Microwaves used to have a terrible reputation, but these squat little boxes can actually do a lot more than simply heat up pizza, cook meat while leaving it looking raw, and performing the general food texture and taste-ruining duties they traditionally fulfilled.
We tested a range of microwaves and combi ovens – which combine the arcane power of radioactive food bombardment with more traditional convection and grill cooking – to bring you the best the market has to offer.
So which is the best? Usually at this point, we go with a device from Sage by Heston Blumenthal – it'd be the Quick Crisp in this case.
Not only is it very sharply styled, feature-packed and efficient, we're sure if we keep bigging up the gastronomic slaphead's home wares, eventually we'll get free meals at his restaurants. Fair's fair, right?
However, even Heston can't hold a candle to Panasonic's truly stellar range of microwave/combi ovens, and so our winner is the somewhat less catchily entitled Panasonic NN-CS894.
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How to choose the best microwave for you
The egg timer style dial which many microwaves employ to allow you to set the amount of time your food will be heated for is both a blessing and a curse. They're very easy to use, and allow you to easily add more time to your meal if you feel it needs it, but on the other hand they tend to lack the exactness of their digital counterparts.
On balance we valued the convenience they offered over the digital alternatives, but if you're someone who prefers to follow microwaving instructions to the letter then we'd advise you to stick with a digital timer.
Meanwhile programme modes, which allow you to automate your microwaving by inputting the type of food and the weight, remain divisive. A quick straw poll of the office revealed that only one person used the functionality on their microwave at home, with most opting to rely completely on just power and time settings.
Not worrying about automatic programs will take a lot of the stress out of a microwave purchase, since this is a big point of differentiation between the different models. Ignoring them allows you to focus on features such as controls, aesthetics, and capacity.
Finally, on the issue of dial vs button controls, we found dials to be overall much more responsive, but buttons are undeniably easier to clean since they're often completely flush with the front surface of the unit.
Anyway, you can ignore all the above, as we're about to TELL you what the best microwave for you is. Have your credit card and M&S beef stroganoff at hand, and read on.
The best microwave and combi ovens
1. Panasonic NN-CS894
Best microwave/combi overall – one for regular users and 'the discerning'
Type: Combi | Capacity: 32 litres
This classy 32-litre box of tricks is a microwave, convection oven, grill and steamer.
In fact it performs so many cooking duties you might not even need a separate oven, and it's an ideal choice for those who are short of kitchen space.
Panasonic's inverter technology means it can microwave continuously at half power rather than switching on and off during the cooking process.
The steamer function is especially handy that produces wonderfully moist, succulent results, especially with fish. Granted, you will need to swot up on what the interface’s titchy cooking icons mean but once grasped it’s all relatively straightforward.
It also does a great job of combi-cooking – combining grill/convection and microwave to produce dinner at microwave speeds, but which looks and tastes like it's from a real oven. Roasts, in particular, are The Bomb.
2. Samsung MS28J5215AS
Best pure microwave
Type: Microwave | Capacity: 28 litres
This family-sized 1,000 Watter sports a raft of cool design flourishes, including a dark fascia that was possibly inspired by Samsung’s Galaxy S7 edge mobile phone.
Let’s take a quick tour of the specs. Its 28-litre interior is clad in ceramic enamel which is easy to clean and shouldn’t scratch.
Its deodorisation setting is handy since it purges the interior of smells left by the curry that went in shortly before. And who wouldn’t use the easy plate warming function?
The Samsung also comes with 16 pre-programmed settings for a fairly wide variety of foodstuffs, including rice, chicken breast, pasta and fish. Given its modest asking price, this handsome kitchen devil is damn fine value
3. Sage by Heston Blumenthal Quick Touch Crisp
Best microwave for pastry and pizza
Type: Microwave with crisping plate | Capacity: 25 litres
There are two Sage Quick Touch models on the market, one with a special crisper pan and one without. This, obviously, is the former incarnation.
It's an exquisitely intuitive and generously sized 25-litre, 1,000 watt microwave designed to cook or heat a wide variety of foodstuffs from a full-blown lasagne to a crispy-base pizza with as little fuss as possible.
The Sage’s intuitive interface couldn’t be more self-explanatory. Simply select one of the unit’s three Smart keys (cook/grill, reheat, defrost) and up pops a selection of tried-and-tested heating options covering a wide variety of different foods.
Microwave ovens are great for heating moist stewy foods but usually struggle with pastries, quiches and pizza, which is why we'd usually recommend a combi.
With this microwave, however, you just preheat the supplied crisper pan and slap on the pizza/quiche/tartlet. After several minutes, it comes out deliciously melty on top with a dry, crispy base.
4. Daewoo Eco Zero KOR7LBKC
Best budget microwave
Type: Microwave | Capacity: 28 litres
If you like your microwave to look like it's from the 1950s, try this popular, Which-awarded offering from the house of Daewoo.
Available in five colours – including red, 'celeste' and beige – the retrofied Daewoo has a capacity of 20 litres and 800 watts of microwave power.
Using a concave reflector system that allegedly ensures even cooking results, the Daewoo is easy to use, and comes with five power levels, an Autocook function, an easy digital timing dial, and defrost.
If you like the look of this model, perhaps check out their website because, believe it or not, there are another 49 models and colour schemes awaiting your perusal. Cheap and very cheerful.
5. Ikea HUSHÅLLA
Best built-in microwave
Type: Built-in microwave | Capacity: 27 litres
This built-in stainless steel microwave is designed to fit seamlessly amongst your kitchen cabinetry, whether it’s Ikea’s own or from a different source.
It’s an extremely sleek looking bit of kit and is reasonably tech-filled, too – just as well it doesn’t come flat packed.
At 750W, the HUSHÅLLA isn’t as powerful as others on test, but its 3D emission system ensures even heat distribution, which is most evident when it comes to defrosting meats – no part-cooked chicken here.
You get four power levels (160w to 750w), a Jet-start function for instant heating of beverages, a turntable that can take plates up to 37cm in diameter and a steam function for moist vegetables and fish. For a built-in unit, it’s reasonably priced, too.
6. AEG MCD2664E-M
Best built-in combi oven
Type: Built-in combi | Capacity: 26 litres
This stainless steel-clad integrated, 26-litre combo model from AEG is about as stylish as it gets.
It can be used as a microwave (900 watts) or quartz grill (1,000w) or both at the same time for quicker cooking and browning.
Aside from the expected defrost, cook and warm functions, the AEG also allows you to input weight details and the food type you want cooking and then automatically sets the correct duration for a perfect result – an especially useful feature as microwave interfaces can be downright confusing.
The added child lock is a bonus for parents with inquisitive sprogs.
7. Miele M 6032 SC
Best high-end option
Type: Built-in combi | Capacity: 17 litres
This classy 17-litre integrated combi model combines microwaves with a quartz grill for browning and it’s a breeze to use: just select the power output (from 80 to 900 watts) and the required cooking time and hit the start button.
Alternatively, you can input the weight of the food being cooked and the appliance will automatically determine the cooking period and the amount of power required.
The controls and lettering on the side panel of this model are clear enough to see even if you haven’t been to Specsavers and in typical Miele style the look is dark, sexy and expensive.
8. Russell Hobbs RHM3003B
Best budget combi oven
Type: Combi | Capacity: 30 litres
Dark, not-too-sexy and inexpensive, this family-sized combination model is the exact opposite of the Miele.
Still, it looks good on any large worktop and features a 900w microwave with five power settings, a 1100w grill and a 2500w fan-assisted convection oven.
The 31.5cm glass turntable is large enough to accommodate most oven-proof dishes, 12-inch dinner plates and large Pyrex bowls.
The dual function doesn’t allow for individual power and time settings but, in the pantheon of mid-priced all-in-one cookers, that can be considered par for the course. Also available in white.