Size, Type & Power
There are essentially three different sizes for you to choose from - compact, medium and large. A compact or portable microwave is generally less than one cubic foot in capacity. These work well for students, small apartments or when travelling. Medium-sized are typically between 1 and 1.5 cubic feet and are the common choice for smaller households. A large microwave oven is capable of cooking a meal and may feature "auto-cook" and precise temperature controls. Keep in mind the size of your family and the size of your dishes when making your choice.
There are many different types of microwave ovens available, including countertop, built-in, over-the-range and commercial. A countertop model rests on your countertop, but also takes up counter space that is often limited in many homes. Built-in and over-the-range microwaves may be more convenient, but also may require installation by a professional.
Most microwaves fall between 600 and 1200 watts of power. A higher wattage will cook foods faster, but it will also consume more electricity. As microwaves may vary, it can take some time to become familiar with your particular model and its power. When first cooking, it is wise to start with the shortest time recommended and increase the time in small increments until your meal is cooked or reheated.
Choose from an array of features amongst the various sizes and models of microwaves. Many have turntables, which rotate your food throughout the cooking process and help to cook your food more evenly. Some have shortcut settings like popcorn, baked potatoes, frozen entrees and defrost. Another notable feature is "child lockout" in which the doors are locked and released using the keypad. Some microwaves also offer variable power controls which allow you to use a setting other than High or 100%.
A relatively new technology is "sensor cooking", where the cooking is based on humidity in the oven from the moisture in the food. Preprogrammed cooking starts with just one touch - you add the food, tell the microwave oven what you are cooking and start! The microwave can automatically detect when the food is cooked and will shut off when done.
The best way to keep your microwave clean is to wipe away splatters after each use. Food particles can absorb some of the microwave's energy while it is operating and burn onto the interior's surface. If you find burned-on food, here are some easy tips to get it clean again:
Using a large cup or bowl, fill it with 1 cup of water and a few slices of lemon, lime or orange. Lemon juice or vinegar will also work. Heat this combination in the oven on High for three minutes. Once this is done, let it sit in the microwave for three more minutes, then remove. This will soften the grime enough to easily remove with a cloth. The touchpad controls, door hardware and other exterior pieces should also be cleaned at this time, as they will last longer when clean.
During this cleaning, inspect your door and its seal. If these appear damaged, have it checked out and repaired by a qualified appliance repair technician. Be safe and remember that only a qualified technician should perform repairs.
Appointment Scheduler / Message Center: Some models allow you to program appointments or messages for your family; located where the time is displayed.
Automatic Defrost: Allows you to enter the type and weight of food into the control panel and it will adjust the time and power level to best defrost that particular food.
Automatic Sensor: Determines if a food is done by measuring the humidity or vapors in the microwave. Once a sensor sounds, the food is done and it will automatically shut off. These sensors can also be used to determine defrost times.
Browning Dishes & Trays: Help to create a more oven-cooked look. These dishes have metal content on the bottom to help foods get crispier.
CFM: Cubic Feet per Minute - The rating that indicates how much air is moved by the ventilation fan.
Child Lock Out: Keeps the microwave door shut and requires a code to start and stop operation of the unit.
Dual Mode Timer: A timer that can be used when cooking food, as well as a kitchen timer.
Instant Cook Pads / Controls: Buttons that have preset cooking times programmed into them (i.e. potatoes, popcorn, frozen pizza, hot beverages, etc.) Some models allow you to reprogram them to your precise needs. They may also be referred to as easy-touch buttons.
Interactive Display: Word prompts to guide you through the cooking or programming process.
Language / Weight Option: Allows you to change the cooking directions to other languages and change weights from pounds to kilograms.
Sones: The rating for how much noise a hood level will make; the lower the number, the quieter the hood.
Turntable: A revolving plate (typically glass) inside a microwave that automatically turns food as it cooks.