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Before you even think about looking at different types of microwave, start by thinking about where you're going to put it in your kitchen, and whether you plan to have it 'built-in' or sitting on your worktop. There are now a whole range of options available for the built-in look, ranging from those mounted over the cooker to those that fit underneath the countertop and open up like a drawer. But all these options are entirely reliant on the shape and configuration of your kitchen, so we're just going to stick to the basic types of microwave out there, rather than where they fit.

When you've worked out where you want it to go, then think about how much you're likely to use it. If you don't see yourself doing much more than re-heating your coffee or warming up last night's take-away, then any of the basic, lower-priced models are going to be fine for your needs. But with many microwave ovens now offering the additional features of a traditional heating oven or grill, there are a number of upgrades to consider, including microwave grill-and-broil ovens, microwave/convection oven combinations and speedcook/halogen units. The speedcook/halogen and third element convection models will be the most expensive, those with grilling or broiling elements cheapest and those with convection cooking options somewhere in the middle.

Speedcook/halogen models typically offer heat produced by halogen bulbs combined with the traditional features of a microwave oven. They have the fastest combination cooking cycle and are particularly suitable for those who like to cook large joints of meat or poultry in the shortest possible time. Microwave/convection ovens are best for the home baker and also good at roasting meat, although not as quickly as in a speedcook model. For all-round use, the microwave/convection configuration is the most versatile as it can offer pretty much the whole range of effective microwaving, defrosting, reheating and convection (heat-only) cooking, although they can get quite messy inside and are difficult to clean. Microwave ovens with grilling and broiling features are generally cheaper, but seldom live up to the manufacturers' gourmet claims.

If you plan to use your microwave a lot, you might want to think about getting a larger model with special features for more accurate cooking, reheating and defrosting. For the best results, look for models with built-in sensors that take the guesswork out of cooking and reheating. Multi-stage cooking is another desirable extra, which allows for gradual defrosting and prevents pre-cooking of food edges.
Wattage is no longer the primary criteria for selecting a microwave, as by now most manufacturers will select the correct wattage for the size of their machine. Microwave wattages vary from about 500 to over 1,000 watts, and the higher the wattage, the faster the food will cook. But the most powerful is not necessarily the best microwave for you - go for the one with the features you think you're going to use.

Author R. Germain
date added Wed 29 07 2009

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