Microwave ovens are great at warming foods and drinks. Not so much when it comes to other more complex forms of cooking such as baking and grilling. For that, a conventional oven is better. But a conventional oven lacks the quick heating, fast cooking and even heat distribution of a microwave oven.
So which one do you need in your kitchen? Or should you buy both?
The best option is to get both. None is better than the other. Each is ideal for different situations and needs.
Below is a more detailed comparison between microwave ovens vs. conventional ovens on how they work, the best type of cooking for both and the pros and cons of each oven.
How They Work
To understand the functional difference between a microwave and conventional oven, it is important to know the basic inner workings of each.
A microwave oven uses microwaves, a type of electromagnetic radiation between radio waves and infrared radiation, to heat foods and drinks.
Oils, fats and water in food absorb these microwaves and heat up from the inside out. Microwaves are not absorbed by plastic but they can pass through it. Metal reflects these waves.
That’s why foods are warmed in plastic containers and the inside of the microwave oven is lined with metal.
A conventional oven is the traditional type of oven that uses radiant heat to cook foods. The heat comes from below. It heats and cooks foods as it rises through the oven. Small conventional ovens, around the size of a microwave oven, are called toaster ovens.
There is a variation of conventional ovens called convectional ovens. Convectional ovens are almost like conventional ovens with the main difference being the presence of a fan that circulates the heat from below around the oven more evenly.
- Affordable. Microwave ovens are often cheaper than conventional ovens. Additionally they do not require any extra setup costs such as connecting a gas line or hard wiring. Even when cooking, microwaves typically use less energy and are more efficient.
- Shorter cooking time. Food warms very quickly in a microwave oven. Most foods and beverages require no more than five minutes to get hot.
- Even heat distribution. A microwave oven sends out evenly distributed microwaves. Hence, all parts of your food generally absorb the waves evenly.
- Easy to use. You just need to switch it on and input the right cooking time. Some microwave ovens even come with pre-set buttons for different types of foods.
- Temperature control. You can easily control how hot a conventional oven gets. This is one of the reasons it is ideal for baking.
- Even cooking (convection ovens only). A convection oven uses a fan to spread heat evenly throughout the oven. Modern conventional ovens have a switch that allows you to switch from the traditional convention mode (no fan) to the more efficient convection mode (with fan).
- Versatile. Conventional ovens can be used for baking, grilling, toasting and other forms of cooking.
- It lacks versatility. While some microwave ovens come with added features and settings, there is only so much you can do. They are especially not ideal for baking and making crispy foods. You could cook in a microwave oven but the food is most likely to get dry and chewy.
- Uneven cooking of thick foods. Microwaves penetrate to a depth of 1 to 1.5 inches. Foods thicker than this may be unevenly cooked especially if you do not adjust the heat and timer settings properly. If you want to cook with a microwave oven, look for one with pre-set buttons. The button will automatically set the right settings.
- Uneven heating. Traditional conventional ovens are not good at distributing heat evenly throughout the oven. Hot and cold spots can cause uneven cooking. That’s why we recommend a combo convention/convection oven. You can turn the fan off for recipes that specify conventional cooking.
- Price. Full size conventional oven are more expensive and may require additional installation costs.
If you are torn between the two, get both. Or at least plan to get both. Start with the one you need most and plan for the other one later. Each oven is important in its own ways. As a pair, they’ll complete your kitchen.
A Microwave Oven is Best For:
Heating and cooking small amounts of food and beverage. You can reheat leftovers, boil a cup of water for tea and defrost frozen foods.
A Conventional Oven is Best For:
Baking, roasting or grilling larger amounts of foods such as breads, cakes and meats. For recipes that require precise heat control or call for browning or a crispy texture, conventional ovens are the most suitable.