The microwave showed up on many American kitchen counters in the 1970s, a giant metal box that promised to zap food on demand. In the 1980s, the pre-programmed popcorn key started a rage for the new version of the snack. Sales of microwaves skyrocketed.
Today’s microwave, now sleeker and faster, is a staple in homes, offices and dorms. Each year, there are more user-friendly features. Panasonic has a model that displays the message “Enjoy Your Meal” after it finishes heating.
Sophisticated sensors. Sensors monitor moisture coming off the food and adjust cooking time as needed.
Safer options. More microwaves offer a child-safety lock feature. A code must be entered before the appliance will operate.
Microwave drawers. Manufacturers are producing built-in drawer models that are easier to reach.
Cleaning. Freshen and clean your unit by squeezing some lemon juice in water and microwaving for a few minutes. Then wipe down the sides.
Safety. Only choose containers approved for microwave use. Lightweight takeout containers or margarine tubs can melt. Some earthenware or clay dishes may not be safe.
Don’t overfill. Boiling soups or coffee can spill over.
LOW, MIDDLE, HIGH
Susan Kendra, senior buyer for the kitchen at Amazon.com, recommends three microwaves at various price levels. They sell about 5,000 different models. (See images above.)
Ten power levels and a defrost setting, eight special buttons, including pizza and soup, child-safety lock. 0.7 cubic feet; 700 watts; black $59.49.
16.5-inch turntable, advanced defrosting technology, countertop or built-in option. 2.2 cubic feet, 1,250 watts; stainless steel. $188.89.
Curved cavity, which is easier to clean and no hard-to-reach edges; 16-inch turntable; custom defrost settings for meat, poultry and fish. 2.0 cubic feet, 1,200 watts; stainless steel. $189.
1. Don’t select a microwave based only on sleekness. If you are buying a countertop oven, go armed with measurements of the space between your counter and kitchen cabinets. Educate yourself on the different uses of the microwave, far beyond just popping corn.
2. The higher the wattage, the faster your microwave will heat or boil water. The range is around 700 to 1,300 watts. “A higher wattage lessens the amount of time needed to cook something and the food output is more nutritious,” says Julie Baumann, a marketing manager at Panasonic.
3. Consider the interior size of the microwave and the size of the turntable. Measure your casserole dishes and plates and make sure whatever unit you choose will accommodate them. Most models range from 0.5 to 2.2 cubic feet.
BY THE NUMBERS
Average lifespan in years of a microwave oven.
Source: Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers
Things most frequently heated in the microwave:
Percent of American households that own microwaves in the U.S.
Source: Sharp Electronics
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