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Microwave Buying Guide

Published April 28, 2010 | Updated June 29, 2015

Microwaves have become one of the most essential kitchen appliances. They're designed to make our lives easier by shortening prep and cook times. Microwaves make defrosting foods easy and warming up leftovers temptingly fast. This microwave buying guide will guide you through the features and options available, so you can choose the best microwave oven for your kitchen.

Microwave Styles:

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  • Countertop Microwaves

    This microwave sits directly on the counter. If you have limited counter space, then consider a smaller capacity microwave or extra kitchen storage; kitchen carts make great storage for microwaves, as do baker's racks.

  • Over-the-Range or Built-In Microwaves

    Built-in microwaves are mounted directly into the cabinetry of the kitchen. If your cabinets have space for an under-cabinet microwave, go for it; you'll save valuable counter space with this microwave style. Some over-the-range microwaves even have venting systems incorporated into the bottom, adding another helpful appliance to your kitchen.

  • Compact Microwaves

    These are the smallest microwave available, also called portable microwaves. Compact microwaves are a popular size of microwave oven for dorms and small apartments. A typical compact microwave oven is no more than 18 inches wide, no more than 12 inches tall and about 14 inches or less deep. These microwave ovens are rated between 500 and 1000 watts of power and measure less than 1 cubic foot in capacity.

  • Microwave Capacity:

  • Medium-Capacity Microwaves

    These are the typical family-size microwaves. It is somewhat larger than the compact microwaves. The width is typically 20 inches or more. The interior of a medium-size microwave typically holds between 1 and 1.5 cubic feet; the power runs from 1000 to 1500 watts.

  • Large-Capacity Microwaves

    These microwaves are capable of cooking a meal. With a size of well over 20 inches wide, as much as 20 inches deep and 12 inches or more high, they can handle a 9-inch by 13-inch casserole dish or even a roast or turkey breast.

Other Microwave Features to Consider:

Convenience features: Look for timesaving features and settings for popular foods, such as potatoes and popcorn. There are also safety lock features, which can keep children out of harm's way.

Turntables: A turntable helps to ensure that food cooks evenly.

Noise: Investigate the microwave's noise level before you buy. Read customer reviews for first-hand knowledge.

Quality components: Look for durable materials like metal, glass, or stainless steel. Less-breakable, updated features, like buttons instead of a turn dial, make using your microwave easier. As for quality electronics, read customer reviews about the microwave's performance and purchase a brand name you trust.