Along with shoulder pads, mullet haircuts and Mel Gibson, microwave ovens 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.
Keen chefs will love the one with a special button for melting chocolate. Busy parents will appreciate cooking pizza in half the time without a soggy bottom. New models look better than ever, too and have space-saving designs, so you get more capacity but from a model that hogs less of the worktop.
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.
We’re tested and handpicked our best buy microwaves for every home. Scroll down and you’ll also find a handy buyer’s guide, to ensure you pick the right speedy oven.
Why not check out our other carefully researched buying guides?
1. Hotpoint Curve MWH 1311 – best microwave for corners
This compact microwave (no combi grill or oven) has a curved back designed to fit into a corner, the front facing out in any direction. It’s a clever design because corners are the least useful bit of any kitchen worktop.
You can however put it anywhere: it’s a great space-saver full stop at just 39cm wide and 35cm deep (but pretty tall at 36cm because the brains are all under the cavity). Capacity is just 13 litres but it somehow manages to fit a 28cm glass turntable in there, so it can handle a dinner plate.
We loved its simplicity. You can microwave cook at four power levels (700W, 500W, 350W and 160W) or defrost by time or weight. Despite 700W being a bit low powered, we found it could cook a respectable large jacket spud in 10 minutes.
Features are basic but include clock, kitchen timer and child-safety lock. Controls are self-explanatory. Press the plus and minus buttons to select cooking time or just press Start to cook on full power for multiples of 30 seconds. The memo button lets you save a favourite program.
Small and simple, perfect for compact kitchens.
Ideal Home’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
2. Panasonic NN-DF386BBPQ combi microwave with grill – best freestanding combi microwave
This freestanding, 23-litre, 1000W microwave combi thinks it’s an oven and it’s not wrong: it does a good job of oven and grill functions. So much so that by Christmas you’ll wonder how you ever survived without the extra cooking space.
It boasts an oven-style, pull-down door and a flatbed design rather than a turntable, so you get 30% more useable cooking space. It comes with a wire rack for grilling, a full-width enamel tray for oven cooking, and also a Panacrunch pan (metal crisper plate) which is heated by microwaves to quickly cook the underside of dishes – for example, pizzas no longer have a soggy bottom.
Controls are straightforward, plus there are seven automatic programs to cook popular foods by weight. A handy sticker in the door reminds you of them. Although if you read the instruction manual there are lots more recipes and tips. Features include a clock, a timer delay and a child safety lock.
Cooking results are both outstanding and precise. Defrosted bread was fresh, not soggy, while a large jacket potato cooked using microwave-grill combi was surprisingly crisp-skinned yet fluffy inside, cooking in just 13 minutes.
Discerning cooks will love the Panasonic. As will anyone who needs a bit of extra oven space.
Ideal Home’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
3. Sage Quick Touch Crisp – best microwave for smart features
The Quick Touch Crisp boasts impressive foodie menus and handy shortcuts. When the door’s closed, you have the usual controls for commanding microwave, defrost and grill cooking. Plus there are lots of smart menus for cooking various dishes and ingredients – the Sage’s large, detailed display makes them easy to navigate.
Ten buttons hidden inside the door offer popular shortcuts. And they’re not all junk food: there are buttons for caramel, melting chocolate, softening butter and more. This is a microwave that makes it quick and easy to be a foodie.
Features-wise, the Sage is a 1000W microwave-grill combi but not an oven. It has a 25 litre capacity and an 31cm turntable, big enough for even the grandest dinner plates.
The crisper plate has a clever design with three legs that fold up: use it high for grilling and low as a crisper. We used it up high for cheese on toast (a shortcut button) and were impressed: you can cook up to three slices at a time and the results are delicious.
Last but not least, the “A Bit More” button is perfect for when a dish needs longer but you don’t want to have to set the program all over again.
Ideal Home’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
4. Whirlpool Fusion AMW 848/IXL – best built-in microwave
If you’re designing a new kitchen, consider an integrated microwave. You get a bigger, better appliance while freeing up valuable worktop space.
This microwave, grill and oven combi genuinely serves as an oven – you get a 40 litres of extra cooking space, perfect for family meals.
It comes with wire grill rack, full-width oven tray, large plastic steamer, crisper plate and an oversized 36cm glass turntable for the microwave. Its programs, intelligent auto-sensing programs and 30 built-in recipes make good use of all these features. Or just touch the arrow on the right to zap at full power (900W) for 30-second bursts, perfect for heating up a cold cuppa.
Oven cooking is quick and precise. Grilling uses the round grill rack on the turntable for even cooking. And we loved the crisper plate – not just for stuff like pizzas, but also as a quick, fat-free way to cook oven chips, “fried” eggs, halloumi and more.
The controls are intuitive and easy to grasp. When you’re done, it beeps and offers the option to cook at the same power for longer. We found the glass a bit fingerprinty, but otherwise it’s impossible to fault.
Very impressive and can be teamed with the AKZM 6692/IXL oven, designed to match not just its design but also its touch controls, menus and recipes.
Ideal Home’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
5. Swan SM22090 microwave in copper – best microwave under £100
The copper hue of this 800W Swan microwave is easy on the eye and has a timeless appeal. The colour is interesting but subtle. The copper looks superb teamed with the mirror-finish glass door.
It’s compact and simple: microwave only, no combi. It has a relatively small 27cm turntable, so beware if you have large dinner plates.
It boasts five microwave power levels. You can cook or defrost by time or weight. There are eight programs for cooking popular foods, including popcorn, pizza, drinks and potatoes. You can also quick-start cook for multiples of 30 seconds.
The Swan isn’t just a pretty face: it cooks evenly and we thought the features impressive for an affordable microwave. It does more than the basics and the controls are straightforward. But most of all, it’s affordable but looks great.
Swan offers a range of co-ordinated copper electricals to match, including three styles of kettle, five toaster designs and kitchen scales. You can even buy accessories like a pan set and a knife block in the same copper finish.
Ideal Home’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
6. Russell Hobbs RHFM2363B – best for contemporary looks
Don’t buy an unbranded supermarket microwave when for a little more you can buy this. The Russell Hobbs “Solo” looks great and it cooks well, too.
The design draws ideas from more expensive microwaves. For example, it has a flatbed interior rather than a turntable, which means you can make more effective use of its 23-litre capacity. You can therefore fit in square plates and oversized casserole dishes.
The purpose of turntables is to move food around, so cooking is more even. But the theory is that the Russell Hobbs’ bumpy walls – sorry, “diamond cavity” structure – reflect microwaves in various directions, which leads to more even cooking.
We found that it cooked and defrosted evenly enough – and fast enough, despite only offering 800W of power. And cleaning is easier with a flatbed than a turntable.
The outside has a nice, modern design too, with a black, mirrored door, large handle and discrete digital controls. Cleverly, the display is behind the glass door but shines through it. Opening the door also reveals a list of the microwave’s eight built-in programs. Other features include kitchen timer and child safety lock.
There’s no oven or grill, but that’s to be expected at this price. Instead you get a straightforward microwave that looks the business.
Ideal Home’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
7. Bosch HMT75M451B microwave – best small microwave
This has the smallest capacity (17 litres) and turntable (24.5cm) of the microwaves on test, but as a result it has a tiny footprint, just 46cm wide and 29cm deep.
What’s more, you can either sit it on the worktop or mount it on the underside of a kitchen wall cabinet to reclaim worktop space for food preparation. It’s therefore a good buy if space is at a premium.
It won’t fit a large dinner plate, but it does a fine job of the microwave basics. It has five power settings (800W, 600W, 360W, 180W and 90W) and there are separate buttons on the front for each one, so you can immediately select any power. You can cook by weight or time (up to 60 minutes) using the pop-out knob at the top.
Features include a small number of built-in programs, a memory button for your favourite setting and a kitchen timer.
We liked the Bosch’s space-saving design and also its simplicity. Some microwaves require you to read and memorise an instruction manual: this is straightforward. It’s basic but good quality, with a brushed stainless steel finish on the outside. Note that the inside is white though.
Ideal Home’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
A buyer’s guide to microwaves
Before you make your final choice, make sure you’ve take these key features into account.
Do I want a combi?
If you have a small kitchen or you’re on a tight budget, a microwave-only model may be best. But otherwise a combi is well worth it. Your microwave doubles as a grill and/or oven, giving you extra cooking space (plan ahead for Christmas dinner) and the best of both worlds: cook a jacket potato quickly (microwaves) yet with a crispy skin (oven).
What’s a crisper plate?
The latest, high-end combis often come with extra accessories like grill rack, oven tray, steamer and something new called a crisper plate. Forget everything you were told about not putting metal in microwaves: these large, non-stick metal dishes are heated quickly by microwaves to become a hotplate. Cook stuff like pizza fast and with no fear of a soggy bottom. You can even “fry” stuff like eggs and bacon with no oil. We love them.
What if I don’t have room for a microwave?
New, small microwave-only models are surprisingly compact – there’s space in front of them for food prep. You can also get microwaves designed to be wall-mounted under a cabinet and ones with curved backs that fit neatly in the dead worktop space in a corner. Or if you have plenty of cupboard space but not much worktop, consider an integrated model.
How much should I spend on a microwave?
Budget £100 for a microwave that will serve you well. We think cheaper, supermarket own brand ones are a false economy. Budget up to £300 for a larger combi with all mod cons. And double that for integrated, but then you get much more cooking space and an appliance that genuinely doubles as a proper oven.
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.
What capacity do I need?
- 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.
What auto programmes and presets do I 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!
Other features to consider
- 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.
- 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.