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A Guide to Understanding Microwaves

The microwave, while possibly the easiest device in your kitchen to use, is not the easiest to shop for. Of the many brands that carry microwaves, few are innovative, and most ignore style completely. In the end, the best way to choose a microwave is by finding the type, not the design, that best fits your needs.

Types of Microwaves

  • Countertop microwaves: Countertop microwaves offer easy access and portability. They also tend to be the least expensive models of microwave and offer the convenience of size options.
  • Over-the-range microwaves (microhoods): Usually sleeker than countertop microwaves, over-the-range microwaves free up valuable counter space. They should, however, be professionally installed to ensure safety and proper function. For convenience, they also work as a range hood, providing a fan and light above your oven.
  • Built-in microwaves: Many companies can now install microwaves directly into your cabinetry, saving counter space and creating a chic, modern look. They also allow kitchen owners the option of having a range hood. Built-in microwaves typically have vents above and below the front controls to allow excess heat to escape. Like microhoods, they should be installed professionally.
  • Convection microwaves: Available in all three of the above models, convection microwaves work similarly to a convection oven, and will leave food crisp and brown in addition to quickly heating it.

Important Microwave Features

  • Wattage is probably the greatest indicator of a microwave's quality. Microwaves range from 660 to 1,300 watts, but anything below 1,100 is inefficient for most frozen dinners and likely to leave your meal undercooked. However, if you typically only use a microwave to reheat small items, a lower-watt microwave will suffice.
  • Size matters. You may not realize it when you're at the store, but many dining plates are too wide to fit into a standard, mid-size microwave. Also, many apartments have narrow and limited counter space, so be sure to take measurements if you plan on purchasing a countertop model.
  • Turntables may seem unimportant, but they actually keep your food from cooking improperly. Microwave ovens cook differently than regular ovens do, so movement is required to ensure thorough cooking.

Microwave Style

In reality, microwave styles do not really vary. Most have the same general structure, whether it is over-the-range, built-in or countertop. Most "modern" microwaves get their title based on the outline of the front screen and the door handle, rather than the overall shape of the machine.

In the end, to style with a microwave, the best strategy is a non-strategy. Rather than trying to make a statement with the small device-most statement microwaves are specialty pieces without much power, anyway-try to match it with another main kitchen appliances, such as the range or the blender. If you're going to add a splash of color, small appliances would be the reasonable places to do it, but be wary of overkill. There's a fine line between standout and kitschy. For over-the-range microwaves, it's best to match the color and design closely to your oven.

Microwave Shopping

Do not get roped in by retail microwave sales. Most are deceiving, and you usually end up with a subpar product. While a $50 microwave may seem like a good deal, it will likely only power with minimal wattage, and in many cases, the device will break in its first few years. In the end, you'll pay more to replace your cheap microwave than you would to buy a great one once. Either way, you should always pay the extra money for a quality machine.

This is particularly true if you are purchasing any kind of installation microwave, whether it is over-the-range or built-in. Those models tend to be on the pricey side, anyway, so be extra careful when shopping. Also, no matter what microwave you end up purchasing, always read the user manual. In it, you will find tips for cooking items that otherwise have no microwave-friendly cooking instructions.

Microwave To-Do List

  1. Choose where you want to put the microwave. Counter space varies by residence, so be aware of where you have room for it. If you don't have enough counter space, look into over-the-range and built-in models.
  2. Decide which microwave features you want most. If you often cook full meals using a microwave oven, be sure to get a higher wattage. Also, if you cook popcorn or other items that have optional convenience keys, look into models that have them. They are typically programmed specifically for each item, ensuring accurate cooking times, which will help you avoid burning food later.
  3. Browse, browse, browse. When you have a better idea for what model you want and the features you need included, you'll be more aware of what good deals are and where you can find them. Read customer reviews, too. Often the product will sound good on paper, but few customers are satisfied.
  4. Remember that cost may not be limited to the microwave. Professional installation is recommended for any non-counter microwave, and that service usually costs money. Ask store personnel if they know of any good installation deals that come with specific models.
  5. Ask to test the microwave before you purchase it. Even if the model fits all your qualifications, take it for a spin. If for no other reason, you can determine whether or not the noise level is too loud for your taste.
Last Updated: July 22, 2011
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About Emelie Battaglia Emelie Battagila is a contributing writer for Idealhomegarden.com

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