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Microwave Ovens Buying Guide

Today's microwave oven does far more than just warm a dish every now and then. Becoming the go-to solution for everything from cooking to warming a cup of tea, these microwaves must be able to meet the challenge. Newer models are far more energy efficient and less likely to lead to serious burns. Nevertheless, a range of features and model differences can make buying a microwave oven trickier than it needs to be.


First Considerations

Today's microwave ovens pack in the features. These ovens have become far more automated. Now, features include task-specific activities not just time- related tasks. For example, some cooking modes offer interactive databases of recipes as well as browning, boiling and even a "popcorn" button. Defrosting is a common setting as well. Nevertheless, be aware that overstated tasks and less-than-useful features can lead to a higher perceived value for some brands and models.


Size Considerations

One of the most important elements of consideration is the size microwave oven. Do not buy just based on price. Rather, focus on the size of the microwave. Larger does not always mean more power, though. Typically, the best option is to select a microwave that fits into the space you have in the kitchen. Larger and midsized models have far more capacity and features. Midsized models are by far the most common selection.

When selecting a smaller unit, ensure it is large enough for a dinner plate. Smaller units are ideal for those kitchen spaces where the oven hangs under a cabinet. However, most midsized hanging microwaves provide little room beneath them for workable space.


Consider Types

Microwave ovens come in three major model options. Each one has different benefits and drawbacks. Consider them carefully.


Countertop

Countertop models are the most common and are ideal for those kitchens with ample counter space. Most cost less than higher end and over-the-range models. They are a simple, plug-it-in and go style, too. Just take it out of the box and you are set. You will need about three feet of counter space for some models.


Over-the-range

Over-the-range models are the second most common option. Often, users buy these as a replacement to the models already present in the kitchen. They do have the benefit of providing far more usable counter space in the kitchen since they hang above the stovetop. However, they are often more costly and some do require venting to the outside. Sometimes, they are more complex and require an electrician to install.


Built-In

Built-in models can be harder to replace than others can. This is especially necessary when there is the need to maintain specific custom cabinetry built around the system. Most do not have finished sides or vents. The key benefit is that this system keeps counters clear but they are somewhat expensive. The installation often requires a professional.


Key Features to Look For

A variety of features is available for microwave ovens, but not all of them are worth investing in. Compare options in these areas to know what is worth buying.


Power

The amount of power of a microwave does have a lot to do with its efficiency as well as its ability to warm food thoroughly. Most mid to large sized ovens will have between 800 and 1650 watts of power. Smaller versions should have at least 600 watts to make them effective. While more wattage is a good idea, the difference in 50 to 100 watts from one model to the next will not matter much.


Sensors

Some microwave ovens have built-in sensors. These provide information to the microwave unit about when the food is done based on the steam produced. This key feature helps to reduce overheating or undercooking. It does cost more and is not available on all units.


Keys and Keypad

Most systems operate with a keypad. Some have built-in shortcuts such as popcorn settings, pasta, reheating or defrosting. However, more keys are not necessarily worth spending more for especially if you will not use them. Look for a microwave with a one-minute or a 30-second key. It is also beneficial to have a simple + 30 key, which adds 30 seconds to the cook time without requiring the system to stop.


Trays

The better choice is to have a turntable as this provides for more uniform heating. Be sure the plates or bowls you use fit on the turntable to ensure they can keep moving. Some systems also have removable racks. This allows for warming multiple items at one time.


Cooking Features

Newer models of microwave ovens now feature added cooking features and abilities. This includes convection, grilling, browning, and other methods. These can be a good feature for those who need additional cooking space, but most models do not perform as well or as efficiently as an oven.


Top Brands

The following are some of the top brands of microwave ovens available. Each of these is a leading provider based on its overall availability.


GE

The leader in the microwave market by purchase is GE. These models are widely available. Size options include smaller .8 cubic feet to larger models as big as 2 cubic feet. Prices range from $70 to $350 for moderate models with some of the GE OTRs costing as much as $1400 for premium features. The company is known for Advantium, which uses a halogen bulb to speed up cooking.


Westinghouse

The Westinghouse microwave ovens are high-end models. They feature wave touch technology that improves heating ability. Some basic models, which are still hitting stores, will cost about $450.


Whirlpool

The Whirlpool is solely sold through the Sears and Kmart department stores. It does offer countertop models, which are moderately priced ranging from one to two cubic feet. Over the range models are also available. Most models have wattage ranging from 900 to 1200. Other popular models include LG, Sharp, and Panasonic. Selecting a microwave oven should be a careful decision made based on wattage, size, style, as well as features desired.