Microwaves have made great advancements since they first appeared in our homes in the late 1970s. It’s hard these days to even imagine our kitchens without one.
According to Good Housekeeping, 96% of households in the United States own a microwave, with over two-thirds preferring a countertop microwave. However, other types are becoming more popular as people remodel their kitchens, and choose built-in, drawer, or over-the-range models in their new designs.
Countertop microwaves are popular because of their portability, size range, and affordability. Countertop ovens can sit on any surface (countertop, table, island), as long as they’re located near an electrical outlet.
To free up surface space, some people prefer to install their countertop microwave inside existing cabinetry. They can also be installed above a wall oven. Many countertop microwaves provide trim kits that fit over the face plate of the microwave to create a built-in professional look.
Built-in microwaves are designed to be installed into a cabinet, island or other structure to give your kitchen a high-end look. They cannot be placed on a counter. Their design, installation, and maintenance make them more expensive than countertop microwaves.
There are three types of built-in microwaves:
- Conventional. These are the most common and least expensive. They have the fewest features, but are ideal for reheating, thawing food, and cooking (but not browning or baking).
- Convection. A combination of both conventional microwaves and convection ovens, these built-in microwaves will cost you more. They’re very powerful and versatile, with faster cooking times and less energy use.
- Oven-Microwave Combo. This is a two-in-one appliance, with the microwave positioned above a standard-size oven. The microwave can either be a conventional or convection one, as can the oven below. This combination is the most expensive option.
Over-the-range microwaves fit directly above your stove, and act both as an exhaust fan, or ventilation hood, and microwave. They are a little more expensive than the best countertop microwaves but have lots of powerful features.
Microwave drawers are installed like a regular drawer under a countertop, in a kitchen island, or below a wall oven. The drawers open easily, and work well in homes with children, seniors, or those with accessibility requirements. These microwave ovens have many modern features, including new convection cooking options that were previously unavailable with drawer microwaves. They’re expensive, even before installation costs.
Key Microwave Features
Features and functions vary with the type of microwave, and whether it’s basic, mid-range, or high-end. Some key features and functions you’ll find on a variety of today’s microwaves include:
- Add 30 seconds: either a separate button or a function included with the start button that adds 30 seconds to your cooking time.
- Add minute: with some models you can add 1 minute to the cooking time.
- Quick on: this feature is found on Wolf side-swing door models. As long as you hold the “quick on” button, the microwave operates for 30 seconds at 100%. This can be repeated up to 10 times.
- Child lock-out: allows you to lock the control pad to prevent children from starting the microwave. Most child-locks require a touch command or pass code.
- Convection mode: you can bake, roast, crisp, brown, grill, and preheat. You can also use metal cookware such as cookie sheets or rotisserie pans when in “convection only” mode.
- Combo cook: uses both the convection and microwave heating elements to cook food even faster.
- Grill: this is a feature of grill microwaves that gives food a browned exterior, and the taste of an outdoor grill. There’s a broil element on top, and a grill rack accessory. The “combo” mode (grill and microwave) speeds up cooking even more.
- Air fry: air fryer microwaves produce crispy fried foods, such as chicken, shrimp, and french fries. These models are expensive.
- Automatic defrost: select the type of food and its weight, and the microwave automatically chooses the optimum power level and cook time. Some models give you the choice between metric (kg) or imperial weight (lb).
- Easy cleaning/nonstick interior: cleaning only requires a damp cloth. Microwaves with stainless steel interiors remain odor-free.
- Inverter technology: compared to conventional microwaves, inverter technology offers steady heat at lower ranges. You can cook, reheat, defrost, steam, poach, and braise food at a constant power level throughout the cooking time. For foods with high amounts of sugar and fat, and foods sensitive to heat such as dairy, chocolate, and vegetables), this avoids overheating, and loss of flavor, color, and nutrients.
- Silent mode: silences the microwave’s beeping. There are various ways to access this function, depending on the model. There may be a “sound” or “volume” button on the keypad. If not, the sound can be turned on or off by pressing a series of buttons. Check your manual for specific instructions.
- Turntable on/off: allows you to choose whether the turntable rotates or not. This is helpful when cooking with plates bigger than the turntable, or with plates that are side by side.
- Sensor cook: this feature is programmed with pre-set times for different foods. Once you press the sensor cook button, corresponding keypad numbers to programmed foods appear. You can add or subtract cooking times for these if you prefer. The feature automatically adjusts the cooking time and power level by detecting the moisture released from the food. The oven may even shut off if it detects the food is too hot. Reheating has its own sensor button.
- Door design: built-in microwaves usually have drop-down doors, although left-hinge swing doors are becoming more common. The swing-out style is commonly found in countertop and over-the-range microwaves. Doors can be opened using a handle, push button, or the wave-to-open feature (on some microwave drawers you can wave your hand in front of the oven to open the drawer).
- Pre-programmed keys: allow you to cook certain foods with the touch of a button. Examples are popcorn, pizza, reheat, potato, beverages, and frozen dinners.
- Express cook: quickly set cook times by touching a single button. For instance, touch the number 1 on the panel to cook for 1 minute on the highest power. You can change the power level once the microwave starts.
- Keep warm: this setting keeps food warm until you’re ready to eat. You can set the warming time up to 30 minutes using the number pad. Some microwaves automatically start a “keep warm” function 2 minutes after cooking has finished. The automatic function will keep the food warm for up to 15 minutes at a ready-to-serve temperature, as long as the door hasn’t been opened or buttons pressed.
- Concealed, touch glass controls: some microwave drawers feature concealed, drop-down, touch-glass controls that are easy to read, and open at a convenient 45° angle.
- Smart functions: smart microwaves connect to Wi-Fi and can be controlled from apps and smart-home voice devices, such as Alexa. Users can turn on the microwave and control the cooking settings with apps and voice commands, as well as scan barcodes with their smartphone to find cooking times for food items.
If your major appliances are in need of professional maintenance or repair, call C&W Appliance Repair at (855) 358-1496 or submit our online service request form for prompt service you can count on.