A late 2020 overview of “old-fashioned” microwave ovens with knobs instead of keypads, divided into three classifications: small “easy” rotary knob models, “retro” style digital models, and commercial microwaves.
These are often sold as “for seniors”, but that’s really a euphemism for “poor eyesight” or “dementia”. The reviews tout the easy interface, but to think that seniors can’t handle a complex interface is absurd; these are the people who drove stick shift, rebuilt carburetors, invented the Internet, and and transitioned from manual electric alarm clock radios to digital electric clock radios. Some even managed to program their VCR clocks.
Contemporary microwave oven interfaces are almost as confusing as setting a VCR clock.
Situation: the microwave got damaged, and I need to either repair or replace it. I’m not sure what the repair would entail, but studying fix-it videos indicates that it’s either easy and cheap, or difficult and expensive. So, to buy some time, I’m looking at purchasing another microwave.
The use cases I am dealing with are: heating water, heating leftovers, defrosting meat, and heating some frozen foods.
The main category that, I think, satisfies this are lower-wattage, smaller microwave ovens. For whatever reasons, my extended family tends to buy the higher wattage ovens with many features.
I prefer the smaller rotary dial ones because there’s little learning curve, and you can set the power level with a second dial. That power level dial stays in the same position, so if you always want to run it at a lower power, you can do that.
The more common keypad microwave ovens have power levels, but you need to learn the sequence. For whatever reasons, this sequence varies between brands, as these videos show: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. You probably skipped the links, but, if you’re into “user experience” and need a good laugh, follow the links. You might also read this.
Let’s not even get into the uselessness of the various auto-cook features that require you to read the manual, and remember multi-key sequences to activate a program that will cook your food to the correct temperature, unless you accidentally picked the wrong program, so the oven fails to cook your food.
So, here’s a list of what’s out there.
Please note that this is in the United States. I have seen ads from the UK, and they seem to have a wider selection of knob-controlled ovens than we have.
Small Microwaves with Dial Controls
All these microwaves are similar. They have a power knob, and a timer knob. They have a handle somewhere on the door, and you pull the door open, like a door.
They also generally don’t have any “auto-off” feature, so you need to turn the dial to “0” before you remove your food.
Avanti is a lesser known brand that’s been sold by discounters for decades. Despite this low-key image, they have a pretty good reputation for reliable products.
Commercial Chef CHM660B
Don’t be fooled by the name. This is not a commercial microwave. It’s got a timer knob, and a power knob. At 600W, this has a lower wattage than the others in this list.
Magic Chef Retro 700W
This actually looks like a television from the 1950s. Consumer microwave ovens weren’t popular until the 1960s.
No longer in production, this looks like something from a 1980s spaceship.
Retro Microwaves with Knobs, but they’re actually electronic
What’s unusual about these new “retro” microwaves is that they don’t really have knobs. The knob controls the oven. The oven’s designed to operate using one of many “automatic” modes that heat or cook food with sensors.
So, these are more like the latest keypad-interface microwaves ovens with a bunch of different automatic modes, except there’s no keypad. These are not recommended for people who want the authentic “dial timer” experience.
Nostalgia Electrics Retro 800W
Nostalgia Electrics Mid-Century Retro 900W
Commercial Microwave Ovens with a Knob
Commercial microwave ovens cost a bit more than the lower cost models above, but have a few advantages. Generally, people think they are sturdier, but, after reading some reviews, I have my doubts about that. These seem to fail after two to five years, though some last a lot longer – and they are all classified as “light duty” or “medium duty”.
The most notable difference is that these microwave ovens don’t have turntables. So, they’re easier to clean.
The other feature of most commercial ovens is that there’s no button to open the door. You have a handle, and pull on it. Also, after you remove the item, you need to turn the dial to “0” so it doesn’t keep operating.
The boxes tend to be larger than home microwaves.
Amana RCS10DSE, around $440
General Food Service GEW1000D
Power: 1000W Dimensions: 20″ W x 14″ D x 12″H
1000 Watt. Exterior dimensions (HxWxD): 12-inch x 20-1/8-inch x 16-1/2 inch; Interior (HxWxD): 8-1/16-inch x 13-inch x 13-inch
This has a unique knob that goes only to 6 minutes, but the first 2 minutes are divided into smaller increments, and the values are spread to fill 1/3 of the dial’s circumference. So it’s easy to dial in 30 seconds.