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The three general categories of countertop microwave ovens are subcompact to compact (less than 0.8 cubic feet); midsize (0.8 to 1.1 cubic feet); and full-size (1.2 cubic feet and larger).
There is also a growing category of microwave/convection ovens. These units employ radiant heat, like that used in conventional ovens, so meats brown and retain their juices and baked goods develop crusts.
Under-the-counter models can be built into a cabinet and are invaluable to a small kitchen, while over-the-range microwaves combine a microwave and a vent hood, providing extra utility.
When selecting a microwave oven, consider:
- the size of your cookware
- the number of people in your family
- whether you plan to use the microwave for primary cooking
Most microwave oven recipes are written for ovens with 600-700 watts of power. Cooking time increases as wattage is reduced -- 10-20 percent for every 100 watts below 700. A small oven with low wattage will naturally take longer to cook, and you will have to adapt recipes. You may want to buy a compact microwave only if you want to reheat, defrost, and cook small amounts of food. A family of four will probably need a midsize oven to cook in greater quantities. If you want to cook complete meals for a family, consider a full-size oven for its size, features, and power. Measured in watts, the more power your microwave has, the faster it will cook your food. Currently, the average power is 800-900 watts, but the general range available is 600-1300 watts.
Microwave cooking may require you to turn dishes or stir the food that is cooking to ensure even heating. Microwave energy is emitted in a fixed pattern, so some microwaves use a stirrer fan to distribute energy uniformly within the oven cavity. Others equip the oven with a turntable. Neither method totally eliminates the need to tend to the cooking food. Built-in turntables also reduce the usable size of the oven cavity, limiting the size of dishes that can be used.
You may want to purchase a removable turntable separately or buy an oven with a turntable that can be removed, so you can fit a larger dish in the cavity. Lacking a turntable, you can certainly turn the dish yourself.
Precision timing is important when microwave cooking, and electronic touch controls provide greater accuracy than rotary dials. Most electronic controls also allow the user to program the oven to defrost and then cook automatically, or to change power levels for multi-stage cooking.
Auto-start allows you to program cooking hours in advance, but, in practice, you probably don't want your food to sit in the microwave cavity for several hours prior to cooking.
A convection microwave combines traditional cooking with modern convenience. These multifunction units, that cook by heat, and with microwaves, will allow you to brown, bake, broil, crisp, roast and microwave. Some units also offer combination cooking settings such as "roast-with-microwave."
Probes and sensors prevent over-cooking by either stopping the oven when food is done or shifting to a "keep warm" cycle. Units with a probe require the user to insert the probe into the meat, casseroles, or stew to monitor the food. Sensors are built-in to the microwave.
Browning units can act like broilers. These units do take up some space in the microwave oven. Another point to keep in mind: you cannot use plastic dishes in the microwave when the browning unit is on.
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If you have any further questions, please feel free to send us an email at customerservice@CompactAppliance.com or call us at 1.800.297.6076