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Kitchenware - Microwave Ovens

A guide to choosing and buying microwave ovens and how microwave ovens work

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Jump to :-   A little History  | How do they work?  |  Are the Safe?  | Benefits  | Types  | Buying Guidelines  |  Safety Tips  |  Cooking Tips


Once considered a luxury gadget, today a good proportion of households own a microwave oven. They are an invaluable kitchen appliance to many people's hectic lives and are especially effective in cutting down the amount of time spent preparing meals. This guide to microwaves will tell you everything you need to know to understand, choose and use this useful appliance.


History of Microwave ovens


Although some believe the principal of microwaves for cooking food was first discovered in the 1940s by  an American electrical engineer called Percy Spencer during his experiments with a magnetron for use in radar, others attribute the discovery to Marvin Bock who actually worked for Percy Spencer.  It would seem to be six of one and half a dozen of the other, in that Percy Spencer put Mr Bock to work on designing a prototype of the first microwave oven, which he managed to do . . . . even though the unit was over 5 feet tall.  Stories of how Percy had a melted chocolate bar in his pocket which led him on the path don't seem to be substantiated, but it makes a nice tale.


By 1965 the first domestic countertop version was on sale and by 1975 the sale of microwave ovens exceed those of gas ranges in the USA.


How Do Microwave Ovens Work?

Microwave ovens use radio waves at a frequency of 2,500 mega hertz (MHz) to heat food. When the waves are absorbed by water, fats or sugars, they’re converted into heat.


Unlike conventional cooking methods in which heat is conducted from the outside of the food, the microwave’s radio waves agitate the water and fat molecules throughout the food thereby heating the food evenly throughout. However, because the oven operates at room temperature, no crust or browning will form on the food unless you have a  microwave with a grill.


What are the Benefits of Using a Microwave?

 A microwave oven gives you:

  • Faster cooking times

  • More nutrients remain in the food because the cooking time is shorter so fewer vitamins and minerals are leached out

  • Save money on energy by needing less cooking time

  • Requires fewer pans and less clean-up

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Are Microwave ovens Safe?


When microwave ovens were first produced, some people had accidents with them, usually because the wrong utensils were used or food was overcooked.  There were also scares as to the type of clingfilm which was used to cover food when microwaving.  However,  modern technology has addressed all of these problems and this cooking method is generally considered to be completely safe provided certain rules are adhered to including:-


  • Only use microwave safe containers

  • Only use microwave safe clingfilm

  • Where possible, use the automatic cooking and defrosting settings available on most modern microwave ovens to prevent over or under cooking

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Types of Microwave Ovens


There are three main types of microwaves widely available, standard, standard with grill and combination.

These are the most simple types and can be used for defrosting, reheating and cooking  foods from scratch.

Standard with grill
These have all the features of a standard microwave but also incorporate a grill which can usually be used as a stand-alone grill or for browning or crisping food in tandem with microwave cooking.

These  not only have a grill but also a convection (hot-air) oven. They provide more flexibility as you can use the various functions all together or independently.




What Should I Look for in a Microwave Oven?


If you would like to have one of these useful appliances in your own kitchen, here are some things that you should consider before making a purchase.


Countertop or Built-in

Unless you are having a new fitted kitchen, the stand-alone countertop type will probably be your first choice. However if you have the space, built in models can give your kitchen a  more "designer" look  as well as freeing up work top space.



Right Size.  The size of your family will determine the microwave you’ll want to buy.  If there are only two of you, there's not much point in buying a huge microwave. Sizes generally range from 17L to over 32L. A 27L microwave is considered large enough for the average family.



Additional Features.  Features such as a combination or grilling/browning function. Unless you think you are going to cook complete meals in the microwave, then these functions are not necessary and you should opt for a straight-forward microwave.



Wattage  Wattage varies from c500 watts to well over 1,000 watts.  You should bear in mind that the higher the wattage, the faster the food will cook.



Standard Safety Marks.   Look for a microwave with a recognised safety mark for your particular country which is a sign that the manufacturer follows the best safety precautions.



Good Reviews.  Check cooking magazines and websites to read microwave reviews from other consumers and businesses.



Microwave Safety tips

  • Only use microwave-safe containers or tableware and don’t use any item with a metal trim.  To test if an item is suitable for microwave use, place it in the oven with a cup  of water beside it.  Cook at 100% power for 1 minute. Do not use any item if it becomes hot and the water stays cool

  • Never use any metal containers or objects - even twist-ties

  • Never use Styrofoam, wooden or wicker containers

  • Be careful when removing food from the oven as although the container may not be hot, the food will be

  • Avoid using scouring pads, steel wool or other abrasives when cleaning your microwave

  • NEVER turn your microwave on when it's empty

Cooking Tips for Microwave ovens


  • Make sure you leave air vents when cooking covered food in a microwave. If using film, pierce in several places so that steam can escape

  • Do not use cling film when using grill or combination settings

  • When cooking large amounts, stir the food halfway through the cooking time even when using on a turntable as this will help to reduce any cold spots

  • Leave the food to stand for  a couple of minutes once it’s cooked


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