Microwave ovens

As of 2011, my best pick is the Sharp Carousel R-402JK/F. I've been using the Sharp happily and daily since July 2006. I rarely use the stove, and I cook almost all my meals using the Sharp. That means an average of 2 cooking times a day, totaling probably 6 minutes. Yes, that's how intensively a bachelor who eats lunch at work will use a microwave. I eat healthy packaged meals from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.

Good things to know about microwave ovens

  1. You don't need a cooking sensor and they don't work anyway. See my review for Consumer Report's top pick for heating evenness, the GE JES2251SJ. For the last five years, I've been cooking 90% of my food by punching in the cooking times indicated on the label. The food came out perfect. After a short while, you'll learn cooking times anyway. A 500ml glass of tea takes 99 seconds; a plate of frozen veggies takes 4 minutes, and 5 if you add some pre-cooked frozen meat or vegetable meat substitute.

  2. All microwaves heat large solid or viscous things unevenly, even those which are Consumer Reports top picks for heating evenness (see my GE JES2251SJ review on how to test heating evenness). If you microwave a frozen turkey, the center will be cold or even frozen. BUT, that's not that big of a problem. Don't heat viscous tomato juice - heat tea or orange juice; don't heat big chunks of meat, but cut it in small chunks after you defrost it. If possible, place plates off-center on the turntable.

  3. All microwave ovens have a rotating turntable. Why this is listed as a "feature" beats me. It's like listing "door" as a feature for a car.

  4. What you really want is a tall enough oven, not one of those low-profile GE Spacesavers that look like those long and short Basset Hound dogs. You'll want to make tea in a tall glass, or just cook something on a large plate. The Spacesavers are also stupid because they are rectangular, but the rotating turntable is circular, so the area between the square that encloses the turntable circle, and the rectangle, is unused. Or, you can put a rectangular tray there and not have it turn, which is again stupid. A microwave is supposed to be convenient, and you don't want to rotate the tray every minute for even heating. So the ideal oven shape has a large square base (33cm/13in) and is at least 20cm/8in tall. Believe me, I had to switch to a "compact" microwave and it was annoying.

  5. You'll find that you hardly use more than 10% of the features of a microwave oven. There are basically two controls that allow you do to 90% of the cooking: the time, and the cooking power. And, you'll need the cooking power only 10% of the time. But by playing with these parameters, you can heat, boil, defrost, melt or whatever.

  6. Don't have high expectations from a microwave oven. Most people do, which makes it so that almost no oven has more than a 4-star rating from more than 10 people on Amazon. (The only one that does, actually has serious design flaws.)

Candidates

Sharp R-402J 1100 Watts Microwave Oven

I bought a Sharp R4-02JK (which looks exactly the same as the R402J, and I have no idea what differences exist between them) after being disappointed with the above-mentioned GE, which Consumer Report touted as the best microwave oven in its class. CR wasn't exactly wrong; my expectations were high (at the time, I hadn't owned a microwave oven yet).

Some more things about the Sharp:

  1. It has a light that's supposed to help you operate in the dark. That light is practically useless because it doesn't light up any buttons. Just bad design.
  2. It's black! That means it will look dirty soon, and often. If you ever had a black car, you'll know what I mean.
  3. The interior is not easy to clean. I got mine smoked at some point and the smoke stayed there after lots of Windex, Lysol and whatnot.
  4. After 4 years, the LCD display started to lose illumination in some of the segments. But I have 5 or 6 gadgets around the house that display the current time, and I just go fetch the food after I hear the beep.
  5. The door latch is LOUD enough to wake up light sleepers.

All in all, a good microwave oven, and somewhat reliable so far, after nearly 5 years.

Sharp R-402JW 1-2/5-Cubic-Foot 1100-Watt Microwave

  • this is the current favorite on Amazon.com, i.e. the only microwave oven with more than 1 reviews and more than 4 stars
  • bad design of controls
  • LOUD door latch
  • same useless night light
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