Microwaves are a boon for busy people. Easy and convenient, they’re great for defrosting frozen foods, reheating leftovers, warming milk, cooking jacket potatoes, popping popcorn and more. Using radio waves to activate molecules, a microwave heats and cooks food much faster than conventional gas or electric ovens. And as they heat only the food itself and not the oven space, they use less energy and are cheaper to run than standard ovens.
Microwaves are great for busy people. From defrosting and reheating, to cooking and even grilling and baking, many microwaves are true multitasking kitchen essentials. But with so many different models on offer with a wide range features, it can be a struggle deciding which one is right for you. This guide explains what you should consider when choosing the perfect microwave.
Which microwave is best for you?
Microwave-only models are the perfect choice for simple defrosting, heating and reheating tasks. There’s plenty of basic microwaves to choose from, with prices starting at around £40 for a supermarket own-brand model.
Grill microwaves offer all the convenience of microwave cooking with the addition of a grill element, so they can brown and crisp your food. Grill microwaves are more expensive than basic models, however.
Combination microwaves combine microwave cooking, convection heating, a grill and, in some models, a steam function. As with a conventional oven, they can heat, roast, crisp and brown food, with the additional benefit of defrosting and heating using microwave energy. Perfect for small kitchens, combi microwaves have lots of features and pre-programmed settings that makes preparing meals easy. But expect to pay a price premium for this functionality.
Built-in microwaves help give your kitchen a sleek, streamlined look and free up worktop space. They come in a range of sizes and models types, and often have a pull-down handle for easy access. They’re more expensive than free-standing models, and require installation.
If you need a family model, opt for a microwave of at least 30L, which can handle large dishes or a Sunday roast. If worktop space is limited, a small 20L model will be perfect for heating up soup, milk or drinks.
What microwave features to look for
Microwave power is measured in watts, and most microwaves range from 700W to 1200W. The higher the wattage, the faster and more evenly your food will cook. Typical power is around 900W, so look for a model with at least that as a maximum.
As a microwave will sit on the kitchen counter, make sure you measure before you buy a microwave to ensure it doesn’t use up valuable counter space that you need for food prep.
A microwave’s internal capacity is measured in litres, with models offering anything from a compact 17L to a whopping 32L. For a family microwave, look for a model offering at least a 27L size as this will have a larger turntable and enough interior height to cook large dishes or two dishes at once.
Convection cooking and grilling
Some microwaves combine a fan oven and grill with microwave power. Perfect for those short of kitchen space, a combination microwave helps speed up cooking times with the addition of circulating hot air and lets you brown and crisp food under the grill.
These basic microwaves are ideal for simple tasks such as cooking porridge, jacket potatoes and ready meals, heating soup and defrosting frozen items.
Look for a microwave that has a number of pre-set programmes that take the guesswork out of cooking, reheating and defrosting popular foods.
Automatic cooking and defrosting
Automatic modes let you enter the weight of the food and then leave the microwave to work how long is needed to cook or defrost the food safely.
Some microwaves have sensors that measure the oven’s humidity and the moisture in your food, then automatically adjust the power level and time to ensure food is cooked perfectly.
An option on some expensive, high-end microwaves, this technology uses a consistent microwave power level to ensure food is cooked evenly, helping to improve texture and flavour.
Random pulses of microwave energy are used to speed up defrosting.
Some large microwaves come with these so you can cook several items at once.
Most microwaves have smooth interiors that can be simply wiped clean. With combination microwaves, look for one with catalytic or pyrolytic liners that are self-cleaning.
This safety features stops young children from accidentally starting or interfering with the microwave.