The best microwaves give you hot and tasty food every time. But not all models up to scratch – we've found plenty that struggle with basic tasks, such as defrosting a block of mince and steaming a fish supper.
The best microwaves we've tested heat and defrost evenly, and are simple to use and easy to keep clean. Some even double up as a mini oven, grilling or baking food as well as microwaving it.
To help you find the best microwave for you, we've handpicked our favourites including our top cheap model, the best combi and the best microwave grill. Each has gone through our rigorous lab tests, so you can be sure it won't scupper your supper.
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Best Buy microwaves for 2022
We test every microwave to see how good it is at heating, defrosting and steaming, as well as measuring the noise it makes and how easy it is to use. These Best Buys are some of the best microwaves we've tested.
It isn't easy on the eye, but this model sets the standard for fuss-free microwaving. If you're after an easy-to-use microwave that heats food quickly and evenly every time, look no further than this. Plus, it's so quiet you'll probably find yourself checking whether you've turned it on – and even then, you'll struggle to believe it can work while making so little noise.
If you're after a model that does more than the microwave basics, look no further. Its five-star convection oven roasts, bakes and browns just as well as a regular oven, even if the fan is a little loud. Its grill works well, too, which is impressive as most microwave grills we've come across are mediocre at best.
Microwave grills tend to disappoint in our tests, but this model is worth considering if you want something between a simple solo microwave and an expensive combi. It comes with six power settings and 32 auto-cook programmes; handy if you like the machine to do the thinking for you. Its two-star grill isn't as good as we've seen on some combis, however, so you'll need to broaden your search if grilling is a dealbreaker for you.
It costs just under £50, yet this microwave heats, defrosts and steams food better than most other models we've tested. The window is on the small side, which is annoying if you like to keep an eye on what you're cooking, but that's about all we could fault it for. Just don't expect anything beyond the basics: auto-cook programmes and multi-stage settings are alien concepts to this machine.
This flatbed combi microwave costs twice as much as some freestanding cookers but, if you're not put off by its price, it could be the right model for you. It easily accommodates awkwardly shaped dishes – we were able to fit a 40cm-wide plate inside this microwave – so it's the best option if you have a large family or are catering for a crowd. If not for its lousy grill, it would almost certainly be a Best Buy.
Watch our video to help you decide which type of microwave is right for you.
Microwave types explained
There are three main types of microwave oven you can choose from:
Microwave-only (solo) models
Solo microwaves are the most basic type - they just cook and defrost.
Cheapest type of microwave
Good for simple defrosting, heating and reheating
Usually less bulky than a combi microwave
Lots of models to choose from
Limited functionality – you can’t roast or brown food
Tend to have smaller capacity than a combi
Sometimes called 'solo' microwaves, these basic microwaves are great for simple tasks such as warming up soup, heating ready meals or quickly defrosting food.
They tend to be cheap and compact so can be a good option if you just want to complete simple heating tasks more quickly than is possible in a conventional oven. But they don't brown food, so they're unable to compete with ovens on jobs such as grilling or roasting meat.
Grill microwaves combines normal microwave cooking with a grilling element.
Can crisp and brown food, as well as heat and defrost
Compact – usually the same size as a solo microwave
Cheaper than a combi microwave
Often come with a metal rack to bring food closer to the grill
Don't offer convection heating, which helps a microwave cook like an oven
Usually more expensive than a solo microwave
Grill microwaves can perform all the normal duties you'd expect from a standard microwave, such as defrosting ready meals and reheating leftovers, and the grill function can also brown food.
You can use the grill and microwave cooking functions separately or combine them, for example to brown the top of a shepherd’s pie while microwaving it. They usually come with a metal rack to bring food closer to the grill.
Combination (combi) microwaves can roast, crisp and brown, just like a conventional oven
Can cook in the same way as a conventional oven
Can be quicker than using your main oven, especially if you combine cooking modes
Tend to fit more inside than other types of microwave
More expensive than other types of microwave
Bulkier than a regular microwave
Combination microwaves tend to be the most expensive type of microwave – but they're also the most flexible. The grill and convection heating (fanned hot air) functions mean they can cook and brown your food, often much more quickly than a conventional oven.
For each type of microwave you can either buy a freestanding or built-in model.
Freestanding models sit on your countertop, whereas built-in microwaves slot seamlessly into your kitchen units, for example above your oven. Built-in microwaves are much more expensive than freestanding models.
Best microwave features to consider
Despite their relatively straightforward purpose, microwaves can vary considerably in terms of the features and accessories they offer.
Here are some of the key features to look out for.
Clear viewing window - Combined with a bright interior light, this makes it easy to check on food. Watch out for reflective door finishes or window grids that are hard to see through.
Large door - Wide-opening or drop-down doors make it much easier to get heavy or hot dishes in and out of the microwave, especially if you have reduced strength or dexterity.
Auto cook programs - Enter the type and weight of food and the microwave will automatically set the time and power needed to cook it. Premium models can offer up to 30 programs, including specialised ones for popcorn or roasts.
Auto defrost - Most microwaves offer an auto-defrost setting that uses bursts of low heat to defrost based on the weight of the food. Some come with settings for specific foods.
Multi-step programming - This allows you to program different cooking modes in sequence, to automatically switch between defrosting and cooking your dinner, for example.
Touch-panel controls - These take far less effort to press than push-button controls. If you do go for button controls, they should be large, easy to press and not too close together.
Clear labelling - Controls should be clearly labelled, with a large, clear font. Digital displays should be brightly lit and easy to read. If you are visually impaired, consider a model that beeps when you make a selection.
Pizza function - This tends to work better with grill or combi microwaves, as the grill helps to crisp the pizza base and brown the top. Some microwaves come with ‘crisper plates’.
Microwave energy labels
For the past 15 years, microwaves have been labelled according to their heating category – A is the least powerful, E the most. This gives shoppers a rough guide to how powerful their microwave is and how long to heat food for.
We test the performance of microwaves against their power ratings, and have found they’re not always accurate – differences of 5% to 10% are commonplace.
Don't assume you need to pay the earth to get a decent microwave.
We’ve found microwaves across all price brackets that offer a good range of features and do what they're meant to do brilliantly.
Less than £50
Cheap microwaves costing less than £50, from the likes of Tesco and Asda, will be pretty basic. They tend to be on the small size, and are likely to be microwave-only (solo) microwaves with limited settings.
This makes them very easy to use, but you won’t usually get much in the way of auto cook or defrost programs (see features to look out for, below).
For simple heating and defrosting jobs, cheaper microwave brands can be every bit as good as more expensive microwaves. We've found plenty of great microwaves starting from just £45.
For around £100
Look for a microwave with a selection of auto programs (to automatically set the weight and time for specific foods), digital displays and easy-to-use push-button or touch panel controls.
Some models at this price will come with other extras such as delayed start and multi-stage cooking (to automatically switch between heating modes such as defrosting and heating).
Cheaper grill and combination microwaves are available for around £100.
For around £200
Features to look for include self-cleaning catalytic linings and pull-down, oven-style doors, which make it easier to unload very hot dishes. Accessories you might find useful include 'crisper' plates and steamer accessories.
For £300 plus
Models at the pricier end of the spectrum are likely to be built-in models.
If not, they should have stand-out features, such as one-touch sensor cooking, which works out what's needed for you – all you need to do is put your food in and press the start button – or a built-in steamer.
Microwaves come in all sizes, ranging from small, compact models to large, bulkier machines that’ll take up much more space on your counter.
Basic microwaves tend to be the smallest; some combis measure almost twice the size of the smallest solo (microwave-only) and grill microwaves we’ve tested.
Arguably more important than external size is internal capacity – we've found microwaves of the same size can vary massively in terms of usable space.
While manufacturers do generally state the internal capacity, this doesn't actually tell you what size dishes you'll be able to get inside.
Combis usually have a much bigger capacity than standard microwaves. The average combi can fit a 35cm-wide dish inside, compared with 29cm for a typical solo microwave.
All microwaves require some clearance space around them to allow air to ventilate, but the amount of space needed varies between models. So consider where yours will be placed and check this before you buy.
Half the microwaves we’ve tested need at least 30cm above them but we’ve also found plenty that only need between 10cm and 20cm.
Many also need 10cm to 20cm space at the back and sides. However, if you’re short on counter space it’s worth looking around a bit as we’ve found some that only need a 5cm gap around them, or don’t need any.
You can check clearance space for specific models by finding the user manual online or contacting the manufacturer directly.
If you don't quite have the kitchen counter space for a microwave, our electric grill reviews can help you find a space-saving alternative.
Are high-powered microwaves better than low-powered?
Our tests have shown that power isn’t a good indicator of microwave performance. We've found 700W microwaves that can cook food as well and quickly as 1,000W microwaves.