Microwave ovens are the ultimate kitchen convenience — an appliance capable of defrosting, reheating, and even preparing an entire meal. No longer luxury items, these electrical gadgets are a presence in more than 93 percent of American homes, according to the last U.S. Census. Whether you’re considering buying your first microwave or thinking of upgrading to a newer model, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the different types of microwaves on the market.
Sometimes called free-standing, compact, or portable microwaves, countertop microwaves get their name because they commonly sit on a kitchen countertop, bench, or anywhere close to a power outlet. Some countertop microwaves also come with mounting kits, which allow you to raise them above a bench to reclaim more workspace.
Countertop microwaves are usually smaller than other types of microwaves on the market, with typical models sitting at 18 inches by 14 inches by 12 inches. They usually have a power capacity of between 500 and 1,000 watts. They are also very affordable, with some entry-level models costing less than $100.
Countertop microwaves typically suit people with free shelving or ample countertop space in their kitchens. Since you’re able to easily unplug them and plug them back in whenever you need to, they are also ideal for renters. They may not suit young families with children, though, unless they come with additional safety features such as child locks.
Built-in microwaves, as their name suggests, are built into a kitchen’s design. As they are permanent kitchen fixtures, they must be professionally installed, which adds to their more substantial prices. However, fans insist built-in microwaves are worth the splurge because they reclaim counter space and work well with a kitchen’s overall design aesthetic.
Over-the-range microwaves, also called above-range microwaves, are built in as well. However, while typical built-in microwaves can be positioned anywhere in a kitchen, over-the-range models always sit above a stove or cooking range.
Due to their unique placement, over-the-range microwaves feature an integrated vent and fan to disperse cooking fumes from below. Despite these measures, they don’t usually vent fumes as well as a conventional range hood, although modern models do this significantly better than their predecessors. Many people like over-the-range microwaves because they are space-efficient and confine all cooking to one zone in the kitchen.
You can find some entry-level over-the-range microwaves for as little as $250, but you can expect to pay $1,000 or more for models with the most advanced features.
Microwave Oven Drawers
Microwave oven drawers are a relatively new addition to the kitchen landscape, but they are one that appliance fans have quickly embraced because they don’t eat up valuable counter space or interrupt a kitchen’s aesthetics. Rather than having a hinged door, microwave oven drawers open with a drawer mechanism. Simply open the drawer, put your food inside, close it again, and set it to heat using the controls on the drawer’s face. Installation is relatively easy, although not as simple as installing a countertop microwave.
Conventional microwaves, often called standard microwaves, are the appliances most people have in mind when they think of microwaves. These gadgets emit microwaves capable of passing through plastic and glass containers to warm the food and beverages inside them.
Conventional microwaves can perform all the functions you’d expect, including defrosting, heating, and reheating. They can prepare simple dishes as well as frozen meals. They also don’t require special installation and are very user-friendly.
Convection microwaves can perform all of the functions of conventional microwaves and then some. In addition to using microwaves, these appliances have grill and convection heating capabilities. This means you can use them to bake, brown, roast, grill, and crisp foods.
Due to their enhanced features, convection microwaves are ideal for people who don’t have a lot of space for these appliances, such as those living in apartments or students in dorm rooms.
Additional Features to Think About
Variable Power Controls
Once, microwave ovens simply had one setting that all food cooked on. However, that slowly changed as appliance firms became more conscious of different food requirements and energy-efficient practices. For example, today you’ll find microwave ovens with variable power controls that allow you to simmer a soup at 50 percent power or defrost some meat for dinner at 30 percent.
Automatic Steam Sensors
It can be difficult for consumers to know exactly how long food really needs to reach its optimum temperature. Thankfully, our microwaves have gotten smarter. Many modern models have automatic sensors which measure the presence of steam in the microwave oven. The power automatically shuts off once a sufficient amount of steam gathers, ensuring food is never undercooked or overdone.
Preset programs are another handy addition for less-than-confident cooks. These programs know how long and at what temperature certain foods should be cooked. So whether you are reheating pasta or cooking a pouch of rice, you can simply choose the mode, hit the button, and then take out the perfect dish every time.
Most microwaves have a rotating tray. However, some modern models have a flatbed surface instead. This means they have less crevices to trap food, making them much easier to keep clean than conventional models.
With a variety of microwaves on the market, all with a range of features, one is bound to become your favorite kitchen companion.