For good or for bad, a microwave is rarely top of a most-wanted kitchen gadget list.
They don’t quite carry the same rustic allure as a hefty chef’s knife, an enamel casserole or a cast iron frying pan. However, what they lack in glamour, they more than make up for in convenience – nothing can get your dinner ready as quickly as a microwave.
Microwave ovens (their proper title, as opposed to simply the form of electromagnetic radiation used; from hence forth we’ll use the more colloquial term) aren’t designed for cooking up theatrical feasts for dinner guests; they’re for reheating said grub the following day. They have something of a mixed reputation, partly because of (somewhat unfounded) safety concerns, and partly because much of what goes into them is pretty unhealthy.
But that doesn’t make them inherently bad. Microwaves are incredibly useful pieces of kit, so much so that, as of 2017, 93pc of British households have one.
If you’re looking for a new one after your old workhorse has finally collapsed, or are a first-time buyer unsure which one to opt for, Telegraph Recommended is here to help. We’ve spoken to experts, including microwave repairers and salesmen, and posed as buyers in shops in order to establish the best choices available today.
One of the most consistent pieces of advice was this: Don’t buy a dirt-cheap model (often found in the discount aisles of supermarkets). It won’t last long and won’t perform consistently. “They get progressively worse the more they’re used, so we try to steer people away from budget ones,” says Trevor Cobb, director of the Microwave Service Company. £70-£80 is a good starting point, though the best models will set you back around £100-£200.
Microwaves have moved on since the old days; they now do more more than simply heat and defrost. In fact, you can get your hands on combination microwaves, which add grilling and/or convection oven heating to the mix. This means you can brown meat, for example, while still cooking it quickly. Probably not for everyone, but Cobb informs me they’re particularly popular among those lacking the space for a proper oven.
You’ll also want to choose between a turntable and a flatbed option. Turntables have been popular for a long time, because the rotating disc helps ensure all the food (or drink) heats equally. Flatbeds, however, are increasingly de rigueur, because you can fit more inside, and modern technology ensures they still cook evenly. Flatbeds are easier to clean, as there’s no plate getting in the way, though they’re more common among commercial microwaves.
Size-wise, around 900W is more than enough for reheating food for two; 1000W is plenty. “Anything more powerful is almost wasted on ready meals and heating,” says Cobb.
Further advancements include:
Pre-programming functions: Settings that automatically adjust to a particular food group. For example a baked potato setting.
Sensor cooking: Sensors can tell when the food is ready, and automatically switch off. Cobb says Panasonic, Sharp, Samsung and Bosch all make good use of this.
Touchscreen: While some consumers don’t like touchscreen, they are easier to clean, and offer a bit more control (not just intervals of 30 seconds, for example).
Without further ado, here are the best microwaves you can buy on the market right now, starting with our favourite.
1. Panasonic NN-SN966S 2.2 Cu.Ft. 1250W Genius Sensor Microwave
- Easy to install and use
- Sleek design
- Super powerful
- Very large
The Panasonic NN-T945SF offers 2.2 cubic feet of interior space and 1,250 watts of power to heat food in less time than much of the competition. “It offers power levels from 1-10 with 10 being the highest,” explained one of our testers, “and I found that even using level 5, the microwave is able to heat the food very quickly and evenly.” Other pluses include the sleek stainless steel appearance and 14 auto cook options. If you frequently use your microwave to cook, steam, or defrost, you’ll appreciate the built-in inverter, which delivers consistent heating power that won’t leave food rubbery or unevenly heated. People find the display and controls to be easy enough to use, but a few online reviewers said they experienced button failure for the door after several years. The microwave is also quite large, so it’s not a good choice for small homes.
2. Toshiba EC042A5C-SS Microwave Oven with Convection
- Super versatile
- Stainless steel interior
- Easy to use
- Convection oven heats slowly
A microwave with a convection function, like the Toshiba EC042A5C, offers multiple ways to cook your meals with one appliance. This 1,000-watt microwave has enough power to reheat food in microwave mode or cook, roast, and bake using the convection function between 170 and 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Featuring 1.5 cubic feet of space, it’s large enough to microwave full-size dinner plates or accommodate a small chicken or pizza. A grill rack (for convection mode cooking) makes it easy to get a crispy exterior. People love this unit for its versatility, but others mention that it’s bigger and heavier than expected. It also may tack a few minutes onto recipe cook times when using convection mode.
3. Toshiba EM131A5C-BS 1.2 Cu. Ft. Microwave Oven
- Good power
- Buzzer can be muted
- User-friendly controls
- Some presets aren’t very accurate
The Toshiba EM131A5C-BS handles all your basic tasks and balances counter space with a roomy capacity. Available in either black or silver stainless steel, this countertop microwave has an interior capacity of 1.2 cubic feet while measuring just over 20 inches wide and 17 inches long. Its 1,100 watts of power can be adjusted with 10 power settings, and customers agree that it cooks food evenly and quickly. The unit also is equipped with sensor cooking and two defrost settings, though some people found that not all of the pre-set cook modes worked as expected and the microwave defrosted too aggressively for some meats. Still, this Toshiba countertop microwave has a solid reputation for being easy to use and reliable.
Interested in reading more reviews? Check out our guide to the best countertop microwaves.
4. Daewoo Retro 0.7 Cu. Ft. Microwave Oven
- Stylish design
- Energy efficient
- Solid basic functions
- No clock or timer
- Not that durable
Thanks to its compact form, retro appearance, and efficient functionality, the Daewoo Retro Microwave is our top pick for heating up food in a dorm room. Available in three colors—turquoise, red, and white—the microwave features a digital control pad that lets you choose your function and set power levels, while a retro-inspired turn knob is used to set cook time. Its 10-inch turntable is large enough for most single servings, and its 700-watt power should be sufficient for heating up leftover pizza and ramen. It also powers down in between uses, saving you money on your energy bill. There’s no timer or clock display, however. A few customers noted issues with button functionality over time, but most people find this microwave more than suitable for everyday needs.
If you’re in need of more ideas for a college dorm room, check out our roundup of the best personal blenders.
5. Hamilton Beach 0.7 cu ft Microwave Oven
- Stylish, compact design
- Lots of features
- Easy to use
- Interior is very small
- Light goes out
This 0.7-cubic-foot Hamilton Beach model performs well enough to earn plenty of rave reviews, despite its budget-friendly price. Reviewers love how well it works and the full set of features it offers, in addition to its small footprint. The microwave features six preset settings to quickly cook popcorn, pizza, frozen veggies, and more. Its 700 watts of power is enough to cook frozen dinners and heat beverages but can take longer compared to more robust microwaves. The microwave can fit a 10.5-inch dinner plate, but some customers felt that the small interior was limiting. A few also complained that the light in the microwave stopped working after a few months.