Preprogrammed cooking functions use sensors and/or preset power levels and times to cook a variety of foods, including popcorn, potatoes, beverages, vegetables, and frozen meals. The sensors detect how much steam is emitted from the cooking food, but they aren’t always accurate. Franke said, “A lot depends on the skill of the person who’s programming it.” In our tests, the accuracy of these functions varied from model to model.
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Though some reviewers found the dial control on this Panasonic microwave “odd” at first, many others think it’s more convenient and easier to use than a keypad. “If you haven’t used a microwave with a simple dial to control the time, try one, you’ll never go back,” raves one reviewer. “The controls are super simple (because of the dial!).” And dozens of reviewers agree that this microwave does its job exceptionally. “This is the best microwave I have owned,” a satisfied customer says. “It feels like this microwave is more responsive to my food and not just zapping it. The lighting on the inside makes it a little harder to see the contents inside, but really, except to assure that something is spilling over the side of the container, it isn’t necessary to see through the door. It has many, many presets for both frozen, reheat, milk, coffee, almost everything that put into a microwave.”
Every microwave oven contains a magnetron, which generates microwaves. Those waves are then guided into the oven’s cavity, where they bounce around, rapidly swinging the polarity of charged molecules in foods (particularly water, fats, and sugars) and generating heat. Metal mesh on the door keeps those large-wavelength microwaves from escaping the metal box and cooking you. (This great video uses a disassembled model to explain further.)
When shopping for the right model, consider the size, price, and type (countertop or over-the-range), depending on your kitchen space. Over-the-range microwaves are usually mounted over your stovetop, and they have a light and ventilation underneath. Depending on the model, you can also have the countertop or over-the-range microwave built into your kitchen setup. The options are limitless, fam.
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Volume control is one of the best extra features a microwave can have, but it’s pretty rare. Some models allow you to mute the beeping, but few microwaves let you adjust the actual volume. We also prefer models that stop beeping when the oven door is opened. It’s a small perk but one that many of our testers appreciated, particularly those who find the beeping annoying.
The included turntable is easy to remove for cleaning, and the large programming screen allows you to specify power levels, cooking times, and menu options for shortcuts and more complex cooking tasks. If you aren’t a fan of all those automatic options, then there are an amazing 14 auto-cook options for menu buttons that can cook a specific kind of food. Even the start button stands out and is easy to use.
In our heat map test, the Toshiba produced the most even heating pattern of all the microwaves we tested, perfectly browning the layer of marshmallows from edge to edge. It expertly cooked a baked potato in about 6 minutes, which was average for the microwaves we tried. It also reheated beverages well and perfectly cooked frozen macaroni and cheese. And it made tasty popcorn, with only 5 grams of kernels left unpopped, which was on a par with most of the models we tested. This model allows you to defrost by time or weight, but like most of the microwaves we tested, it didn’t defrost meat well.
If you’re worried about standing too close to your microwave and absorbing radiation, don’t be. The level of radiation in microwave ovens is very low, and must comply with strict regulations put in place by the FDA. You can read a detailed explanation in this article from The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter). And no, for the most part, the radiation in microwaves won’t destroy the nutrients in your food.
This GE microwave oven with a 16-inch turntable proves you don't need to spend a bundle to get perfectly "baked" potatoes, steamed broccoli, or evenly heated mac 'n cheese. Thanks to a smooth control panel with lettering that contrasts well with the background, it's super easy to read the display and wipe it clean. If stainless steel isn't your style, this model also comes in black and white.
This is a great microwave for power users who want complete control over their cooking — those often frustrated with overcooked leftovers or constantly sticking their finger in to check for cold spots. We didn’t mind spending a little extra time learning the features and extras we came to value, but it could be overkill for the average user looking for a familiar design.
Performance aside, simply using this microwave is a lot of fun. The buttons and dials have a satisfyingly crisp click to them, similar to punching letters on a typewriter. The Breville also features some extra convenience with a designated noise level button for one-push incognito mode, and a button labeled “A Bit More” that adds 20 seconds to the cook time.
It’s a good idea to clean your microwave regularly, even if you clean up spills or splatters here and there. To clean the inside, heat a microwave-safe bowl filled with water and a tablespoon of vinegar (white or apple cider will work) for several minutes. You want the inside to get steamy without the bowl of water to boiling over. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes before opening the door. Then, wipe the inside clean with a paper towel or use an abrasive sponge for any stuck-on food. Remove the turntable and either wash it by hand or in the dishwasher. Use an all-purpose cleaner for the exterior, but spray onto a paper towel or sponge first—not directly onto the microwave—to avoid it getting into the venting system. You should also avoid using bleach in your microwave.
Any form of cooking will destroy some nutrients in food, but the key variables are how much water is used in the cooking, how long the food is cooked, and at what temperature. Nutrients are primarily lost by leaching into cooking water, which tends to make microwave cooking healthier, given the shorter cooking times it requires. Like other heating methods, microwaving converts vitamin B12 from an active to inactive form; the amount of conversion depends on the temperature reached, as well as the cooking time. Boiled food reaches a maximum of 100 °C (212 °F) (the boiling point of water), whereas microwaved food can get locally hotter than this, leading to faster breakdown of vitamin B12. The higher rate of loss is partially offset by the shorter cooking times required.