Stepping up to a convection microwave oven after running a traditional microwave is a one-way transition. Once you have experienced the difference in the way, a convection microwave oven cooks a variety of foods evenly, thoroughly, and at the touch of a button, there’s no going back.
But what is it about these advanced kitchen appliances that make them so much better than the traditional option? Is it really worth spending more on the latest convection microwaves on the market (see 'Best Convection Microwave Reviews'), or are standard microwave ovens good enough for most everyday purposes?
What is the Difference Between a Microwave Convection Oven and The Regular Microwave?
The short answer to this question is equally short and simple. Convection microwaves differ from conventional microwave ovens in that they combine the functions of a convection oven with the convenience of a microwave.
What this means is that while the microwave radiation gets to work cooking food from the inside, the heat of the convection function is great for browning food on the outside. This makes it much easier to cook a variety of foods and ingredients more evenly, creating a crispy exterior on things like baked potatoes with a perfectly cooked and fluffy interior.
Hence, you’re essentially looking at the best of both worlds - microwave radiation to the water molecules inside the food, with air convection for baking (see 'Best Convection Ovens for Baking'), roasting, and cooking in the conventional sense.
As a result, you can cook and reheat so many more foods, meals, and ingredients in a convection microwave than in a traditional microwave oven—all with faster results and more even heating throughout, utilizing less energy in the process.
When Should You Use a Convection Microwave?
When looking to cook food with a relatively high moisture content that does not need to be crisp or brown on the outside, a standard microwave oven is fine. TV dinners, soups, stews, and so are great for heating up in the microwave - as are hot drinks that have gone cold.
Meanwhile, anything that would be better if cooked in a conventional oven is the kind of thing that’s ideal for the convection setting on a microwave. You can bake, roast, and brown almost anything in a convection microwave that would normally be cooked in an electronic oven or a gas oven.
In both instances, convection microwave cooking can be helpful in that it speeds up the process and makes it much easier to produce even results. It’s therefore technically possible to replace a microwave oven and a convection oven outright with a decent enough convection microwave.
Three Settings for The Best of Both Worlds
The technology in a convection microwave oven pairs the magnetron that heats the water molecules in food with a standard electronic heating element. This means that while one of these components gets to work heating food from the inside, the other heats it from the outside like any conventional oven.
Heating, baking, or roasting something to perfection in a convection microwave means choosing from the three basic settings available. There can also be various additional functions and modes to choose from, but these are the three main cooking modes that cover most requirements:
This is where you use a convection microwave oven in the same way as a conventional microwave. The magnetron in the appliance is activated to heat the moisture within the foods and ingredients inside the cavity. A range of different power settings will be available to suit most purposes, from defrosting specific ingredients to reheating leftovers.
Convection Oven Mode
This setting activates the heating element in the oven, independently of the magnetron. The cavity inside the oven heats to the temperature specified, at which point it can be used to bake and roast in the same way as a conventional electric or gas oven. Hot air circulates by way of a fan, which ensures even distribution of heat and cooks the ingredients inside as efficiently as possible.
Arguably the most useful set of all, this is where both heating components are used in combination with one another at the same time. This can be an incredibly convenient and time-saving way of cooking food, though it’s important not to use metal trays, cartons, or containers while using this setting. Metal must not be used when the magnetron is activated, though can be used safely in convection oven mode.
It takes a little time to get used to a convection microwave oven, along with which settings work best for cooking different types of ingredients. Nevertheless, you eventually reach a point where you’re able to get things done in the kitchen exponentially faster, and the whole thing becomes second nature.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Convection Microwaves
For the most part, the advantages of convection microwaves are relatively obvious. Depending on the quality (and size) of the device in question, it is possible to replace both a microwave and a convection oven with just one kitchen appliance.
Along with being more energy efficient in general, a good microwave convection oven will also preheat significantly faster than a comparable convection cooker. This is due to the fact that the typical microwave convection oven is significantly smaller in size, therefore needs less time and less energy to preheat.
Advanced features and functions are also the norms with a microwave convection oven, which can often be used to heat a wide variety of ingredients at the touch of a button. For example, there may be a one-button function for perfectly crisping baked potatoes, which is a microwave convection oven that can take as little as 8 minutes.
As for the downsides, the main drawback to factor in is the relatively compact size of the cavity inside a microwave convection oven. They occupy less space on the counter - which is a bonus - but there may also be limited cooking space on the interior to work with.
In addition, the presence of a conventional element for heating food can make convection microwaves more difficult to clean than their standard counterparts. This is due to the tendency for burnt-on food to accumulate in corners and crevices, but most can be tackled with a quick wipe with a damp cloth after each use.
Of course, the most advanced appliances on the market are also significantly more expensive than a low-cost entry-level microwave. But when you consider what you get out of the deal, a good convection microwave oven represents outstanding overall value for money.
What to Look for When Shopping for Microwave Convection Ovens
Choosing from the various microwave convection ovens available can be a daunting prospect at first. As with standard microwaves and convection ovens in general, there are literally thousands of models available from hundreds of manufacturers. Finally, when it comes to the ventilation, there are two different microwave types you should consider - with convertible or recirculating vents.
All are designed to cook food with the same combination of hot air convection cooking and microwave technology, but with their own unique features and functionalities.
Narrowing things down to a shortlist of convection microwave ovens means focusing on what matters most to you. Though across the board, these are the things to be looking for in an appliance to make everything from baking to browning so much easier:
User Friendliness. All the advanced features and functionalities in the world are not as important as a device that is easy to use. The simpler it is to use microwave convection ovens in general, the more likely you are to get the maximum possible value from your device.
Internal and External Size. This is important as it will determine not only how much space you need to occupy the machine on your kitchen countertop but also how much it can cook at any one time. For the busy family kitchen with plenty of mouths to feed, a larger model is usually a better way to go.
Easy to Clean Interior. Also important for maintaining domestic bliss in the kitchen, choose something with a high-quality metal interior that can be cleaned as easily as possible. Metal surfaces with a special nonstick coating are much easier to clean than those that seem to attract and accumulate dirt in vast quantities.
One Touch Cooking. As the name suggests, these are features that make cooking certain items as simple as pressing a single button. These devices are preprogrammed in a variety of ways to heat various dishes automatically, without having to adjust any settings yourself. Examples of these include pizza, baked potatoes, and a wide variety of defrosting settings.
Manufacturer’s Warranty. For added peace of mind, it is essential to ensure you pick up a microwave that has the longest possible warranty from the manufacturer. This will prove useful if your microwave develops a fault within the first couple of years, during which time you will be eligible for a replacement or free repair.
Price. Finally, a microwave can cost anywhere between $100 and $1000. While the amount you spend is entirely up to you, there is no reason to purchase something overpriced with a long list of features you will never use.