These machines move beyond simple reheating and defrosting, with features like steam and grill <br>
These machines move beyond simple reheating and defrosting, with features like steam and grill

While some people are content with using microwaves for occasional tasks such as reheating a cup of tea that’s gone cold or melting butter, others depend on them for everything from baking cakes to cooking complex dinners. Whatever your needs, the good news is there’ll be a microwave to suit you.

Standard microwaves, which are the cheapest, are great for the simple stuff like reheating and defrosting. They don’t take up much room and are the easiest to use.

But if you want something more whizzy, consider a microwave grill, which also has a heating element, or a combi which can heat, roast, crisp and brown just like a normal oven.

Remember more watts mean faster cooking and think about capacity too, bearing in mind that anything less than 20l can feel cramped for larger households.

Consider the latest tech, such as a drop-down door and flatbed design to fit awkward and bigger shaped dishes inside. You may also want features such as auto-reheat, auto-defrost and steam.

When testing microwaves, our criteria included all this tech, as well as size, capacity, cooking time, ease of use and cleaning, aesthetics, usefulness, efficiency of features and value for money.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

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Beko MOC20200C reto style freestanding microwave oven

Power: 800W
Dimensions: 25.5 x 45.5 x 35cm
Capacity: 20 litres
Convection oven/Grill: No/no

The four-step programming is the stand-out point with this great value 800W microwave – it means you can set it to automatically carry out four different cooking stages in a row while you get on with other things, making it a fabulous time saver. Also worth a special mention is the steaming function, as well as the setting for reheating hot beverages. Despite the low price tag, it keeps food moist and cooks evenly, with none of those rubbery edges that are so common with microwaved food. The vintage aesthetics look smart and it’s available in four different colours – red, black, cream and blue. The only downside is that it’s quite noisy.​

Buy now £68.00, Amazon

Panasonic NN-SF464MBPQ silver microwave

Power: 1,000W
Dimensions: 32.6 x 52.9 x 43cm
Capacity: 27 litres
Convection oven/Grill: No/no

The innovative flatbed design of this microwave means there’s more room inside than with traditional turntable ones and you can fit odd-shaped dishes in it too – sometimes even two. An added bonus is that food doesn’t spill because the dishes don’t move around. It all combines to make this a great microwave for larger families or people who enjoy entertaining. The 1000W machine has five power settings and 18 auto-cook functions, as well as the opportunity to set your own. And if all this sounds too complicated, it isn’t – the intuitively designed touch controls and excellent instructions mean it’s surprisingly quick to get your head around, and it’s quick and quiet too, with no cold spots. But there’s no combi cooking or grill, despite the high price tag.

Buy

Buy now £165.00, John Lewis & Partners

Hotpoint curve solo microwave

Power: 700W
Dimensions: 35.3 x 39.2 x 36cm
Capacity: 13 litres
Convection oven/Grill: No/no

This has been designed to squeeze into worktop corners, although don’t feel you have to – it sits nicely enough anywhere. And despite being so compact, it still has a decent sized turntable at 28cm. It can cook at five power levels and although it’s only 700W, and therefore slower than some, it manages to defrost surprisingly quickly. Not a machine if you want lots of wow-factor features, but it has all the basics plus timer, clock and child-safety lock and it’s so simple to use that you probably won’t even need to refer to the instructions. On the downside, it does a lot of bleeping so won’t suit those that get easily irritated by unnecessary kitchen sounds and the light stays on until you manually press the stop button.

Buy now £109.00, Amazon

Swan SM22036GRYN Nordic microwave

Power: 900W
Dimensions: 34.2 x 45.1 x 25.7cm
Capacity: 25 litres
Convection oven/Grill: No/no

This is a handsome microwave, if ever we saw one, with the mirrored door, curved edges and wood-effect handle and trim around the control dial all making for a chic, Nordic finish, which is available in either grey or white. Performance wise, there’s good news too as this 800W microwave cooks quickly and evenly. The auto-cook programmes save time and hassle, with the three auto-defrost settings ensuring that meat, poultry or fish don’t start cooking before the time’s up. You can warm up hot drinks on a special setting and it steams to perfection. Forget it if you have extra-large plates though – the inside is rather on the small side. The mirrored door is prone to fingerprints too, although it wipes clean easily enough.​

Buy now £99.95, Amazon

Cookworks 700W standard microwave P70B

Power: 700W
Dimensions: H26.2 x W45.2 x 31.8cm
Capacity: 17 litres
Convection oven/Grill: No/no

This vibrant red 700W microwave is a steal for a cooker that gives even results despite being used by everyone else in the household before you get a turn! It’s easy to use, with the digital display offering plenty of versatility – 10 power levels and two defrost programmes, plus the option to cook in two steps. There’s plenty of room inside too. And unlike others in this price bracket, it’s nice and quiet (unless you count the beeps that go off whenever you press a button) and a doddle to keep clean. But, as you might expect at this price, it’s somewhat slow, so you will need a bit of extra patience – and the turntable is prone to rattling too.

Buy now £54.99, Argos

Sharp 900W combination flatbed microwave R861

Power: 900W
Dimensions: 30.3 x 50.4 x 49.7cm
Capacity: 25 litres
Convection oven/Grill: Yes/yes

This 900W combi grill microwave has a pull-down door, which makes for easy loading and unloading. And as with the Panasonic NN-SF464MBPQ, the flatbed design replaces a traditional turntable, allowing you to fit in more unusually shaped dishes, as well as the wire rack and baking tray it comes with. There are six automatic functions for the likes of jacket potato, rice, pizza, roast chicken, oven chips and cake, with another seven for auto-reheat, beverages, veg, soup, grilled bacon, grilled fish and roast lamb or fish. With this long list, it’s hard to think of anything they’ve missed, although we think it could be better at grilling. We couldn’t fault the evenness of cooking, it’s easy to work and it’s great value too, though it is quite noisy and bulky.​

Buy now £149.99, Argos

Sage quick touch crisp microwave

Power: 1,000W
Dimensions: 30.6 x 44.3 x 51.3cm
Capacity: 25 litre
Convection oven/Grill: No / yes

Sage has become the go-to brand for kitchen electricals with special functions for foodies. Backed by Heston Blumenthal, this 25l and 1000W microwave-grill combi is no exception, with a row of extra buttons just inside the door for everything from melting chocolate to softening butter (making it a particularly good choice for keen bakers). At 31cm, the large interior means the turntable is good for big plates – brilliant for entertaining. It’s quick, intuitive, quiet and looks good. And if you’re not sure how to make the most of your new toy, check out the vast range of menus – from entire dishes to toasting nuts on its crisper pan. But it doesn’t come cheap.

Buy now £229.00, John Lewis & Partners

Panasonic NN-E28JBMBPQ compact solo microwave

Power: 800W
Dimensions: 25.8 x 44.3 x 33cm
Capacity: 20 litres
Convection oven/Grill: No/no

If your primary use for a microwave is to reheat takeaways, then look no further. This 800W machine has auto-programmes for reheating Chinese food, curry and pasta that means you can practically get dinner on the table with your eyes closed. It’s also great at reheating healthier options such as vegetables and fish, as well as defrosting. And all in record time, with no sign of food drying out. There are five power levels and nine auto-programmes, so everything is covered, and the intuitive touch controls, delayed start and multi-step programming are all genuinely useful, especially in busy households. But it’s on the small side, so forget it for larger families, and we didn’t think it was much cop at steaming.

Buy now £79.00, Currys

Hotpoint MWH 27321B ultimate collection microwave

Power: 700W
Dimensions: 31 x 52 x 39cm
Capacity: 25 litre
Convection oven/Grill: No/yes

This sleek-looking 700W microwave won us over with its comprehensive list of genuinely useful features, as well as being incredibly user friendly and big enough for large families (25l). Not only does it have a decent grill, crisp function (great for pizzas) and defrosts to perfection, but it triggers you to stir, add or turn when needed and even pauses cooking so you can do it. Unusually, you can turn off the rotating feature of the turntable – handy for oblong or very large dishes. Be warned it’s heavy and big, though, so might dominate smaller kitchens.​

Buy now £124.97, Appliances Direct

How to choose the best microwave for you

What type of microwave should I get?

Standard microwave

Sometimes called solo microwaves, these are best for simple culinary tasks. The most basic on the market, they are designed to both heat and defrost.

Pros

  • Ideal for simple reheating, heating and defrosting

  • Some models also have auto-cook programmes

  • Cheapest on the market

  • User-friendly

  • Compact so they take up less workspace

Cons

  • Smaller capacity

  • Limited functionality – you can’t crisp or brown food, for instance

  • The heat settings aren’t always as adjustable as with other microwaves

Grill microwaves

These combine normal microwave cooking with convection and radiant heating, just like your oven and grill. Many have a metal grill, which means you can get the food closer to the grill.

Pros

  • Can crisp and brown food

  • Good for delicate tasks like melting butter

  • You can use the microwave cooking and grill together or separately

  • No bigger than standard microwaves

Cons

  • A microwave grill element isn’t as powerful as a conventional grill which means it is slower and can sometimes dry food out

  • More expensive than standard microwaves

Combi microwave

These do everything the other two machines can do, as well as roasting, crisping, baking and sometimes more.

Pros

  • They cook in the same way as conventional ovens and are often quicker

  • Bigger capacity

  • Some models can bake, roast and even steam

Cons

Does wattage matter?

All microwaves list their wattage, which ranges between 650W – 1950W. But higher wattage doesn’t always mean faster cooking time. In fact, some 650W machines cook food just as well, and sometimes as fast, as higher wattage machines, so take into account other features too.

Flatbed vs turntable

Traditional microwaves have a turntable that automatically rotates food to ensure even cooking, although some allow you to turn this feature off so they stay still like a flatbed if your dish is too big to turn. You can remove the turntable when it needs cleaning.

Flatbed microwaves evenly distribute heat using different technology. The benefit is that you can use any size dish that fits in, regardless of whether it can rotate. They make it easier to keep the microwave clean too. But these models tend to be more pricey.

Other features to consider

Additional settings

Auto cook programmes mean you can enter the type and weight of food and the machine automatically sets the time and power required to cook it. Multi-step programming enables you to, say, defrost then cook or cook then grill. Some include pizza functions and steamers.

Size

Solo and grill microwaves are the smallest, with some combi models double the size, so be sure to check your available workspace. Capacity, which ranges from around 17L to 32L, matters too – the bigger the household, the more you’ll need. Clearance space is worth considering as all machines need this around them to allow air to ventilate – this usually ranges between 5cm to 30cm.

Noise when in use

Be warned some microwaves are a lot quieter than others, and that doesn’t just go for the cooking time itself but the bleeps afterwards.

Ease of use

It’s no good investing in an all-singing all-dancing machine that you can’t work out how to use. Make sure your machine is intuitive and the instructions are clear.

Style

You don’t have to go for a countertop model, microwave drawers and in-built microwaves are also available.

The verdict: Microwaves

Besides being a bit on the noisy side, we found it hard to fault the Beko MOC20200C, which performs extremely well at pretty much everything and whose star feature is the four-step programming – a boon for the time-poor. For a microwave-grill combi, the Sage quick touch crisp microwave did us proud – it’s intuitive and as comprehensive as they come, although as we said it’s certainly not cheap.