Spend less time cooking with a feature-packed microwave – it’s as good as an extra pair of hands in the kitchen. Our experts have picked the ultimate best buys.
Hello, and welcome to our round-up of the best microwaves on the market. Along with shoulder pads, mullet haircuts and Mel Gibson, microwave ovens have suffered a fall from grace since their 1980s heyday. But more recently, talk of hotspots and ready meals with more salt than the Dead Sea has been replaced with chat about perfectly roasted chickens and healthy steam cooking.
Crisp on the outside, moist on the inside and cooked in a flash – microwave food is a far cry from the dry, burnt mishaps that used to emerge. Now you can expect golden roast chicken, fluffy rice, moist cakes, smoothly melted chocolate and perfectly refreshed leftovers – no wonder, then, that almost three out of four us say that we couldn’t live without our microwave.
Freestanding models are the most popular as you can just plug and play, but take up worktop space, so if that’s at a premium, consider a built-in model. It will need to be professionally installed but often has more features. Whatever configuration you go for, however, it will be a big step up from the models of old.
Here’s our pick of the best microwaves for every home. Scroll down and you’ll also find a handy buyer’s guide, to ensure you pick the right speedy oven.
Best for design
Panasonic NN-CS894 steam combination microwave oven
Sleek, stylish and with a swipe-and-touch menu that makes setting cooking modes and times a doodle, this clever appliance is so much more than a microwave. As well as a Turbo Steam option for healthy veggies and fish, there’s also the option to combine its cooking modes of microwave, grill, oven and steam to create delicious dinners at the touch of a button.
Add in turbo-charged defrosting and a flatbed to accommodate large dishes, and you’ll soon see why this micro earns its place on your worktop.
Type Steam combination Capacity 32 litres Power 1000W (1300W grill) Dimensions H390 x W494 x D438mm Features Auto cooking, six power levels, sensor cooking, catalytic self-cleaning liners
Best for colour
Swan Retro SM22080 combination microwave
Oozing vintage charm and available in nine different colours (although we love this pretty sage green), Swan’s combi microwave isn’t just a way to brighten up your kitchen. As well as a standard microwave setting, it also includes convection cooking and a grill option, so you can brown, roast and bake everything from crisp pastry to pizza and bread. So the only tricky decision will be deciding which shade is your favourite…
Type Combination grill Capacity 25 litres Power 900W Dimensions H280 x W485 x D390mm Features 12 automatic programmes, 60-minute timer, defrost, fan-assisted convection oven
Best for families
Hotpoint Class 9 MP996IXH built-in combination microwave oven
The best appliances for families are flexible – and this fab Hotpoint built-in model has that in spades. Not only is it equipped with essential defrost and reheat functions for food in a flash, it uses Multiwave technology for even results. Not only will this nix cold spots and frazzled frozen food, it also means food is ready to serve straight away instead of emerging volcano hot.
Type Combination steam Capacity 40 litres Power 900W (1600W grill) Dimensions H455 x W595 x D560mm Features Steam cooking, 10 automatic programmes, pre-programmed recipes, anti-fingerprint finish
Best for a tight budget
Morphy Richards Accents microwave oven
Created to match the rest of the Accents range of small appliances, Morphy Richards’s micro is affordable style at its best. Not only does it come in ivory cream, red and black, with gorgeous chunky controls, it also manages to cram in eight automatic programmes for pizza, chicken, fish, meat, pasta, soup, porridge and vegetables. Plus its 25.5cm turntable will still accommodate an average sized dinner plate.
Type Solo Capacity 20 litres Power 800W Dimensions H255 x W430 x D360mm Features Five power settings, defrost by weight or time, eight automatic programmes
Best for a clutter-free kitchen
Caple CM123BK built-in microwave with grill (top)
If worktop space is at a premium, a brilliant built-in microwave is a great way to liberate some room. Caple’s is an excellent option if you don’t need the combi cooking that often comes with other integrated models.
Instead, it simply featuring a powerful grill that can be used by itself or with the microwave cooking, and an easily wipeable stainless-steel interior. However, you’ll still find a smart auto-cook menu and preset cooking modes for fast food at your fingertips.
Type Microwave with grill Capacity 25 litres Power 900W (1000W grill) Dimensions H460 x W595 x D486mm Features Multi-stage cooking, auto cook menu, defrost, 95-minute timer
Best for smart features
Sage the Quick Touch Crisp microwave with grill
Is there anything sadder than a soggy quiche? Sage doesn’t think so, which is why it’s put time and effort into creating a microwave grill that will produce beautifully flaky pastry, crisp pizza and the toastiest of toast. Clever inverter technology and the grill’s Smart Cook setting combine to make unappealing meals a thing of the past, while the A Bit More button will become your go-to boost.
Type Microwave with grill Capacity 25 litres Power 900W (1100W grill) Dimensions H310 x W520 x D420mm Features 10 power levels, QuickStart one-touch cooking, 12-inch crisper pan, reheat, defrost
A buyer’s guide to microwaves
Before you make your final choice, make sure you’ve take these key features into account.
Combi, grill and steam – discover new ways to cook
Microwave-only models, sometimes called solo, are good for basic heating and defrosting tasks but can’t brown food. For that, you’ll want to invest in a microwave with a grill. Grills – particularly quartz grills that heat up and cook much faster than standard infrared ones – are useful for browning and crisping pies, quiches and pizzas.
Combination microwaves are now popular as second ovens, using microwaves to reduce cooking times and fanned hot air (convection) to seal the outer layers of the food. This gives the moist yet crisp result you’d expect from a conventional oven… only faster.
Convection is great for roasting – mixing it with microwaves reduces cooking times by at least half when compared with a standard oven, meaning you could roast a chicken in 40 minutes and using 25% less energy.
Finally, and pooh poohing the notion that microwaving is unhealthy once and for all, it’s possible to buy models with a built-in water tank. Fill it up and you can use your microwave to steam vegetables, chicken, eggs and fish, preserving their textures and tastes.
Microwave power – does it matter?
Microwave power is measured in watts – the higher the figure, the faster it should heat your food. The average is 800-900W. However, as microwave technology has improved, simply going for the most powerful model isn’t a guarantee of a better-performing oven.
Check the capacity of your microwave
Want to cook a whole chicken in there? You’ll need a decent capacity – anything over the 30-litre mark should take a family-sized bird. Smaller households will be better off with a model that takes up minimal space on the worktop, so exterior dimensions will be more important.
Most microwaves have turntables to ensure even cooking. But some newer designs have taken their lead from commercial kitchens and ditched them completely. These flatbed models use the latest technology to distribute the microwaves evenly without the need to turn the food. This frees up lots of space inside for big dishes, such as casseroles, and makes them easier to clean.
If your microwave does have a turntable, keep in mind that the given capacity in cubic litres may not account for the space it takes up. Measure from the turntable up before you buy to make sure your dishes will fit.
Some microwaves also have shelves that allow you to cook on two levels. You’ll need to increase the normal cooking time or move dishes around, but it’s handy for preparing large quantities of food simultaneously instead of in stages.
Decide what auto programmes and presets you need
Not sure how long or at what power level you need to your penne or potatoes will need to cook? Don’t worry, your microwave will tell you if it’s got the relevant auto programmes. Most have them for the likes of popular dishes such as pasta, fish and vegetables. The cleverest can even weigh your food and work out the cooking times to the second.
Auto-defrost and reheat functions are also worth investing in, as are one-touch shortcut keys for melting butter or chocolate (saving you from using the hob) or a quick boost of power. Sage microwaves have presets for, among other things, porridge, soup, fish and baked beans. Ding, indeed!
Never burn food again
One big way newer models excel is with sensor technology. This measures the humidity inside the oven and then adjusts the cooking times to prevent food from over-baking and drying out.
For ultra-even heating and defrosting, look for a model with an inverter. It will control the power flow for consistent results – rather than pulsing high power on and off.
Take the hassle out of cleaning
A clean machine is more efficient. However, how easy your microwave will be to keep clean will be affected by its interior finish. Stainless steel, enamel and acrylic are relatively easy to keep sparkling with a regular wipe down.
Pyrolytic cleaning functions (which incinerates mess completely at high temperatures) and low-hassle catalytic liners (which burn off any grease and food that’s on them) are usually only found on combination microwaves.