What Size Microwave Does the Average Family Need?

When the first microwave ovens appeared in restaurant kitchens in 1947, they measured in at 5.5 feet tall and more than 750 pounds. These water-cooled appliances included less cooking capacity than a modern unit that measures and weighs one-tenth its early equivalent. Today's microwaves offer far greater functional flexibility and cooking prowess, with electronic controls that provide programmed operation. To find the right microwave oven for your family, examine your cooking habits, kitchen setup and performance expectations.

What You Cook

Microwave ovens come in three basic size categories, including compact, medium and large. Which you choose depends in part on the size of the foods and utensils you plan to put in it. If you only use a microwave to reheat leftovers and prepare popcorn, you don't need as large a capacity as you do if you plan to rely on it for significant meal-preparation duties. Measuring the diameter and height of your microwave cooking dishes helps you evaluate oven cavities and decide which size matches your expectations. Look for a model that puts out around 1,000 watts for prompt, thorough cooking results.

Available Space

Where you plan to locate and use your microwave oven helps you narrow down your options to the right size for your family. Freestanding appliances that set on a countertop or cart can be any size, provided they fit below overhanging cabinets or shelving and don't usurp work space you need for food preparation. Built-in microwaves must fit into the same width and height as your cabinetry and call on additional skills to put them into service. Whereas countertop placement requires nothing more than unboxing the product and lifting it in place, implementing built-in appliances requires that you deal with wiring and installation.

Dual Functions

The over-the-range microwave oven combines the functions and features of two appliances into one product. Along with its cooking capabilities, this oven doubles as a vent hood for your range or cooktop, providing a built-in exhaust fan. Depending on your kitchen setup and your cooking style, you can set up these ovens to vent outside, typically through the top or back of the casework or to filter and recirculate air through the kitchen. Additionally, these microwaves provide a lighting system that gives you a better view of work in progress on the cooking surface below. For energy efficiency, look for LED bulbs instead of incandescents, halogens or fluorescents.

Other Features

Some advanced-function microwave ovens include additional cooking modes, especially convection, broiling and toasting, so you can use one appliance for more types of food preparation than those that lend themselves solely to microwave technology. To simplify oven-cavity cleaning, some models incorporate a steam-cleaning feature that enables you to use a vessel of water as the cleanup source. Simplicity extends to control-surface options as well. When you compare microwaves, examine their control pads with two criteria in mind: input modes and ease of use. Special single-button cooking options—for example, reheating or thawing specific foods—can offer you convenience if they automate tasks you regularly perform.

Photo Credits: Heidi Monner/Demand Media

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