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Avleen M.
Avleen M.Jul 28, 2020

Microwaves Buying Guide

One of life’s little conveniences, a reliable microwave means you don’t have to be a kitchen connoisseur to enjoy comforting hot food and drinks at home. Whether you’re making 2-minute noodles, microwave scrambled eggs or using your microwave as a rice cooker, a microwave can quickly become an essential everyday appliance you wonder how you ever lived without.

Types of Microwaves

Conventional microwaves

These are standard or traditional microwaves. Small microwaves of the conventional, benchtop variety can be the most cheap microwaves to buy.

These microwaves work by emitting waves that cause water molecules in the food or drink to heat up, which cooks or warms it. Some models come with basic pre-programmed settings catered to cook specific foods, such as microwave potatoes or popcorn. Simply press a button and let your microwave take care of the rest.

Conventional microwaves

Pros

  • Conventional microwaves are more affordable than convection ovens.
  • A suitable choice if your primary uses are heating, defrosting and re-heating food.
  • Pricier models include handy extra settings and accessories, such as the best microwave of 2020 Award Winner, the Ariston MWA25B, with its grill function and crisping plate.

Cons

  • Conventional microwaves have a more limited range of functions than a convection microwave oven.

Convection microwave ovens

Also known as a combination ovens, these microwaves function as a regular microwave and mini convection oven in one appliance.

A convection microwave oven combines regular microwave technology with a heating element and fan to deliciously brown and crisp your food.

Convectional microwaves

Pros

  • Convenient if you’re renting and your home doesn’t include an oven.
  • Cheaper and takes up less space than a traditional full-size convection oven.
  • A speedy way to brown and crisp food that’s faster than oven cooking.
  • More efficient than turning on a full-sized oven for small amounts of food.
  • Often comes with removable racks that you can take out and clean.

Cons

  • More expensive than their conventional cousins, as they use a more advanced heating/cooking method. However you can still find models under $250, like those listed below.

Inverter microwaves

Inverter technology has become something of a trend in microwave marketing. A regular microwave uses a magnetic coil or transformer to alternate between short bursts of 100% power for half the time and 0% power for the other half to achieve a medium setting.

An inverter microwave uses an inverter to heat food at 50% power for the duration of the cooking time. This allows food to be cooked more evenly and thoroughly, avoiding microwave ‘hot spots’ and undercooked food.

While inverter technology does offer more effective and efficient cooking and heating, it will make a model more expensive. It’s also not a compulsory feature to having a good quality microwave.

Benchtop microwaves

Both conventional and convection microwaves are available in benchtop and built-in designs, in a variety of styles and colours.

A benchtop model, as its name suggests, sits on your kitchen bench or counter. It plugs into a power outlet, and is therefore easy to set up soon after purchase. You can choose a smaller model to maximise on available bench space, and a benchtop model is cheaper than a built-in microwave.

Built-in microwaves

What is a built-in microwave, and should you get one? A built-in microwave is integrated into your kitchen as a fixture rather than a stand-alone microwave that sits in a cabinet or on a bench.

If kitchen aesthetics are a top priority and you have the extra cash, a built-in microwave can look sleek and streamlined.

If you’re having your kitchen renovated, you can select a microwave design that co-ordinates with your new oven, kettle and coffee machine. Black microwaves, along with stainless steel, tend to be the most popular colour options. You can even install all your appliances into a single wall for bonus presentation points.

How much does a built-in microwave cost?: A built-in microwave is dearer than a countertop model, and can set you back anywhere from $500-$3000.

You’ll have to factor in extra costs for installation and creating a custom-built cavity for your microwave to sit in. Make sure to also follow the manufacturer's recommendations on how much extra space to leave around the microwave's sides, and on top, for adequate ventilation).

If you covet the look of a built-in microwave but want to save on installation costs and other expenses, a microwave trim kit is an option. However not all models are compatible with trim kits, and priced at $150-500, this might cost as much as your new microwave itself.

Other factors to consider when buying a microwave

Size/Capacity

Microwaves are available in small, medium and large sizes. Size and capacity are closely related: usually, the higher litre capacity of a microwave equates to a larger sized appliance.

When selecting a suitably sized microwave, consider two important factors: Firstly, how much kitchen bench space you have available to house your new appliance, and secondly, how many people will be using the microwave.

If you don’t have much bench space, a small microwave that’s unobtrusive might be your ticket. As a benchmark, an average-sized microwaves measures around 50cm wide, 30cm high and 40cm deep. Don’t forget to account for extra room for ventilation – about 10 cm around the sides, and 20cm on top of your microwave.

Here is a rough size guide to the capacity of your microwave:

  • 20-50L: Overall range of available capacity for a microwave.
  • 20-32L: Capacity for most benchtop microwaves.
  • 20-25L: Suitable for a two-person household.
  • 25L and above: Suitable for a family or household with four people or more.

Also consider the size of the food dishes you’ll be regularly placing inside the microwave. If the microwave-safe Tupperware or serveware you’d normally doesn’t fit on the appliance tray or flatbed, you’ll waste time and effort always switching out contents. If you’re buying in-store, you can even take in a dish and experiment with different microwave sizes.

Wattage

The amount of power a microwave uses is measured in watts. A higher wattage equates to faster and more evenly cooked food.

Most models range from 700-1200 watts. 900 watts is a good number to look out for as a benchmark for a standard countertop model, if you’re mainly using it to heat, re-heat and defrost food.

If you’re constantly cooking large family meals in a microwave, a model 900 watts or higher could be more convenient. Higher watts means a higher price though, so factor this into your decision if relevant.

Extra Features

  • Pre-set programmes: Available for all sorts of foods, such as potatoes, pizza, pasta, and even carrots, popcorn and porridge. Look for programmes with food types you commonly eat.
  • Multi-stage programmes: Will defrost, cook, then slightly cool, without you having to press any extra buttons.
  • LCD dials and screens: These can be particularly handy at night. Even if your model doesn’t have this feature, make sure the controls and dials are clearly visible and user-friendly.
  • Automatic defrost: Taking the guesswork out of defrost times, simply select the weight and type of food to be defrosted, and let the microwave calculate the exact time.
  • Quick start/Boost: Delivers a half minute or full minute burst of power at 100%, especially useful for defrosting stubbornly frozen foods.
  • Sensor cooking: Often available in higher-end models, a sensor lets you input food weight and type, then assesses vapours and moisture level to adjust the heat level automatically.
  • Child lock: A safety feature that can grant you peace of mind if you have young children in the house.
  • Self-cleaning: Some models of convection microwave ovens feature a self-cleaning function for the catalytic or pyrolytic liners, which absorb grease.

With conventional microwaves, models with flatbeds are easier to clean than those with rotating trays, which have curved edges. Make sure your rotating-tray model doesn’t have took many nooks and crannies that could become food traps.

We hope that this guide has helped you select the best microwave for you and your household, so you can enjoy plenty of deliciously warmed meals and hot drinks all year round.


About the author
Avleen is a content writer for ProductReview. Her area of expertise covers furniture and bedding, home appliances and beauty products. Outside of work she enjoys scribbling down poetry and music, reading fantasy novels, and discovering delicious vegan restaurants.