The most recent microwave oven died two weeks ago. That officially made it three microwaves that I’ve gone through.
Microwave No. (1), was a hand-me-down in the early 1990s. It was a big ole Panasonic dating from the mid 1980s — somewhere between 1.6 and 2 ish cubic feet (45 to 56 L), I’d estimate — with the classic faux wood grain styling on the outside, but no turntable. It never stopped working.
Microwave No. (2) was a second hand-me-down, arriving in 2011 and displacing (1), which got set out on the curb for garbage collection. Also a Panasonic, (2) was from the early 1990s: it was the same physical size as (1) above, but the wattage was higher, and it had a turn-table. It lasted for two years, dying in the spring of 2013.
Microwave No. (3) — yet another hand-me-down, arriving in the spring of 2013. A small, “lunch sized”, low-wattage Kenmore microwave from the mid 1990s, white but yellowed with age. It was small, and slow, but it would give me time to research and debate what microwave oven I wanted to buy.
Well, it’s the spring of 2014, and Microwave No. (3) has died two weeks ago. I guess I’m hard on microwaves. Everyone says our microwaves get used more than they ever saw a microwave get used in their life.
At any rate, with all the hand-me-downs done and gone, this gave me the chance to finally for the first time ever proactively pick out a microwave, rather than have one pick me out. So I spent a few frustrating weeks after the death of (3) researching what was new in the field of microwave ovens since the 1980s. But the pressure was on: a microwave oven is one of the tools I use in getting meals on the table, often several times a day.
My Microwave Oven Wish List
I often find it easier to approach things like this by starting with what I don’t want. My mind tends to be clearer on that.
What I DIDN’T want in a microwave:
- DUAL MICROWAVE / CONVECTION: I think that having a second regular oven is something every cook should have, and if you don’t already, getting one built into your micro would be the way to go — but I already have a regular real dual oven, plus a toaster oven, plus a turkey roaster and several air-frying devices that can act like ovens, so I’m ovened out;
- STAINLESS STEEL FINISH: I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life wiping finger prints and smudges off it;
- HOOD / EXHAUST FAN COMBO: Just not practical or needed for my kitchen;
- CONFUSING BUTTONS: The only buttons I ever care about are “Power”, “Time”, “Start” and “Stop.” I wanted a layout that made those buttons easy to find, and all the other buttons easy to ignore, forever.
What I DID want in a microwave:
- HIGH WATTAGE: I’d figured out that wattage really did matter to me. Wattage basically equals time it takes to heat something up. 600 watts vs 900 watts vs 1200 watts – the higher the number, the faster the zap. I’m often heating up say, 3 things, as part of putting a meal on a table, and if takes 3 minutes each (9 minutes total) as opposed to 10 minutes each (30 minutes total) that matters when people are pointing at their mouths;
- TURNTABLE: Microwave No. (1) and (3) didn’t have a turntable; I knew I wanted one back. Saves food getting overheated and scorched on one side of the dish you’re heating it up in;
- FINISH: Black or white — ideally black, hide the dirt, let’s face it;
- USER INTERFACE: One that had the same user interface as our neighbour Debrann’s would be nice, as then it would be a user interface we already knew;
- WARRANTY: Something decent, at least 2 years, with the possibility to extend it. I’d been reading that microwaves that lasted 20 years were a thing of the past;
- SIZE: After being used to two microwaves with generous capacity, working with a small microwave was frustrating — it often required dirtying another, smaller dish that would fit in as opposed to a larger casserole dish that I’d already, say, done the Cauliflower Cheese in.;
- TWO-LEVEL: I was wishing for the ability to be able to somehow stack and cook or heat two plates or shallow dishes of food at once.
My Microwave Oven Price Range
As for price, most people these days go out and grab pretty much any microwave oven that’s under 100.00 bucks (or pounds or Euros — under 100 seems to be the bargoon line in every country); I figured I’d need to spend a wee bit more. But, I wasn’t willing to go hundreds and hundreds and hundreds because the feedback I was reading from people who had was that the microwaves were dying after two, three years anyway, and that higher prices were no longer a guarantee of quality. So I was not gonna go up to 700.00 or even 500.00 bucks, no matter how much a machine called out my name. I told myself — somewhere from 200 to 400 bucks, all in.
What I Found That’s New in the Microwave Field
Nothing, really. They really don’t seem to have come up with much new since they added rotating turntables decades ago. Oh, there’s the odd thing they tout as new such as a “popcorn” button, but whoopee-doo, eh?
A feature I would have liked, dual-level cooking, seems to be only spottily available and not even mentioned when it is included (maybe I’m the only consumer that would care about it).
And the one killer feature that I would love to have, a microwave that has a “chill” button, to immediately chill / freeze / set things I didn’t get around to making early enough in the day…. well, that’s in the “dream on” category, I’m sure.
The Microwave I Ended Up With
I ended up with the microwave oven pictured in the photo at the start of this — Panasonic NN-SD76, 1.6 cubic feet (45 litres), 1200 watts, 200 bucks.
I ended up compromising on three things.
- The first was two-level microwave cooking. But there’s hope that I can add it. Yep. Here’s everything I learnt about two-level microwave cooking;
- And, to get the dial user interface that I wanted, I had to go with a stainless finish. BUT I’m not gonna spend my life babysitting that puppy; it’s gonna get a permanent patina of smudges on it, like the stainless bread machine has. I look after my stuff, but ultimately a kitchen tool is a kitchen tool, for use and not display;
- Size. I had been wondering if I needed a larger 2.2 cubit feet (56 L) size; this is plenty big and then some.
Here is the interior cavity with a 1 cup / 8 oz / 250 ml measuring jug in it.
An unexpected benefit is that the microwave can hold *and rotate* a 9 x 13 (30 x 20 cm) rectangular baking pan. I hadn’t even thought to look for that feature, but I definitely will in the future now. (I learnt later that some microwaves have a button that allows you to temporarily stop the turntable from rotating to help you accommodate such various-sized dishes.)
The depth of this microwave doesn’t come through in the picture, but that dish will actually rotate in there with the door closed. Granted, just — but it will.
It’s really simple to operate. I’m just basically using either the dial when I need to get fractions of a minute, or more usually, the “quick minute” button over top the start button that adds a minute of cooking time for each press.
So. Fingers crossed it lasts a few years. And onto phase two: adding the capability for two-level microwave cooking.
Update: 4 months later, end of June. We’ve found only one odd thing about this microwave, and it’s the darndest thing… if you are reheating anything in a dish, bowl, jug or cup with a handle, no matter what way you have the handle facing when you put it in and start the microwave, at the end, the handle will almost always inevitably end up pointing to the back of the microwave. Very odd.