Cheap cookware usually comes with a small Dutch oven, so we sought out five larger, better options under $80, from enameled cast iron to a stainless stockpot.
Microwaves Features (continued)
Microwaves One-Touch Buttons and Sensors.Microwaves have come a long way since the single-function on/off-button days. Even cheap countertop microwaves now have settings pre-programmed to achieve certain ends with the touch of a button: cook rice, fresh vegetables, or pizza, say, or boil water and heat up coffee.
Newer innovations are now popping up in the countertop microwaves segment.
Microwave Defrosting.One of the great home-cooking advances arrived with the microwave's ability to defrost a dinner straight from the freezer. A practical and welcome concept, certainly, but the execution has hardly been flawless. It's not unheard of, for example, to wind up with cooked edges on a lump of frozen ground meat and a partially frozen mid-section after the end of a defrost cycle. One of the common misperceptions about microwave ovens is that they heat from the inside out. In fact, notes the USDA, they cook to a depth of 1.5 inches, so frozen foods must continuously be moved around (flipped over, broken up) throughout the defrosting process.
Defrosting is best done at 30% power, and virtually all countertop microwaves have a pre-set defrost button. Some of the best countertop microwaves up the ante a bit. On the GE JES1142SJ and Oster OGG61403, just key in the weight of the food item and the power level and time adjust automatically. The Panasonic NN-H765 features a proprietary function called Inverter Turbo Defrost, which is supposed to eliminate the hot and raw spots by delivering constant power at high, medium, or low levels rather than cycling on and off. The Kenmore 6633 provides an express defrost (you customize the time and power level) in addition to an auto defrost (pre-programmed settings for different types of food) that beeps midway through the cycle as a reminder to open the door and adjust (stir, break up, turn over) the food item. The LG LMA1180ST lets you choose a setting for poultry, steaks/chops, or ground meat.
Microwaves Indicators.Almost all countertop microwaves emit a sound when a cycle is complete; a few follow up with a reminder beep a minute or two later. While some consumers are grateful for the prompt, others find it irritating. In fact, some reviewers of the Kenmore 6633 are delighted that you can turn off the beep altogether. The Amana AMC5143A lets you select among four different sound levels, and it can even play a little tune.
Microwaves Turntable.A rotating glass turntable is standard on today's countertop microwaves because it ensures more even heat distribution and better results. The turntables are easy to remove and wash, and many models let you turn off the carousel to prevent oddly-shaped cookware from getting stuck. The turntables are generally large enough to hold a dinner plate, and most measure 12 or 13 inches in diameter; the Panasonic NN-H765 boasts a 15-inch turntable, which is much admired by users who note on Amazon that it rotates with ease while holding a standard-sized baking dish.
The turntable in most cheap microwaves rests on a ring or little feet set into the floor of the oven, but it's easy for it to slip out of alignment. Some pricey models, such as the Kitchen Aid KCMS1555S (starting at $308), come with a recessed turntable, which keeps it secure and leaves more internal space for food; among the countertop microwaves we researched, only the LG LMA1180ST provides this feature.
Microwaves Extras.Some cheap countertop microwaves come with a few frills. Among those on our list, the Panasonic NN-H765 stands out: it features a "keep warm" function (ditto for the Amana AMC5143A), an add-a-minute function (ditto for the Kenmore 6633), a delay start (ditto for the Haier MWM12001SCG) and it scrolls user instructions in English, Spanish, or French across a small screen. Both the Haier MWM12001SCG and Oster OGG61403 sport handles on the door rather than push buttons, a feature that many consumers prefer. Back to top »
You can pick up one of these four recommended cookware sets for yourself or for a gift on a budget of less than $80.
We compare the costs of a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal versus takeout or eating out at a restaurant.