How do I choose a microwave?
May 12, 2016 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Please help me buy my first microwave. What do I need to know? How much is reasonable to spend? Australian edition.

I'm a new home owner, and I need to buy a microwave. I am the kind of person who likes to have options weighed up and considered, but I have a bunch on my plate right now and can't spend hours googling different microwave features. I am trying to make grownup purchasing decisions but I really have no idea! I spent ages in the aisle contemplating which toaster to go with... I want to be more informed this time. I am happy to spend a little bit more to get something that will last a while rather than buy the best looking piece of plastic in the shop.

What's the deal with spinning/not spinning? Buttons or knob? Various defrosting options?
I am assuming things have changed since 2007.

Things that are important to me:
Product is safe, works good, ethical, price is reasonable, looks good, in that order.

Where I am- rural Victoria, Australia. We have a Harvey Norman, Betta Electrical, Kmart and Target, and I could travel to Melbourne if needed.

I'm not averse to specific recommendations, but more looking for general principles and rough guides.

Thanks for helping me to adult!
posted by freethefeet to Shopping (12 answers total)

I trust The Sweethome for this kind of thing. The best microwave, which recommends a GE JES2051SN for USD $179. Even if you can't find that model where you are the review will be helpful for what criteria they use.

Spinning is good. As is a higher quality microwave that has more even power distribution. I have a very fancy microwave at home that's nice because the low power modes are genuinely lower power; cheap microwaves mostly just cycle turning off and on for faking low power. Also the fancy microwave has a rack which elevates whatever you put in it off the floor, which seems to help with even cooking.
posted by Nelson at 6:56 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pay attention to dimensions. I bought the Panasonic "Genius Prestige" that was the runner-up in the Sweethome review linked above and when we opened it up we both started laughing because it was so comically huge (the big joke was that we were going to try to microwave our Thanksgiving turkey for 25 people in there). I had thought microwaves were all around the same size. Not so.
posted by town of cats at 7:04 AM on May 12, 2016

The Sharp Carousel line of microwaves has been highly rated pretty consistently for many years.

I have one that is now 23 years old, and works like the day I took it out of the box.
posted by yesster at 7:48 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Depends how much you want to spend. We got by for years with a $50 RCA model that worked just fine. Our new place came with a Panasonic Genius built in, and it's much better for things like auto-defrost, but honestly it's not 3.5x better than our old RCA. Microwaves are a commodity item at this point, but if you have the cash, it's hard to go wrong with a Panasonic Genius.

The Sweethome guide referenced above will give you general things to look for. Spinning is good, knobs vs buttons is up to you - I liked the knob on our old RCA but the buttons on the Panasonic work just fine too. The big thing is hotspots, which you can't really see in the store.
posted by sid at 7:52 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

For a 'fun project' we ignored the manufacturer's labels and took apart our Swan microwave a few months ago. Its innards were a celebration of cutting-edge 1970s technology: chunky hand-soldered circuit boards to power the oven, clockwork for the timer and a basic gear system to drive the spinning plate.

You need a microwave oven to heat stuff up really quickly and hopefully, evenly. The very best ovens sometimes fail on this last proviso, so it's up to you, the user, to stir your food and avoid hotspots (and not be the appalling person who tries to make a cup of tea in a microwave).

Also bear in mind that most microwaves use more electricity displaying the (slightly inaccurate) time than heating your food.

In short, go for the most bum-basic microwave you can find and use it well.
posted by dogsbody at 12:49 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm pleased with my LG microwave that goes on the wall over the cooker. It keeps it out of the way so it doesn't take up counter-space, and also serves as a coooking light and a fan hood.

In terms of counter-top ones, Panasonic is considered the best due to their invertor technology, which makes them able to smoothly operate at reduced power which is useful when defrosting food.
posted by w0mbat at 3:45 PM on May 12, 2016

Product is safe, works good, ethical, price is reasonable, looks good, in that order.

Safe: Microwaves available for sale in the shops you've listed will be safe & adhere to various standards.

Works good: it's really quite a simple machine so they all pretty much work good, especially if most of the time you're just using it to reheat or cook things for a short time eg mug cake.

Ethical: means all sorts of different things to different people. You could look at energy star ratings and company profiles if that will help you narrow it down. Again, you're mostly not using it for long so they're not going to be a big draw on your power supply. For household electronics, how you dispose of it will be a major ethical consideration you have some control over.

Price: you can spend as much as you want.

Looks: they're mostly white boxes unless you're going for one that matches your oven.

I have a cheap white box. It spins. It has a touch pad. I've had it for maybe 15 years. I use it to defrost, reheat and very occasionally to cook. It does what I need it to do. Maybe start with one of those $20 ones from Kmart and see what you like or don't like? You might find it suits you just fine and end up having it as long as I've had mine.

Get one that doesn't have lots of nooks and crannies so cleaning is easy. Things blow up/ boil over in microwaves.
posted by stellathon at 4:12 PM on May 12, 2016

Buy an Inverter microwave. These are the kind that actually can run at a reduced power level.

Most standard microwaves simulate a reduced power level by just duty-cycling (alternating) on and off between 100% and 0%, which is not the same thing at all.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 4:38 PM on May 12, 2016

You do not mention where you will place the microwave, but on the off chance you are going to mount it over the range (many folks do to save counter space), the wisdom I heard is to just buy a decent one but nothing too fancy, because over the range is a hostile place for electronics. Putting a lower priced but good quality one in that location is what I did (Samsung in my case). FWIW.
posted by forthright at 5:59 PM on May 12, 2016

Yeah, defrosting. Microwaves can do this but are bad at it, especially defrosting meat or fish. I cook a lot of food on the weekends, freeze in portions and then defrost/reheat for meals during the week. I have learned how to make the most of my current microwave efficient at this task through trial and error.

Microwaves are also great for steaming fresh veggies. Without looking, I can't tell you the make or model of my microwave. I don't think brand, price or internet user-reviews are a big factor in this decision. Just get one, don't put metal in it. Try it.

I would never buy one that didn't have the rotation option or an easily washable plate, btw. Understanding how "microwaves" actually heat your food might help you to decide too.
posted by esto-again at 2:50 AM on May 13, 2016

Thanks for the answers, all. Thanks especially to the "hey, just get a cheap one" answer. I still haven't bought one, but I will soon. Thanks!
posted by freethefeet at 4:06 AM on June 12, 2016

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