy one-touch cooking functions
- Budget-friendly price under $60
- Small footprint perfect for apartments & dorms
Best Countertop Microwave: Toshiba EM131A5C-BS
- 1100 watts for efficient reheating and cooking
- Pre-set menu options for popcorn, pizza, potato, beverages, and more
- Classic, easy-to-use control knobs
- Mute function, eco mode, and child safety lock
- 1.2 cubic ft. capacity stainless steel compact design
Best Built-In Microwave: GE JVM3160RFSS
- 1.6 cubic feet capacity with 10 power levels
- 300 CFM ventilation system to eliminate steam and odors
- Interactive color touch controls for easy programming
- Glass turntable and interior light
- Attractive fingerprint resistant stainless steel built-in style
Best Smart Microwave: GE Appliances JES2785SHSS
- Works with Alexa and Google Home for voice control
- Scan-to-cook technology customizes settings by barcode
- Inverter continuous cooking for even results
- Large 2.1 cu. ft. capacity with turntable
- Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity
How To Choose the Right Microwave Wattage
One of the key factors in shopping for a microwave oven is selecting the right wattage for your cooking needs. Here are some microwave wattage guidelines:
500-700 watts – This lower wattage is suitable for reheating, softening, and simmering tasks. Models in this range work well for office and dorm use.
750-900 watts – Middle-power microwaves can handle most basic cooking and reheating jobs. This is the minimum for regular family meal preparation.
1000-1200 watts – Higher wattages provide fast cooking times and ability to boil water quickly. Look for 1000+ watts if you cook large portions or use the microwave heavily.
1200+ watts – Extra-powerful commercial grade microwaves are ideal for very frequent use and cooking large batches. Often found in restaurants.
Higher wattage microwaves do cost more, but they also cook faster and offer better performance when cooking foods with complex moisture levels like meats. Avoid extremely cheap ultra low wattage models that won’t adequately heat or may cook unevenly. For most homes, a microwave oven with a minimum of 900-1000 watts delivers the right balance of power and price.
Installation Tips When Buying a New Microwave
Proper installation helps your microwave function at peak performance and prevents potential hazards. Follow these tips when setting up a new over-the-range or countertop microwave:
- Review installation manual and follow all directions carefully
- Make sure electrical outlet provides appropriate power supply
- Allow ample ventilation space above and around the unit
- Use wall studs or solid mounting surface to securely attach
- Position at proper height for ergonomics and visibility
- Connect venting outside to eliminate steam and fumes
- Test safety features like door alignment and auto shut-off
- Use ground fault interrupter (GFI) outlet for safety near water sources
- Keep microwave operating manual handy for future reference
Taking time to correctly install your microwave prevents accidents, damage, and maintenance issues in the long run. Always call in professional help if you are uncomfortable with the electrical or installation requirements.
Microwave Maintenance Tips
To keep your microwave running safely and effectively for years to come, make microwave care and upkeep part of your routine:
- Keep it clean: Wipe down the interior and exterior regularly to prevent grease buildup and staining. Use microwave-safe cleaners and degreasers.
- Replace accessories: Swap out charred and worn turntables, racks, and trays. Never use a damaged turntable.
- Check door alignment: Make sure door seals properly to prevent energy leaks. Replace worn door seals if needed.
- Vent properly: Keep ventilation ports clear and use vent hoods to maintain good airflow. Clean ventilation filters regularly.
- Test functions: Ensure preset cook modes, timers, and sensors continue operating properly. Recalibrate as needed.
- Inspect for damage: Check that cabinet, venting, turntable, and door remain undamaged. Make any necessary repairs immediately.
With regular care and maintenance, a high-quality microwave can serve your kitchen reliably for 10 years or longer. Be diligent about upkeep and servicing.
Troubleshooting Common Microwave Problems
Microwaves are relatively simple appliances, but occasional issues can arise. Here are some quick troubleshooting tips for common microwave oven problems:
Microwave won’t turn on:
- Check electrical connections, breakers, and outlets
- Test electrical outlet with another device
- Reset or replace blown internal fuse if needed
Turntable won’t spin:
- Inspect rollers and turntable couplings for damage
- Test turntable motor and replace if faulty
- Ensure turntable is properly aligned on center hub
- Verify food is correctly positioned and spaced
- Replace old turntable if worn
- Check microwave interior for hot and cold spots
Microwave leaks energy:
- Ensure door aligns properly when closed
- Replace faulty door seal and safety interlocks
- Call service for microwave energy leak repair
Buttons not responding:
- Clean touchpad controls
- Check for loose keypad connectors
- Reset control panel or replace if faulty
Microwave lights don’t work:
- Replace old light bulbs with correct wattage
- Verify light bulb connections are secure
- Reset or replace faulty interior light fixture
For any electrical safety concerns or complex repairs, contact qualified microwave service technicians. Don’t attempt hazardous DIY repairs.
FAQs About Microwave Usage
How do you know if a microwave is leaking radiation?
Contact microwave radiation is very unlikely from a properly maintained unit. Signs of abnormal energy leaks include interference with WiFi and TV, unusual noises, singed food, and uncomfortable warmth outside the oven. Immediately stop using a microwave if leaks are suspected.
Can you run a microwave empty?
It’s not recommended. Microwaves need food or liquid inside to absorb the energy waves. Without anything to absorb the microwaves, they can reflect back and potentially damage the magnetron tube. Always keep a microwave cup of water inside if not actively cooking.
Is aluminum foil safe in a microwave?
No. Metals like aluminum foil reflect microwaves instead of absorbing them, leading to arcing and potential fires. Never put metal objects like foil, utensils, or twist ties in the microwave. Use microwave-safe plastic wraps or lids instead.
What happens if you microwave eggs?
Microwaving eggs can make them explode! The rapid heating creates steam which expands the eggs with intense pressure. Scrambled eggs and omelets are fine, but never microwave eggs in the shell or boil eggs in the microwave.
Can you microwave styrofoam or plastic containers?
It depends. Heat-stable containers labeled “microwave safe” are fine. Regular plastics and styrofoam can melt, warp, or leak chemicals when microwaved. Use glass, ceramic, or other microwave-safe vessels whenever possible. Never microwave plastics with BPA.
Cooking Tips and Tricks for Microwave Mastery
With the right techniques, a microwave can cook delicious family meals, snacks, and more. Follow these pro tips:
- Stir and rotate food midway through microwaving for more even heating. Foods like casseroles and soups heat better when stirred.
- Leave standing time after microwaving dense foods like baked potatoes and lasagna to allow heat to fully distribute.
- Use lidded microwave-safe containers to hold in steam and speed up cooking. Vent lids to prevent splattering.
- Elevate food on a microwave-safe stand or inverted bowl to promote airflow and prevent sogginess.
- Wrap foods like fish, vegetables, and baked potatoes in wax or parchment paper to steam cook to perfection.
- Use the 30% rule for adjusting bulk recipe cook times in a microwave. Reduce conventional oven time by 30% for microwave cooking.
- Arrange food items evenly on the outer edge of turntable to promote circular microwave energy flow.
- Flip and rotate tall food items like cups of soup halfway through heating to cook bottom and top evenly.
With the right microwave cooking techniques, you can achieve delicious results rivaling conventional ovens. A little trial and error helps determine optimal times and methods for your favorite microwaveable foods.
Recommended Microwavable & Microwave-Safe Items
Many household foods and kitchen staples can be cooked in the microwave safely and deliciously. Here are some of the top microwave-safe items to stock up on:
- Chicken breasts, legs, wings, ground chicken
- Pork chops, tenderloin
- Fish fillets, seafood
- Sliced deli meats
- Beef roast, stew meat
- Bacon, sausage
- Hot dogs
Fruits & Vegetables:
- Fresh or frozen vegetables
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes
- Corn on the cob
- Apples, pears, fruit compotes
- Pumpkins, squash
- Beets, Brussels sprouts
- Shredded cheese
- Cream cheese
- Milk, hot chocolate
Grains, Beans & Legumes:
- White or brown rice
- Quinoa, barley, oats
- Pasta, mac and cheese
- Dried or canned beans
- Popcorn kernels
- Cakes, muffins
- Dinner rolls
- Pie crusts and fillings
- Pizza dough, soft pretzels
- Puff pastry
With the right microwave-safe cookware and proper heating technique, you can prepare almost any ingredient or dish quickly and easily in the microwave. Get creative!
Common Microwave Mistakes to Avoid
It’s easy to make simple mistakes that ruin your microwave cooking results. Here are some common errors to be aware of:
- Not covering containers, leading to splatters
- Using wrong power level or cook times
- Not allowing standing or resting time
- Placing thick or dense foods on outskirts
- Not stirring or turning foods for even cooking
- Keeping appliances too close to venting
- Using metal containers or aluminum foil
- Operating with dirty interior and filter
- Putting sealed jars and air-tight containers in
- Not checking internal temperatures with thermometer
- Not reading recipe microwave instructions fully
- Assuming all dish types can go directly in microwave
Be mindful when using your microwave, follow best practices, and learn from any mistakes. With a little care and common sense, you can master microwave cooking.
Choosing the ideal microwave oven equipped with the right features and capabilities makes a big difference in everyday cooking. Evaluate size, power, settings, and special functions to select the appliance