The invention of the microwave oven introduced the first truly new method of cooking food since humans discovered fire. Microwave ovens have since become a staple appliance in domestic and commercial kitchens around the world, coming in several different varieties and boasting multiple innovative features. In order to find out which microwave best suits your needs, we’ve compiled a guide to the many different options on the market today. Read on to discover which microwave is right for you!
Microwave ovens explained
Every cooking appliance in your kitchen, from the oven to the barbeque, relies on the same principle to cook food: the application of heat. Every appliance that is, except one. A microwave oven cooks food using microwaves, a form of electromagnetic radiation that transfers energy to the molecules of the food being cooked – energy which is given off as heat, which cooks the food. Because microwaves can penetrate substances more effectively than simple heating, a microwave oven cooks food far more quickly and evenly than a conventional heat appliance; microwaves alone, however, cannot create the same temperatures which brown or caramelise food in the same way as other cooking methods. Using a microwave on the wrong settings (i.e. too high or too low) can also result in uneven cooking.
Because of their unique method of cooking, microwave ovens are much safer than traditional cooking methods – they do not become hot when cooking food, and microwave insulation in modern ovens is universal, as is automatic shut off when the door is opened.
Types of microwave oven
Microwave ovens are usually placed or installed in three different ways:
- Free-standing: These microwaves can be moved around the kitchen and usually rest on a bench or shelf; all they require is a nearby power outlet. Free-standing microwaves are ideal for people whose kitchens have a large amount of bench space or empty shelving.
- Built-in: A built-in microwave is one that is permanently installed in your kitchen, usually above or below an oven. They require custom installation and are often more expensive than a countertop microwave as a result, but they save far more space by being integrated into shelving and also preserve the overall design of your kitchen. If space or aesthetic appeal is your main priority, then a built-in microwave oven is likely your best option.
- Over-the-range: These microwave ovens are installed, as their name suggests, above a stove or cooking range. They are permanent installations similar to built-in microwaves, but they also contain an integrated vent and fan to dissipate cooking fumes from below. Over-the-range microwaves are very space efficient, though as with built-in models they cost more to install, and are generally less efficient at venting a stove than a conventional range hood.
Standard microwave ovens utilise electromagnetic radiation to heat food more quickly and evenly than a traditional gas or electric oven. They have no major additions and represent the cheapest and most common microwave ovens on the market.
Grill type microwaves combine a standard microwave with a metal grill rack and a conventional heating element. This combines the fast, even heating ability of a microwave oven with higher external temperature provided by a conventional grill; this allows food to be browned or sealed, which cannot be achieved with a standard microwave oven.
Convection microwave ovens are effectively a mix of a microwave and a traditional oven, combining a standard microwave with a fan and heating element. Doing so creates a constant current of hot air that evenly browns and caramelises the outside of the food, whilst complementing the internal heating ability of microwaves.
Features to consider
Different types and prices of microwaves can vary greatly; the most popular commercial models have capacities of around 32 litres, and this can vary from 25-35 litres depending on factors such as price and complexity.
- Cooking options
Every microwave oven will provide different options for cooking food, with more expensive models generally having more (and better) features. These can include settings for cooking specific foods, defrosting or reheating, slow cooking or delayed start and variable times. If you use your microwave for a variety of different foods, consider buying one with several programs that can make your life easy.
Many microwaves have rotating internal plates or moving trays which allow for more even heat distribution and faster cooking; however these are often omitted on cheaper models to cut costs, so if you ‘re looking for such a feature you may have to opt for a more expensive model.
- Flexible racks
Most grill or convection ovens come with the option of interchangeable racks for cooking different foods, and are well suited to people who use their microwave as an all-in-one oven for cooking different foods.