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Whether reheating leftovers, swiftly preparing a baked potato, melting chocolate for baking, or heating up a ready meal - few kitchen appliances provide as much assistance, or make life as easy, as a good microwave.
What should I look for when buying a microwave?
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Microwaves have come a long way in recent years, making dinner prep a cinch with their digital timers and auto cook programs. Solo models are the kind you’re used to and can be bought for less than £100, while combination models double up as grills and convection ovens and tend to be a lot more expensive.
There are pros and cons to both types of microwave, so consider how much space you have (combis are a lot bulkier) and what you want to use it for before you buy. In general, the higher the power output (measured in watts), the faster the cooking time. Size-wise, families should look for a capacity of between 20 and 30 litres.
There is a huge range of microwaves on the market, so take a look at our top picks for all needs and budgets.
Wilko Stainless Steel 20L Microwave,
You’ll be hard pushed to find a solo microwave that’s as much of a bargain as Wilko’s 800w bestseller.
Happily, the quality is impressive for the price, but if you’re worried, it comes with a two-year guarantee. It’s compact, yet large enough to fit an average dinner plate, and it’s incredibly easy to use, making it a good choice for elderly relatives.
Five power levels include a defrost function and the auto cook menu features settings for 12 different foods. The digital timer can count down to 60 minutes, the glass turntable is easy to remove for cleaning and its stainless steel exterior is sleek enough to tick the style box.
If you fancy something quirkier, consider this similar trendy copper model.
Panasonic NN-DF386BPQ 23L Combination Microwave Oven
This affordable Panasonic combination microwave is a winner for shoppers who want all the bells and whistles, but don’t have much worktop space.
It’s powerful, at 1000w, with 16 auto cook programs for speed and convenience. It comes with a tray and grill, but note that only the grill and microwave can be used simultaneously - to crisp up the top of your microwavable lasagne, for example - and there’s no water tank for steaming like the NN-CS89 above.
Adjustable shelves allow for cooking on the flatbed, affording you 30% more space than a standard solo model, while a built-in sensor eliminates the faff of entering cooking times, weights and power levels. It comes with a two-year warranty, should anything go wrong.
CDA VM200SS Freestanding Microwave & Grill
If you like the idea of a microwave with a grill, but don’t want to spend hundreds on a full combination oven, look to this 900w CDA model. It offers 10 auto cook programs, including pizza, potato and popcorn, and five power levels, including auto and manual defrost functions.
Its electronic controls are fairly straightforward to use, if a little fiddly, and its LED timer helps you keep track of cooking progress. There’s a child safety lock to reassure parents, too.
The microwave and grill can be used both separately and together for that all-important crispy topping, though we’d prefer a flatbed to the included glass turntable.
Overall, it feels reasonably priced at under £130, with a one-year guarantee.
Dunelm White and Copper Microwave
If it’s a basic digital solo that you’re after, we’ve a good-looking 20-litre contender for you here.
Dunelm’s own-brand 700w microwave, with its copper accents and mirrored door, makes a welcome change from the ubiquitous black designs.
It’s unfair to expect much in the way of features or power at this price, but you get a choice of five heat settings, a defrost function and a 60-minute LED timer for your buck.
There’s a child safety lock and a glass turntable that detaches easily for washing. The only downside is that fingerprints show up clearly on the door, so you’ll need to wipe it down regularly.
If you like what you see, there’s a matching toaster and kettle available.
Russell Hobbs 17 Litre Microwave
New to the Russell Hobbs range is this no-nonsense manual solo, with just two dials and not a digital feature in sight.
It looks great with its Scandi-inspired wooden handle and grey casing, and it couldn’t be simpler to use. There are five power levels, including defrost, and the timer can count down from 35 minutes.
There’s an internal light to show when cooking is in progress and a ringer when it finishes. It’s not the strongest, at 700w, or the biggest, with its 17-litre capacity, but if you’re looking for a small, reliable microwave for basic cooking tasks, it’s a steal.
Russell Hobbs Legacy 20L Cream Digital Microwave
Here’s another Russell Hobbs model, but this one’s digital, with a dial, push buttons and an LED timer. Its cream casing gives it a chic, subtly vintage aesthetic that would suit any kitchen.
It has a mirrored door (keep fingers off it!) that you push to open and its 20-litre cavity comfortably fits a standard dinner plate.
There’s a child lock for peace of mind and the glass turntable is dishwasher-safe to save you from tiresome scrubbing.
The choice of auto cook programs includes fish and pizza and the auto defrost setting selects the perfect timing for you, once you input the weight of your food.
Hotpoint Supreme Chef MWH 338 SX Multifunction Microwave Oven
If you want a microwave that does much more than the basic reheating and defrosting, you’ll be tempted by this 33-litre combination model.
It offers great value for money considering how much it can do, from cooking a roast chicken in convection mode to making use of the dual crisp function that combines the microwave and grill. Multi-wave technology distributes heat evenly and it even has a self-clean feature.
It requires at least 30cm of ventilation space above it, so it’s not one to plug in underneath a kitchen unit, and there’s no internal shelf for a baking tray. Our only other niggle is that the pull-down door handle is right below the dial and touch panel, meaning it’s easy to accidentally fiddle with the settings.
Still, it’s a steal for a powerful 900w combi with every bell and whistle imaginable.
Panasonic 31 Litre Combination Microwave Oven - Metallic Silver
Panasonic is a trusty brand for microwaves and this is its flagship model. It has a huge 31-litre capacity that bigger families will appreciate, yet its 4-in-1 capability makes it an excellent space saver.
It is modern and attractive by design, with a quick-clean touch panel and a pull-down smoked glass door for easy access. Health-conscious cooks will love its steam function, which helps preserve the nutrients in veg.
When used as a convection oven, it can cook an entire Sunday roast, including a whole chicken! You can use any two functions simultaneously, such as the grill and microwave, and it has a flatbed to maximise room.
Choose from 12 preset combi menus and 36 auto cook programs. Its built-in sensor takes the guesswork out of cooking by sensing how much moisture is in your food and auto-adjusting the power and timings. It’ll set you back just shy of £500, but its warranty lasts two years.