Hand opening an over-the-range microwave

HOW DOES A MICROWAVE WORK?

Microwaves are masters at delivering hot food fast. They use electromagnetic energy to stimulate the molecules inside food, producing heat. Some microwaves also offer settings similar to conventional ovens, like cycles that use broiler-like heat, convection cooking or low heat to keep food warm. Read on to learn more about how a microwave oven works and the function of different settings.

Maytag® stainless steel microwave between white cabinets

HOW DOES A MICROWAVE HEAT FOOD?

Microwaves get their name from their function which is to create electromagnetic rays, like radio waves, to cook or heat food. Rays are generated by a device in the microwave called a magnetron and bounce off the oven’s walls. These rays are then absorbed by the water, sugar and fat within the food. The rays excite these molecules and create heat.

As a result, microwaves cook food from the inside out, which is why the food gets hot, but the air around it doesn’t. Conventional ovens, on the other hand, cook from the outside in, migrating heat by conduction from the outside of the food toward the middle.

Collage of microwave interior, a casserole and a microwave control panel

microwave settings THAT BRING THE HEAT

On top of traditional microwave heat, some microwaves offer cycles and settings that go beyond the norm. Learn more about how a microwave oven works through the explanation of a few settings below.

SENSOR COOKING
Microwaves with sensor cooking adapt to your dinner with ideal time and power settings. For example, Maytag® Microwaves with Sensor Cooking use a sensor in the microwave oven to detect moisture released from food as it heats, then adjust the cooking time accordingly.

CONVECTION COOKING
Convection cooking is similar to baking in a regular oven with a convection setting. A heating element heats the air, and a fan circulates it around food. The Maytag® Microwave with Convection Cooking uses 1,600 watts of power, heating food inside and out to seal in juices and flavor.

Some microwaves have a “combination” setting, like the Maytag® Dual Crisp feature, that alternates between convection and traditional microwave cooking, combining the benefits of outside-in and inside-out cooking.

TOP-DOWN HEAT
Some microwaves offer a kind of broiler-like, top-down heat for browning and crisping, bringing the advantages of a traditional oven to the microwave. For example, Maytag® microwaves with the Brown function give food a crunchy top layer with 1,200 watts of direct, top-down heat.

LOW HEAT FOR KEEPING FOOD WARM
Keep Warm settings use a heating element or the magnetron to keep finished meals warm and ready to eat. With the Keep Warm function on select Maytag® Microwaves, food stays warm for up to 60 minutes, so the whole meal hits the table at once.

Maytag® over-the-range microwave between white cabinets

MICROWAVES BUILT TO DO MORE

Many newer microwaves are expanding on how a microwave traditionally works. Maytag® microwaves with the Dual Crisp feature combine top-down heat from a crisp element with microwave cooking power to crisp up leftovers and frozen food.1

MORE ON MICROWAVES AND COOKING METHODS

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1. Degree of crisp will vary depending on food thickness and type.