Microwave Oven Vs Microwave – What Is the Difference?

When people talk about the microwave, they confuse it with the kitchen appliance used for cooking. They don’t know that, technically, they are different from each other. In this article, I will discuss microwave oven vs. microwave – what is the difference?

For most people, ‘microwave is just the usual way they call microwave oven. To them, both words mean the same thing – a kitchen appliance that heats food by using microwave radiation. So, they call heating or cooking their food ‘microwaving.’ In contrast, a regular oven uses heating elements that heat the air, which heats or cooks the food.

The microwave oven is one of the essential kitchen appliances most people have. It uses electromagnetic radiation, specifically microwaves, to heat food. Moreover, it offers convenience that conventional ovens can’t provide. You can prepare sumptuous dishes and reheat your yummy leftovers in less time and have fewer chances of overcooking them.

Read on to learn whether a microwave oven is different from the microwave or if they are just the same thing.

Microwave Oven Vs. Microwave – What Is the Difference?

Microwave Oven Vs Microwave

Sometimes Microwave Is the Same as Microwave Oven

Most of the time, people will say ‘microwave’ when they mean ‘microwave oven.’ To them, microwave vs. microwave oven is just the same thing. When they speak this word, they mean a kitchen appliance that heats food using microwave radiation.

When food is cooked in a microwave oven, people call it ‘microwaving.’ In contrast, a regular oven uses heating elements to heat the air inside. The heated air is the one that heats or cooks the food.

A Microwave Oven Uses Microwaves or Microwave Radiation to Heat Food

The microwave oven uses microwaves or microwave radiation to heat food. It offers convenience that standard ovens can’t provide. For instance, you can prepare sumptuous dishes or reheat your yummy leftovers in a microwave oven without overheating them.

Enables You to Save Time

The most significant advantage of a microwave oven over a regular oven is that it saves considerable cooking time. The same is true with microwave oven vs. microwave grill. Using a microwave oven instead of a standard oven will dramatically reduce your cooking time.

Fewer Risk of Overcooking

So, the better equipment of the two, in terms of convenience and fewer risks of overcooking, is the microwave oven. However, you typically use microwave ovens to heat food and not cook them. In contrast, you can do all kinds of cooking and baking in a regular oven.

Technically, you can’t compare them because the former refers to an energy type while the latter refers to a kitchen appliance. That’s what we will discuss for the rest of this article.

What Is Microwave?

Electromagnetic Radiation

Microwave is an energy you can harness to do productive work. It is not an instrument, appliance, or equipment; rather, it is electromagnetic radiation, like gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet radiation, and radio waves.

Microwave Wavelength

The wavelengths of microwaves range from around one meter to one millimeter, corresponding to frequencies ranging from 300 MHz to 300 GHz. The different microwave applications include radar, communications, and cooking, the most popular with people.

Various sources of microwaves define different frequencies as microwaves. The broader definition of microwaves includes UHF and EHF bands.

More on Electromagnetic Spectrum

In nature, electromagnetic radiation is sent out in particles or waves at various frequencies and wavelengths. This wide range of wavelengths refers to the EM or electromagnetic spectrum. In general, this spectrum has seven regions.

In this respect, the common designations of these electromagnetic waves are the following:

  • Radio waves
  • Microwaves
  • Infrared (IR)
  • Visible light
  • Ultraviolet (UV)
  • X-rays and gamma rays

As you can see, microwaves are between radio waves and infrared light.

The frequencies of microwaves range from around 1 billion cycles per second or one gigahertz up to 300 gigahertz. Their wavelengths range from 12 inches (30 cm) to 0.04 inches (1 mm).


Some of the most common uses of microwaves that are not related to cooking food are in communications and radar. Experts use it in tools and equipment such as:

  • Motion detectors
  • Weather radar that tracks the 3D motion of water droplets
  • Radar guns for speed limit traffic enforcers
  • Radar altimeters

Active and Passive Sensing

In these applications, microwaves are used in active sensing since they are transmitted, and then their signals are received and analyzed. Experts also use microwaves in passive sensing, where the sources of microwaves are observed and analyzed.

The most popular passive sensing that you may know of is those performed by satellites that monitor the earth or objects in space.

What we are after in this article are microwaves and microwave ovens. That means we are interested in how microwaves are used for cooking or heating foods. This is the most common and the most popular use or application of microwaves – to heat or cook food.

Energy and Equipment

Microwave ovens work because they use microwaves to transmit heat or thermal energy. So, thermal energy is microwave, and the one that transmits it is the microwave oven. I hope you can see now that they are two different things. One is energy, and the other is equipment.

Spencer Accidentally Discovered Microwaves

Spencer accidentally discovered microwaves as an energy that can heat and cook food. This story started when an electronics engineer, Percy L. Spencer, was visiting a laboratory in Raytheon Company. The time was just after World War II.

He was in front of a magnetron, a power tube that drives a radar set. Percy felt that the candy bar in his pocket started to melt. He started to investigate the phenomena. Soon enough, he made his first batch of microwave popcorn. After that, he was also able to explode an egg using microwaves.

The original microwave ovens were large and heavy, and expensive. Now they are already common in nearly all households worldwide.

What Is a Microwave Oven?

microwave oven or microwave

Kitchen Appliance That Uses Microwave to Heat and Cook Food

Now that you know what a microwave is, you can put the word ‘microwave oven’ in its proper place. To put it simply, a microwave oven is a kitchen appliance that uses microwaves to heat and cook food.


When you cook food in a microwave oven, you are ‘microwaving.’ However, since it cannot bake your food, it is incorrect to refer to it as a microwave oven.

Fully Enclosed Like Traditional Ovens

Perhaps people just started calling them microwave ovens simply because they are fully enclosed, just like traditional ovens. But that’s the only similarity between them. Traditional ovens are considerably bigger than most microwave ovens.

Baking Food Is Not Possible

If you have a microwave oven, you can only microwave your food and not bake it. Whereas, if you have a traditional oven, you can nearly do everything you want, like cooking, heating, and baking.

Not Enough Heat to Make Crispy Food

While you are heating food inside a microwave oven, there’ll be a lot of steam. But the food doesn’t get too hot. So, it is tough to make crispy and brown foods in a microwave oven.

Cannot Hold the Set Temperature

It won’t hold the set temperature that is required for baking. All it does is pump increasing amounts of heat into the food.

Again, what is the difference between a microwave and a microwave oven? For most people, the terms microwave and microwave oven are two interchangeable terms. And they usually refer to the appliance that uses radiation to heat food. Meanwhile, an oven refers to equipment with a heating element that produces hot air to cook your food.

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What Is the Difference Between a Microwave and a Microwave Oven?

A Microwave Is a Form of Energy

You can now distinguish a microwave from a microwave oven with all the information given above. A microwave is a form of energy used in different ways, such as communications, monitoring, and cooking.

A Microwave Oven Is a Kitchen Appliance

A microwave oven is a kitchen appliance that uses microwaves to heat and sometimes ‘cook’ food. A microwave is a type of energy, while a microwave oven is a kitchen appliance. There is simply no point in comparing the two.

What happened is that when a microwave became a popular form of cooking, there was an interchange between the energy (microwave) being used and the appliance (microwave oven) where the energy is used.

So, when people today say microwave, they almost invariably mean microwave oven. The energy form became the thing that uses it. That’s just how the etymology of the word developed.

Two Basic Types of Oven

In this section of this article, I think it is proper to discuss the two basic types of ovens – microwave vs. convection ovens. These two basic ovens, the microwave oven and the traditional oven, use different heating methods to cook foods:

Microwave Oven

Since our topic is about microwave ovens, let’s start our discussion with it.

Working Principle

The working principle of microwave ovens is vibrational friction through the oscillation of electromagnetic waves. What is the most common material in food that is electromagnetically reactive? The food’s water molecules are bent in shape, making them easy to polarize.

Limited to Steaming and Boiling

You can’t heat water beyond 212°F (100°C). That limits the type of cooking you can do in a microwave. So, you are limited basically to just steaming and boiling.

Heating Occurs Very Quickly

Since oscillation in a microwave oven occurs millions of times per second, heating occurs very quickly. It is the water molecules inside the food cells that heat up. So, the heating is done from the inside out.

Magnetron Produces the Microwave Rays That Penetrate the Food

Inside a microwave oven is a magnetron. This is the one that produces the microwave rays that penetrate the food. The whole cooking or heating process is quick. It doesn’t even take one minute.

Uneven Cooking of Frozen Food

However, cooking frozen foods in a microwave oven is problematic. Microwaves are not absorbed by ice as readily as water. If a part of your frozen food defrosts earlier, it will be cooked before the rest of the food is even thawed.

Uneven Heating of Food with Different Ingredients

Additionally, food consisting of mixed ingredients, especially of different colors, will cook at different speeds. For instance, the cheese heats fast in lasagna, but the red sauce heats slowly. What will come out is a hot-cold-warm mess of food.

Standard Ovens

Now we go to the traditional oven.

Working Principle

The principle of operation of standard ovens is kinetic conduction. Air molecules are heated up. Heated air moves quickly and hits the food. The impact transfers some of the kinetic energy of the air to the molecules of the food.

Food Is Cooked From the Outside In

These molecules bump into the next layer of molecules. So the heat energy is spread using a chain reaction. The food molecules on the outer part of the food are the first to be affected by the heated air. So, the food is cooked from the outside in.

When the heated air transfers its energy, it will fly off and get reheated again. This cycle is repeated all over again until your food is fully cooked.

Allows You to Heat Food At Much Higher Temperatures Than the Microwave Oven

The standard oven method allows you to heat your food at much higher temperatures than the microwave oven. However, since heat transfer is done randomly, the heating is not as fast as in the microwave oven.

Ovens Are For Grilling, Roasting, and Baking Food

Regular ovens are used for grilling, roasting, and baking food. Popular foods usually cooked or baked in the oven include:

  • Potato wedges,
  • Pizza,
  • Bread,
  • Cookies,
  • Bruschetta,
  • Fries, and
  • Cookies.

Reheating Food Will Take 15 to 20 Minutes

Reheating food can also be done inside a standard oven. However, it will take around 15 to 20 minutes. This is much longer than heating the food in a microwave oven.

Best for Heating Baked Goods

Standard ovens are best for reheating bakery items like leftover pizzas, samosas, and puffs. If you heat these foods in the microwave oven, they will become soggy.

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Summary of the Difference Between Microwave and Standard Ovens

Microwaves penetrate food substances. Once they do, they cook the insides of the food at the same time it cooks the outsides. So, it isn’t easy to achieve a brown outside and a red middle if you want a medium-rare steak.

Standard ovens heat food starting on the outside. This is done by contact with heated air or radiant heat. In regular ovens, the food is cooked more outside and less on the inside.

Microwave ovens are generally faster than standard ovens for cooking time. You need to spend more time building up the heat inside a standard oven.

You can do the same cooking task much quicker with the microwave oven. However, the required cooking temperature must not exceed the boiling point of water, which is 212°F or 100°C.

Frequently Asked Questions

microwave oven or microwave grill
Standard Oven

Since many people are interchanging microwaves with microwave ovens, questions will naturally arise. Here are the answers to the most often asked questions about the difference between microwave and microwave ovens:

How Different Is a Microwave from a Microwave Oven?

A microwave and a microwave oven are two different things. One is a form of energy, and the other is a form of kitchen appliance. You can say one is etheric or non-material while the other is material.

However, people are interchanging these two words to mean one thing – a microwave oven. But you can’t interchange these words if you want a technically correct answer.

What Is a Microwave?

A microwave is an energy form that you can harness to do productive work. Moreover, a microwave is electromagnetic radiation similar to gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet radiation, and radio waves. This energy can heat and cook food.

What Is a Microwave Oven?

A microwave oven is a kitchen appliance that uses microwaves to heat or cook food. In terms of cooking time, it is better than standard ovens. However, the type of cooking you can do in a microwave is limited to heating. Even if it is an ‘oven,’ you can’t use it for baking.

Is a Microwave Oven an Essential Kitchen Appliance?

It depends on your lifestyle. If you are the busy type, a microwave will be handy. You can cook and reheat your leftovers very quickly. So, you won’t spend too much time preparing and cooking your food.

How Different Is a Microwave Oven from a Regular Oven?

The basic difference is in the cooking principle they use. Microwave ovens work on the principle of vibrational friction through the oscillation of electromagnetic waves. Simply put, it cooks the food from the inside out.

The working principle of regular ovens is radiant heat. It heats the air inside the oven and transfers this heat to the nearest surface of the food. So, the first surfaces that were hit by the heat will cook first. So, what you will have in regular ovens is cooking from the outside in.

In Closing: What’s the Difference Between Microwave Oven and Microwave?

Most people would call the microwave oven simply ‘microwave.’ For them, both words signify the same thing – a kitchen appliance that uses microwave radiation to heat their foods. So, they call heating their food ‘microwaving.’

People are just interchanging the words ‘microwave’ and ‘microwave oven’ to refer to just one thing – microwave oven. It is different from a regular oven. This oven uses heating elements. These heating elements heat the air inside the oven, heating or cooking the food.

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