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Microwave Buying Guide: Features, Types, and FAQs (2022)

Microwave ovens are essential kitchen items that heat food quickly and thoroughly. Use this comprehensive microwave buyer’s guide to make an informed purchasing decision.

woman using a microwave pressing buttons Adobe Stock

In This Guide: Types of Microwaves | Key Features | How Much Should You Spend on a Microwave? | The Most Trusted Microwave Brands | Frequently Asked Questions About Microwaves | Other Kitchen Appliances to Consider

Microwaves provide a quick way to heat food without using a conventional oven or toaster oven. Not only are microwaves used to reheat leftover food or items that have gotten cold after sitting out for too long, but many frozen food dishes are meant to be cooked in a microwave. Modern microwave ovens also have several helpful cooking functions, making them a must in any kitchen.

With a wide range of sizes, designs, and features available, finding the best microwave can take time and effort. To help you find the best microwave, the This Old House Reviews Team created this buying guide to give you all the information you need before making a purchase.


Types of Microwaves

When purchasing a microwave, the best place to start is to decide which type is best for your kitchen setup. There are three main types of microwaves.

Built-In Microwaves

Built-in microwaves reside within a recessed wall cavity or cabinet. They can also be installed underneath a countertop as a microwave drawer. Built-in microwaves help create a seamless look in your kitchen but typically have a higher price point than other microwave types.

Built-in microwaves can also be particularly challenging to install, especially if you didn’t previously have one. These units range in wattage from around 900 watts to 1,100 or more watts.

Countertop Microwaves

Countertop microwaves are small, portable devices you plug into a wall outlet and keep on your counter. They range in size from 700 watts for a small countertop microwave to more than 1,200 watts for a large microwave and have many of the same functions as other model types.

Small microwaves may be a good option for renters, but countertop models also may take up valuable counter space, which can be an issue for those with small kitchens.

Over-the-Range Microwaves

Over-the-range microwaves, or OTR for short, are designed to be mounted over your stove, eliminating the device from taking up any counter space and creating a stylish look in your kitchen. They can also help reduce odors as you cook but may not be as effective as a range hood or exhaust fan.

OTR microwaves typically max out at about 1,100 watts and may be challenging to install since they need to fit precisely above your cooktop.


Key Features

Depending on their type, brand, and size, microwaves may include several valuable features to make heating food easier. Here are some critical factors to look out for when researching microwave ovens.

Capacity

The capacity of a microwave, usually measured in cubic feet, refers to how much interior space the model has. If your microwave has a high capacity, it will allow you to cook larger food items but may cost more. Most microwaves have a capacity of 1 cubic foot to 2 cubic feet.

Child Locks

Some microwaves include child-proof locks that stop curious kids from opening the door and possibly hurting themselves by handling hot food. This may be particularly relevant for countertop microwaves that are more easily accessible for young children.

Convection Cooking

You may also be interested in convection microwaves, which have settings that allow you to bake and roast foods in addition to heating them. These microwaves use a heating element and a fan to distribute heat evenly onto your food as it cooks.

Cooking Power

The higher the microwave wattage is on your device, the faster it will heat food. However, microwaves with lower wattage will typically have a cheaper price point. When heating food, it’s important to be aware of the wattage of your microwave and adjust your cooking time accordingly. If your microwave has a low wattage, such as 700 or 800 watts, you may need to leave food in longer than is suggested in the cooking directions.

Quick Keys

Quick-cook keys allow you to set specific cooking times with the touch of a button. Most microwaves with quick keys have shortcuts that allow for 30 seconds and minute-by-minute intervals. Some models also allow you to add 30 seconds or a minute to an existing cooking setting, ensuring the power level won’t adjust when adding time to food that’s not fully warm.

Racks

Some microwaves include removable racks that allow you to cook multiple food items simultaneously. Included racks are typically made with wire and may also be helpful for convection cooking. However, they will limit the overall space you have in your microwave and can typically only fit small items.

Sensors

A few popular microwave models use sensor cooking, which automatically adjusts cooking times and power levels based on the steam emitted from the food. This function helps take the guesswork out of how long to heat your food, preventing you from over or undercooking it.

Shortcut Keys

Many modern microwaves also have shortcut keys designed for cooking specific food items. Some standard shortcut keys include popcorn, pizza, frozen vegetables, potatoes and beverages, and cooking settings such as defrosting and steaming.

Sound Control

Microwave beepers can help let you know when your food is finished cooking, but it can get annoying if it’s constantly beeping while you’re doing other things and aren’t ready to take it out yet. Many microwaves can toggle the beeping noise on and off, so you decide if it’s necessary for you.

Turntables

Most microwaves include turntables or trays that hold your food as it cooks. These tables rotate as the food cooks, allowing heat to distribute evenly. While most microwaves feature round turntables, some have rectangular trays that slide from side to side, which may be a better option for large food items.


How Much Should You Spend on a Microwave?

Many factors determine how much you will spend on a new microwave, including its type, brand, capacity, and special microwave features. You can find small countertop microwaves for $50 or less, but they will lack size and power. Most countertop models will fall in the $100 to $300 range depending on the above factors.

OTR microwaves can be found for as little as around $200 but typically exceed $350. Built-in models are usually the most expensive, ranging from $400 on the low end to $1,000 or more for the most high-end models.

When purchasing a microwave, start by figuring out your overall budget and then compare various models to see what will give you the most bang for your buck.

Untitled

Type of Microwave Estimated Price
Type of Microwave Estimated Price
Small $50–$600
Over-the-Range $150–$500
Built-In $300–$1,000


The Most Trusted Microwave Brands

Here are some of the most well-known and trusted brands to look out for when purchasing a microwave.

  • Amana
  • Amazon Basics
  • Black & Decker
  • Bosch
  • Breville
  • Electrolux
  • Farberware
  • Frigidaire
  • GE
  • Haier
  • Hamilton Beach
  • Hotpoint
  • Kenmore
  • KitchenAid
  • LG
  • Magic Chef
  • Maytag
  • Panasonic
  • Samsung
  • Sharp
  • Whirlpool

Frequently Asked Questions About Microwaves

Is microwaving food safe?

If used correctly, microwaving food is perfectly safe. However, if cooking meats or other foods with potentially harmful effects when eaten raw, you should test the food with a meat thermometer to ensure there aren’t any cold spots that weren’t cooked thoroughly in the microwave.

How do I choose the right microwave?

To choose the best microwave for your needs, you should consider the size, capacity and features that work best for your current kitchen setup and budget. You should also consider how frequently you think you will use the microwave and what foods you plan on cooking. For example, if you only expect to reheat leftovers and other small items in a microwave, you can skip some features that may drive up the price, such as a higher wattage or extra cooking racks.

Is 1100 watts good for a microwave?

A 1,100-watt microwave should be powerful enough to handle most cooking needs and can even be used commercially. Microwaves at 1,100 watts or higher will heat your food quickly and reduce the cooking time.

Is it safe to microwave paper?

Some types of paper are suitable for the microwave. For example, paper towels and parchment paper are safe to place inside a microwave. However, you should avoid putting newspapers and brown bags in the microwave due to their toxicity and flammability.

How do you clean a microwave?

If you have a spill in your microwave, clean it as soon as possible so it does not harden or become sticky. Regularly cleaning your microwave is also recommended to keep it in pristine condition. Use a solution of water and vinegar in a microwave-safe bowl for several minutes, and then wipe the microwave down with a paper towel will help clear out any excess food stains. You should also clean your turntable with warm water and a sponge or put it in the dishwasher if it is dishwasher-safe.

How big should your microwave be?

Consider how much space you have to work with when buying a microwave to determine which microwave size is best for you. Many mid-sized microwaves have around 20 inches of width, while some compact models are smaller, making them a good choice for those with limited space. The height of your microwave may also be a factor if they are in danger of hitting the bottom of your kitchen cabinetry. Measure how much space you have to work with before purchasing.


Other Kitchen Appliances to Consider

The Best 4-Slice Toasters
The Best Air Fryers
The Best Air Fryer Toaster Ovens
The Best Blenders
The Best Bread Makers
The Best Coffee Makers
The Best Cookware Sets
The Best Cutting Boards
The Best Dehydrators
The Best Dish Racks
The Best Food Processors
The Best Mini Fridges
The Best Refrigerators
The Best Slow Cookers
The Best Toasters
The Best Toaster Ovens

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