Microwave reviews: Features explained

Microwave chicken cooking You can cook a chicken in a grill or combination microwave

Microwave features

Many of today's microwaves can do a lot more than simply heating and defrosting. Microwaves with grills and convection cooking (combination microwaves) or just grill microwaves are widely available for people who want to upgrade or do more 'real' cooking in their microwaves. 

Combination microwaves can be used to cook a roast dinner, for example, as our microwave cooking video guide shows.

Supermarkets have made a significant entry to the low-budget microwave market, and nowadays you can pick up a basic reheating and defrosting version for around £30. Those who want to trade up to a microwave with a grill, or a combination microwave with a grill and a convection oven can often expect a stylish product with digital displays and metallic finishes.

In our microwaves review you can use our compare features and prices tool to find a solo, grill or combination microwave that has all the features you need and suits your budget.

Microwave types

Microwave-only - Sometimes called 'solo', these basic microwaves are great for simple tasks, such as heating soup, cooking jacket potatoes or heating ready meals. You can also use them to defrost food.

But basic microwaves can't brown food so they are unable to compete with built-in ovens and cookers on everyday jobs, such as grilling or roasting meat.

Combination microwaves - Combination microwaves use convection heating (fanned hot air) and come with grills. So you can use microwaves, grilling and convection heating to both cook and brown food, producing good results, even on complicated meals such as a roast dinner, as our video guide shows.

Grill microwaves - Grill microwaves use a heating element along with normal microwave cooking to brown food and give it a more attractive appearance and texture. 

These microwaves come with metal racks to bring food closer to the grill element.

Microwave heating categories

A microwave’s heating category is a rating from A to E, which is designed to show you how quickly or slowly your oven will heat food. Microwaves in category E will heat your food more quickly than microwaves rated A. You’ll find your oven’s rating on the front, usually on the door. E is the most common rating.

All the microwaves we've tested have been given a heating category of E by the manufacturer, which means they're supposed to cook at between 741 and 800 watts, but this isn’t always accurate. You may need to cook your food for longer than recommended to make sure it’s piping hot throughout each time.

Microwave steamer for features explained

Steaming food in a microwave is a quick and healthy way of cooking

Microwave functions

Microwave auto-reheat buttons - These allow you to enter the weight of the food and will calculate how long it should take to cook.

The better ones let you select what it is you're cooking rather than giving one cooking time for every type of food.

Microwave vegetable steamer - In addition to microwaving, roasting, baking and grilling, some microwaves also come with a vegetable steamer. 

They can be tricky to get started with, but, after a bit of practice, it's a fast and healthy way to cook vegetables.

Microwave pizza function - Many of the microwaves we've tested have a function (a button or an item on a 'menu') for cooking or reheating pizza. These tend to work better with the grill microwaves than the solos, because the grill will help crisp the pizza and brown the top.

Some microwaves include crisper plates, which you use to cook pizzas on to help crisp the base. They can also be used for cooking quiche. You tend to get better results if you use a frozen pizza and preheat the oven and plate for four or five minutes before use.

Microwave cooking containers

It's important to use suitable cooking containers. Heatproof glass, Pyrex or plastics labelled as 'microwave safe' are ideal. You can also use paper plates and paper towels. Pottery, ceramics and earthenware are suitable as long as they are not porous. Avoid containers from frozen or chilled food (such as margarine tubs) because their low melting temperatures may leave contaminants in the food.

With fast-food foil containers, there's a danger of sparking if foil gets too close to the sides, and the food can heat unevenly because the foil shields it from the microwaves. So, transfer last night's Chinese or curry into another container.

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