In addition to saving time, microwave ovens can also save up to 80 percent of the energy used by a typical oven. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering making microwaves eligible for Energy Star status. See our Ratings and Recommendations (available to subscribers) for best microwaves in terms of top performance and value. Then use these tips to narrow your choices:
Large countertop models often have more capacity than over-the-range models, though they take up valuable counter space. Over-the-range models free up that space by nestling conveniently above your range. But they cost more to buy and install, and they don't vent as well as most range hoods.
A sensor helps prevent under- or overcooking by automatically turning off the microwave when food is done. Shortcut keys take the guesswork out of cooking popular foods, and convection helps provide browning like a conventional oven does. Models with a mounting kit save counter space by hanging on the wall or beneath a wall cabinet.
What you see on the box isn't what you'll get in your kitchen because manufacturers measure space you usually can't use. Some models delivered as little as half the space manufacturers promised. Check the usable-space column in our Ratings (available to subscribers) for our real-world measurements. And take your largest casserole to the store. Also consider models with a sliding tray, which can usually accommodate large or oblong plates.
Microwave-related burns sent an estimated 2,000 children to the emergency room last year. A recent study by the University of Chicago Medical Center found that even toddlers could open microwaves and pull out hot foods and drinks, resulting in burns. All tested models except the Apollo Half Time include a child lock for the controls. To make your microwave safer, keep it out of reach of younger children. And be sure older kids use it properly and keep younger siblings away when handling hot foods and beverages from the microwave.