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We own an 800W microwave oven that was bought in 1999. It still works fine but I am thinking about replacing it, specifically since I hope to benefit from technology improvements that may have happened since then. But I'm not quite sure if there are in fact any improvements relevant to our use cases.

We use the microwave almost exclusively for thawing and reheating but I am not satisfied with some aspects:

  • Thawing food is really slow: e.g it takes almost 20 minutes to thaw and subsequently reheat 600g of Bolognese sauce.
  • It is necessary to supervise the thawing process and change the setting from thawing to "normal" cooking after the food has thawed sufficiently.
  • The containers I use are specified for microwave use, but after 15 to 20 cycles they begin to discolor and deform. Maybe today's ovens are more gentle with polymers?

So would it make sense to buy a new microwave oven for us, i.e. would there be any improvement regarding these aspects?

  • Out of interest have you ever tried many different techniques with your existing oven? For example for a frozen sauce I'd run mine full tilt from frozen and maybe give a sir half-way through, I can't really think of a reason to use a thaw setting first. Most newer ovens I've seen don't offer anything in the way of stepped power control. – PeterJ Aug 13 '15 at 14:20
  • I tried thawing on full power. It might be quicker but I was not satisfied with the result. The power seems to concentrate at the spots that are already thawed. Thus at these spots the food will be overcooked (e.g. dry) at the end of the process. – realtime Aug 13 '15 at 14:35
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By the late 1990s, most microwaves had turn-tables in them. This was to prevent standing waves from heating up specific points within the oven, while ignoring others. It's better than nothing, but it's still not perfect.

There's a newer system in some models where the cylcotron itself moves, so that the food can remain stationary, and they can better control how the hot spots / dead spots move within the oven. I've personally never used one of these new models, so I can't comment on how well it works.

Other recent-ish features that you might be interested in are what my model calls 'turbo-defrost', where you tell it what weight and type of item you're defrosting, and it runs through some prepared plan. (in some cases, it'll beep and ask you to separate things ... eg, for chicken pieces).

Some also let you chain commands together -- so you can tell it to defrost for 5 minutes, then switch to 50% power for 2 minutes, then high for 2 minutes. (I find it to be more confusing than it's worth; you might be more comfortable using it)

There are also 'combi' ovens that can defrost via microwave, then switch to conventional oven to get some browning. (I've never used one, however).

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To heat water quickly and to thaw ice quickly requires microwaves of different frequencies. Ovens generate microwaves at a single frequency, so if it's good at the former, it'll be poor(er) at the latter. I never use the microwave to defrost stuff.

In fact, the only difference between 'full' and 'defrost' is that, on the former setting, microwaves are generated all the time while on the latter, the generator switches on and off. Listen to the noise made by the oven - you can hear it switching on and off. I tend to use full power for a short periods and let the food rest in between. Whether a fancy timer that does this automatically is worth the cost is up to you but, if the old oven is working O.K, I'd keep it.

BTW, the best indication of whether something is cooked properly is its internal temperature. I once had a domestic microwave oven that had a temperature probe inside the oven itself and you could set a target temperature rather than a cooking time. No more exploding milk! I believe some commercial ovens still have this feature but I can't find a domestic one.

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