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The microwave oven is a household staple. Use our guide to research the best microwave brand for you. We explain what to look for in features for reheating leftovers, defrosting frozen ingredients and making popcorn for movie nights. You should also consider your budget, counter space and power output options when choosing a microwave oven.

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What microwave features should I consider?


Since the first days of its invention, the microwave has shrunk considerably. You'll find a range of sizes designed for everything from commercial cantinas to small apartments.

  • Large: A large microwave has enough space to reheat a family dinner. Two or more plates or a casserole dish can easily fit inside.
  • Medium: The medium-sized microwave is the most common model to find in any home. It fits a large plate inside.
  • Small: The smaller models are designed to fit efficiently into small living spaces like apartments. These generally fit a small plate inside.


Like all appliances, wattage microwaves are built with a range of wattages. Wattage refers to the total electrical power of the microwave.

  • 700 watts: This is the lowest range on the market. It is an acceptable wattage for small models.
  • 1000 watts: 1000 watts is necessary for a larger microwave oven. This works perfectly well for most household models.
  • 1200 watts: This is for larger microwaves such as those used in large family homes or commercial kitchens.


Due to the fact that microwaves need to hold a useful amount of food inside, they can not really shrink on the same scale as other pieces of technology. Because of this, it's important to think about where you will put your microwave before you purchase one. Despite the inner capacity of each size of microwave, the dimensions of the entire unit can differ from one model to the next.

  • Handles: Many microwaves are designed with a pull-handle on the front of the oven door. This is a useful feature, but it does add several inches to the depth of the oven. Other models offer a button that opens the microwave door.
  • Feet: Microwave ovens with feet can be beautifully-designed and lovely to look at. They will add a certain height to the overall oven, however, which means that it may not fit in a conventional microwave cove.
  • Height: Depending on how you will use the microwave, it may be useful to find a model built with extra height. This will allow different types of tall containers inside, but limit your ability to place the microwave inside a normal shelf or alcove.


Several basic styles of microwave have been designed since these ovens became a regular part of our kitchens. The following styles were created to help you fit your microwave into the perfect spot.

  • Countertop: The countertop microwave is the most common model since it is easy to find and place in any workspace. These are simply set atop your kitchen counter.
  • Over the range: It became fashionable in the 1990s to build a special shelf for the microwave overtop of the traditional oven. These are still a part of many kitchens, with dimensions that match the length of the existing oven.
  • Built-in: The built-in is a microwave that is designed to be concealed into your existing counters, shelves or other kitchen furnishing. These can be installed as pull-out drawers or placed behind cabinet doors.

Default settings

Most microwaves are programmed with default settings that can be used quickly. These allow you to select the appropriate power level and timing without having to consult the manual.

  • Defrost: Defrost settings allow you to select the correct power level and timing to perfectly thaw out certain ingredients such as chicken, vegetables or fish.
  • Popcorn: Microwave popcorn is specially designed only to be cooked in a microwave. Because of its popularity, you'll often find a "Popcorn" button.
  • Frozen dinner: This setting lets you reheat a range of frozen dinners to just the right temperature, without over-heating or under-heating one section of the dinner.

Extra capabilities

Every microwave and microwave manufacturer has a different set of goals in mind when it comes to microwave capabilities. There are some unique and helpful options available.

  • Steam: Steam-enabled microwaves ensure that the food being heated or cooked doesn't dry out during the process. Users simply have to fill a water reservoir to keep the feature working.
  • Smart digital display: In place of the traditional buttons and clock display, some newer microwaves feature a sleek, fully digital display. Some people find the smart display easier to use and understand.
  • Grill: This low-tech feature is actually quite popular. It gives you the ability to heat or cook certain items like chicken or hot dogs on the hot grill while other items can be heated conventionally.

Types of microwaves


A convection oven works on the principle that air moves in a vertical, circular pattern when heated. Traditional electric ovens work this way. The convection microwave oven has a fan system to help the heat move this way and provide even cooking.


The conventional microwave oven simply uses microwaves to heat food. These are usually built with a turntable to ensure even heat, but some are specially designed with only a flat tray at the bottom and a unique distribution method to achieve the same results.


The mixed type of microwave performs both the conventional microwave heating as well as convection movement.

Who benefits from microwaves?

Singles and couples

Households of one or two people. These people have low-yield needs from their microwave oven and so will likely be fine with a small or medium sized microwave.

Small families

Small families of three to four people generally need a bit more capacity from their microwave as well as more varied functionality.

Large families

Larger families need increased capacity and power from their microwave. They often benefit from more presets as well.

Small or medium-sized commercial kitchens

Keeping up with orders in a commercial kitchen requires use of the microwave for several functions. High capacity is ideal for these users.

Microwaves FAQ

Are microwave ovens safe?

Yes, microwave ovens are safe. While it slightly diminishes nutritional value, microwave radiation is still a safe method for rapidly cooking or warming up your food.

Are microwaves over the range out of style?

Over-the-range microwaves aren't necessarily going out of style, but many homeowners who like to cook need the space for a more powerful vent hood. Alternatives include countertop models and putting the microwave in a custom-built cabinet or drawer.

Do microwaves with convection ovens work well?

Yes, microwaves with convection ovens are able to cook food in ways that conventional microwaves cannot, such as:

  • Preheating
  • Roasting
  • Baking
  • Crisping

You can also control certain microwaves with convection ovens through your smartphone.

How long do over-the-range microwaves last?

Over-the-range microwaves tend to last seven to 10 years, depending on their amount of use and build quality.

What are the sizes of microwaves?

While external dimensions vary, experts group microwave ovens in terms of their intended placement:

  • Countertop microwaves: 0.5 to 1.9 cubic feet of oven capacity
  • Over-the-range microwaves: 1.4 to 2.2 cubic feet of oven capacity
  • Commercial microwaves: 1 to 1.5 cubic feet of oven capacity
  • Built-in microwaves: 1 to 2.2 cubic feet of oven capacity

Each microwave size also varies in wattage.

How do I choose a microwave oven?

To choose a microwave oven, consider your needs in terms of:

  • Size: Where do you plan on putting the microwave? How much space can you dedicate to it in your kitchen?
  • Cooking: If you’re using the microwave often or as your main cooking appliance, consider purchasing one with convection capabilities.
  • Budget: Narrow your options to those in your price range.
  • Speed: How fast do you want to heat up your food? Make sure you have the wattage to match your expectations.
How much does a good microwave cost?

Good microwaves cost anywhere from $100 to over $600, depending on their size, wattage, features and design.

Can you use a built-in microwave on the countertop?

Yes, you can use the same microwave on the countertop or in a built-in cabinet or drawer. Special mounts or hooks may be necessary to use the microwave on certain surfaces, though.

Not sure how to choose?

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    Microwave author reviews

    Kenmore Microwave

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    GE Microwave Ovens

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    Whirlpool Microwave Ovens

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