Even the best microwaves used to have a terrible reputation, but these squat little boxes have a lot of uses beyond preparing ready meals for depressed singletons. These microwaves can do a lot more than just heating up pizza, cooking meat while leaving it looking raw, and performing the general food texture- and taste-ruining duties they have traditionally fulfilled. That's because these are the best microwave ovens and also combi ovens, which combine the arcane power of radioactive food bombardment with more traditional convection and grill cooking.
A new combi oven or microwave (or meecrowaavé as Nigella Lawson puts it – ask your mum if you have no idea who she is) could be a very handy purchase if you are off to college or university. Speedy, convenient and compact, they can do everything from the obvious – reheating food and heating ready meals – to the not-so-obvious – they're a very healthy way to cook veg, believe it or not.
Want to know more? We tested a range of microwaves and combi ovens and these are the best microwaves the market has to offer right now.
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
Panasonic NN-CS89LBBPQ – or just CS89 to its friends – is a great option if you’ve decided that the turntable found in many other models is hampering your cooking. Yep, this particular model comes with a flatbed interior, without the round bit that you normally plonk your meals on. That, in effect, means you get extra space and if you have a family, or just a big appetite, that’ll be worth it’s weight in gold.
It’ll take on square and rectangular-shaped plates and dishes too, which many turntable models can’t.
Being a Panasonic means you get a well thought out exterior too, with sensible styling that’ll suit pretty much any kitchen area. Controls are laid out in a no-nonsense way and operating the 27 litre capacity microwave is gloriously simple. Those touch controls offer access to the likes of 18 auto-cook functions while the manual defrost is hugely impressive. A highlight, in fact.
Panasonic appliances are generally very reliable and the NN-CS89LBBPQ doesn’t look to be any different.
• Read our full Panasonic NN-CS89LBBPQ review
This muscular looking box of tricks may well turn you into something of a show-off with its many and varied charms. This, you see, is no ordinary microwave. That’s pretty obvious from the exterior, with touches that make you think it’s been lifted straight from a professional chef’s kitchen, such as the enjoyably hefty grab handle that runs the full width of the door.
Packed into this high-end appliance is a set of features and functions that will allow you to cook just about anything, and indeed any kind of dish, using either one of over 50 pre-programmed recipes or good old-fashioned manual intervention. It's a microwave, grill and 'forced air' (fan) oven, which can also use various combinations of the above.
The big knob on the front of the machine implies this is a microwave without finesse, but in reality the appliance is able to cook food in a mind-boggling array of different ways. Of course, if you simply want to heat up last night’s curry or warm some milk for your cocoa then the Kitchenaid KMQFX 33910 will do that, no problem at all. However, take a deep dive into the features and you’ll find that the microwave will do way more than that too.
The Kitchenaid KMQFX 33910 can crisp fry using minimal oil, with bacon being a prime target for the appliance. It's also very adept at baking, and can handle delicate cooking challenges like buns and cakes with vigour. At the same time it lets you get your pre-bake time ingredients spot-on thanks to a soft melt function.
Always had trouble with your dough? Fear not, as the appliance loves nothing more than helping you out thanks to an excellent Dough Rising function. Topping it all off is the Precision Bake feature, which ensures optimal cooking temperatures and no nasty uneven hotspots that normally help to cremate fragile sponges.
Oh, and it's also self-cleaning. We're sold.
Nothing is perfect, and we do have a few issues. The continuous bleeping when finished is bloody annoying, and further unwanted bleeping tends to happen when you open and close the door, because the touch buttons are positioned too near that very pleasing handle. The turntable that the microwave heating plate sits on is also surprisingly flimsy, which is not what we expect from KitchenAid at all.
• Read our full KitchenAid KMQFX33910 review
If you like your microwave to look like a 1950’s black and white TV, try this popular retro offering from the house of Daewoo. Available in five different colours – including red, celeste, dusty blue and beige – the Daewoo has a capacity of 20 litres and boasts an impressive 800 watts of microwave power. It uses a concave reflector system that allegedly ensures even cooking results.
The Daewoo is a cinch to use, and comes with five power levels, defrost, auto-cook and popcorn functions, plus a simple but efficient digital timing dial. A cheap and very cheerful option for studios, flats and lodgings.
The Daewoo is available in both the UK and US though it comes with a different model number Stateside – KOR07R3ZEL.
Undeniably inexpensive, this family-sized combination model looks good enough 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.
This is 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 crispy ingredients like 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. Hotly recommended.
This classy 32-litre box of tricks is a flatbed microwave, convection oven and grill in one.
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.
Granted, you will need to swot up on what the interface’s titchy cooking icons mean but once grasped it’s all relatively straightforward.
This model 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.
This simply-styled 26-litre table-top 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 it cooks evenly and is built to a high standard for long-term reliability.
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.
This small, budget-priced Bosch doesn’t feature a digital readout and the timing control is in minutes, which means it can be a bit hit and miss when selecting a time scale, especially if you just want to warm up a cup of coffee for a few seconds without it boiling over. Nevertheless, a system this simple has huge advantages for those who aren’t very tech savvy. It’s also an excellent – and very cheap option – for Air BnB owners fed up with having to write instructions for every gizmo on the property.
To use, simply bung in the food (it comes with a 24.5cm turntable and 17-litres of interior estate), select the required power output – it’s always labelled on off-the-shelf ready meal – and the time scale. And that’s all there is to it.
If you’re after a small, ridiculously easy-to-use standalone microwave that doesn’t cost much and comes with a good brand name attached, then make this an early port of call.