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How to Buy the Best Microwave

Microwaves, more accurately ‘microwave ovens’, are admittedly basic, no-frills kitchen appliances but nonetheless, necessities. Buy the wrong one, and you’ll lose valuable time in the kitchen and tarnish your taste buds. Buy the right one and you’ll enjoy better tasting food (who doesn’t love that), and other perks such as saved timed and energy (yours and the type you pay for).

When to Buy a Microwave

Microwaves generally work at peak performance for about 10 years. If yours is approaching double digits, it’s probably time to start looking for a new one. You may also consider replacing your current unit if the door or seal around the door has any defects, which may prevent the device from working its best.

Design may be another reason buy a new model. Older microwaves can all too easily age the look of a modern kitchen. Microwaves are relatively inexpensive kitchen devices, so an upgrade for aesthetics alone may be worth the money.

Factors to Consider

  • Size
    Examine the look of your current model, along with its width, depth, and height. You’ll also need to know the exact dimensions of the area where you’ll place the new microwave, and for what purposes you’ll use it most. Modern microwaves are slightly larger than models from previous generations—usually taller and deeper. Just like a refrigerator, remember you should still have room for the door to open on either side.
  • Wattage
    The higher the wattage, the faster food cooks. The normal time required for heating your food will change if you buy a model with a different wattage, which means your heating habits will have to adapt as well. Microwave wattage generally falls within the 700- to 1,200- watt range. (Pro tip: It’s a good idea to look for one with 1,000 watts or more.)
  • Models
    • Countertop microwaves sit on a counter and require ample counter space. These models usually come in smaller sizes, cost less, and require no installation, but they also tend to be less powerful than other models.
    • Over-the-range microwaves, often labeled OTR, are increasingly common in modern kitchens and are considered more up-to-date, as they tend to have more features than countertop models, (but also cost more and require professional installation.) They leave ample counter space because they are hanging from above, and often feature built-in exhaust fans.
    • Built in models are step up from over-the-range microwaves in the luxury department. They may be installed within custom cabinets or counters, and often feature oven-style, front-facing doors. These microwaves have a variety of added features and capabilities, including a range hood, which makes them better at venting than OTR models.
    • Microwave drawers provide a space saving design. These are the newest and they conveniently fit into cabinetry and open like a drawer, allowing you to mix food without removing containers. They’re space-saving and quite stylish, but do take up drawer space, require installation, and usually cost the most.
    • Convection microwaves tackle the tasks other kitchen appliances normally handle, such as steaming, browning, crisping, broiling, browning, baking, and even oil-free frying.
  • Buttons
    You can go the conservative route and buy a smaller microwave that has the few common task buttons you use most, or go the opposite way and buy a microwave with your most used buttons along with some advanced options.

    There are a growing number of ‘advanced’ features built into microwaves (just like every other electronic) but for the sake of staying on topic we’ll leave those for another post. (Pro tip: The buttons you commonly use will likely correlate with the size of the meals you are cooking and the size of microwave you need.)

  • Speciality Features
    • Shortcut keys have auto settings for certain foods, such as popcorn, as well as tasks such as defrosting. Other standard shortcut keys are 1-minute or 30-second keys that allow you to make quick time adjustments.
    • Turntables or trays inside the microwave keep food moving in order to achieve even heating. Round turntables that rotate food are the most common, but some models have a rectangular tray instead that moves side to side. Rectangular trays are great for accommodating larger containers, such as long platters.
    • Removable racks are a less common but useful feature that let you cook multiple items at once.
    • New microwaves have innovative features that help you make everything from fresh bread to yogurt.

What to Expect in the Future?

Smart kitchens are all the rage now and microwaves are just on the brim of being ‘smartified’. They’re not commercially available yet but we’re just starting to see microwaves with barcode scanners – an idea that has been tried repeatedly, but yet is to be perfected – as well as connected microwaves that let you operate them from your phone. Interestingly enough, unlike other connected devices, microwaves and Wi-Fi generally run on the same frequency, which has slowed the advancement of smart microwaves thus far.

The Bottom Line

  • Traditional microwaves should be replaced every 10 years but you may upgrade sooner for other reasons such as aesthetics and to snag the latest smart kitchen gadget.
  • Determine where your microwave will go and measure the space before you buy, leaving enough room for the door to open comfortably.
  • Stick with models that have 1,000 watts or more
  • You have a variety of models to choose from that mainly differ by where they are placed with the addition of convection microwaves which are basically super-microwaves that cover dozens of additional cooking needs.
  • It doesn’t matter how many buttons a microwave has. It matters how many buttons it has that you will actually use more than once.
  • In general, you don’t need the latest and greatest in smart microwave technology yet because smart features are so new that kinks will naturally take a few years to straighten out.

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