Written by Kevin Tavolaro
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If you're shopping for a new microwave oven, you might wonder what exactly it is that you're supposed to compare between available models. When the microwave I had owned since inheriting it from a college roommate broke recently, I was forced to learn what to look for in a microwave. To my surprise, it wasn't that difficult.

When it comes to things like stereos, TVs, or computers, it's not difficult to understand what to look for, because the features are usually reflected by performance. For example, a TV's picture quality can be easily ascertained in the store simply by flipping through a few channels, and a stereo's quality can be judged by sampling a CD or radio station in the showroom. However, when it comes to microwave ovens, you're not really encouraged to cook your frozen dinner in the store. I learned that you can estimate a microwave oven's performance by examining a few key factors.

Comparing Microwaves

The first factor is capacity. This simply refers to the physical area available for cooking. Microwave oven capacities are usually listed in cubic feet, and determine the limits of the unit. In my case, I knew I would only be using the microwave to cook frozen dinners, thaw the occasional steak, and of course, pop popcorn. None of those require the capacity of, say, preparing casseroles, so I was able to choose a unit with a smaller size.

The next factor is the microwave's power. However, power is generally related to size, which is closely connected to capacity. Therefore, my small capacity microwave would have to be a less powerful model than its larger counterparts. This was a concern, because the unit's power determines cooking time, and the last thing I wanted was a machine that took all night to make some popcorn. Fortunately, I learned that the cooking time really only comes into play when cooking larger dishes that would already require an extended stay in the microwave. I'm pretty sure that I never use a microwave to cook anything that takes more than six minutes, so I was back to the small capacity model.

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