The Great Convection Microwave Debate: Which One is Right for You?

Convection and microwave ovens are two of the most popular cooking appliances. In an ideal situation, you’d have both in your kitchen. But what if your kitchen is small and you don’t have enough counter space for two ovens?

A microwave convection oven could be a solution, but are these ovens any good? And what do they do exactly? Can you use them to cook anything you want, or are they just a more glorious version of a standard microwave?

Microwave convection ovens combine the cooking technology of microwaves with that of autonomous convection ovens. The result is a hybrid you can use for all purposes you’d use both a microwave and a separate convection oven. These appliances can bake, grill, broil, roast, and slow-cooked foods. At the same time, they can reheat, defrost, and cook microwavable meals as quickly as a standard microwave oven.

What is a Convection Microwave oven?

A convection microwave oven is a microwave oven that incorporates convection cooking technology.

These ovens can heat and defrost foods like regular microwaves, make quick popcorn, bake potatoes in no time, and cook microwavable meals. However, they can also bake cakes, roast chickens or turkeys, grill, and even steam.

Like anything else, there are pros and cons of convection microwave ovens. Nevertheless, they are a convenient solution for people with little room in the kitchen.

Types of Convection Microwave oven

Apart from the cooking technology incorporated in a convection microwave, there is little difference between these appliances and standard microwave ovens.

You can choose from a variety of styles and installation options. Basically, all choices are grouped in two main categories: autonomous – or freestanding – and built-in options.

Autonomous

Autonomous or countertop microwave ovens are designed for a freestanding installation. You can place them on a countertop, shelf – provided there is enough ventilation – atop a taller cabinet or inside a cabinet when not in use.

Some freestanding models allow for a built-in installation with an appropriate trim kit. Otherwise, you should avoid placing it in a confined or too small space.

Nevertheless, numerous models are perfect for an RV or boat, and even to use in a dorm as long as the wattage input and output comply with the dorm’s rules.

Built-In

As you can imagine, built-in microwave ovens are designed to be installed inside a cabinet.

There are numerous models you can pick from, including over-the-range microwave ovens, microwave drawers, and standard built-in units.

The main difference between these microwaves and the autonomous ones is the design of the vents. Built-in units typically have front vents that let the steam escape during cooking. They also draw in cool air and prevent overheating, reducing the fire hazard and prolonging the unit’s lifespan.

An exception are OTR microwave ovens with outside ventilation. These appliances connect to a vent duct the same way a range hood would, conducting both microwave cooking byproducts and any steam from the range outside your home.

How Does a Convection Microwave Work?

Convection microwave ovens work by alternating or combining microwave and convection cooking technologies. In fact, the difference is in the convection technology when it comes to convection microwave vs. microwave.

Microwave technology utilizes microwave radiation produced by an internal component called a magnetron.

The oven’s cavity reflects these waves onto the food that absorbs them. Once absorbed, the microwaves begin to agitate the water molecules inside the food, producing heat that cooks the products.

Because microwave cooking is dependent on water content, very dry foods are prone to burning in microwave ovens, and they can even start fires.

That’s why you should always follow the cooking instructions on the package, especially when making popcorn or other foods that have low water content.

By evaporating moisture, microwaves can also dry your foods, hindering their flavor.

Convection technology utilizes fans to blow hot air onto the food. This is the same technology used in air fryers and other similar cooking appliances.

The fans circulate the hot air inside the oven’s cavity, cooking foods more or less evenly. Typically, the part that is more exposed to heat tends to become crispier, whereas the part in contact with the pan retains more moisture.

In convection microwave ovens, you can usually switch from convection to microwave cooking. Some combination microwave ovens give you the possibility to use both technologies at the same time for faster baking or roasting.

Smart convection microwaves can switch from one cooking method to another, although these appliances are few and expensive.

What Can you Cook with a Convection Microwave?

We established that convection microwaves can cook foods in two different ways, but you might wonder what exactly you can do with such an appliance. Here is a non-exhaustive list:

  • Roast an entire chicken
  • Bake angel food cake for dessert – or bake any other cake you might like
  • Bake cookies on metal cookware
  • Crisp and brown pizza on a rack
  • Cook a beef roast
  • Preheat and start convection from your smartphone or tablet (if you have a smart appliance)
  • Defrost meat and vegetables
  • Reheat leftovers
  • Make popcorn
  • Speed-bake potatoes with the microwave power
  • Sear and broil meats
  • Make hot beverages in the microwave
  • Possibility to use metal cookware and aluminum foil when using the convection mode

The Difference Between Convection Microwaves vs. microwaves

The table below shows a quick comparison of convection microwave vs. standard microwave ovens:

FeaturesConvection microwaveStandard microwave
Cooking technologyDual – microwave and convectionMicrowave only
CapacityUp to 2.2 cubic feetUp to 2.2 cubic feet
PowerUp to 1,250 wattsUp to 1,250 watts
Cooking functions2 to 41 or 2
Preprogrammed cooking settings6+Generally, up to 10
Power levels10+Generally, up to 10
Installation optionsCountertop; built-in; OTRCountertop; built-in; OTR
Door openingRight to left or front openingTypically right to left
Smart optionsAvailableAvailable
Sensor cookingMost modelsHigh-end models
Inverter technologySome modelsSome models

The Advantages of Microwave Convection oven

As I mentioned above, there are convection microwaves that come with pros and cons. Here are a few of the advantages these ovens come with.

The enhanced flavor of your dishes

By combining two tried-and-tested cooking technologies, convection microwaves are capable of cooking your meals better and faster. This is often synonymous with enhanced flavor.

Faster cooking

While some convection microwaves let you switch from convection to microwave heat, some use both technologies simultaneously. This means your meals will be ready to serve faster, which comes in handy, especially on those nights when you’re home late.

Versatility

It goes without saying that you can cook more things in a convection microwave than you would in each of the two appliances separately.

But that’s not the only area where a convection microwave is versatile.

This appliance can replace two of your kitchen appliances, saving you space. A combined unit is the way to go if you’re an avid cook but can’t have two appliances in your home or dorm.

Texture

Faster and better cooking means a more palatable texture, too. This is particularly true for vegetables that will come out perfectly cooked without becoming soggy.

Preheat

Preheating a convection microwave is often unnecessary, as the appliance can reach the cooking temperature in seconds. However, if you wish to preheat it, you can expect it to become hot fast.

Sensor cooking

Not all convection microwaves have a cooking sensor, but those that do can provide even better results.

The sensor is designed to sense the amount of moisture in your food and adjust the cooking temperature (power level) and time mid-way through the cooking cycle. By doing this, your food will remain moist and delicious, while you’ll still be able to enjoy that crispy crust we all tend to love.

The disadvantages of microwave convection oven

Not all is sugar when it comes to microwave convection ovens. The downsides are few, but there are still a few drawbacks you should be aware of.

Limited capacity

Convection microwaves are more or less the same size as standard microwave ovens – perhaps slightly larger. However, they are almost always smaller than standard convection ovens. What this means is that you might have to cook in batches if you want to feed large crowds.

You can’t cook multiple dishes in a microwave convection oven

The impossibility of cooking multiple dishes in a convection microwave is linked to the capacity.

Not only will you have limited space for the purpose, but convection microwaves generally don’t give you the possibility to set two separate temperatures. Some convection ovens do.

Need to clean your microwave convection oven regularly

Convection microwaves tend to get dirty faster than separate appliances. That’s because you’re using the same appliance for several purposes.

Luckily, most convection microwaves are very easy to clean.

The outer side of your food may burn if you overheat it

This is especially true in ovens that use both convection and microwave technologies to cook your meals. You’ll have to pay close attention to your food throughout the cooking process.

How to Use a Convection Microwave?

Using a convection microwave is as easy as using a standard microwave oven:

  1. Read your specific model’s manual to find out what power setting corresponds to each determined food (or group of foods).
  2. Determine the cooking time for a standard quantity of food at the specified power level (e.g.: cook seven ounces of meat for 5-7 minutes at 1,000 watts).
  3. Set the cooking time and power for the type of food you want to cook. When using convection alone (if your oven allows it), follow the cooking time and temperature instructions in your recipe.
  4. Place the food tray or pan in the oven and press the start button.
  5. Monitor the cooking process and remove the pan or tray when it’s done. You can now wipe clean the oven’s cavity or use the self-cleaning function if your oven has one.

What else to know before you buy a convection microwave

Before buying a convection microwave, you should know that even though it can replace two appliances, these microwaves don’t have the cooking abilities microwaves and convection ovens have separately. You’ll get something from both worlds, but don’t expect top performance in either department.

That said, convection microwaves are an excellent choice for smaller homes or people who rarely use these appliances but would still like to have both of them.

Are convection microwaves worth it?

Convection microwaves are worth it if:

  • You want to have access to both technologies while saving some money
  • Have little space in your home and can’t accommodate two ovens
  • You don’t use the convection oven very often, but would still like to bake every now and then

Is a convection microwave better than a regular microwave?

A convection microwave is only better than a regular microwave as long as you don’t have specific expectations from your appliance.

If you want to cook foods fast and want a powerful microwave oven, you should go for a standard model.

Is a microwave convection oven good for baking?

Yes, you can bake with a convection microwave. However, temperature settings may be more challenging to achieve compared to a conventional oven.

How hot and fast can a convection microwave oven cook?

Typically, convection microwaves can reach temps over 400°F and can cook foods in a fraction of the time it would take a standard convection oven to cook them. Specific cooking times vary, though, from one model to another.

Summary

Convection microwaves are an excellent choice for many people. Whether you have little space in your kitchen, want to save a buck, or don’t mind having two appliances in one, they are the way to go.

Their main advantage is the larger capacity compared to a standard microwave. They could also be more powerful. Moreover, you’ll have quick access to a bunch of cooking functions.

However, convection microwaves may have fewer specific settings for microwave and convection cooking compared to a solo microwave oven or true convection oven. For this reason, you should base your decision on expectations.

About Justin Schwartz

Justin Schwartz is an experienced editor and food blogger based in New York. He focuses on healthy eating and living. When he’s not acquiring and publishing cookbooks, you can find Justin sampling food in New York’s restaurants or trying new recipes in his kitchen.

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