The microwave oven is the most versatile appliance in the modern kitchen. It can be used for cooking meals but also for performing other tasks, like defrosting and boiling water. Power and size must be considered when deciding which model to buy, but also where it will be installed. There are models for sitting on the kitchen bench, models that are placed over the kitchen range, and models that are built into cupboards. Some models are even capable of convection cooking and can bake as well as a regular oven. A properly maintained microwave oven will last more than ten years, so finding one that is also energy efficient will save money in the long term.
The typical microwave oven is little more than a cooking space and a door. It works by creating microwaves that excite the water molecules inside the food. The oven and food container are not heated directly by the microwaves but by the heat generated in the food. The presence of metal inside a microwave oven can cause electric arcing, so food containers have to be made of plastic, glass or ceramic. As long as the door seal and the mesh in front of the glass are undamaged, there is no risk of microwaves leaking out of the oven. An interlock provides added security by instantly stopping the microwave when its door is opened.
The power level is the most misunderstood feature of a microwave oven. It ranges from a few hundred watts to over one thousand watts for household models, and even higher for commercial models. Larger ovens require more power to cook at the same rate as a smaller oven. It’s important to know the power level because cooking times depend on it. Recipes and frozen meals often have different cooking times for different power levels.
Baking is one cooking task that the regular microwave oven does not perform well. It requires the food to be surrounded by hot air but the microwaves do not heat the air, they only heat the food. To get around this problem, convection microwave ovens have been developed that have a heating element and a fan. There are also models that use halogen lamps as a heat source, called Speedbake ovens.
A microwave oven is usually installed in one of three ways. The most common oven has legs and is simply placed on the bench top near a powerpoint. Kitchen range models are popular because they save space and are wider than benchtop ovens. There are also ovens that can be placed between cupboards, with trim kits used to seal the gaps. All microwave ovens have minimum clearances which should be taken into account when sizing the space for them.
There are wide range of extra features to look for when buying a microwave oven. Touchpad controls look more stylish and are easier to clean that dials and push buttons. A removable turntable provides more even cooking and help minimize cold spots, and is easy to clean than a fixed turntable. Child safety locks prevent children from opening the door and burning themselves on the hot food inside. Most models will have an interior light but it is worth checking for anyway.
Preset menus automatically set the time and power level for certain meals, and some ovens have up to one hundred menus. Advanced microwave ovens have sensors that detect how much steam is being released by the food and this provides an indication of how the cooking process is going. The oven uses its sensors to determine when it should stop cooking, rather than rely on the timer which is a more inaccurate measure of the required cooking time.