Microwave types come in worktop models and built-in models, as well as over-the-range microwave types. Worktop microwave types are the least expensive, they are portable, and the smaller models can cost very little. The trade-off, of course, is leaving your cupboards free for you to use as you wish.
Built-in or cabinet microwave oven models are installed in existing or custom-built cabinets that will usually match your existing cabinets. This gets the microwave off your worktop and even out of sight depending on the style of your cabinets. The venting for this style can be incorporated into a range hood, a very efficient and cost-effective method as long as the range hood actually vents to the outside.
Beware of microwave oven venting systems that pass the air through a filter and exhaust it right back into your kitchen. Budget range hoods tend to have this set-up, which is not very effective. Cabinet models often lack finished sides, as they will be hidden inside cabinets, although some can function as either worktop or cabinet microwave types, and so are finished on the sides and top.
Over-the-range microwave types are the most expensive models and typically require a qualified electrician for installation. They usually vent up and out via installed venting, but since this type of microwave does not extend beyond the front of the range, as a range hood does, their venting is somewhat less efficient. If being installed as part of a remodel, electrical work may be required to provide the power necessary for the microwave to operate. However, these microwave models are attractive options for a modern kitchen, are very convenient and easy to use, and utilise no worktop space.
Features and Extras
While 'bonus' features such as convection and browning can be handy, they typically add quite a bit to the price of a microwave oven and some purchasers find they don't use the extra features regularly enough to warrant owning them.
Digital or Numeric Keypad: Smaller, cheaper microwave models often have a manual, rotary dial, which can make cooking for an exact time very difficult. A similar feature is a 30-second or 1-minute button; push this and the microwave cooks on 'High' for the specified length of time. In most microwave models, this button can be depressed numerous times until the desired time is reached.
Shortcut keys: Shortcut keys, or keys pre-programmed for specific cooking tasks such as cooking popcorn or heating coffee, are a very useful feature on any microwave oven. However, compare prices for microwave models with and without these features, as the extra cost might not justify the saving of one or two seconds of your time.
Turntable shape: One feature to consider is whether you would like a round turntable or a square or rectangular tray in your microwave oven. Microwave models with circular turntables lose usable space inside the microwave. If you place something inside that overlaps the turntable, it will often bang against the corners and stop rotating. This can cause hot and cold spots in your food, as the food must move for uniform heating throughout. Square or rectangular trays move back and forth inside the microwave, utilising more of the interior space.
Removable racks: Most people end up taking these out of their microwave oven and never put them back. Even large microwave models may be unable to accommodate a coffee mug on either the top or bottom level when the rack is in place. If considering a model with a rack, measure the height of your most frequently used cups, mugs, and bowls and determine if the rack will be useful, or just get in the way.
Sensors: These small, microwave-safe probes measure the amount of steam coming from the cooking food to determine when it has been safely cooked. At that point, the sensor sends a signal to the microwave oven, which either notifies you with a beep or shuts off the cooking cycle. Especially for new users of a microwave or people moving to larger or smaller wattage microwave models, using the sensor can help prevent over or undercooking of food.
Some of the more expensive features include browning, grilling and convection cooking options. Any one of these features can add over a £100 to the typical price of a microwave; two or three can be a substantial addition to the price of your oven. For people who plan to utilise a microwave as their only oven, these may be well worth the price, but for occasional use. You are unlikely to find the money spent a worthwhile addition.
Size and Wattage
Most buyers are aware that the advertised interior space for a microwave typically includes space that cannot be utilised, such as the corners. However, purchasing a microwave that is too large will result in using (and paying for) more power. Assess what you will use the microwave oven for, or what you have generally microwaved in the past, and make your decision based on your actual usage. If you typically use it simply for heating liquids or warming a plate of leftovers, a small to medium-sized worktop model is likely to be ideal for you.
The wattage of the microwave oven will tell you how much power it uses and how quickly it will heat your food. A smaller microwave will start at around 700 watts. You will see interior capacities advertised from around 14 litres to 20 litres, though again, practical capacity will generally be only 50 to 70% of that. A smaller microwave is ideal for popping popcorn, heating cups of water or tea and cooking small frozen dinners or snacks.
A medium-sized microwave will range from 22 litres to 25 litres, and often has higher wattages of 900 to 1100 watts. These typically have enough interior capacity to hold a plate with some food, large microwave-safe measuring cups or a large frozen dinner. The high wattages mean they will cook your food faster than a smaller microwave, and they often come with features and extras not included in the smaller ovens.
Larger microwave models are generally over 30 litres in size and can be over 1,200 watts of power. The interior dimensions are quite spacious; some even big enough for a small turkey. Worktop models in this size can quickly overwhelm a corner of the kitchen, though, so careful measurements are necessary. This type of microwave often comes with the most features and options and can cook your food in a flash. Just be cautious if you are upgrading from one of the smaller, lower-wattage microwave oven models, as you can find yourself burning the first few things you cook.
Microwave models are safer than ever these days, though some common-sense precautions should still be followed, as with any major kitchen appliance.
Never operate a microwave oven that has a damaged or broken door. Similarly, never attempt to use a microwave if its door does not appear to seal properly. These ovens should be inspected by a qualified technician and repaired or replaced, as recommended.
Use oven mitts or hot pads when removing items from your microwave, especially if you have used a convection setting or combination microwave/convection setting. The food itself will be hot, and the interior of the microwave, if used on the convection setting, can become very hot also.
Be sure to monitor liquids heated in the microwave. Microwaves heat liquids much more quickly than solids, and there have been cases of drinks erupting from their container when cooked well past the boiling point.
Always supervise children around the use of any kitchen appliance - this rule holds true for microwaves.
Some things you likely need not worry about include the effect of microwaves on pacemakers. For over 20 years, pacemakers have been manufactured with shielding to reduce or eliminate any electronic interference, and this includes interference from microwaves. If you have a pacemaker, you can check with your doctor, though modern pacemakers are designed to cope with interference from a microwave oven.
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