A microwave is a necessity of any modern kitchen. It is a versatile tool that can be used for far more than just reheating leftovers - it can be used for all manner of cooking, from poaching salmon to baking potatoes.
Some microwaves have the ability to function as ovens and grills in addition to standard microwave cooking. Microwaves that have an added grill function combine the normal microwave cooking with a heated element either on the top or the sides of the machine - this allows it to function similar to a standard grill. Microwave ovens, on the other hand, can cook and roast food exactly like a convection oven. Whichever model you pick, these types of microwaves greatly increase the types of food you can cook, and turn your microwave into the central cooking tool in your kitchen - you can roast fish and beef, roast vegetables and grill cheese toasties!
More advanced models of microwave may also have a steamer function. As the name suggests, a steamer addition to the microwave uses boiling water to generate bursts of hot steam inside the microwave. This is a great method of delicately cooking vegetables so they retain the maximum amount of nutrients, and can also be used for cooking fish, dumplings, or Chinese-style pancakes for roast duck. While normally only found in the most high-level and expensive microwaves, it allows the appliance to become even more versatile as a cooking tool, and therefore may well be worth the extra expense.
Microwaves come in all different shores and sizes, and are primarily differentiated by their capacity, measured in litres (L). The bigger the capacity of your microwave, the larger the food you can cook in it. Some microwaves just fit single plates or bowls, while other models are large enough to fit an entire chicken or soup pot in.
Power Levels/Cooking Programs
Microwaves are all given a power level, rated in Watts. The higher the power level, the faster your food will be cooked. Most modern microwaves come with a range of power levels, allowing you great flexibility when preparing your food. They also come with specific setting for warming, reheating or defrosting food - extremely useful in speeding up cooking times, or reheating food previously cooked. Defrosting is an especially useful setting, meaning that joints of meat and frozen food can be brought up to room temperature in a matter of minutes.
Many microwaves now have a selection of automatic cooking functions as well. These allow you to input a type of food to cook (potatoes, chicken, soups, etc) and a weight, and the microwave will automatically calculate the power level and time needed to cook it perfectly. Conveniences like this can make preparing dinner hassle-free, and remove the guesswork and constant checking to see if your food is ready.
This automatic cooking function can also extend to defrosting and reheating leftovers, making the microwave an invaluable tool for easy food heating and prep. Some advanced models of microwave also offer a 'power defrost' setting, which can defrost frozen meat far quickly than usual defrost programs. However because this defrost cycle is far more powerful, care has to be given to make sure that you don't accidentally part cook the food while it's being defrosted.
Finally, some microwaves comes with a collection of extra features, to make cooking easier or more convenient. These can include recipe books detailing how to cook different types of food, baking trays designed to fit comfortably into the machine, or racks to allow multiple dishes to be cooked at once. Some microwave ovens even include a rotisserie spit, allowing you to cook spit-roasted chicken or pork.