11 best microwaves
Want dinner in minutes? We've tested the latest machines
Microwaves have come a long way from basic models that simply defrost and heat up food – although you can still get those so-called solo microwaves. Today’s models combine microwaving with a grill or grill and oven. Many have built-in recipes with menus, and some do things like steam cooking and two-step functions like defrost and cook in one fail swoop.
There are two current trends to look out for. First, crisper plates – a relatively new innovation whereby the grill cooks from above while microwaves heat the metal pan, to cook food from below. This means pizzas, pies and quiches cook quickly and efficiently with underside nice and crisp instead of floppy.
The other big trend is for flatbed designs instead of turntables. This means you can get awkward (and bigger) shaped dishes inside and there’s more room. Turntables also help ensure evenness and the latest tech goes a long way to ensuring that flatbed models cook evenly too.
There’s no minimum (or maximum) wattage to look for but more watts will translate into faster cooking, so aim for 900W or more. Capacity-wise anything below 20 litres feels cramped but that’s ok if you’re a smaller household or don’t need your microwave for bigger meals.
Stick to a solo microwave if you just want it for heating and defrosting. But if you want something more advanced, you may find you’re better off with a microwave grill, or even a combi, which can heat, roast, crisp and brown. Don’t rule out cheaper models, assuming them to be substandard.
Panasonic NN-SF464MBPQ: £159.99, John Lewis
The so-called ‘flatbed’ design means there’s more room inside this microwave than with traditional turntable ones – and it also means you can fit unusual shaped dishes in without them getting stuck, as well as fit more than one in at a time.
With touch controls, it looks smart and feels nice to use and with five power settings and 18 auto-cook functions (and the opportunity to set your own), it’s very comprehensive, although there’s no combi cooking or grill.
It’s quick and quiet, with no cold spots, and it is particularly good at defrosting and steaming veg.
We would have liked to be able to see a bit more, though – one of the usual benefits of microwaves is being able to see food while it’s cooking – and it doesn’t come cheap.
Kenwood K23SM17: £149.99, Currys
Exclusive to Currys, this solo machine stands out for the very things that microwaves often fall short on.
Food is defrosted, reheated and cooked quickly and evenly without drying out and there’s a good amount of space inside. You don’t have to stop all conversation dead in the kitchen when you use it either as it doesn’t make the loud whirring sound that other microwaves are known for.
Like many modern microwaves, you get buttons instead of a dial and there are plenty of options to customise the task in hand, for example putting in the weight so it can work out how long it needs to stay on for. If you want to defrost then cook all in one go, you can use the two-step programming – and it doesn’t lose power even on a long stint.
Some might find it a bit small, but if you’re not a huge household, this is a great buy.
Morphy Richards Accents 511502: £69.99, Amazon
Available in black, red or cream, this has a pleasing retro look and you can match it with the toaster and kettle in the same range.
Practically, this solo microwave gave us moist food, hot all the way through, and if anything splatters – as is so often the case with microwave cooking – it’s easy to wipe it all down with a damp cloth afterwards.
Solo microwaves aren’t always brilliant at defrosting – either on manual or auto – but this one is fabulous and it doesn’t make a lot of noise either.
There are five power levels and auto programmes, so it covers a lot of bases for different types of food. But it’s not the biggest, which might put off larger families, and you may need to give yourself time to work out the different functions.
De Longhi D90D: £129.99, Argos
This is a combi microwave, so you can grill at the same time as heating your food through, so we decided to try it out by roasting a chicken. The results were outstanding – moist, succulent meat with golden brown skin.
Our guests couldn’t believe we did it in a microwave that cost less than a hundred quid. And if your chicken is still in the freezer when you realise you need to cook it, you can use the machine to defrost it first.
Steaming (especially fish) is impressive too and cakes were as good as any made in a traditional oven.
We also like the clear visibility – it’s reassuring to be able to see what’s going on. It’s not the quietist microwave, though, and in grill mode it’s not the fastest too. But if neither of those niggles would bother you, this will be a great cooking tool to have in your kitchen.
Panasonic NN-CS894SBPQ Combination Steam Combination Oven: £459, John Lewis
This costs as much as some people’s conventional ovens – if not more – but it steams, grills, bakes and microwaves your food with excellent results and with built-in sensor technology that means you don’t even have to bother with power levels, food weight or cooking time.
Everything about it is intuitive and effortless and because it covers all kinds of cooking styles, you can use this to experiment with all kinds of dishes without worrying whether it will leave cold areas or dry out your food.
There’s a generous cooking area, so you can cook for the masses, and it’s a doddle to keep clean. We particularly like the steam cooking and the swipe and touch LCD screen is both fancy and easy to use.
An utter joy of an oven, if you can afford it.
Currys Essentials Solo Microwave: £44.99, Currys
For a no-frills, cheap and cheerful basic microwave to defrost and heat up food or a cup of coffee, this will do you proud.
It’s not as if there’s a shortage of microwaves below fifty quid, but this one cooks food more evenly than others we tried and keeps your food succulent, which means you don’t have to keep stopping and starting it while you give the dish a stir.
It’s easy easy to clean afterwards and is also nice and quiet. For the price tag, it’s well engineered and should last you a long time, plus it’s energy efficient.
Sharp R861 Flatbed Combination: £144.99, Argos
This affordable 900W microwave with grill-oven combi punches well above its weight. There are plenty of cooking programmes – we particularly liked the “grill bacon” function – and the styling is reminiscent of pricier rivals.
A flatbed design, instead of a turntable, helps maximise cooking space so all of its 25 litre capacity is useable.
And its crisper tray did a great job of cooking frozen pizzas: quick, tasty and no soggy bottom.
Beko MOF20110 Compact: £69.99, Currys
Not quite as cheap as chips, but this is much better than the unbranded microwaves you can pick up in the supermarket aisles. It’s compact (20 litres) with a 25.5cm glass turntable that’s no good for big dinner plates.
There’s no combi grill or oven but the 800W microwave’s performance was very impressive and it has built-in programmes for popular foods.
Sage Quick Touch Crisp Microwave: £299.99, John Lewis
Sage has a reputation for reimagined kitchen electricals that promise special functions for foodies, backed by Heston Blumenthal.
This 25-litre 1000W microwave-grill combi is no different. We loved the row of extra buttons just inside the door for popular uses, including melting chocolate and softening butter.
Plus there’s a huge menu of recipes for less confident chefs: from entire dishes to toasting nuts on its crisper pan. Its large (31cm) turntable is good for big plates, perfect for entertaining.
Russell Hobbs RHFM2363B: £122.97, Amazon
If you don’t need all mod cons but you want your appliance to look the business, this is the microwave for you.
The industrial design borrows from premium models, with a black mirror-finish door and flatbed design that maximises its 23 litre cooking space.
There’s no oven or grill but we found its 800W microwave cooked and defrosted well, perhaps in part thanks to its “diamond cavity” design with textured walls that reflect microwaves in all directions.
Swan SM22090 Digital: £89, Amazon
This compact microwave looks great in hip copper with a mirrored glass door. Its 20 litre capacity and 27cm turntable are on the small side (not good for large dinner plates) and there’s no grill or oven, just a microwave with five power levels, but it cooks evenly and features include some nice touches.
For example, we liked the way that it beeped several minutes later to remind us when we forgot to remove our food.
The Verdict: Best microwaves
The Panasonic NN-SF464MBPQ is our favourite microwave. It’s got a special design that makes it incredibly roomy and it’s intuitive and comprehensive and is so quiet that you’ll hardly know when it’s on.
At the bargain basement end of the microwave market, our vote goes to the Currys Essentials Solo Microwave. It’s under fifty quid yet does all the basics well.
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