A guide to microwave wattage: How many watts do you need?

Written by Jason Hutchinson
5 Min read
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With so many amazing microwaves on the market, it can be challenging to work out which one will be best for you and your family’s needs.  There are so many things to consider, such as whether you need a grill, the size you need in liters, or whether you want a combination or a standard microwave.

From cooking vegetables to defrosting meat, the microwave is the unsung workhorse of the kitchen. After gaining popularity in the 1970s, millions of kitchens now boast microwaves in addition to more conventional ovens.  They cook food quickly and efficiently by channeling heat energy directly to the tiny particles (molecules) inside the ingredient. Microwaves heat food in the same way the sun heats your skin and despite their small size, they pack a powerful punch.

About microwave wattage

In the world of the microwave, wattage equals power and one of the most important factors to understand when buying a new microwave is the wattage you will need.  A standard microwave is usually between 600 to 1200 watts, and this provides enough power to heat things up without being prohibitively expensive or too powerful.

How many watts does my microwave need?

As a guide a 1000-watt microwave will cook things quickly and efficiently - it will heat up a cup of water in around two minutes, whereas a 600-watt microwave will take four minutes. If waiting that little bit longer for food to cook is going to drive you crazy and budget isn’t much of an issue for you, then it’s probably a good idea to invest in microwaves above 800 watts.

The difference between microwave wattages

600–800-watt microwaves

With most microwave-based recipe books providing cooking times for microwaves above 800 watts, you’ll need to remember that microwaves with fewer watts than this will take longer to cook foods.  However, if you’re on a budget and plan to only use your microwave to heat up drinks or reheat individual instant meals then this could be a great option for you.

800–1000-watt microwaves

Microwaves with between 800 and 1000 watts are a great option for most families.  Whilst slightly more expensive than lower-wattage models, these are more powerful and can therefore cook things more quickly and efficiently, defrost food safely, and re-heat drinks from cold within just a couple of minutes.

1000-1200-watt microwaves

If you’re looking for a commercial-grade microwave - one that would look more at home in the kitchens of a fancy restaurant than in a family home - then you’ll need to be looking for microwaves with over 1000 watts. Powerful workhorses, they’re actually closer to traditional ovens than they are microwaves and will heat up a cup of water in a little over a minute.  However, this efficiency comes at a cost, and you should be prepared to pay more for a model of this size.

How to check your microwave wattage

If you’re not sure how to check the wattage of your microwave, you’re in good company! Most microwave owners would admit to being a bit confused when trying to decide how long to cook something for when the instructions give the timings according to the microwave wattage.

The quickest, and easiest way to establish the wattage of your microwave is to check the manual. But how many people actually know where the manual is? Especially if you’ve had the microwave for a little while.

How to check your microwave wattage when you can’t find the manual

  • Get a glass container and fill it with cold water
  • Add ice to the water and set the container in the fridge – the water needs to be REALLY chilled
  • Pour eight ounces of water from the container into a glass and place this in the microwave
  • Set your microwave to full power and add 4-minutes to the timer
  • Now, sit and watch for the water to boil

According to microwavemealprep.com the following results should give you a good idea of your microwave wattage:

600-watt will take 4-minutes to boil

700-watt will take 3-minutes to boil

800-watt will take 2.5 minutes to boil

1000-watt will take 2-minutes to boil

1200 watts will take 1-minute to boil

What are the different types of microwaves

In addition to establishing the wattage you’ll need for your new microwave, you’ll also need to consider the different types of microwaves available so you can pick the right one for your needs.  Here’s a quick guide to the most sold models right now.

Smart Microwaves

Fairly new to the market, smart microwaves contain barcode scanning software, which is used to download cooking instructions, check moisture levels and connect with other smart devices in your home, such as Alexa. You can communicate with your microwave remotely through your smartphone and receive alerts when your food is cooked.

Over-the-range microwaves

An over-the-range microwave frees up space on your worktops by being installed between the cabinetry above the oven. It’s a neat way to keep all your cooking appliances together in one space (remember that kitchen work triangle?) and comes in large and small capacity versions.

Low-profile microwaves

Just like over-the-range models, a low-profile microwave measures just 10-25 inches in height and requires very little maintenance. The ergonomic design makes it aesthetically very pleasing and they come in a variety of sizes and capacities.

Built-in microwaves

Built-in microwaves are ideal if space is tight as they’re installed into a wall or within existing cabinetry, freeing up space on your worktops or elsewhere in your kitchen.  They can be professionally installed in unusual spaces, such as beneath your countertops into a drawer space.

Convection microwaves

Convection microwaves offer all the convenience of a traditional microwave but with the added benefits of a convection oven. They feature an oven-like heating element with a fan that circulates the air around the oven, enabling you to bake and roast in your microwave.

Conclusion

Microwaves have come an incredibly long way since their accidental invention in 1945, with a huge variety of options, features and benefits now available. But with so much choice now, knowing which model is right for you and your family can be challenging. As with any major kitchen appliance, taking your time to research and understand what’s on offer before handing over any cash is essential to ensure your microwave serves you for many years to come.

FAQs

Are most microwaves 1000 watts?

Most microwaves are between 600 and 1000 watts and as a general rule of thumb, the more expensive the microwave, the more powerful it is likely to be. Microwaves of between 600-800 watts will take longer to cook and reheat food than a microwave of 1000 watts.

What is the most powerful microwave?

If you’re running a business, you’re going to need a super-powered microwave! But for most people a microwave of between 600-1000 watts is more than powerful enough.  There are a couple of microwaves available that have 2400 watts, available from manufacturers such as Menumaster and Montpellier, but remember that higher wattage means more energy used to power it.

What microwave wattage is best for popcorn?

If you’re planning to pop popcorn, you’ll need a microwave of at least 500-watts. However, a microwave with anything less than 800 watts will take a little longer to pop the kernels fully. 800-1000 watts is a perfect size, but you must keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t burn.

What is a good wattage for a microwave?

For most homes planning to use their microwave for cooking small items, reheating ready-cooked meals or defrosting things, a microwave of between 800-1000 watts is ideal.

Appliances made simple. 

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