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Microwave Buying Guide: Features & Types

Microwave in the kitchen.

Microwave ovens have become indispensable appliances in today's fast-paced culinary environment, offering a convenient and efficient alternative to traditional cooking methods. Their ability to heat meals rapidly and evenly is a testament to the sophistication of modern food technology. This elaborate guide, with insights into products expertly assembled by National Assemblers, aims to provide a thorough understanding of microwave ovens, assisting you in choosing a model that aligns with your specific culinary requirements and preferences. Additionally, if you're considering a kitchen update to complement your new microwave, we offer a comprehensive buyer's guide for Home Depot countertops, ensuring you make an informed decision that enhances your space and cooking experience.

Using a microwave.

The Versatility and Functionality of Microwave Ovens

Microwave ovens have transcended their original purpose of merely reheating leftovers or warming up meals that have cooled down. They are now pivotal in the preparation of a plethora of frozen dishes, specifically engineered for microwave cooking. The evolution of microwave technology has introduced a variety of cooking functions to these appliances, cementing their status as a fundamental component of any contemporary kitchen.

Microwave on the kitchen counter.

Navigating the Microwave Marketplace

The current microwave market presents a vast array of choices in terms of size, design, and functionality, which can make selecting the perfect microwave a daunting task. Our dedicated buying guide, meticulously compiled by the This Old House Reviews Team, aims to simplify this process by offering comprehensive insights and advice, enabling you to make an educated decision when investing in a new microwave.

Over the range microwave.

Understanding Microwave Varieties

Embarking on the journey of purchasing a microwave begins with identifying the most suitable type for your kitchen's design and spatial configuration. Microwaves are broadly categorized into three primary types:

Built-In Microwaves

Integrated into the kitchen's architecture, built-in microwaves are nestled within a designated wall space or cabinet. They are also available as microwave drawers that can be installed beneath a countertop. While these models contribute to a sleek and unobtrusive kitchen aesthetic, they are generally at the higher end of the pricing spectrum.

FRIGIDAIRE Stainless Steel 1100-Watt Built-In Microwave
FRIGIDAIRE Stainless Steel 1100-Watt Built-In Microwave

The installation of built-in microwaves may present a challenge, especially in kitchens not originally designed to accommodate them. These units vary in power, typically ranging from 900 to over 1,100 watts.

Model Shown: FRIGIDAIRE Stainless Steel 1100-Watt Built-In Microwave

Key Features:

  • Sensor Cooking: Automatically adjusts power levels and cooking times to cook a variety of items
  • Effortless Reheat: Reheat almost anything with the touch of a button
  • Over 30 Settings: Versatile options including chicken nuggets and snacks
  • One-Touch Options: Easy-to-use one-touch buttons for popcorn, adding 30 seconds, and more

Countertop Microwaves

Countertop microwaves are the epitome of convenience and portability, simply requiring a connection to a wall outlet. Their wattage can span from 700 for compact models to over 1,200 for larger units. Despite their versatility, these microwaves may occupy precious counter space, which is a consideration for those with smaller kitchen areas.

LG NeoChef Countertop Microwave.
LG NeoChef Countertop Microwave

For individuals such as renters who may prefer a non-permanent option, small countertop microwaves are ideal. However, for those with limited kitchen space, the size of the microwave could be a deciding factor.

Model Shown: LG NeoChef Countertop Microwave

Key Features:

  • Smart Inverter Technology: Ensures precise cooking power to reheat and defrost a wide range of foods
  • SmoothTouch Glass Touch + Keypad: Provides easy operation with a sleek design
  • NeoChef Hexagonal Stabilizer Ring: Offers six wheels for the turntable to rest upon instead of just three for added stability
  • EasyClean Interior: Assists with easy cleanup without the use of harsh chemicals

Over-the-Range Microwaves (OTR)

OTR microwaves are designed to be mounted above the stove, offering a space-saving and aesthetically pleasing solution. They double as a means to ventilate cooking odors, although they may not perform as efficiently as dedicated range hoods or exhaust fans.

GE Over-the-Range Microwave
GE Over-the-Range Microwave

OTR microwaves generally have a maximum wattage of around 1,100 and require precise installation to align correctly above the stove.

Model Shown: GE Over-the-Range Microwave

Key Features:

  • Venting System: 300-CFM venting system to remove smoke, steam and odors
  • Convenience Cooking Controls: Allows for easy operation for commonly microwaved foods
  • Turntable: Rotates food throughout the cycle for even cooking
  • Two-Speed, 300-CFM Venting System: Removes smoke, steam and odors efficiently

Deciphering Key Microwave Features

Microwaves, regardless of their specific type, brand, or dimensions, often come equipped with a wide array of innovative and user-friendly features that significantly facilitate and enhance the overall cooking process, thereby transforming everyday culinary tasks into a seamless, efficient, and more enjoyable experience.

Microwave features.

Here's a rundown of the essential features to consider:

  • Capacity: Measured in cubic feet, the microwave's capacity is indicative of the interior space available for cooking. A larger capacity enables the accommodation of bigger food items, but this may also reflect in the cost. Capacities generally range from 1 to 2 cubic feet.
  • Child Safety Locks: Certain models are equipped with child safety mechanisms to prevent children from opening the microwave, which is particularly relevant for easily accessible countertop units.
  • Convection Cooking: Convection microwaves stand out with their ability to bake and roast, using a heating element and fan for even heat distribution.
  • Cooking Power: A microwave's wattage influences the speed at which it heats food. Lower wattage microwaves tend to be more affordable, but may require longer cooking times.
  • Quick Keys: These allow for convenient setting of cooking times with a single touch, often including options for adding 30 seconds or a minute to the current setting without altering the power level.
  • Racks: Some models include wire racks, beneficial for cooking multiple items or for convection cooking, though they may restrict space for larger dishes.
  • Sensors: Advanced sensor cooking options adjust time and power based on the steam released by the food, simplifying the heating process.
  • Shortcut Keys: Designed for specific foods like popcorn or frozen vegetables, these keys make selecting the appropriate cooking setting straightforward.
  • Sound Control: The ability to mute the beeping alerts of the microwave can be a convenient feature for those who prefer a quieter kitchen environment.
  • Turntables: Most microwaves feature turntables that rotate food for even

  • Defrost Functions: Many microwaves come with defrost settings that help to thaw food without cooking it, which is especially useful for meat and poultry.
  • Variable Power Controls: This feature allows you to change the cooking power level, which is essential for cooking more delicate foods that don't require full power.
  • Auto-Cook Menus: Auto-cook options provide pre-set programs for cooking common foods, making it easy to prepare meals with just a few button presses.
  • LED Displays: A clear, easy-to-read display is crucial for setting the timer and cooking modes, and for checking the time remaining on your microwave's cycle.
  • Energy Saving Modes: Some microwaves come with an eco-mode or energy-saving feature that minimizes power usage when the microwave is not actively cooking.
  • Removable Racks: These allow you to cook multiple dishes at once, maximizing the space and functionality of your microwave. They're particularly handy for parties or large family meals.
  • Safety Features: Beyond child locks, look for safety features such as automatic shutoff if the microwave detects overheating, ensuring peace of mind.
  • Reliability and Warranty: It's important to consider the manufacturer's warranty and the reputation of the brand for reliability to ensure you're getting a quality product that will last.

When selecting your next microwave, consider how these features align with your cooking habits and kitchen needs to find the perfect match. Whether you're an avid cook who will benefit from advanced settings or someone who needs a simple machine for basic reheating, there's a microwave out there for you.

Deciding Your Microwave Budget

The investment in a new microwave will vary depending on several factors, such as the appliance's type, brand, size, and the range of features it offers. If you're considering a compact countertop microwave, prices start as low as $50, but keep in mind that these models may offer less cooking space and reduced power capabilities. For more robust countertop models, you can expect to spend between $100 to $300, depending on their specifications and advanced features.

Microwave in the kitchen.

Over-the-range (OTR) microwaves provide the dual benefit of space-saving and integrated ventilation systems, with prices typically starting around $200. However, for higher-end models with additional features, prices can rise above $350. If you're looking for a built-in microwave that offers a sleek integration into your kitchen cabinetry, the price points begin at approximately $400, extending upwards to $1,000 or more for premium models that boast the most advanced cooking technologies.

It's prudent to first establish your budget, then diligently compare the models available within your price range, ensuring you get the optimal blend of functionality and value.

Estimated Cost Range for Different Microwave Types

The financial outlay for a new microwave will vary widely, with compact countertop models starting as low as $50 and premium built-in units reaching upwards of $1,000, reflecting the diversity in size, power, and advanced features across types.

  • Small Countertop Microwaves: $50 - $600
  • Over-the-Range Microwaves: $150 - $500
  • Built-In Microwaves: $300 - $1,000

Trustworthy Microwave Brands to Consider

When shopping for a new microwave, it's beneficial to consider brands with a strong reputation for quality and reliability. Some of the market's most trusted brands include:

Microwave FAQs

For those navigating the nuances of microwave oven selection and use, here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions to assist in making informed decisions and getting the most out of your appliance.

Is Microwaving Food Safe?

Absolutely. When used as directed, microwaves are safe for cooking a wide range of foods. To ensure meats and other sensitive items are heated properly, use a meat thermometer to check for any undercooked areas.

How Do I Select the Ideal Microwave?

To find the microwave that best suits your needs, consider the appliance's size, capacity, and features in relation to your kitchen's layout and your cooking habits. Also, think about how often you'll use the microwave and the types of food you'll prepare. If your usage is limited to reheating small portions, you might opt for a model with fewer advanced features, which can help keep costs down.

Is A Microwave with 1100 Watts Sufficient?

Yes, a microwave rated at 1,100 watts is typically powerful enough for most domestic and even some commercial uses, providing quick and efficient heating.

Can you Microwave Paper Products?

Certain paper products, like paper towels and parchment paper, are microwave-safe. However, you should avoid microwaving newspaper and brown paper bags due to potential risks of toxicity and fire.

What's the Best Way To Clean A Microwave?

For spills, clean them up immediately before they set. For regular cleaning, microwaving a bowl of water and vinegar for a few minutes can help loosen residue, making it easier to wipe away. The turntable should be washed regularly with soapy water or placed in the dishwasher if it's dishwasher-safe.

How Big Should My Microwave Be?

The size of the microwave you need depends on the available space in your kitchen and your cooking needs. Mid-sized microwaves are typically around 20 inches wide, but smaller or compact models are available for kitchens with limited space. Make sure to measure the intended location to ensure a good fit, especially in height, to avoid obstructing kitchen cabinetry.

Microwave Tips and Tricks

Unlock the full potential of your microwave with these handy tips:

  • Distribute Food Evenly: For better heating, place food around the edge of the turntable rather than in the center.
  • Gentle Warming: Use lower power settings for melting chocolate or softening butter to avoid scorching.
  • Quick Clean: Heat a bowl of water and lemon juice to steam-clean and deodorize your microwave.
  • Prevent Water Eruptions: Avoid overheating water by setting a shorter time and place a non-metallic object in the mug.
  • Minimize Mess: Cover dishes with a microwave-safe lid or wax paper to trap steam and prevent splatters.
  • Refresh Bread: Moisten a paper towel, wrap it around stale bread, and microwave briefly to rejuvenate.
  • Space Out Items: Heat food in batches and arrange in a circle for even cooking.
  • Stir Halfway: For longer heating times, pause to stir or rotate the food for uniform warmth.
  • Careful Defrosting: Use the defrost setting and check regularly to prevent the edges from cooking while the center is still frozen.
  • Sponge Sanitation: Zap a damp sponge for 2 minutes to disinfect it.

In addition, if you want to learn even more tips and tricks for your microwave, check out this video:


By incorporating these straightforward and practical techniques into your daily microwave use, you can significantly enhance the quality of your microwave cooking, drastically cut down on the time spent cleaning up spills and splatters, and prolong the overall lifespan and functionality of your indispensable kitchen appliance.

Elevating Your Microwave Experience

As we conclude, remember that your microwave does more than just warm up meals—it's a versatile tool that can enrich your culinary activities. By utilizing the tips and tricks outlined, you not only make the most out of your microwave's capabilities, but also ensure its longevity and efficiency. Moreover, if installation or setup seems daunting, especially for more sophisticated built-in models, don't hesitate to seek professional assistance. National Assemblers is at your service, ready to assist with expert installation to ensure that your microwave is up and running smoothly, safely integrated into your kitchen space. With the right practices and support, your microwave can become an indispensable component of your daily cooking and food preparation routine.

Not to mention, our team of experts is here to assist you with your dining room furniture assembly to your BBQ grill assembly if you require. Contact us today and let us help you with your installation!

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