Microwaves are one of those appliances you really can’t live without. I’ve tried to make do without one when my tried and true microwave went on the fritz after 10 years of loyal service, and I found reheating everything on the stove to be kind of stressful. Plus, if you’ve ever spent hours eyeballing frozen chicken, hoping it defrosts in time for you to make dinner, you know a watched pot never boils and watched chicken stays frozen, forever.
For all these reasons and more, a microwave is one of the most important small appliances in your kitchen. If you’re in the market for a new microwave, you’re in for a treat. The latest models are sleek, stylish, and do the jobs of 100 cooks, all wrapped up in a compact package that sits on your counter on mounts above your range.
How do microwaves work? Check out this video on how a microwave heats food.
Now that you know how microwaves work, here are 4 things to look for when you’re buying a microwave oven:
Countertop or built-in microwave oven?
Microwaves come in two types: countertop and over-the-range or built-in.
Countertop microwaves are the best option for most houses because they’re small and portable, but keep in mind they take up a bit of real estate on your counters. Some of the newer houses are built with a microwave shelf beside the fridge or stove to hold the microwave, so you can just pop a microwave like the Breville Stainless Steel 1.2 Ft Microwave up there—it’s small enough to sit anywhere in your kitchen, but it’s a virtual powerhouse of automatic cooking functions.
Built-in microwaves can be put inside your cabinets, under your cabinets, or above your range. These types of microwaves might have a light and venting system at the bottom so they double as a vent for your kitchen, and some come with great options like convection, bake, or roast. The Frigidaire Gallery 1.7 Cu.Ft. Over The Range Microwave is a great example of a built-in, and it has a push button convection setting for even cooking. I’ve covered convection cooking in ranges for Ovens 101, and the same basic premise holds when using convection in a microwave. Convection means you can cook faster and your food retains all the flavour.
Pick a size, any size
Besides measuring to see how big of a microwave you can fit on your countertop or over-your-range, you also need to decide on what size capacity you want your microwave to be. Microwaves sizes are based on cubic space, so if you see the abbreviation ‘1.0 cu.ft’ you’ll know that stands for cubic foot.
You can find ultra-compact, space saving microwaves like the Panasonic 0.8 cu.ft microwave or large like the Bosch 500 Series 2.1 Cu.Ft Over-The-Range Microwave. Smaller sizes will let you reheat, defrost, and make a great bag of popcorn, while larger models are great for cooking everything from roasts to full sized chickens.
Turn up the wattage
Wattage refers to how quickly the microwave will cook your food, so if your microwave has 1200 watts, it will cook your chicken or bowl of soup faster than if you were to have 600 watts.
Most microwaves average out at approximately 1000 watts, but some of the over-the-range models have different wattage for different functions. The Bosch 800 Series 1.6 Cu.Ft. Speed Microwave has 1750-watt broil element, 1000-watt microwave power, and 1700-watt convection element.
Choose which features you’d like to have in a microwave
What can a microwave do? The better question is what can’t it do? Whether you choose the countertop variety or built-in, microwaves can do everything from cook a roast beef to bake buns. Here’s a quick recap of some of the features you can find in a microwave:
- Auto-reheat – With a touch of a button your food will be reheated to perfection. Some microwaves havspecific settings to reheat leftovers or soup.
- Auto-defrost – Based on weight of chicken, beef, or other types of foods, you can automatically defrost whatever you’re cooking.
- Auto-cook – Ever burnt a bag of popcorn? That’s where auto-cook comes in handy. Cook the perfect bag of popcorn with one touch, bake up some potatoes, or make a quiche – auto-cook takes the stress out of monitoring what you’re cooking.
- Power levels – Some frozen food specifies you should only cook it on medium heat. Certain models of microwaves have power levels like high, medium, and low to give you options when cooking.
- Turntables on or off – Like to have your food rotate while cooking? Choose a microwave with a turntable. Some models also have a button to turn the turntable off should you need to keep something in place.
- Sensor functions – Many microwaves have sensor cooking to automatically sense how long the food needs to cook and adjusts itself accordingly.
- Removable Racks – Some microwaves have two levels, so you can choose to cook on the top rack or the bottom.
- Quick Minute functions – Want to add a minute to whatever you’re cooking? Just touch a button. The Panasonic 1.6 Cu.Ft Microwave lets you set up to 10 minutes of one-minute intervals with a tap of the button.
- Keep warm feature – Just like ranges can have a keep warm drawer, some models of microwaves have a keep warm feature that maintains a very low temperature perfect for keeping a loaf of bread or main course warm until you’re ready to serve everything.
- Kitchen timer – A mom’s best friend, kitchen timers can be used for everything from counting down the minutes until a dish is complete or sending someone to the corner for a time-out.
- Child Lock – Another tried and true feature parents won’t want to live without. Child Lock will prevent your little one from accessing the microwave or turning it on when you’re not looking.
Don’t forget about installation
When you buy a countertop microwave, all you’ll need to do is put it down in your designated spot and plug it in. Built-in microwaves require a bit more thought. The built-in you choose has to fit the size above your range or in your cupboard, so be prepared with all of your measurements prior to purchasing.
If you need help installing your built-in microwave, give Geek Squad a call. They’ll make sure your built-in microwave looks seamless in your kitchen.
Microwaves may be considered a small appliance, but they’re one of the most versatile appliances you’ll own. Check out all of the microwaves on Best Buy and choose one that will fit into your kitchen perfectly.