How much microwave power do you need?

When choosing how much power you need in your new microwave, you should first ask yourself: "Do I just want to heat drinks and pop popcorn, or am I going to cook full meals in it?" Here's what to look out for when buying a microwave.

How much microwave power do you need?

Understanding watt power

Microwave power is measured in watts. Units usually range from 600 to 1,200 watts, though some large units can go as high as 1,650 watts. So how many watts do you need when you're looking to buy a new microwave?

Generally speaking, the higher the wattage, the faster and more efficiently the microwave cooks. If you are just going to heat coffee or cook popcorn, a microwave on the low end would be fine.

Microwaves under 800 watts don’t cook food all that well. If you have a unit rated 1,000 watts and up you’ll have all the power you need to cook something that requires more time and energy than easy heating tasks. Most microwave recipes call for power levels of 800 and up, ensuring the food is cooked evenly.

Calculate which button to press

Once you know the wattage of your microwave, it’s easier to figure out how to use the choice of 1-10 power levels given by most units. For example, if you have a 1,000-watt microwave and need to steam something at 800 watts, then you’d set the power level to 80 per cent, or level eight.

If you have to calculate the same with a 1,100-watt oven, the math gets a little more complicated.Use a calculator and round off the results.

Some microwaves have shortcut buttons like “medium” and “medium-high” that you can use as quick rules of thumb. That’s something to keep in mind when shopping for a microwave: There are all sorts of specialized function buttons available, so you might find one with pre-sets for something you’ll do a lot, like zap slices of pizza or reheat your coffee.

Size matters

If you’re going to do more elaborate cooking, or need to cook for a large group of people, you should also make sure you have a microwave that will accommodate your needs. You don’t want to find out too late that it’s too small to accept that casserole dish you were planning to use.

Microwave sizes range from small (14–23 litres), to mid-size (25–37 litres), to family (40–45 litres), to full size (51-57 litres).

If you're serious about microwave cooking, you might also want to get a convection microwave, instead of a standard model, that uses a rear fan to circulate hot air all around a dish, to crisp up baked goods and to keep meats juicy.

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