A microwave surrounded by plates of food

Microwaves are one of the most important small appliances in your kitchen. If you’re in the market for a new one, you’ll find the latest models are sleek, stylish, and perform the jobs of 100 cooks, all wrapped up in a compact package.

Microwave Buying Guide Quick Reference Handout

Table of Contents

  1. How do microwaves work?
  2. Questions to ask before choosing a microwave
  3. Features you’ll find on microwaves
  4. Microwave alternatives
  5. How to install a microwave

How do microwaves work?

Inside a microwave is a generator called a magnetron. The magnetron converts electricity into radio waves, and those radio waves bounce around in the interior and move through food that is spinning on a turntable. When the waves penetrate the food they make molecules inside the food vibrate, and as the molecules vibrate they produce heat that heats up the food.

Questions to ask before choosing a microwave

There are a few common questions you’ll want to ask yourself before choosing the right type for you.

1. Do you want a countertop microwave oven?

Your first decision when choosing a microwave is which type, you’d like. They come in two types: countertop and over-the-range or built-in.

countertop microwave

Countertop microwaves are a good option for most homes because they’re small and portable. Countertop models are placed directly on your countertop. Some newer houses have a built-in shelf beside the fridge or stove to hold this type of small appliance.

You can choose different sizes of countertop microwave, from less than 1.0 cubic feet for one person or a dorm room to a family-sized 1.7  cubic feet and up. People like countertop models because they are small enough to sit anywhere in your kitchen, but they have great features including automatic cooking functions and custom settings.

2. Do you want a built-in microwave?

LG microwave built in

Built-in microwaves can be placed inside your cabinets, under your cabinets, or above your range. This type may have a light and venting system at the bottom so it can double as a vent for your kitchen. Some types also come with great options like convection, bake, Air Fry, or roast.

With a countertop model you can choose your size based on your personal needs. With a built-in model you’ll need to choose size based on the space you’ll place it in, so you’ll need to measure the width, height, and depth of the area before shopping.

3. How big should your microwave be?

measure for your microwave

Besides measuring to see how big of a microwave you can fit on your countertop or over your range, you need to decide on what size capacity you’d like it to be. 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 models that are less than 0.9 cu.ft. Smaller sizes will let you reheat, defrost, and make a great bag of popcorn. Larger types range in size from 1.7 cu.ft and up to give you more flexibility. With a large model you can place everything from a roast to a full-size casserole dish inside. You can take a look at this article on microwave size for help choosing the best size for you.

4. How many watts should your microwave be?Frigidaire built-in microwave

Wattage refers to how quickly the microwave will cook your food, so if it has 1,200 watts, it will cook your chicken or bowl of soup faster than if you were to have a 600-watt model.

Most types average out at approximately 1,000 watts, but some of the over-the-range models have different wattages for different functions. Take Bosch microwaves for example – some models have a 1,750-watt broil element, 1,000-watt microwave power, and 1,700-watt convection element.

5. Do you want a microwave with Air fry?

air fry microwave

For even more versatility in the kitchen, you might want to consider adding a multi-functional microwave with the power to microwave, convection bake, and create crispy, delicious snacks using Air fry. Air Fry is a type of food prep that lets you cook crispy food without adding oil.

Features you’ll find on microwaves

What can a microwave do? The better question is what can’t it do? Whether you choose the countertop variety or built-in, they can do everything from cook roast beef to baking buns. Here’s a quick recap of some of the features you can find in a new model.

1. Auto-reheat

With a touch of a button, your food will be reheated to perfection. Some types have specific settings to reheat leftovers or soup.

2. Auto-defrost

Based on the weight of chicken, beef, or other types of foods, you can automatically defrost whatever you’re cooking.

3. Auto-cook

Ever burnt a bag of popcorn? That’s where auto-cook comes in. Cook the perfect bag of popcorn with one touch, bake up some potatoes or melt butter with auto-cook. Some models have buttons specifically for certain tasks like melting or cooking bacon, and it takes the stress out of monitoring what you’re cooking.

4. 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.

microwave with light and vent5. Turntables on or off

Like to have your food rotate while cooking? Choose a model with a turntable. Some types also have a button to turn the turntable off should you need to keep something in place.

6. Smart sensor functions

Many types of microwaves have sensor cooking. Sensor cooking will automatically sense how long the food needs to cook and adjust the time and power accordingly.

7. Removable Racks

Some models have two levels, letting you cook on the top rack or the bottom.

8. Quick Minute functions

Want to add a minute to whatever you’re cooking? Just touch a button. Some types let you set up to 10 minutes of one-minute intervals with a tap of the button.

9. Keep warm feature

Just like ranges have a keep warm drawer, some models have a keep warm feature that maintains a very low temperature. It’s the perfect feature for keeping a loaf of bread or the main course warm until you’re ready to serve everything.

10. 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 timing a dish you’re cooking on the stove.

11. Microwaves with child lock

insignia microwave with child lock

A tried and true feature parents won’t want to live without, a child lock will prevent your little one from accessing the appliance or turning it on when you’re not looking.

12. Easy to clean microwaves

Some models are easier to clean than others. They have removable glass turntables and are easy to wipe down on the sides and doors for quick cleanup.

Microwave alternatives

If you’re still unsure which type you’d like to own, you may want to consider an alternative small appliance. There are a few microwave alternatives including toaster ovens with convection and Air Fry or smart ovens that can toast, bake, Air Fry, and more. These small appliances have multiple functions and will heat up your food, but they may not work as quickly as a microwave will.

How to install a microwave

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 type you choose has to fit the space 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 appliance, give Geek Squad a call. They’ll make sure it’s ready to cook and looks seamless in your kitchen.

Take the next step

Microwave buying guide

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 in your kitchen perfectly.

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  1. As mentioned the “Keep Warm” feature in a microwave oven is the most useful. Most of the time we need our food to stay hot until served. Thanks for the detailed information.


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