Commercial Microwave Buying Guide

Commercial microwave buying guide

Commercial microwaves are different to domestic microwaves in a number of ways. The main difference is that in general they are larger and more powerful (more power being needed to heat more food at one time in a larger oven cavity). They are also generally more rugged, designed for easy cleaning and long life. For example, usually they do not use a turntable (which may eventually fail and makes cleaning more difficult) to ensure even microwave distribution through food, but instead use an invisible "stirrer" system to vary the focus of the microwave energy itself - see our Knowledge Base article on how microwaves function for more information on this and other aspects of construction.

Commercial microwaves are tough enough to be used constantly in a hard wearing catering environment, rather than a domestic microwave that might be used one or two times a day, or go days at a time without being used at all. This is reflected in the good product warranties available on a lot of the makes and models we stock.

There is a lot of variation in size, power and features, so to help you choose an appliance that is right for your business we've broken down the main areas of microwave specification.


Microwave power and oven capacity

Remember, power and internal capacity are linked. A larger microwave that will hold larger portion sizes needs more power to do so. A 1000w microwave and a 3000w microwave are unlikely to be directly comparable because they probably have different oven sizes.



We noticed a number of other buying guides seem to indicate that if your business will use microwaves a lot you need a high powered microwave, implying that less powerful machines aren't suitable for repeated use throughout the day. This isn't necessarily the case; there is no reason a good quality 1000w commercial microwave can't be used as many times as a heavy duty 3000w microwave. The 1000w microwave will continue to perform as it should on each instance of use (it won't get tired, or cook less quickly than it did before).

The difference between power ratings will mainly become apparent in terms of cooking time and the amount of food that can be effectively heated in the oven cavity at one time - higher powered microwaves can be larger than low powered models and still achieve the same speed of cooking.

Very roughly, commercial microwaves can be divided into the following

  • Low power (1000w to 1400w)
  • Medium power (1500w to 1800w)
  • High power (1900w to 3000w).

These divisions are arbitrary, and don't forget that even the low powered unit outstrips the average domestic microwave at around 800w.

Instead of just asking yourself "how frequently will I use my microwave", you should add "how much food do I want to cook at once" or "what portion sizes do I need to reheat", and "how quickly do I want the microwave to work?" A 3000w microwave will probably heat a portion of soup up several seconds or even a minute or so quicker than a 1000w model, and if your business relies on rapid turnaround of orders in order to keep the queue of customers moving, or keep tables turning, then investment in more power could be the most cost effective choice. Another way of looking at it is, "will I want to be waiting for this microwave to finish on every cycle?"


Oven capacity

As mentioned above, one of the main reasons for extra microwave power is to support a larger oven size. There is only so much microwave energy that can sensibly be directed at most foods - more power does not mean greater microwave penetration, just faster heating of the top inch or so of food. After a certain point, directing more power at this top layer would simply guarantee your food is overcooked on the outside and cold on the inside. You need to allow conduction heating to do its work (see our Knowledge Base article for a little more detail).

Therefore, very high powered models (1900w or above) will at least partially be designed that way for reasons of capacity. This is self evident if you look at the range of products offered by Catering Appliance Superstore. Generally, the higher powered models are larger than the medium or low. For instance, compare the 1100w Samsung CM1099 at 26 litres, and the 3200w Panasonic NE 3280 at 44 litres.

If you wish to cook bulky items, reheat large containers of soup etc, or even heat small batches of products on racks, then opt for a larger oven (most likely in the 1900w and above range). If you don't need to do so then a medium duty microwave is probably sufficient - you will still get very quick cook times if you pick one that does not have an excessively large oven. If you need neither super fast cook times or massive capacity, a lower powered microwave should be fine.



What other features should I look out for?

The various manufacturers we stock offer a number of features to tempt you to select their models over the competition. The one you should pay closest attention to is the number of magnetrons (microwave emitters) the oven has - light duty units will probably just have one, but medium or heavy duty should have at least two, top and bottom, to ensure even microwave penetration. Some top range models even have four magnetrons.

The other great feature is a removable oven cavity liner. This makes cleaning so much easier, and also helps to protect the oven walls from damage (for example, in case metal is accidentally introduced to the microwave during cooking).



Manual dials or programmable touch Commercial Microwave?

Simple commercial microwaves may just have manual dial controls for power and time, which is perfectly fine if you are cooking or reheating a smaller range of fairly intuitive foods (soups, sauces, baked beans, custard, hot puddings, steamed vegetables, etc).

If you make use of your microwave to cook a broader range of food items, more difficult food items such as whole joints, or dishes with a variety of food items of different consistencies, then programmable settings (usually electronic touch buttons) will provide more control over cook cycle variables. Some will have pre-set programmes that you can apply to get good results with almost any food, and others allow you to save certain settings as custom programmes once you have worked out your own perfect power and time settings for a particular dish or ingredient.


More microwave cooking options

If you're looking for fast microwave cooking options but want more than straightforward heating, then you may need to look further afield at electric microwave combination ovens and full gas or electric combination ovens. These bring in other oven technologies such as electric heating elements, gas burner and even steam or moisture injection systems to provide even greater control over the cooking environment. One of the main differences is that these types of oven can heat food surface temperatures enough to allow browning reactions to take place, and the addition of moisture in combination ovens reduces the risk of dessication when cooking large items for longer time periods.



Does brand matter?

Offering a range of good quality, trusted brands matters to us because it means we can offer microwaves with many specifications and price points, to suit different customer requirements. Choosing the right brands for our portfolio means choosing manufacurers with a good general level of care and attention to detail, regardless of whether the microwave is a small, low powered manual dial unit or a large, powerful, fully programmable oven.



Samsung are a household name and their commercial microwaves are excellent. Complete with a three-year full commercial warranty, you can buy with the utmost confidence.


Buffalo Commercial Microwaves are reliable, well made and offer great value for money. They come complete with a minimum one-year full commercial warranty.


Panasonic are another household name and their commercial microwaves represent innovation and cutting-edge technology. All Panasonic microwaves come complete with a full three-year onsite manufacturer’s warranty.


Merrychef are the heavy-duty microwave specialists and their unique designs provide maximum durability, flexibility and efficiency. Ideally suited for the busiest kitchens and the discerning restaurateur, Merrychef microwaves come with a minimum 12-month onsite commercial warranty.

By Philip Wearmouth | Catering Appliance Superstore