My first time using a microwave was in or around 1973. I worked part time at an appliance repair shop and store in Memphis, TN, making just enough money for Friday night dates. One Saturday morning, I came in to work half asleep, carrying a honey bun and chocolate milk for a quick breakfast before the store opened.
As I walked past a work table in the back, I noticed a strange contraption sitting there – a gleaming silver Amana Radar Range, one of those newfangled microwave ovens we’d been hearing about.
It was plugged in, and as far as I could tell, was in working order. I had heard that you can put food in there on a paper plate and it would heat the food without burning up the paper plate. So, I thought I’d try it out on my honey bun. I put it on a paper plate, set it in the oven, and not really knowing what I was doing, set the timer for two minutes. Yeah, two minutes.
Fifteen minutes later, I was still cleaning up the mess. Gooey remnants of whatever they put in honey buns dripped from the inner walls like lava from Mt. Kilauea.
Welcome to the world of microwave ovens. And, oh yes, I got away with it and didn’t get fired.
The microwave ovens of today are sleek, sophisticated and mostly idiot-proof. They have settings for different foods and different purposes, often combine with other heating options and they are now considered a necessity in nearly every household in America.
The price of microwaves has fallen from over $2,000 (the very first commercially available microwave cost $5,000 in 1950s dollars) to less than $100 for some models. But it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the price dropped to more affordable levels, that the microwave oven really took off in the marketplace.
The vast majority of microwave ovens sold are countertop models that can be moved around as needed (even out the door to the daughter’s dorm room). But today, we’re going to take a look at over-range models. These save counter space and hang at eye level for ease of use.
So let’s push the start button on the list of the best over-range microwave ovens.
Best Over-the-Range Microwaves
Best Feature: Sophisticated Control Panel
You’re likely to be taken aback by the space age design of this model, with control buttons across the bottom, representing an almost bewildering array of options. There might be a bit of a learning curve with all this sophistication, but the different settings will become second nature after a while.
If your kitchen is like most, it has smudges, stains, places where liquids got spilled and not completely wiped up, etc. If all that is bothersome to you, then you will appreciate the fingerprint-resistant surfaces on the GE PVM9005SJSS. For the most part, if you do get smudges and fingerprints, they can easily be wiped off with a damp cloth.
The 2.1 cubic foot capacity is big enough for most meals and the various plates and containers they come in. The turntable reverses each time the power cycles on and off, and it can be disabled, if the need arises.
The venting fan runs at three speeds, with a capacity of 400 CFM
The control panel has automatic settings for different types of foods, plus auto cook, reheat, defrost and steam functions. Other buttons control the timing and power levels. On nice feature is the “Add 30 Seconds” feature, for those times when the center of that leftover lasagna is not quite as warm as you’d like for it to be. Just pop the Tupperware back in, hit that one button for an extra 30 seconds, and the microwave does the rest.
What is CFM? CFM stands for cubic feet per minute. It’s a rating for how much air moves from one place to another in the span of one minute. The most frequent use of the term would be in heating and air applications, but it also is used to measure the efficiency of any air handling device, like a fan or a ventilation system. A vent fan on a microwave oven that is rated at 400CFM or greater is very good.
Best Feature: Convection Heating Option
One drawback to microwaves is that they don’t brown. You can cook a pizza in a microwave – melt the cheese, cook the toppings, etc – but the crust remains pale white. Well, if you had this Sharp R1874T, problem solved. This model has a secondary convection heat source that browns, bakes, broils, crisps and roasts and all those tasty things that heat does to food.
With the convection heat added, venting becomes more of a concern that just with the microwave alone, so the Sharp’s exhaust system is driven by a powerful fan motor.
This model has a two-tier rack system to cook two items at once and a well-designed control panel to give the family chef all the help he or she should need.
It’s not the biggest kid on the block, with a 1.1 cubic foot interior, but you’d be surprised at how infrequently that would even make a difference.
Major components are warrantied for 10 years.
What is a Convection Oven? A convection oven is an oven with an electric heating element and a system of fans to force the heat into foods. This results in a much shorter cooking time for most food items. Plus, it browns foods much faster than a conventional oven. When using a convection oven, it’s usually best to turn the heat down 10 percent from what the recipe calls for.
Best Feature: Sensor Cooking
Remember where I mentioned that modern microwave ovens are mostly idiot-proof? The LG LMV2031ST is one of the most idiot-proof microwaves available. Its best feature is its sensor cooking technology, where it automatically adjusts cooking time and performance by sensing humidity levels in the cooking area.
Ventilation is crucial with over-range microwaves, and this model does it well, moving 400CFM without creating a howling dervish of noise in the kitchen. In fact, LG is so proud of how quiet their microwave’s vent fan is, they’ve trademarked the name – QuietPowerTM Ventilation System.
They’ve also trademarked the name EasyCleanⓇ. Cleaning up the interior usually just requires just a damp cloth.
The control panel is well organized and easy to use, and includes a number of one touch settings for various foods and functions.
The magnetron is the heart of any microwave oven, and the LG2031ST’s is rated at 1000 watts.
This model has an energy saving that puts all of the onboard electronics into sleep mode after five minutes.
It measures right at 30 inches across and inside is 2.0 cubic feet of cooking area.
Best Feature: 30-Minute Keep Warm Function
This over-the-range microwave doesn’t want to steal the limelight away from your range’s cooktop, so it adds on of its own – a shadow-killing hood light that you might prefer even over the lights currently in place on your range.
But you don’t buy this for the lights, but for the cooking, and in that regard, the Magic Chef MCO165UB excels. It has six pre-programmed cooking modes and you can add three more of your own.
Now, suppose you cook some baked potatoes in the microwave to go with the pork chops being grilled out on the patio, and the potatoes are ready before the pork chops are – maybe a summer downpour has set things back a bit out there. No worries. This model has a keep-warm feature that will keep cooked items warm for up to 30 minutes.
Another nice feature is the removable rack that allows you to cook two items at once (assuming their cooking needs are similar).
It has a quiet, two-speed vent fan and an easy-to-clean exterior.
The model shown here is black, but there is a white version available.
The cooking area is 1.6 cubic feet – a little less than some of the others, but close enough. The magnetron is rated at 1000 watts – standard, but perfectly suited for most cooking requirements.
Best Feature: Low Profile
It should be pointed out right away that the cooking area on this model is only 1.1 cubic feet, as this a low-profile unit, with a height of 10 inches and change. That is the WML75011hz’s best feature and biggest drawback at the same time.
The low-profile design allows for a more trim look in the kitchen overall, but the space that it saves – over the range top – is pretty much wasted space anyway. So that may or may not be a big deal for you, but the main reason this model is on our list is performance.
This model employs sensor cooking,which takes a lot of the guesswork out of cooking, selecting power and duration according to the humidity level inside the cooking area.
It seems every microwave manufacturer wants to trademark its interior cleaning surface so that consumers get the message that the interior surface is easy to clean. With Whirlpool, it’s called the CleanReleaseⓇ technology, and it lives up to its name. Usually one swipe with a damp cloth or sponge does the trick.
If you’re skeptical about the short front on this unit, remember that most everything you put in there lays flat, and all but the tallest jumbo tumblers will fit inside.
A powerful vent fan provides up to 400 CFM of ventilation, and the unit cooks with 1000 watts of power.
DIY installation of this microwave is featured in this video.
Best Feature: No-Frills Dependability
This is one of the more affordable models on our list, but it has many of the same features as the higher-priced units – 1000 watts of cooking power, 10 power levels, presets, 1.6 cubic foot capacity and easy-to-clean interior walls.
The brushed stainless steel exterior is very handsome and resists fingerprinting. If there’s one minor drawback, it’s that the ventilation capacity is less than some of the others at 300CFM.
7. GE JNM3163DJBB Over-the-Range Microwave
Best Feature: Excellent Control Panel and Setting Options
GE makes its second venture on to our best-of list with this 1.6-cubc foot model with superb electronics.
Convenience and fool-proof reliability mark this model for greatness. Auto, time defrost, cook times and levels are programmed for optimal results. You can override these settings and go manual, but why would you?
The magnetron is 950 watts, and the two-speed vent fan clears air out at a rate of 300 CFM.
The interior is easy-to-clean and the exterior resists fingerprints, so everyday maintenance is pretty much nil.
The Magnetron – If It Blows, the Whole Oven Goes
The most vital part of any microwave oven is the magnetron, the device that generates the electromagnetic radiation that cooks the food. The magnetrons found in more modern microwave ovens are more reliable and durable than the first generation, but they do occasionally fail, perhaps from heavy usage, age or defects.
When a magnetron fails, you might as well get a whole new microwave oven, unless you have a very high-end unit, or it’s coverd by the warranty. For the most part, the expense of the replacement part, plus the labor of installing a new one (this is generally not a user-serviceable part) is often as much as the price of a new microwave oven.
Be certain, when browsing for over-range microwave ovens, that you check the warranty on the magnetron. There are often two warranties in effect: One for the magnetron and one for the rest of the oven. For example, the Samsung model above has a 10-year warranty on the magnetron and a one-year warranty on everything else.
The Shocking Truth About Microwave Power Levels
All microwaves have power settings, usually from 1-10 or 10-100 in increments of 10. You may think that reducing the power level reduces the intensity of the microwave beam, but that’s not it at all. The microwave – a wave of electromagnetic (EM) radiation, always projects full-on. It doesn’t change. It can’t.
The only thing power levels do is turn the magnetron – the device that produces the EM radiation – on and off as needed. If you select a power level of 50 percent (or five in the 1-10 system), you’re telling the magnetron to be on half the time and off half the time. If you select 60, you tell the magnetron to be on 60 percent of the time and off 40 percent of the time.
So for an item with a four-minute overall cook time, if you select 50 percent, the item will receive EM waves for a total of two minutes and will “rest” for a total of two minutes – not continuously, but in phases.
The food is still cooking, even during the “rest” or “off” phase. During the “on” phase, molecules within the food are spinning wildly, and the friction from this process creates a lot of heat. During the “off” phase, the molecules are still turning, but more slowly, because they’re not being acted upon by the EM radiation. So the food still cooks.
For most foods, there is no benefit to using power levels. But some foods may burn or scorch on the outside while still remaining undercooked on the inside. For these foods, power levels allow more even cooking and more predictable results.
Installation of Over the Range Microwave
Installation of an over-range microwave oven is definitely a DIY project. Not an easy DIY project, if you’re doing it from scratch, but a manageable one. If you’re simply replacing an existing over-range microwave, then it really becomes easy.
We won’t go into step-by-step instructions on how to install an over-range microwave oven here, because there are a number of excellent resources online to provide you with all the advice you should need. Don’t back away from ordering a new over-range microwave because you’re afraid you won’t be able to install it!
Here are some resources that should help with installation:
The Invention That Changed Kitchens Forever
Microwave technology for cooking has its roots in radar and medicine. In the 1920s, scientists discovered that human tissue could be heated by means of powerful shortwave radio signals and the process known as diathermy became an accepted medical practice in the 1930s. In 1933, at the Chicago World’s Fair, a team of researchers working for Westinghouse demonstrated how steak and potatoes could be cooked between two pieces of metal to which shortwave radio beams were applied.
But the technology at that time held no promise for commercial use. That changed in 1945, when Percy Spencer, working with radar equipment similar to what had been in use throughout World War II, noticed that a candy bar in his shirt pocket melted. After ruling out his own body heat as the culprit, he realized that the candy bar had melted from exposure to the radar set.
Spencer later popped popcorn with the radio waves and cooked an egg that exploded in the face of an observer. He later refined the process by directing waves into a metal box from which there was no escape.
The process was patented by the Raytheon Company, which produced the first commercially available microwave oven in 1947. It was a monster – almost six feet tall and weighing 340 pounds. It was called the Radar Range and cost $5000.
Needless to say, sales were never brisk for this behemoth. But fast-forward to the late 1960s, when the oven was downsized to something that could fit on a countertop and could be sold for less than $400.
Now, there was a market. A booming one. And it has scarcely let up, some five plus decades later.