The 5 Most Common Types of Microwaves and Their Unique Features

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Since their invention in the 1940s, microwaves have become an indispensable kitchen appliance in most homes. Their ability to quickly heat and cook food using microwave radiation makes them a convenient option for busy home cooks.

Over the years, several different types of microwaves have emerged in the marketplace with unique features and capabilities to suit a range of cooking needs and kitchen setups.

In this article, we will explore the 5 most common types of microwaves available for home use along with their distinct features, pros and cons. Understanding the differences between the various microwave styles can help you determine the right model for your kitchen.

Key Takeaways

1. Countertop microwaves are the most popular and affordable option starting around $60. They are compact, portable, and easy to install, but have limited capacity.
2. Over-the-range microwaves are mounted above the stove and double as a range hood. They have more capacity and higher price tags from $150-$1500.
3. Built-in microwaves install seamlessly into cabinetry or walls for a sleek look. They are durable but require professional installation costing $400+.
4. Drawer microwaves stash away under counters in a pull-out drawer for space-saving access. But they are expensive at $1200-$3000 and have low power.
5. Convection microwaves use convection and microwave cooking to brown and crisp and replace a microwave/oven combo. They cost $250-$1000+ but take up more space.
6. Consider location, capacity, power, settings, budget, ventilation, and installation needs when selecting a microwave model.
7. All microwaves should have safety certifications. With the right selection, a microwave can be an indispensable cooking appliance.

Countertop Microwaves

The countertop microwave is by far the most popular and widely used type of microwave today. As the name suggests, these microwaves are designed to sit on a kitchen countertop or any flat surface that can support their weight.

Key Features

  • Compact and lightweight design with front-facing door access.
  • Range from 0.5 to 2.2 cubic feet capacity.
  • Typically have 1000 to 1500 watts cooking power.
  • Offer basic functions like timed cooking, defrosting, and reheating.
  • Available in a range of styles, sizes, colors, and finishes.


  • Very affordable option starting around $60.
  • Easy to install. Just plug into an outlet.
  • Portable and convenient. Can be moved around the countertop.
  • Takes up minimal space. Good for small kitchens.
  • Wide range available to suit all budgets and needs.


  • Limited internal capacity. Not ideal for large dishes or meals.
  • No built-in ventilation system. Can leave lingering food smells.
  • Basic features compared to other microwave types.
  • Takes up counter space that could be used for other appliances.
  • Generally lacks aesthetically pleasing built-in look.

Countertop microwaves offer a flexible and budget-friendly option for reheating leftovers, defrosting, and cooking small meals. Their affordable price and portability make them a practical choice for many households.

Over-the-Range Microwaves

Over-the-range or over-the-cooktop microwaves are installed above the kitchen stove or cooktop. This space-saving design allows the microwave to pull double duty as both a cooking appliance and a range hood to ventilate the cooktop below.

Key Features

  • Built-in installation above a range or cooktop.
  • Vented design with built-in exhaust fan and lights.
  • Larger capacity than countertop models – 1.5 to 2.2 cubic feet.
  • 1000 to 1500 watts cooking power.
  • Additional cooking modes like convection, broiling, grilling.


  • Don’t take up counter or cabinet space.
  • Powerful ventilation system removes smoke, grease, odors.
  • Extra cooking options with convection, broiling, etc.
  • Integrated look is more aesthetically pleasing.
  • Greater internal capacity than most countertops.


  • More expensive. Prices range from $150 to $1500.
  • Trickier to install properly. Professional installation recommended.
  • Venting needs occasional maintenance/filter replacement.
  • Limited clearance below can make accessing the cooktop harder.
  • Repairs typically require dismantling the unit.

If you do a lot of stovetop cooking, an over-the-range microwave can be a smart choice to maximize space while venting away cooking fumes. The higher price tag and installation requirements are balanced by their superior ventilation and cooking abilities.

Built-In Microwaves

Built-in microwaves are designed to be integrated seamlessly into kitchen cabinetry or walls, blending into the overall aesthetic of the kitchen. They can installed in upper cabinets, in a kitchen island, or mounted into a wall.

Key Features

  • Built to be concealed within cabinetry or wall.
  • Front ventilation grilles allow airflow.
  • Available in trim kit, chassis only, or all-in-one models.
  • Capacities range from 1.5 to 2.2 cubic feet.
  • 1000 to 1500 watts cooking power.


  • Create a unified, seamless look with your kitchen cabinetry.
  • Take up no countertop or floor space.
  • Easy to access at countertop height when installed in lower cabinets.
  • Durable commercial-grade models available.
  • Quieter operation than countertop models.


  • More expensive. Starting around $400 plus installation.
  • Professional installation into cabinetry required.
  • Less portable. Cannot be easily moved once installed.
  • Repairs require access to interior of cabinets.
  • Limited capacity compared to larger countertop models.

For contemporary kitchen designs with concealed appliances, a built-in microwave can lend a sleek and integrated look. But the higher price and need for professional installation make them less accessible for some homeowners.

Drawer Microwaves

As the name implies, drawer microwaves are built into a special drawer that pulls out from under the countertop to access the microwave interior. This provides a hidden, space-saving installation.

Key Features

  • Installs under the counter in a special microwave drawer.
  • Pull-out drawer access to internal cavity.
  • Smaller capacities around 0.5 to 1.0 cubic feet.
  • Lower wattages from 500 to 1000 watts.


  • Frees up counter space since unit is hidden when not in use.
  • Convenient access at countertop level. Easy for kids to use.
  • Takes up less space than a countertop model.
  • Unique, upscale look.


  • Much more expensive. Around $1200 to $3000.
  • Professional installation required.
  • Less interior capacity. Not ideal for large dishes.
  • Low wattage limits speed and power.
  • Repairs require removing and rebuilding cabinetry.

For those seeking a completely concealed microwave with space-saving access, drawer models provide an ingenious solution despite their hefty price tag. Their weaker power and size make them best suited to reheating, not cooking.

Convection Microwaves

Convection microwaves harness microwave energy and convection heating to cook food more quickly and evenly, as well as browning and crisping the exterior.

Key Features

  • Combine microwave and convection oven cooking.
  • Internal fan circulates hot air like a conventional oven.
  • Additional convection, bake, roast, and broil settings.
  • Larger capacities from 1.5 to 2 cubic feet.


  • Cooks food faster than either microwave or oven alone.
  • Enables microwave browning and crisping for better texture.
  • Replaces the need for separate microwave and oven.
  • Convection settings also bake and roast well.
  • Models available as countertop or over-the-range.


  • Most expensive microwave type. $250 to $1000+
  • Convection fan makes noise when operating.
  • Takes up more space than microwave-only models.
  • Heavier and more complex than basic microwaves.
  • Needs space for ventilation near unit.

If you want the quick cooking of a microwave plus the browning and multi-functionality of a standard oven, a convection microwave can eliminate the need for two separate appliances. The improved cooking quality comes at a higher price, however.

Microwave Buying Guide

With so many options on the market, it can be hard to determine what type of microwave is right for your kitchen’s design and cooking needs. Keep the following factors in mind while shopping:

  • Location – Where will you install or place the unit? This impacts options like over-the-range, built-ins, etc.
  • Capacity – Consider internal cubic footage and dish sizes you typically microwave.
  • Power – Look for 1000+ watts for efficient heating and cooking.
  • Settings – Do you want convection, grilling, roasting? Or just basic reheating?
  • Budget – Prices range from $60 to $3000+ depending on type and features.
  • Ventilation – Over-range and built-ins provide ventilation; others need room to ventilate.
  • Installation – Countertops are plug and play. Others need professional help.

No matter which microwave type you choose, always look for safety certifications from organizations like UL to ensure protection from defects and hazards. With proper selection and care, your microwave can be a workhorse in your kitchen for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Microwave Types

The countertop microwave is by far the most common type with around 90% of households owning one. Their affordable price, compact size, and easy mobility make them the go-to choice for most kitchens.

Which type of microwave has the largest capacity?

Over-the-range and countertop convection microwaves typically have the largest internal capacity, ranging from 1.5 to 2.2 cubic feet. Their extra internal space allows you to cook or reheat larger plates of food.

Is a drawer microwave better than a countertop?

While drawer microwaves do save counter space, their installation cost is much higher than a countertop. And their lower power is not ideal for cooking larger meals. For most households, a countertop microwave provides the best value and utility.

What’s the main benefit of an over-the-range microwave?

The built-in ventilation system of over-the-range microwaves is a major perk. The powerful exhaust fan filters out smoke, grease, and odors from cooking on your stovetop below. This eliminates the need for a separate range hood.

Can you put a stainless steel microwave in a cabinet?

While some built-in microwaves come in stainless steel finishes, putting a countertop stainless microwave into a cabinet is not recommended. These units require open airflow to ventilate properly and prevent overheating.

Final Thoughts

Microwaves may seem fairly uniform at first glance, but peeking inside reveals meaningful differences in capacity, power, installation, and functionality. Keeping these distinctions in mind will ensure you select the ideal microwave type for your cooking habits and kitchen layout.

With intelligent selection from compact countertops to spacious over-the-range ovens, the right microwave can serve as an invaluable, time-saving tool in your cooking arsenal for years to come.

By Rosie Elliott

I’m Rosie. I’m a professional chef with experience in Western, Mediterranean, and Italian cuisine. I’ve been cooking for over 15 years, and I have two daughters that keep me busy!

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