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If you are shopping for a new kitchen appliance, or just performing research, you may wonder what is a microwave oven. The best microwaves, after all, are a mainstay of nearly every kitchen in the country. Keep reading to find out how microwaves work and a short history.


  • Microwave ovens are handy kitchen appliances that use heated electrons, a form of electromagnetic radiation, to quickly cook ingredients.
  • The microwave oven has been a mainstay in kitchens since the 1960s, as they offer a faster cooking time than conventional ovens.
  • Modern microwave ovens come in a variety of styles, including convection microwaves and countertop microwaves.

What Exactly Are Microwaves?

Microwave ovens are a kitchen appliance that uses heated electrons, otherwise known as microwaves, to quickly cook food. They have been in use since the 1960s and have become an integral part of the modern kitchen, thanks to their overall efficiency, low energy consumption, and relatively compact form factor. To see an in-depth review of a specific model, check out our Panasonic stainless steel microwave review.

Insider Tip

Be sure to experiment with power levels to find the best settings for each recipe.

What Kinds of Microwaves Exist?

There are plenty of different types of microwaves to suit a variety of consumers. There are standard microwave ovens of the kind you are likely familiar with. There are also convection microwave ovens. Convection microwave ovens are used to cook multiple foods, including roasting and air frying. Some microwaves rest on a countertop, while others are built right into the framework of your kitchen. In addition, smart inverter microwaves offer ultra-precise temperature control, for even cooking and faster cooking times. They range in size, weight, power, and available features.

Microwave Accessories

There are plenty of accessories and attachments modern home cooks can use with their microwave oven. There are microwave food steamers, which work by being placed inside of the microwave along with ingredients and a little bit of water. You can also use accessories, such as plastic containers, to cook eggs, fish, and even popcorn poppers.

How do Microwaves Work?

The concept is simple enough to understand, though in practice microwaves are relatively complex gadgets. Essentially, every microwave includes a component called the magnetron. This magnetron is an oscillating device that creates electrons which are heated up and sent into the microwave cavity, where they heat up ingredients. These ultra-hot electrons heat food from the inside out, which is why you will occasionally find a cold exterior and a really hot interior when using a microwave.

Who Invented the Microwave?

The modern microwave has two inventors, though many more people contributed in various ways to the technology. The magnetron was invented during the 1930s by Dr. Albert W. Hull. Dr. Hull’s system of magnetrons, heated electrons, and oscillators make up the basic design of microwave ovens, though they were not actually used to cook food. That didn’t happen until the 1960s when the concept was further refined by Rudy Dehn at General Electric.


Are microwaves safe for cooking your food?

Microwaves are a safe cooking method, as the electromagnetic waves released by these ovens do not exist at harmful levels. If microwaves boasted exponentially higher power levels, then it could be an issue.

Do microwaves cook from the inside out?

Yes. Microwave ovens cook from the inside out, as that is the nature of the cooking method. Microwave energy and microwave heating work by sending heated electrons into the cavity.

How efficient are microwave ovens?

Modern microwave ovens are pretty efficient and are considered to be a fast cooking method.

STAT: By 1986, roughly 25% of households in the U.S. owned a microwave oven, up from only about 1% in 1971; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that over 90% of American households owned a microwave oven in 1997. (source)

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