The layout of your kitchen is key to choosing a new microwave oven. Once that decision is made, consumers still have lots of choices within a vast range of prices. Here are the key points to consider during the search for a new microwave oven.
Types. Microwave ovens come in three main types. Countertop microwaves are freestanding units that sit on a solid surface. While they take up valuable counter space, they don’t require installation. Over-the-range microwaves fit over a stove and offer fan/venting and lighting. An electrician may be needed for installation. Built-in models include microwave drawers and models that fit in a wall or cabinet. Microwave drawers are increasing in popularity. Proponents cite the ease of cleaning and removing hot items as key positives. Drawers also offer a seamless, high-end look and don’t take up counter space, but are more difficult to install and more expensive than other models.
Finishes. The most common microwave finishes are stainless steel, white, and black. Choose one that works well with your other appliances.
Size. The ideal microwave maximizes usable space within the footprint of the unit. When shopping, check both the dimensions of the unit and the cooking space to ensure your pick will fit in your kitchen and accommodate your dishes. Tip: According to Consumer Reports, most manufacturers overestimate the amount of usable space by about 50 percent, so bring a tape measure.
Power. Most microwaves offer powers ranging from 700 watts to 1,250 watts. Food takes longer to cook at a lower wattage, but small wattage differences don’t make a big impact on performance or cooking times. For fast cooking and good performance 1,000 watts is a good bet.
Helpful features. Some of the best features are standard on most new microwaves. Favorites include quick start buttons that allow you to add time in 30-second or one-minute intervals. Shortcut buttons for various types of foods ranging from popcorn to potatoes can be helpful as well. Automatic sensors have improved in recent years and can help you get better cooking results with presets. Families with small children may want a child-lock feature.
Worth it — or not? Some new features sound enticing but may not be worth the added expense. Newer microwave models tout the ability to grill/brown meat and make crispy crusts. According to Consumer Reports, none of the microwaves tested worked as well as an oven for these functions.
Budget. Microwaves range in price from $50 to more than $1,000, depending on type, size, power, and features. Countertop microwaves are the least expensive option with most priced under $200. Over-the-range microwaves start around $150, but many models run $400-plus. Built-in microwaves are the most expensive option. You may find a few models for $350, but most tend to be in the $600 to $1,000 range.