Microwave Buyers Guide The Complete Guide to Microwaves

If you’re like me, you realized that your current microwave is no longer useful. Maybe it’s broken beyond repair, maybe your son or daughter is going of off to college and you need to buy a new one. Or maybe your family has outgrown your current microwave. 

In this post, I will cover every aspect of buying a new microwave. I will discuss the different types, sizes, and features. I will help you decide which wattage is best for you and how to determine the true price of each microwave. In addition, I will discuss the features and benefits of the different places you can install your microwave.

Also, I will conclude this guide with an overview of the different brands, as well as the differences of those brands. Finally, I will discuss a few accessories that will take your microwave cooking to the next level. Click here to skip the reading and see my recommended microwaves.

Everything that I’ve learned while researching microwaves after my microwave began to break is included in this post. I have spent countless hours attempting to find the best microwave for me and my family. Now, I am passing what I’ve learned to you.

Before we get started…

Before we get started, there are a few things you need to consider before buying a new microwave. Thinking about these things first, and you should be happy with your purchase:

  • How much are you willing to spend?
  • How often are you planning to use this microwave
  • What are you going to cook in the microwave?
  • Who is going to cook in the microwave?
  • Can you repair your old microwave?
  • How long will you use this microwave?

Let’s take a closer look at this 6 questions…


For most, the price is an important fact when buying anything, including appliances. You should have a limit as to the amount you want to spend on buying a new microwave. You should be able to find a microwave at almost any price, but you may need to make some concessions.

In this buying guide, I spend a good deal of time talking about price; how the price is impacted by things like features, watts, and finishes. In addition to buying a new microwave, it is possible that you can find success in buying a used microwave, but there are some drawbacks there as well.


The next thing you should consider is how often you plan to use your microwave. Usage is important because it may lead you to realize that you need to spend more or less on a microwave, or you need a different type of microwave then what you had before. Usage can also help you determine if you need a microwave with higher or lower wattage and oven capacity. Usage will help you “right size” your microwave. 


Like usage, understanding what you will be cooking will help you buy the perfect microwave. If you are only cooking popcorn and reheating leftovers, you may not need the top of the line microwave. Also, if you plan on baking cakes, a solo microwave will not work for you. Make a list that you’ve cooked in your microwave, that will help you later on in this buying guide. 

Who’s cooking

Who’s cooking the food will help you decide which features are important. If this microwave is for an older person, then a microwave with fewer features, and a larger display may be important. If this microwave is for a single parent, then a microwave with a child lock will be very important. 

Repair the Old One

Before throwing out the old microwave, consider looking into fixing it first. Spend a few minutes researching the symptoms of the problem and see if it can be fixed cheaply. Also, consider the type, age, and cost when fixing an old microwave. 

Microwave Age

The final thing you should consider before buying a new microwave is the age of your microwave. After researching, I found the average age of a microwave is 9.5 years. While there are a number of factors that can have an impact on the age, consider looking into fixing an old microwave if it is less than 4 years old. 

Now that we’ve covered some of the basics let’s dive into buying a microwave that will meet our needs. The microwave power is the most important aspect of the microwave and a great place to start.

Microwave Power

Microwave power, called watts, is how most microwave cook food. In this section I will discuss watts in microwaves more in-depth, discuss the differences between wattages, and which wattage you should choose. Finally, I will discuss why wattage is the most important feature in a microwave, and why your this should be your starting point when buying a microwave.

Watts, also associated with light bulbs, is a way to measure power. Microwave ovens convert this power into energy to cook food. Watts are the most important feature because wattage has a direct impact on how fast your food cooks. The higher the wattage, the faster your food will cook. In addition, the higher the wattage, the more versatile your microwave will be.

Microwaves use a magnetron to create microwaves (a form of electromagnetic radiation), then the microwaves bounce off the metal interior. The reflections cause the food to vibrate via the water molecules inside the food. Finally, the friction creates the heat that cooks the food. 

All domestic microwave ovens have a wattage range between 500 – 1700. Microwaves with lower wattages usually have a smaller oven capacity and limited features. In addition, microwaves will lower wattages are much cheaper than microwaves with higher wattages. 

To better look at the importance of watts, let’s look at a few examples. These examples will compare the difference in cooking time between a microwave will 800 watts, and a microwave with 1000 watts. To see the complete chart, follow this link

  • 800 watts: 2:30 (m:ss), 1000 watts: 2.00
  • 800 watts: 5:00, 1000 watts: 4:00
  • 800 watts: 7:30, 1000 watts: 6:00

The linked chart converts watts based on recipe recommendations. For example, if the recipe recommends cooking the entree for 2:30 at 800 watts, you can cook the food for 2:00 at 1000 watts. 

How to choose

Because this is the most important feature, it is important to think about how you will use your new microwave. If this microwave will mostly be used for reheating leftovers, cooking rice, and thawing food, then a lower wattage microwave will be sufficient. However, If you plan on cooking entire or complex meals, consider a microwave with a higher wattage.

Unless you are purchasing a microwave for a location with wattage limitations, like a college dorm, you should look to purchase a microwave with a minimum of 900 watts. Anything less than 900 watts will limit what you can cook, and how long it will take you to cook it.

Microwave Power Examples

  • Insignia 0.7 Cubic Feet Compact Microwave: 700 watts
  • GE 1.1 Cubic Feet Mid-Size Microwave: 950 watts
  • KitchenAid 1.4 Cubic Feet Built-in Microwave: 1600 watts. 

The second most important feature in microwave ovens is the microwave size. We will discuss the importance of the microwave size in the next section. 

Microwave Sizes

Microwave sizes, called oven capacity, is the second most important feature when deciding on a microwave oven. Oven capacity is the cubic feet inside of the microwave box. The cubic feet is calculated by multiplying the length, width, and height inside of the microwave. The oven capacity ranges in size between 0.6 and 2.5 cubic feet for domestic microwaves.

In general, there are three sizes: small, medium, large. Below is the oven capacity associated with each size.

  • Small: Less than 1.1 cubic feet
  • Medium: 1.1 – 1.7 cubic feet
  • Large: 1.6 and up cubic feet

There is a slight overlap because some brands will consider their microwave smaller or larger for marketing purposes.

In this section, I will discuss the importance of the oven capacity, how to choose the right size for your family, and the oven capacity based on the food you plan to cook.


As I’ve mentioned, the oven capacity is the second most important feature because it determines the amount of food you can cook at one time. The larger the oven capacity (in cubic feet) the more, or larger, items that can be cooked at one time. Below are just a few examples of what can be cooked based on oven capacity.

  • 0.5 cubic feet = 3.7 gallons of milk
  • 1.5 cubic feet = 11.22 gallons of milk
  • 2.5 cubic feet = 18.7 gallons of milk

Oven capacity is also important because there is a relation between the number of watts and the size of the microwave. In most domestic microwaves, the larger the watts, the higher the oven capacity. This theory holds true when all other factors or the same.

In addition, the higher the oven capacity, the more feature choices you will have. Microwaves with 0.7 cubic feet of oven capacity will be limited to defrost, one-button cooking, and standard cooking. Microwaves that have an oven capacity over 2 cubic feet will have options life convection cooking, genius sensor and more.

What Size Do I need?

The microwave size you need is based on the number of people you’ll be cooking for daily and what you plan to cook. It is important to consider your daily cooking rather than the once and a while holiday or celebration cooking. Unless you are hosting 2 or more parties per month, daily cooking is more important.

Number of People

First, consider the number of people you will be coming for. Below is an unofficial chart based on the number of people you’ll be cooking for.

  • Less than 2 People: small
  • Between 2 – 5: Medium
  • More than 5: Large

This chart will change if this microwave will be in an office or some other setting different than a kitchen.

Food You Will be Cooking

The second factor you should also consider is what types of food you will be cooking with your microwave. As I’ve mentioned, larger microwaves include better features including a grilling function, convection cooking, and genius cooking. I will discuss the various features more in-depth later in this post.

In addition, you will need a larger microwave if you plan to cook entire meals with the microwave, as a .5 cubic foot microwave may be too small to cook a medium Cornish hen.


The final aspect to consider when buying a microwave is the price of the microwave. As the oven capacity increases, so does the price. In fact, there is a direct correlation between watts, oven capacity, and price. If the price is high, usually the oven capacity and watts are high.

The oven capacity is not an indicator of price when considering the price of a commercial microwave.

Oven Capacity Examples

  • Daewoo KOR-7LREM Retro Countertop Microwave: 0.7 cubic feet
  • Panasonic Microwave Oven NN-SN686S: 1.2 Cubic Feet
  • Frigidaire FFCE2278LS Countertop Microwave: 2.2 Cubic Feet

Microwave Types

There are three types of microwaves: solo, grill, and convection. In this section, I will discuss what each type does, the benefits, differences, and which one you should choose. Finally, I will conclude each section with a few examples of the type of microwave.  


Solo microwaves are the most basic of the three types of microwaves. These microwaves are used to reheat food, cook noodles, and heat beverages using only a magnetron. These microwaves usually have a limited number of features but can be found in any size. In addition, these microwaves usually have lower wattage, but you can find a few with higher wattages.

Solo microwaves are denoted as “microwave” or “microwave oven.” These microwaves are best for cooking microwave popcorn, frozen dinners, and cooking rice. These microwaves can be in/ on a countertop, built-in or installed over the range.

Finally, these microwaves are the cheapest of the three microwave types ranging in price from $40 – $200.

Solo Microwave Examples

Here are a few examples of solo microwave ovens

  • Toshiba EM925A5A-BS Microwave Oven
  • AmazonBasics Smart Microwave
  • Comfee EM720CPL-PMB Countertop Microwave

Grill Microwaves

The second type of microwave is a grill (or grilling) microwave. Grill microwaves are solo microwaves with an additional grill function. These microwaves provide all the same benefits as a solo microwave, but also grill food like an outdoor grill. These microwaves can reheat and defrost food, cook rice, and heat beverages. In addition, these microwaves can grill any type of meat, vegetables, or bread.

The main benefit of a grill microwave is that it can grill food in the time that it takes to microwave popcorn. These microwaves have two types of grill features: grill and combo grilling. The grill feature “only” grills your food, while the combo feature grills and microwaves the food at the same time.

Usually, grill microwaves are found in the medium and large size category. In addition, because of the different type of cooking, most grill microwaves will have a minimum wattage of 1000. Finally, because of the additional features, the cost of a grill microwave begins at $100. The price will increase based on the other features, finish, and brand name of the microwave.

Grill Microwave Examples

Here are a few examples of grill microwaves.

  • Farberware FMO12AHTBSG Microwave Oven with Grill Function
  • Samsung MG11H2020CT Countertop Grill Microwave Oven
  • Emerson MWG9115SB Griller Microwave Oven

Convection Microwaves 

The third type of microwave is the convection microwave. These microwaves take the benefits of solo and convection microwaves and add the ability to heat the microwave with a blower fan. This fan simulates the cooking style of a “normal” microwave. The benefit of the convection style cooking is that you can bake cookies, cakes, and pies in your microwave.

Convection microwaves can be found in medium and large sizes. In addition, these microwaves also have at least 1000 watts included. While it’s possible to find a convection microwave for any location, I’ve mostly found that they are either built in or installed over the range. These microwaves usually include all the features possible for a microwave.

Finally, these microwaves are the most expensive of the three. Because these microwaves usually have premium features, are installed over the range, and have a larger size, you can expect these microwaves to cost at least $250.

Convection Microwave Examples

Here are few examples of convection microwaves.

  • Cuisinart CMW-200 Convection Microwave Oven with Grill
  • Toshiba EC042A5C-BS Microwave Oven with Convection Function
  • Samsung MC11K7035CG Countertop Power Convection Microwave Oven

How to choose

Here is a quick recap of the types of food you can cook in each type:

  • Solo: noodles/ rice, reheat, defrost, beverages
  • Grill: solo + bread, meat, vegetables, bread
  • Convection: solo + grill + cakes, cookies, pies, muffins

Which one to choose depends on how serious you are about using your microwave to cook. If this microwave is for a break room, or will not be used very often, I recommend buying a solo microwave.

If you plan to us this microwave a few times a week, or want to cook bread, I recommend buying a grill microwave. The difference between a solo and a grill microwave is a grill microwave can create a crispness to your bread. Solo microwaves can make bread soggy and unappealing.

Finally, If you plan on using a microwave multiple times per week, or want to bake with your microwave, I recommend buying a convection microwave. While the cost is a little higher, it may be a better value in the long run.

Other Factors to Consider

Also, consider the amount of money you can afford to spend, the location where this microwave will be installed, and who will use this microwave.

Microwave Features

Microwave features are anything included with the microwave that is activated with the keypad. In this section, I discuss 5 of the most common features. In addition, I highlight a few additional features that you should consider when buying a new microwave. Click here to see the complete list of 20+ microwave features.

For the purposes of this guide, I include the microwave finish in with the features.

Common Features

Below are 5 features I consider to be the most common on microwaves. In addition, this section will include a brief description and why each feature is important.

  • Defrost
  • Express cooking
  • Power level
  • Turntable
  • One touch cooking


The defrost feature uses the microwaves’ watts to thaw frozen foods. In most cases, you must enter the foods’ weight, and type, then the microwave will use varying power levels to thaw the food. Newer microwaves include an auto-defrost function. This function makes it easier to defrost food because you just set the frozen food in the microwave and press auto defrost.

Defrost is important because it allows you to pull food out of the freezer and bring it to cooking temperature in minutes, not hours. Without the defrost function you may have to place the food in a sink full of water for hours. Another option is to take the food out earlier in the day, and hope that its ready to cook when you need it.

Express Cooking

Express cooking is a feature in which you press a number, usually 1 through 9, and that number will cook on high for that time. For example, if you press “5” on a microwave that includes this feature, your microwave will cook for 5 minutes.

This feature is important because it can save time when cooking. Instead of pressing “5,” “:,” “0,” “0,” you simply press 5. When is isn’t a major feature, it saves time, and microwaves are used to save time.

One-touch Cooking

One-touch cooking is a feature in which buttons are saved for the most commonly cooked food. Simply place a corresponding food in the microwave and press that button. The microwave will cook for the correct time. Like express cooking, this feature aims to save time, and prevent overcooked food.

The number of buttons can vary by brand, but here are a few of the most common one-touch buttons:

  • Popcorn
  • Beverage
  • Potato
  • Frozen Dinner

The benefit of this feature is that it saves time and prevents overcooked food.

Power Level

The power level feature allows you to increase or decrease the power of your microwave. For example, if your microwave has 1000 watts at full power, you can use your microwave at 10%, 20%, 30% and so on. Reducing the power level comes in handy when a recipe calls for cooking at 800 watts for 5 minutes.

As I mentioned, the benefit of adjusting the power level is precise cooking. In addition, adjusting the power level is important when defrosting food.

Microwaves use a “trick” to adjust the power level. Microwaves that do not have inverter technology turn off the magnetron to achieve the required power level. For example, if you set your microwave for 50%, then the microwave will cook for 50% of the time and turn off the other 50%.

Finally, the number of power levels will vary based on brand and total number of watts in a microwave. Microwaves can have as few as 5 and as many as 15 power levels.


Most domestic microwaves include a glass turntable. This turntable moves while food is cooking and helps to ensure that your food is evenly cooked. When a microwave is on, the microwaves bounce off the metal and eventually reach your food. The turntable ensures that all potions of your food receive the microwave.

This feature is enabled by default but can be turned off on higher end microwaves. If you have a grill or convection microwave, you will want to turn this feature off when using the grill or convection features.

Additional Features

There are another 15 features that you may want to consider when purchasing your microwave. These features include child locks, WI-FI connected features, and inverter technology. These additional features will add an additional premium on your microwave but aren’t needed.

Below are my top five additional features you should consider and a brief description of each

  • Easy clean – the interior is finished with an easier to clean finish. I discuss how to clean your microwave in this article.
  • Child Lock – this feature will prevent a child (or anyone not familiar with the feature) from opening the microwave door. This is a must if you have small children and a countertop microwave.
  • Eco Mode – this feature powers down the microwave when not in use. This microwave can save money on your energy bill and extend the life of your microwave. This feature turns on and off automatically.
  • Inverter technology – As I mentioned in the power level section, microwaves without inverter technology turn off for a period during the cook. Inverter technology controls the wattage output during the cook. So, the magnetron will be on the entire time, but the power will be reduced.
  • Smart functions – This feature varies by brand, but smart functions allow you to control your microwave via the internet. For example, the Amazon Basics Smart microwave allows you to say, “Hey Alexa, cook popcorn.” Once it hears that command, it starts cooking the popcorn.

Other smart microwaves allow you to look up the defrost time using a UPC label, then cook for that length of time.

Smart Microwaves are still new, you may want to wait a bit before buying a microwave with this feature.

Finally, microwaves are finished in one of two ways: plastic or stainless steel. Depending on the model, stainless steel can add 15% or more to the cost of the microwave.

Microwave Locations

There are three main places you can place your microwave: countertop, built-in, over the range. In this section will discuss a few differences between the three including price, features, and oven capacity.


As the name implies, countertop microwaves are placed on top of your countertop. These microwaves are not secured in place and can be light enough to move. These microwaves can be any of the three types mentioned, any watt, and size. These microwaves are the cheapest of the three locations listed.

These microwaves can also be installed under countertops like over-the-range.

Over the Range

These microwaves are installed over the range (stove top). While the oven capacity, and watts are like countertop microwaves, these microwaves may be physically bigger and heavier because they must fit the width of the stove. These microwaves are screwed into the surrounding cabinets and mounted into the wall studs.

These microwaves are more expensive than countertop microwaves but much less expensive than built-in microwaves.


Built-in microwaves are microwaves that appear to be a part of the cabinet system, then open when it’s time to cook. These microwaves usually include many of the premium features available. Usually, these microwaves must be professionally installed. Finally, these microwaves are the most expensive of the three locations.

Microwave Brands

There are at least 13 microwave brands available. Many of these brands will have microwaves in every watt, size, price, and style. The brand you choose will come down to your comfort level with the brand name, available features, and price. Below are 5 of my favorite brands and a brief description when it made this list.


This microwave has several models with all the features listed. I like this brand because of the affordable price. You can purchase an insignia microwave for as low as $50.


Kenmore is a premium brand that has a lot of over-the-range and built-in microwaves. I like this brand because of their strong brand in the appliance industry.


KitchenAid is another premium brand in the appliance industry. Kenmore makes built-in and over-the-range microwaves only. Like Kenmore, KitchenAid has a very strong brand name in the industry.


Whirlpool has been around for a long time. They were one of the first brands in the appliance industry. They make microwaves for any location at any price.


Westinghouse is an off brand in the small appliance industry. I like this brand because they have very affordable microwaves. This brand only makes countertop microwaves.

Microwave Accessories 

Microwave accessories are used to enhance the strengths of your microwave. These accessories can be anything from popcorn poppers to chip makers. The accessories you need will depend on what you enjoy cooking and microwave type. For example, you may consider a bacon crisper if you have a solo microwave. Here are my 5 favorite microwave accessories

  • Popcorn popper
  • Microwave plate cover
  • Bacon grill
  • Plate and Bowl caddy
  • Meat thermometer

Click here to see the complete list of 23 best microwave oven accessories