When microwaves first hit the scene, most people bought who bought one put it on their counter. They had existing kitchens and there weren’t the location advancements there is today.
However, it didn’t take long for kitchen designers and builders to come up with more convenient locations where they wouldn’t take up counter space. The result is that now you have many microwave location options which means there are several types of microwaves since not all can be placed in all locations. For example, to mount a microwave below a cabinet, you’re best off buying a microwave designed for being mounted beneath a cabinet.
What I think is the best part about more convenient locations is that they are at better heights than on the counter. When on the counter, you have to bend over to choose settings. Ours, as an example, is built-into the wall above our wall oven and so it’s just below my chin which makes for a very easy level to use. Personally, I much prefer microwaves to suspended, hung, or built in above the counter.
Nevertheless, these days there are all kinds, sizes, colors and styles of microwaves. The one thing that doesn’t vary too much are the features. Sure, the number of power levels may vary as well as the number of cooking presets (popcorn, pizza, potato, etc.), but those are the key features in addition to manually setting the cooking time.
Below I set out all the different types of microwaves you can choose from. I split it up by location, combo features, size, power, features and colors.
Table of Contents
Related: History of the Microwave Oven
The Different Types of Microwaves
The simplest microwave location placement is putting it on the counter.
Con: However, it’s not the best placement because it’s fairly low and it takes up counter space. That said, if you don’t have any other option, it’s better to put one on the counter than not have one at all.
Pros: You can find inexpensive, yet quality microwaves that sit on a counter (many of these microwaves are under $100). As soon as you want special placements, the price often goes up. Another pro is you can move it around the kitchen if you need to change the location for whatever purpose. You can’t do that with any built-in models.
TIP: If possible, place your countertop microwave in a location where you can’t use the counter space much. The above photo example is good because the small microwave is places on counter space that’s not terribly useful because it’s small and hedged between the stove and fridge.
An alternative to placing your countertop microwave on the counter is to buy a microwave cart that stands freely wherever you want in your kitchen.
2. Above the Range
Microwaves as range hoods mounted above the stove is a great placement location because that’s often wasted space and the microwave ends up being eye-level. Be sure to get a color or finish that matches the oven like it does in the photo example above. Imagine if the microwave in the kitchen photo above was white. That would look odd.
The downside to over-the-range microwaves is they cost more money… most above $100 and climb to several hundred dollars. Also, you may need help installing the unit above the stove which adds to the cost.
3. Under Cabinet (Suspended)
Another option is to get a microwave designed to mount below your upper cabinets so that it’s suspended or hangs or drops down from the upper cabinets. The only real advantage here is it makes keeping the counter top clean easier. Otherwise, usually the microwave drops down so low to the counter space that the counter space is practically useless anyway.
That said, if your upper cabinets have a decent amount of clearance above the counter and/or you buy a compact microwave, you can still end up with enough usable counter space beneath it. The kitchen photo example above illustrates that suspending the microwave below a cabinet works well because there’s decent clearance below it and the counter.
4. Under Counter
I’m not a huge fan of this location because you really need to bend down to use it. Our former home had the microwave built-into the counter below the counter surface and it was a nuisance to use. Nevertheless, if you have no other option, it’s better than nothing.
5. Built-In (Above-the-Counter)
A popular microwave location these days, which can only be achieved when renovating a kitchen or designing a new kitchen, is building it into the cabinets. This is a great location because you can put it at any height you want and it takes up no countertop space.
These days you can buy what are called combo microwaves that incorporate other functions. The two most popular combo options are microwaves with a convection oven or a microwave and grill combo. Below are examples of both.
6. Microwave Convection Oven Combo
The above Panasonic microwave (Amazon) is a very popular microwave convection oven unit that has a lot of great customer feedback. It incorporates inverter technology which heats food evenly. It’s also reasonably priced for a microwave and convection oven combo.
What is a convection oven?
A convection oven cooks food faster because it blows hot air around the food. It includes a vent to vent air in and out. The air moving around the food speeds up cooking time (just like being in a cold wind makes you colder). According to Fine Cooking, convection ovens can decrease cooking time by 25%. However, this can be an issue if recipes stipulate a set cooking time based on a traditional oven… that leaves you guessing as to how much time you should chop off the cooking time.
7. Microwave with Grill Function
You can now buy microwaves that also grill food. They come with a grill accessory. Here’s an example (available at Amazon).
Depending on where you’re placing your microwave and how you use your microwave, size will play an important part of the decision. You may want a huge microwave because you cook large dishes in it. Alternatively, you may prefer a compact microwave to take up as little space as possible. And then you may need to buy a microwave to fit a built-in microwave spot in your kitchen and so overall dimensions are critically important.
When it comes to microwave sizing, there are 4 considerations.
- Overall Dimensions: If you need to fit your microwave in a particular spot, you should choose the size based on overall size which is height x width x depth.
- Interior Dimensions: If you need to fit specific dish sizes or perhaps pizza size (as an example), you will want to choose a microwave based on interior dimensions (cooking space). Another consideration is internal height if you place taller pots in your microwave.
- By Cubic Feet: Many microwave categorize their size by cubic feet (cu. ft.), which refers to internal cooking area capacity. The smaller microwaves have .7 cu. ft. Larger models go up to 2.2 cu. ft. 1.4 cu. ft. is medium-sized microwave. FYI, a larger cubic foot does not necessarily mean more surface area. Cubic feet refers to the size of the entire internal space.
- By Turntable Diameter: This is a very common size consideration because the turntable diameter tells how large of a plate or round dish you can place in the microwave. Smaller microwave turntables are 9 inches in diameter. A large microwave has 16 inch turntables.
Mircowave power is measured by wattage and it refers to how much electricity it uses to operate.
Microwave wattage ranges from 700 to 1,500+. Small microwaves are rated 700 to 800 watts and it goes up from there. The higher the wattage, the faster and more even the cooking… but price goes up too. One of the main complaints from low wattage microwaves is that they cook slow and can cook uneven.
Key Microwave Features
- Cooking Presets: Most microwaves come with at least 6 cooking presets. Some offer more. The common presets are for cooking popcorn, pizza, potatoes, frozen dishes, reheat and in some cases rice. These make using a microwave convenient since cooking time varies from model-to-model. This way you stand a better chance to cook or heat up properly.
- Defrost Presets (by pound): Higher end models include more precise defrosting options which you can control by the weight of the food you’re defrosting.
- 30 second instant cook button: This is the feature I use the most. This handy button adds 30 seconds and starts cooking immediately for 30 seconds. When done, hit it again and it runs for another 30 seconds.
- Cooking time: Some microwaves have a cap on how long something will cook at one go. Usually it’s 30 to 60 minutes. Higher end models offer longer continuous cooking times.
- Digital vs. Dial: Yes, you can still buy dial controlled microwaves. They’re simpler. Most people buy digitally controlled microwaves.
- Sensor: The latest microwaves have built in sensor technology which senses when food is properly cooked. This is a terrific feature which makes it possible to not have to constantly check the food.
- Inversion Technology: Inversion technology improves cooking quality by cooking food more evenly. Instead of the microwave injecting waves in a cyclical or on and off fashion, inverstion technology maintains cooking evenly throughout the cooking duration.
- Door Opening Mechanism: You can buy a microwave with button-operated door or a door with a handle you pull. This boils down to personal preference.
That pretty much covers how to choose a microwave appliance. Much of it boils down to personal preferences, but it does help if you’ve used one for a while so you know which features you use and what you would like.