So I need a new microwave.
November 26, 2018 12:31 PM   Subscribe

After 20 years of faithful service, our microwave just dramatically died while I was attempting to heat up some leftovers. It was very exciting! It was a wedding gift, and the microwave I owned previously to that was also a gift, which means I have never in my life bought a microwave by myself, and I am wondering if buying a combination microwave is a good idea, or should I just stick to a basic model? Requirements/use case inside.

I would prefer not to spend a fortune, but figure I can handle spending a couple of hundred pounds on this for the right model.

I am a very keen cook. I have most of the usual kitchen appliances, although my oven is getting old, and the grill isn't great. There is definitely a case for me having extra oven/grill capacity, but if the oven/grill features on a combination microwave generally kind of suck, then there's probably no point in buying one.

I have plenty of counter space, so I don't need a particularly compact model.

Any and all advice is welcome.
posted by skybluepink to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You will spend a fraction of your budget if you buy it used.
posted by aniola at 12:54 PM on November 26, 2018

I wouldn't try to pull double duty with a microwave, best to leave it to do it's own thing. No need to spend hundreds of dollars either, even a new one should be less than 100 bucks. Get one that you like the looks of in your space and that has buttons/noises that do not irritate you to use. Spending hundreds will likely just mean paying out the butt for bullshit features you'll never need and that will just obscure what you do. Rotating tray and good power is about all that matters outside of useful button functionality. The worst microwaves are ones where you get to them and have to think and hunt down how to start it.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:01 PM on November 26, 2018

While I don't always go with their pick, I find the Wirecutter review is helpful in identifying things to look out for and the current state of the market when buying a thing, though it is somewhat US-centric.

My experience with combo appliances in general is that they tend to do both of the things they were intended for rather poorly, though I have no direct experience with combo microwaves.
posted by Aleyn at 1:03 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would not buy a combo machine, I've never seen one live up to doing all the jobs well. I also wouldn't spend more than around $100-$120. I bought my last microwave from Costco. They have a good return policy and their quality and prices are fair.

Save your money to upgrade to a nicer oven and grill as a separate purchase.
posted by quince at 1:13 PM on November 26, 2018

MeFi's favorite review website The WireCutter has a thorough review of microwaves, but they noted:

We did not test microwaves with convection settings—meaning the unit also has a heating element and a fan that bakes the food like an oven—for two reasons. One: Microwaves are primarily used for reheating leftovers, not cooking. Two: Appliances with this feature tend to be exorbitantly priced.

If your oven's not doing so well, perhaps a separate convection toaster oven and microwave would work better for your needs, especially if counter space isn't at a premium.
posted by devrim at 1:45 PM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

What I do is have a nice mid-market microwave (I require 1100 watt minimum and prefer as much stainless steel as possible)

And also run a mid-price convection toaster oven. I just replaced that a year or so ago, got an Oster brand for about $60 and I’m very happy with it! It can convection roast a whole small chicken, as well reheat all kinds of things that don’t fare well in a microwave, and also makes a bunch of nice cheese toast.

So my advice is no on combo microwave and yes on small toaster/convection oven, you can even stack them in many situations.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:58 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

We got our last 2 from Habitat Restore and they’re still humming along years later. Less than $60 total for 2 (both KitchenAid).

And when they die, buy another. You can buy 4-5 for the price of 1 new.
posted by sudogeek at 2:21 PM on November 26, 2018

The Wire Cutter didn't like the panasonics, but i like the inverter technology they use - it can actually turn down the microwave power and operate at a steady state unlike most which turn on and off. This might have affected the defrost test they performed.

And i'll pile on - if you've got the counter space, a separate inexpensive convection toaster oven is the way to go.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:11 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

microwaves are constantly being given away by people who are consolidating households. Before you shell out to buy a new one, check your Nextdoor and Craigslist.

I like my Panasonic. If you do buy a new one, recommend buying whatever Costco has in stock, as they come with that wonderful money back no questions asked Costco guarantee.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:24 PM on November 26, 2018

I have a 8 year old Panasonic NN-T664SFX 1300W. It cooks OK but I don't give it anything challenging. I do miss a couple features my prior whatever had... I wish:
- the interior light would turn on when I open the door
- the table would return to its starting position when cooking is done
posted by tinker at 6:10 PM on November 26, 2018

Appliance repair professional here.

Get a cheap microwave that has the same dimensions of your old one if it's mounted above your stove, or in any style and size you like if it's a countertop model.

All microwaves cook exactly the same, or nearly so. They all output, like, 1000-1200 watts. I'll bet you a dollar that your old nuke was 1100w. There's your cooking power. They all do that.

Cheap nukes are a little louder, are usually not worth repairing because they're less than like $200, and may have few features. Expensive ones will be larger, maybe designed to mount above a stove and act as a vent hood, or they'll be covered in expensive brushed steel or some nonsense to fit with a fancy show-kitchen.

You should get one with few features because features on microwaves are marketing bullshit. All you need is a magnetron making waves and a, Faraday cage or whatever it is that keeps the waves from exiting the door and melting your face. Don't pay for buttons/sensors you're not going to use. Honestly, will you use those buttons?

Also, if you get an expensive one and it needs to be repaired, please don't fuck with it yourself. They are one of the few appliances that involve really high operating voltages though some parts.

P.s. of course there are nukes with other things added, like oven elements, fancy sensors. Features you get may actually be good for something. But if you're just going to reheat leftovers, and follow directions on instant-food, get the basics.
posted by panhopticon at 7:39 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Think about how you use (or, used to use) your microwave. If you're like the vast majority of people, you pop something in, set the timer, and hit Start. Almost no one uses the various custom settings like Defrost, Thaw, Fish, Bread, Squirrel, etc. So, get yourself a nice, basic model, as devoid of bells-n-whistles as possible, and you'll be happy.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:24 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

paying out the butt for bullshit features you'll never need and that will just obscure what you do. Rotating tray and good power is about all that matters outside of useful button functionality.


Look for a cheap unit that's big enough for what you're going to cook in it, has a rotating tray, has a power level knob and a mechanical timer knob instead of a panel of buttons, and goes Ding instead of BEEP BEEP SQUEEEEEEEEEEE when it's finished.

It will fail to enrage you for many years.
posted by flabdablet at 7:20 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I didn't mark a best answer, because they've all been very helpful. You are confirming my strongly-held suspicion that what I need is a cheapo basic microwave, so I'm going to go buy one of those now. Thanks for your input, everybody!
posted by skybluepink at 8:25 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I want to second the recommendation above for Panasonic. When selecting a different power level, their Inverter technology actually adjusts the overall power. I didn't realize how amazing that was until we moved into a new house with brand new appliances, including a top-of-the-line GE microwave. I can't stand it. 60% power now means it's just using 100% power, 60% of the time. Trying to soften butter is impossible, and reheating foods never results in even cooking.

I'm basically waiting for this expensive microwave to die so I can go buy another Panasonic.
posted by thejanna at 10:33 AM on November 27, 2018

One thing to note is that the size of your microwave is more or less correlated with the power. We initially got the 1100 watt one recommended by Wirecutter, but it was just a bit too big for the space. We exchanged it for the next size down (950 I think). I have to run it for slightly longer, but it's not terrible. A long time ago in a tiny kitchen we had a 700 watt model and that was a nightmare.
posted by radioamy at 10:17 AM on November 28, 2018

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