Microwave Oven Types – Detailed Guide

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Since its invention after World War II, the microwave oven has evolved from a basic food cooking and reheating machine to today’s designs that can also bake, defrost, grill and roast.  

Wanting to invest in a new cooking appliance? Perhaps you’re renovating your kitchen, replacing a faulty microwave, or have moved into a new apartment or home.

Although there are several kinds of microwave ovens available, not all are right for every kitchen and personal lifestyle. Buying the right microwave for your needs ensures you’ll get the most out of your investment.

There are different ways of classifying the types of microwave ovens. We split them into groups – installation location and cooking capabilities.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these so you know which one best suits your cooking needs.

In this post, we're going to cover the following:

  • The Solo Microwave Oven
  • Microwave with Grill Function
  • Convection Microwave Oven
  • Countertop Microwave Oven
  • Built-in Microwave Oven
  • Over-the-range Microwave Oven
  • Drawer Microwave Oven

The Solo Microwave Oven

Need no-fuss, simple cooking, and reheating option? A small microwave oven is your solution.

Also known as a standard microwave, the solo microwave oven is the simplest entry-level microwave. Made to stand on countertops or on a cart, these are popular and ideal for basic meals, defrosting frozen foods and reheating food (last night’s pasta) and drinks (this afternoon’s coffee). They are ideal for store-bought ‘microwave meals.’

white microwave with two dials

How Do Solo Microwave Ovens Work?

A solo microwave oven has a magnetron that emits high-frequency microwaves. These waves activate water molecules in the food. The watts used by the microwaves change energy into heat and raise the food temperature. Most solo microwave ovens can defrost food through this process.

Food and drinks are cooked or reheated using a mix of a turntable and watts. The turntable allows equal heat distribution across the cooked or heated item.

Pros and Cons of a Solo Microwave Oven

  • Solo microwave ovens are less expensive than convection and grill microwave ovens but the cooked food doesn’t have the same flavor as the others.
  • They are easy to operate and clean.
  • It’s not possible to bake, grill, roast, steam, or toast with a solo microwave.
  • At lower wattages, food might not be cooked equally well as with a convection or grill microwave oven.

Microwave with Grill Function

The grill microwave oven is your go-to purchase if reheating and grilling are your top requirements. It has the same capabilities of a solo microwave plus foods such as chicken and fish can be grilled. Some models have a combo grilling feature – grill and microwave simultaneously.

How Do Grill Microwave Ovens Work?

A magnetron creates microwaves and a top or bottom heating element radiates heat. Through the extra heating element, meat and vegetables can be roasted similar to using a typical oven or an outdoor barbeque grill. Grilling coils also toast food satisfactorily.

Most grill microwaves are user friendly making them easy to operate. The food is placed on a metal rack (included with the microwave) which is then placed on the turntable tray. On most models, you only need to press the GRILL button, set the time, and press the START button.

Pros and Cons of a Grill Microwave Oven

  • Grill microwave ovens are a tad pricier than typical microwave ovens but far cheaper than convection microwave ovens.
  • A single button usually enables the ‘grill’ function
  • While a grill microwave oven is a step up from a standard (solo) microwave oven, it can’t do as much as a convection type.
  • There’s no fan for equal heat circulation.

Convection Microwave Oven

Functioning as a typical microwave that can also bake, roast, and grill, a convection microwave oven is a common purchase for people who’d like a 2-in-1 microwave and oven.  

How Does a Convection Microwave Oven Work?

A built-in fan circulates hot air around the food efficiently and equally in a convection microwave oven. Changes in temperature inside the microwave aren’t possible, so it’s easy to bake delicious cookies, homemade bread, and of course your favorite pizza! Convection microwave ovens come in small 20L up to larger 40L sizes.

Pros and Cons of a Convection Microwave Oven

  • Baking, browning, roasting, grilling, defrosting, and heating are all possible
  • Convection microwave ovens offer all the features of a solo and grill microwave oven. Additional handy features such as ‘keep warm,’ inverter technology and smart cooking make them stand out
  • Higher price point than standard microwave ovens

Countertop Microwave Oven

A countertop microwave is placed directly on your kitchen counter, table, or cart.

This type of microwave oven is a great choice if you have plenty of counter space and don’t want to redesign your kitchen. Perhaps you are on a tight budget or are moving into an apartment that is not equipped with a microwave.

Microwave stove isolated on white background

Pros and Cons of Countertop Microwave Ovens

  • Inexpensive
  • Available in many power levels and sizes
  • Easy to move
  • Accessible
  • Easily replaced
  • No installation needed
  • Takes up counter space

Built-In Microwave Oven

A built-in microwave oven can be installed between kitchen cabinets, into a wall, or underneath a cabinet. Some models have a convection setting while others do not.   

These space-saving units can be purchased separately and professionally installed or if you are handy you can install it yourself. If you are remodeling your kitchen and buying new appliances, they are often a part of the overall kitchen package.

built-in microwave oven in cabinet

Pros and Cons of Built-in Microwave Ovens

  • If you’re after a stylish appearance in your modern kitchen, a built-in microwave oven is your answer.
  • Counter space is saved due to off the counter installation.
  • If it isn’t installed over the range, then two people can cook simultaneously.
  • Available in many sizes and wattages.
  • Repairs could be expensive since the unit might have to be removed and then re-installed.
  • Difficult to replace since the new unit needs to be the same size and shape as the previous one.
  • It’s more expensive than average countertop or over the range microwave oven models, plus you might need a professional to install it for you.
  • Difficult for children to use since access is out of their reach.

Over-the-Range Microwave Oven

Installed over the range, the over-the-range microwave oven can be a standard or convection oven microwave. This type is perfect if you are short on counter space.

Think of a countertop microwave oven with extra features. Some distinguishing features of an over-the-range microwave oven are the vent fans and worktop lights. The vent fans can be altered to either let out smells or smoke from the kitchen or redistribute these within the microwave oven. Cooktop lights brighten the work surface under the microwave oven. Most models come in standard widths of 27” to 30”.

Pros and Cons of an Over-the-Range Microwave Oven

  • They can be costly depending on the features you pick. 
  • Some models are equipped with a sensor cook function or convection feature.
  • Available in different sizes and wattage.
  • Two venting options – ducted vents or recirculating vents
  • It may be hard to reach for some folks.
  • Professional installation may be necessary.

Drawer Microwave Oven

This type of built-in microwave can be installed below a countertop or wall oven. If you want to save counter space this is a better option for some folks than an over-the-range unit. The height is much lower, making it safer since the cook doesn’t have to lift the dish over their head.

They are simple to operate. Just open the control panel, press the open button, place your food on the tray, choose the desired function, and press the close button.

Pros and Cons of Drawer Microwave Ovens

  • Safe and convenient
  • Saves counter space
  • Some have a keep-warm function and a safety lock
  • Sleek, modern appearance
  • Expensive

Conclusion

Now that you know about the pros and cons of the types of microwave ovens and their features, you are almost ready to make your purchase.

After the budget has been set for your new microwave, measure where you are going to place your new microwave oven. This will ensure you have enough room and will save a lot of time and aggravation down the road.

Next, you can then choose the type that is right for your kitchen. You’ll want to consider how many people you will be cooking for and the type of meals you will be preparing.

Do you want a solo, grill, or convection microwave oven? Do you want a countertop unit, built-in, over-the-range, or a drawer microwave oven?

Now that you have settled on a specific type, you can narrow your options according to your budget, available space, and features. Be sure to review the electrical and ventilation requirements before making your purchase. Now you’re ready to make your final decision.

Hopefully, this guide has given you a starting point to select a microwave that will meet your culinary and lifestyle needs.