Microwaves: More from your microwave Simple guide to microwave functions

Microwave

What you can cook depends on your microwave type

What you can cook in your microwave and the quality of the food you produce will depend upon the type of machine you use and it's functions and features. It's also important to use the right dishes and containers.

Once you've had a look at the types of microwave and features below, you can visit our microwave reviews to find out which microwaves cook the best, defrost evenly and are easy to use.

You can access all our reviews, from microwaves to ovens, with a £1 trial subscription to Which?.

Microwave types and heating categories

Types of microwave

Solo or basic microwaves use only microwave energy to cook food. They're cheap and great for simple tasks such as heating soup or heating ready meals. 

Grill microwaves also have a heating element, which is handy for browning food, and combination microwaves use microwave energy, a grill and convection heating (fanned hot air) so that they can cook like conventional ovens.

Microwave heating categories

A microwave’s heating category is a rating from A to E, and 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 the rating on the front of your microwave, 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.

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

Steaming vegetables in a microwave

Steaming vegetables in a microwave

Microwave vegetable steamer

In addition to microwaving, roasting, baking and grilling, some microwaves come with a vegetable steamer which offers a fast and healthy way to cook vegetables. You can buy vegetable steamers separately if your microwave doesn't come with one. 

A few tablespoons of water in the larger outer bowl is enough to steam a few hundred grams of vegetables in the smaller inner bowl, and this is a good way to keep the nutrient level of your veggies high.

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 on which you cook pizzas to help crisp their bases. They can also be used with quiche. 

You tend to get better results if you use a frozen pizza and pre-heat the oven and plate for four or five minutes before use.

Containers

Microwave-safe dishes

It's important to use the right 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. 

Containers to not use in a microwave oven

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.

Cooking multiple meals in a microwave

Cooking one meal after another in a microwave

If you're heating a series of meals directly after each other, be careful to check the later meals are cooked as thoroughly as the first. 

With many microwaves, as their level of work increases, the internal parts can get hot and they start to emit less power, which means you might need to increase cooking time. 

Microwave duo plate

Some microwaves can cook two dishes at one time

Two level cooking in a microwave

Some microwaves now have shelves allowing you to cook on two levels. You need to double the normal cooking time, but it's a handy feature if you want to have two meals ready to eat at the same time.

Defrosting in a microwave

Manual and automatic microwave defrosting

Using auto defrost is easy: you simply input the food's weight and the microwave sets the best program. Alternatively, you can program the defrost yourself by setting the power level and time based on instructions in the microwave's manual.

Defrost slowly for best results

Success with either approach varies considerably among different microwaves, so try both options to discover which method works best on your microwave. 

In general, you might find better results programming the microwave yourself, using lower power settings and defrosting slowly.

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