A decent microwave is almost a necessity for the modern family kitchen, and the latest models can do a lot more than heat up your cold pizza.
We tested a range of microwaves to bring you the best the market has to offer - and we think you'll be surprised at just what they're capable of. Keep reading to learn more.
All our picks should be available from most major online outlets, but should you choose to go 'off piste' with your next microwave purchase then our tests did reveal some key features to watch out for.
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 program 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 program functionality on their microwave at home, with most people in the office 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 much easier to clean since they're often completely flush with the front surface of the unit.
Here's our list!
The best microwaves:
1. Sage Quick Touch by Heston Blumenthal
Capacity: 34 litres | Size: H 310 x W 510 x D 450
In pursuit of an efficient microwave product that could be easily programmed to cook or heat foods with different water contents, food sorcerer Blumenthal and Sage's clever Trevors allegedly spent hundreds of hours developing a system that is truly a doddle to use and doesn't turn baked beans into a clump of exploded matter.
This is the result, an exquisitely easy and generously sized 1,000 watt microwave designed to cook or heat a wide variety of foodstuffs from chocolate to a full-blown lasagne with as little fuss as possible. The interface couldn't be more explanatory. Simply select the type of function using the unit's three Smart keys (cook, reheat, defrost) and up pops a selection of tried-and-tested heating options covering a wide range of different foods. There's even a button marked 'a bit more' which does exactly what it says.
It's an ingenious interface akin to having a PDF manual at your fingertips. There are many fabulous microwaves in this roundup but this one's on a completely different plane. Hotly recommended.
2. Samsung ME0113M1
Capacity: 32 litres | Size: H 297 x W 517 x D 384
This family-sized 1,000 watter gets top marks for style. For a product with such large interior dimensions, this writer's very impressed by the unit's smallish footprint.
Being of Samsung origin you can be sure there are a few interesting tech touches on board, too. Like the Smart Sense function that automatically sets the optimal cooking time and power and the Healthy Cooking option with its nine pre-set cooking modes for everything from brown rice to a fresh fish fillet. This machine even has modes for gently melting chocolate, sugar and butter.
The ceramic enamel interior is easy to wipe clean and it's scratch resistant too. And should the pong of last night's heated curry still be emanating from the appliance, simply hit the Deodorisation button and all is fresh again. Cool kit.
3. Ikea HUSHÅLLA
Capacity: 22 litres | Size: H 347 x W 595 x D 320
Ikea doesn't just make flat-pack furniture you know. This built-in stainless steel microwave is designed to fit seamlessly amongst the kitchen cabinetry, whether it's Ikea's own or from a different source.
It's an extremely sleek looking bit of kit and it's reasonably tech-filled, too. The HUSHÅLLA isn't as powerful as others on test (just 750 watts) but it excels at doing what's it's supposed to do. Its 3D emission system ensures even heat distribution and this 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 25cm turntable for 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. Top marks all round.
4. AEG MCD2664E-M - it's a combo!
Capacity: 26 litres | Size: H 459 x W 594 x D 417
In the pantheon of microwave ovens, this stainless steel-clad integrated (ie built in) combo model from AEG is about as stylish as it gets.
It can be used as a microwave or quartz grill 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.
This is an especially useful feature as microwave interfaces can be downright confusing. The added child lock is a bonus for parents with inquisitive sprogs.
5. Panasonic NN-CT585SBPQ - it's also a combo!
Capacity: 27 litres | Size: H 310 x W 520 x D 395
This new slim line combi microwave assumes you like fish & chips, porridge, lamb, pizza, chicken and beef by having a row of dedicated buttons down the side of the fascia. No mention of zucchini flower with caviar on shellfish and saffron consommé or composition of lobster and John Dory with pak choi and Lapsang Souchong infusion.
Joking aside, this three-in-one unit is great for combination cooking and includes a microwave, a quartz grill and a convection oven; pretty much all you need to tackle a whole host of quick dinner tasks.
The 1300w quartz grill is especially handy as it preheats in about 12 seconds and is ideal for cooking snack foods like pizza and cheese on toast. Inverter technology, meanwhile, ensures even cooking and defrosting. A great choice for studio dwellers, students and under-the-cosh mums.
6. Miele M 6012 - yet another combo!
Capacity: 26 litres | Size: H 305 x W 520 x D 422
This model doesn't have any groundbreaking tech within but, given Miele's reliability record, you can bet it'll go on microwaving till the cows come home.
This is a freestanding combination model that uses both microwaves and a quartz grill for browning. It's a breeze to use. Simply select the power output (from 80 to 900 watts) and the required cooking time and hit the start button.
Alternatively, input the weight of the food being cooked and the appliance will do the rest. Fear not if the area you are locating it in is poorly lit because, praise the Lord, the controls and lettering on the side panel are clear enough to see even if you haven't been to Specsavers.
7. Smeg FME20TC3
Price: £435 | Type: Combination | Capacity: 20 litres | Size: H 390 x W 595 x D 340
Aside from the microwave element, this built-in model also features a 1kW quartz grill for browning foods like cheese on toast or pizza.
The interface is the antithesis of the Sage model (see review) so you'll need to have the manual to hand until you learn what all the symbols mean. That said, its 850 watt power output is good enough for any nosh-based eventualities.
The Smeg provides five levels of power and will even calculate the right level of defrosting by the weight of an item. It looks gorgeous, too, in all that lush brushed stainless steel.
8. Russell Hobbs RHM3003B
Price: £150 | Type: Combination | Capacity: 30 litres | Size: H 335 x W 520 x D 510
This family-sized 30-litre combination model looks neat 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. Sadly, the dual function doesn't allow for individual power and time settings but, in the arena of mid-priced all-in-one cookers, that can be considered par for the course. Available in black or white.
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