Crispy chicken and nicely browned pizza from a microwave oven? You'll find those capabilities in several new models, courtesy of a convection...

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Crispy chicken and nicely browned pizza from a microwave oven? You’ll find those capabilities in several new models, courtesy of a convection feature that circulates heated air to brown foods and seal in moisture.

Convection continues to migrate from ranges and wall ovens to microwave ovens as more cooks use them instead of a second range oven. You’ll also find lower prices as competition heats up: Models with convection cost as little as $250, while the median price for nonconvection models is $70 for countertop models and $250 for over-the-range models. That’s roughly half what they cost a decade ago.

Also on the menu are space-stretching designs, more shortcut keys — they automate the cooking of popcorn, for example, or provide one-touch defrosting or reheating — and speed-cook ovens that add other technologies to the mix. Among the latter, don’t bother with models that supplement their microwaves with heat from high-wattage halogen or quartz bulbs: In the magazine’s tests, they produced gray, overdone burgers and doughy frozen pizza.

Likewise, models that pair microwave with toaster ovens in the same machine are mostly half-baked. Two tested models — the $120 Sharp R-55TS and the $100 Rival MT660 — were far better at toasting than microwaving. Unless your counter space is limited, it’s probably wiser to buy the appliances separately.

You can find a fine midsize (typically 22 inches wide by 18 inches deep) countertop microwave for $100 or less, according to CR tests. The top-rated Kenmore 6325 offers high performance and features a sensor that shuts off oven power when the food is done. At $100 (from Sears), it’s a CR Best Buy. If you want convection in a midsize countertop model, CR recommends the Kenmore Elite 6428 ($250, from Sears). Although small — 0.7 cubic feet of usable cooking space — it’s inexpensive for a convection oven and offers more power for faster cooking in that mode.

Among larger countertop models (typically 24 inches wide by 19 inches deep), CR likes two GE ovens. The well-equipped JE1860 ($165) is one of the few of its kind with a switch to turn the turntable off. That lets you use more interior space for larger plates. The JE1460 is a bit smaller — 1.0 cubic feet of usable space versus 1.2 cubic feet — but still a top performer. At $130, it qualifies as a CR Best Buy. Both ovens feature a sensor.

You’re likely to consider an over-the-range oven only if you’re replacing one or remodeling your kitchen. While they save counter space, installation is an added expense and often requires an electrician. What’s more, they can’t vent steam and smoke from a range’s front burner as well as the range hoods they replace. The magazine’s tests identified four 30-inch models that provide fine value.

The Maytag MMV5207AA ($450) trades the usual turntable for a rectangular tray that slides from side to side, providing even heating while increasing usable cooking space. (The model’s 1.7 cubic feet was by far the largest in this group.)

For convection cooking, CR recommends the smaller but more powerful Samsung ProGourmet SMV9165 ($450). It produces 1,500 watts of heating power, versus the roughly 1,000 to 1,200 watts supplied by most other ovens.

If you can live without a power-level display — a feature useful for multistage cooking — check out the Samsung SMH7178. At just $350, it’s a CR Best Buy.

If performance and controls outweigh capacity, consider the top-rated Whirlpool Gold GH4155XP ($430). Offering 0.7 cubic feet of usable space, it was the smallest of our over-the-range models.

Copyright 2005, Consumers Union