How to buy the best microwaveby Jane Darling
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Do you want a microwave simply for heating or defrosting? Or would a grill or combination microwave be better for you? The best microwaves will last for years, delivering excellent results with every ping. Buy a bad microwave and results will be patchy. So it's worth doing a little research to find the best microwave for your budget.
Take a look at our microwave Best Buys to discover the models that Which? recommends.
What type of microwave do I need?
There are three types of microwave:
Microwave-only (solo): a microwave that heats up and defrosts.
Combi: can heat, roast, crisp and brown like a conventional oven.
Grill: combines normal microwave cooking with a heating element.
For each type of microwave you can either buy a built-in or a standalone model. Built-in microwaves are much more expensive than freestanding models.
Sometimes called 'solo' microwaves, these basic microwaves are great for simple tasks, such as reheating a forgotten cup of coffee, warming up soup, cooking jacket potatoes or heating ready meals. You can also use them to defrost food.
A basic microwave is a good option if you just want to complete simple heating tasks more quickly than is possible in a conventional gas or electric oven. But basic microwaves don't brown food, so they're unable to compete with ovens and cookers on jobs such as grilling or roasting meat.
- Cheapest type of microwave, and widely available
- Lots of models to choose from
- Good for simple defrosting, heating and reheating
- Limited functionality compared with combi microwaves
- You can't roast or brown food in a solo microwave
Cheap microwave ovens
Compared with pricier contenders, budget microwaves from the likes of Tesco or Asda can seem positively spartan. Forget about shiny silver finishes and rows of buttons and program choices, and think white boxes and minimalist dials. But for simple reheating and defrosting, cheaper microwave brands can be as good as more expensive microwaves – just don't expect auto programs or other advanced features.
Solo microwave oven prices
Solo microwaves are generally cheaper than combi or grill models because of their simpler design and functionality. You can pick up a basic microwave from around £30, going up to more than £500 for built-in microwaves from premium brands such as Neff or Siemens.
Combination microwaves use convection heating (fanned hot air) and come with grills. So you can use microwaves, grilling and convection heating to cook and brown your food.
Read more about the pros and cons of combi microwaves and how much you should expect to pay for a good one in our guide: combination microwaves: how to buy the best.
A combi microwave uses convection heating and a grill
Grill microwaves combine normal microwave cooking with a heating element. They can perform all the normal duties you'd expect from a standard microwave – cooking a jacket potato, defrosting a ready meal, reheating your dinner and so on – but the grill function allows you to brown food. And, for cooking more complex dishes, you can cook with a combination of microwave energy and heat from the grill.
These microwaves come with metal racks to bring food closer to the grill element.
- Good at performing general microwave cooking tasks
- Also able to crisp and brown food
- Great for cooking pizzas
- Often come with a metal rack to bring food closer to the grill
- Don't offer convectional heating like a combination microwave
- Usually more expensive than a basic microwave
A grill microwave can crisp up your food
How much does a decent microwave oven cost?
Microwaves that cost less than around £50 will be pretty basic. But we’ve tested £50 microwaves that are every bit as good at heating and defrosting as microwaves that cost much more.
Cheap microwaves are likely to be microwave-only (solo) models and many will only have two controls – one to set the heating power and one to set the time. Microwaves like this are very easy to set, but they’re lacking in nice-to-have features, such as a digital displays and pre-set cooking programs. And some cheap microwaves are on the small side, so have a look inside before you buy to make sure you’ll be able to fit your dishes inside.
For £100, look for a microwave with preset heating programs for specific foods, digital displays and easy-to-use push-button or touch-panel controls. Some microwaves at this price will be programmable, which means you’ll be able to set them to defrost first and then heat. Cheaper grill and combination microwaves are available for around £100.
Microwaves costing £200 or more should be a bit special, either in terms of features or the accessories they come with. Alongside convection cooking and grilling, features to look for include being fully programmable, self-cleaning catalytic linings and pull-down oven-style doors, which make it easier to unload very hot dishes. Accessories to look for as part of the package include crisping plates and steamer dishes.
If you’re paying more than £300 for a microwave, it’s likely to be a built-in model. If it’s not, it should have a stand-out feature, such as one touch-sensor cooking – where all you need to do is put your food in and press the start button – or a built-in steamer.
If you're keen to find a standard microwave, grill or combination microwave that has all the features you need and suits your budget, head to our in-depth microwave reviews.
Microwave oven features - what to look out for
Although they've been around for a while, microwave ovens aren't always the most intuitive appliances to use. Below we list and explain some of the key features. For a full run-down on what's what, go to our microwaves jargon buster.
Auto-reheat: you enter the weight of the food and the microwave then calculates how long it should take to cook. More expensive microwaves also let you enter the type of food you're cooking, so the cooking time is set more precisely.
Auto-defrost: you enter the weight of the food, and the microwave chooses the best defrosting program.
Pizza function: many of the microwaves we've tested have a function for cooking or reheating pizza. These tend to work better with grill microwaves or combi microwaves, as the grill helps to crisp the pizza base and brown the top. Some microwaves include crisper plates, which help crisp the base. For best results, use a frozen pizza and pre-heat the oven and plate for four or five minutes before use.
Vegetable steamer: 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.
If you now know whether you want a standard microwave, grill or combi microwave, head to our detailed microwave reviews to track down the best model for you.
Or browse our Best Buy microwaves for our top scoring reviews.