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Microwave Buying Guide

Features on countertop, over-the-range and built-in microwaves open your kitchen to endless mealtime possibilities. Some microwaves can prepare an entire meal as effortlessly as a bag of popcorn. Use our guide to find the best microwave for your kitchen.

Microwave Buying Guide

Microwave Options and Styles

Drawer style microwave

Countertop: Countertop microwaves are available in a variety of sizes and offer the same cooking power as installed units. The downside is that they take up valuable counter space and have no outdoor ventilation system. Some countertop microwaves come with trim kits that make it possible to build them into surrounding cabinetry or attach them to a nearby wall.

Over-the-Range: Combining a microwave and range hood, this do-it-all appliance is an excellent choice for saving space and maximizing function. Get the added capability of lighting and venting with these models. Venting power is indicated as CFM, or cubic feet per minute. When buying, remember the higher the CFM number, the greater the airflow. These microwaves offer the option of venting or non-venting, depending on personal preference and placement. A vented hood sends exhaust outdoors, while non-vented circulates the air indoors through a carbon filter (that must be replaced periodically).

Built-in: A true built-in microwave becomes part of the cabinetry and usually features a drop-down door, similar to a conventional oven. The required trim kit may or not be included with the oven. If you purchase a trim kit separately, make sure it fits your microwave and is compatible with your other kitchen appliances and doesn’t interfere with cabinet doors or drawers.

Drawer style (shown): Exactly as the name suggests, this microwave slides out and installs below a countertop or wall oven. The height of this microwave may be a safer, more convenient option for all members of the family.

Good to Know

If you’re choosing a microwave as part of a kitchen remodel, take a look at appliance suites, which may include refrigerator, dishwasher, range, and microwave.

Microwave Sizes and Cooking Capacity

The outside dimensions are especially important when installing or replacing an over-the-range or built-in microwave.  Full-size countertop units can take up a lot of counter space. Check the product details for ovens before purchasing. Allow for clearance on all sides as recommended by the manufacturer.

Capacity refers to the interior cooking area. This ranges from 0.7 cubic feet (great for small spaces and food or beverage quick reheating), up to 2 cubic feet or larger for full cooking capability.  Make sure your new microwave will accommodate your cookware. 

When measuring for over-the-range ovens, you need at least 66 inches from the floor to the bottom of the cabinet to allow easy access.  You also need at least 30 inches between the cooktop surface and the bottom of the cabinet.  

Good to Know

Take care opening the package for built-in or over-the-range models - the mounting template may be printed on the box.  Also, a three-prong grounded outlet is required for most over-the-range units.

Microwave Features

Microwave Buying Guide - keypad features

Wattage: Watts represent the power of your microwave and impact how quickly and evenly food cooks – the higher the wattage, the faster the cooking. Make sure your wiring meets the wattage and amp requirements of the oven you choose.

Convection: Convection cooking uses a fan to circulate hot air on all sides of the dish, creating delightful, evenly cooked food. Convection microwaves even offer a browning option to simulate the same cooking as a broiler.

Sensors: Sensors adjust time and temperature as needed and automatically shut off power to prevent overcooking. Sensors measure emitted steam to determine when food is at an optimum temperature.

Common Task Buttons / Convenience Controls: Shortcut keys help you choose the right time and temperature via preset cycles for popular foods and drinks, like popcorn, pizza and hot beverages. Some shortcuts allow you to add time to the cycle without stopping the oven, while other shortcuts include defrost and reheat options. Perhaps the most intriguing shortcut softens and melts, making it perfect for ice cream and chocolate.

Non-Stick Interior: Interior coatings make cleanup easy. Simply wipe plastic interiors with a damp cloth. Stainless-steel interiors also wipe clean and won’t absorb odors.

True Power Reduction: Some microwaves allow for actual power reduction rather than cycling between full power and no power during a cook session. The result is even cooking and true defrosting without cooked or burnt edges.

Turntables, Trays and Removable Racks: These organize your cooking space to warm more at once.

Good to Know

Many convenience meals offer cooking instructions based on wattage. Figure in your microwave’s wattage for accurate food preparation.

Energy Savings

There are currently no ENERGY STAR® microwaves on the market, but you can still find ways to save time and energy. Look for a microwave with variable power settings for improved cooking performance while using less energy. Learn more about ENERGY STAR.