Microwaves were cutting-edge, space-age technology back in 1945 when they were first introduced commercially.

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Since then, some features have changed. But, in truth, many of the essential features have stayed the same. The microwave oven is still best for reheating, thawing, melting, and cooking foods fast.

Here's your guide for buying the best microwave oven.

Types of Microwave Ovens

There are all kinds of microwaves to choose from: over the stove microwaves and under the counter microwaves (a.k.a., drawer microwaves); built-in microwaves and microwaves that sit on the counter.

Some basic options you'll definitely need:

  • A digital display that's easy to read and simple to program.
  • A 1-minute key for quick cooking and for extending cooking times.
  • Defrost mode.
  • A rotating turntable that's large enough to fit (and turn) your dishes.

Some upgrade options to ponder:

  • Convection mode. This feature helps reduce cold spots by cooking and browning more evenly.
  • Moisture sensor. This cool, hi-tech feature measures the amount of steam coming off the food and uses that knowledge to determine when the food is done.
  • Pre-programmed options. These are preset time options for cooking or warming certain foods (for example, "potato" or "popcorn"). Just hit one button, and you're good.
  • Trim kits. These create a custom look for microwaves built into the kitchen cabinetry.

Do you need a toaster or a coffee maker built into your microwave? Of course not! But you can get toaster and microwave combos and toaster and coffee maker combos anyway. They exist.

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Small Microwaves or Compact Microwaves

These smaller machines don't always have the programming options of larger microwaves. But if you're primarily using a microwave to warm cold coffee or reheat plates of leftovers, you probably don't need too many fancy bells and whistles. Compact microwaves bring about 700-800 watts of power, which provides less cooking oomph than full-size microwaves, which typically rate 1,000 watts or more. Basically, 700 watts will work for reheating and defrosting and some basic cooking. But you won't be blown away by the speed and efficiency.

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Full Size Microwaves

Full size means the inside cavity has about 2 cubic feet of space, enough room for your larger dishes. They rate 1,000 watts or more of power. If you have acres of counter space,countertop microwaves are the least expensive full-size option.

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Over the Range Microwaves (OTR)

Over the Range Microwaves (a.k.a., over the stove microwaves) are typically full-size microwaves with similar power and features. Besides freeing up valuable counter space, over the stove microwaves are also perched at roughly eye level so you can easily see what's happening and read the displays.

Downsides? Installation can be tricky. They do have vents, but the ventilation won't be nearly as good as a range hood. Also, with the microwave taking up a chunk of space above the stove, you'll want to make sure you have enough room to cook comfortably.

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You can also install full-size microwaves into cabinets or set them into kitchen islands.

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Microwave and Convection Oven Combos

This is actually two ovens in one. You can cook in microwave mode or convection mode, or have a ball flipping between the two modes. Microwave technology still can't pull off a good crisp. So the convection mode is key for browning and crisping foods. Will it work as well as your actual oven? No. Will this combo cost more than a regular microwave oven? Yes.


Related: See our collection of recipes you cook in the microwave.


Related: 12 Recipes You Should Be Making In Your Microwave


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