Looking for the finest microwaves that money can buy? We've heated, reheated, grilled and baked to find the very best
Microwave ovens don’t have the best reputation, usually invoking memories of rubbery chicken and scorched, parched meals for one. But it doesn’t have to be like that. The best microwaves can make cooking fast, easy and actually rather nice.
Whether you use your microwave for simple reheating and the odd ready meal or want to experiment with cooking full meals and defrosting in a hurry, there are some impressive microwaves out there for not all that much money. In fact, some of the best microwaves don’t actually do all that much but what they can do, they do well.
Here we’ve put together a list of the best ones you can buy in 2022, as well as a quick buying guide so you know what to look out for when buying a new, or even your first, microwave. So if you have no idea what that grill does, or have never quite figured out all those buttons, we’ve got you covered.
How to choose the best microwave for you
What’s the difference between a microwave and combi microwave?
Microwaves get their name from the microwave energy they use to heat food. But many microwave ovens are combination or combi microwaves, so called because they use not only microwaves but also convection and radiant heating to cook your food – just like your oven and grill. This means combi microwaves are well-suited for a variety of food preparation tasks – from melting chocolate and butter to browning certain meats and baked goods – not just reheating leftovers.
Combi microwaves start at around £80 and go all the way up to £500, with countless models on the market.
What makes a great combi microwave?
One reason microwaves have a bad reputation is their penchant for cooking and reheating food unevenly, with some parts of a dish noticeably better done than others. This isn’t entirely the fault of the microwave – some foods will absorb heat more rapidly than others.
The vast majority of microwaves use a turntable to try to counteract this – it automatically rotates your food, attempting to ensure that it’s as evenly heated as possible by the oven’s fixed heating element. Alternatively, some microwaves have a flatbed design, which eschews a turntable in favour of a rotating heating element. This is supposed to cook and heat food more evenly, but this isn’t necessarily the case as our tests show.
What wattage should I go for?
Manufacturers list the output power of their microwaves with a wattage. In theory, a higher wattage means the microwave should cook your food more quickly and efficiently. In practice, no microwave will reach its stated output wattage as inherent inefficiencies result in input power wasted as excess heat.
It’s also worth noting that various standards for measuring output wattage have been used over the years, so the stated wattage of the trusty 1980s model still limping along in your gran’s kitchen can’t be easily and directly compared to new models on sale today.
READ NEXT: The best slow cookers to buy
What difference does internal volume make?
One advantage that flatbeds do have is that the absence of a turntable that allows you to fit bigger or awkwardly shaped dishes inside the microwave compared to a turntable model. All manufacturers quote the internal usable volume of their microwaves in litres.
Greater internal volume obviously means a bigger microwave taking up more space on your kitchen counter – a potential problem in smaller kitchens. We’ve listed the dimensions of each microwave, but bear in mind that you’ll also need to leave some clearance space around the vents for expelling excess heat.
What accessories should I look out for?
We haven’t reviewed enough microwaves with features such as steamers to make any meaningful comparisons, but we do note the accessories included with each microwave. For a combi microwave, a metal grill is the least we’d expect. Anything more, from browning pans to utensils, are nice to have but shouldn’t be your primary deciding factor as third-party accessories are cheap and widely available.
READ NEXT: The best frying pans to buy
How important is ease of use?
Microwave controls range from push buttons and dials to touch-sensitive buttons, sliders and even screens with menus. Those controls might be clearly labelled in English or have cryptic icons. A combi microwave might have all the features you want and be efficient, but if it’s difficult to use without reaching for the manual, it’s all for nought.
The best microwaves to buy
1. Russell Hobbs RHM2031: The best budget microwave with a grill
Price: £105 | Buy now from Amazon
It’s not the most compact microwave on the market but what this neat model does well is that it’s about the same size as most solos, but includes a grill. It’s perfect if you want a golden-brown topping on a cottage pie or a crisp baked potato – easily achieved by combinations of microwaves and grilling.
Features we found especially useful included its auto cook menus, which include reheating, fish, and rice, as well as automatic defrost settings that use the weight (but not type) of the food to work out how long it needs to defrost. There’s even the option to delay-start one of the programmes, so dinner can be ready when you are.
In testing, we found that some of the programmes, such as the defrost, worked faster than expected, while others, such as reheat, didn’t work as well for dense foods and needed more time than the programme allowed. Considering that the price is equivalent to a solo as well, this makes it great value.
Key specs – Type: Turntable; Dimensions: 262 x 452 x 396mm; Stated volume: 20l; Turntable diameter: 245mm; Stated power output: 1,000W; Convection oven/grill: No/yes
2. Sharp R20D: The best simple microwave
If you’re looking for a fuss-free microwave that doesn’t require you to have the instruction manual to hand, this is the one for you. With just two dials, one for wattage and the other for time, they don’t come much simpler than this.
The 25.5cm turntable is big enough for most average dinner plates, so it’s perfect for reheating leftovers and the 20-litre volume is a good size for everyday tubs and dishes. There are five power settings to choose from including defrost and the timer goes up to 35 minutes which far exceeds the amount of time most people microwave for.
It’s universally loved by users for its uncomplicated control panel and value for money, plus it’s available in black or white. But if you’re looking for a model with a grill or convection oven function, this isn’t the one for you.
Key specs – Type: Turntable; Dimensions: 440 x 359 x 258mm; Stated volume: 20l; Turntable diameter: 255mm; Stated power output: 800W; Convection oven/grill: No/No
3. Sage the Combi Wave 3 in 1: The best premium microwave oven
Price: £400 | Buy now from John LewisMost mid-price microwaves are just fine at the basic job of heating food through but why settle for just the basics? They take up a lot of space in your kitchen, so it makes sense to invest in one that can double up as an oven or, in the case of the Combi Wave, an oven and an air fryer. In fact, due to its 3 in 1 fast combi function, this inverter microwave can cook food faster and more effectively than your oven. Fast combi uses microwave, convection and grill heating to cook food in super quick time, while the crisping pan ensures food is, well, crispy.
With a huge 32l capacity, adjustable oven temperatures ranging from 150-230 degrees Celsius and an impressive number of presets for easy cooking, you can bake everything from cakes to entire roast chickens in the Combi Wave.
In testing, it had no problem crisping up chips in just 25 minutes using the air fryer mode – no par-boiling required. The fast combi mode also worked a treat, with chicken tenders emerging wonderfully crisp and evening cooked in under 15 minutes. This microwave oven is a big investment but if you’ve been considering an air fryer or could do with the additional oven space, it’s fantastic value for money.
Read our full Sage the Combi Wave 3 in 1 review.
Key specs – Type: Turntable; Dimensions: 519 x 513 x 316mm; Stated volume: 32l; Turntable diameter: 315mm; Stated power output: 1100W; Convection oven/grill: Yes/yes
4. Samsung Easy View MC28M6075CS/EU: The best mid-range microwave
Price: £310 | Buy now from John Lewis
Samsung’s sleek, attractive Easy View MC28M6075CS is a brilliant combi microwave – and, at £249, the best bit is that it’s affordable, too.
The Easy View moniker refers to the fine mesh in the front door: unlike rivals, you can keep a close eye on the cooking process without having to constantly open the door and interrupt it. And thanks to Samsung’s Hot Blast technology, this microwave can do more than just heat up leftovers. You can fry potato wedges, roast a whole chicken or cook pizzas straight from the freezer, and the huge array of cooking styles mean that the Samsung’s culinary repertoire is unusually broad, even for a combi microwave.
The results speak for themselves. Potato wedges come out crispy on the outside, yet pleasingly fluffy within, and even a whole roast chicken came out moist and crispy in all the right places – and in less than 45 minutes. Simple reheating duties are dispatched efficiently, and quietly, and the controls are quick and easy to get to grips with.
Key specs – Type: Turntable; Dimensions: 310 x 517 x 463mm; Stated volume: 28l; Turntable diameter: 310mm; Stated power output: 900W; Convection oven/grill: Yes/yes
5. Panasonic NN-CD58JSBPQ 27L Slimline Combination Microwave Oven: The best microwave for families
Price: £270 | Buy now from Argos
This combi microwave might be billed as a slimline model but it’s worth noting that this is in comparison to previous models – it’s still pretty deep and a bit of a worktop hog. However, it earns its place there, offering a generously sized cavity, 1300W quartz grill and 100-220°C fan-assisted oven cooking. As a microwave, it works well, with 29 automatic programmes as well as a defrost programme that aims to thaw food more evenly. We tried it with frozen bread and while our slices still had the odd cold spot, the white was soft and the crust didn’t dry out. And the grill turned our bread into a perfect cheese toastie.
What makes it especially suitable for families is its eight Junior Menu options that cook dishes for children. These include fruit and vegetable purée programs, pasta bakes, vegetable fries and healthy flapjacks. We tried the Junior Menu programme for puréed vegetables, which worked well for cooking potatoes that were just soft enough to be mashed. The oven function, we found to be more hit-and-miss: baking brownies and pastry produced mixed results. For microwave cooking, it’s superb, but it won’t replace your oven just yet.
Key specs – Type: Turntable; Dimensions: 520 x 395 x 310mm; Stated volume: 27l; Turntable diameter: 340mm; Stated power output: 1000W; Convection oven/grill: Yes/yes
6. Hotpoint MWH 1311 B: The best mini microwave
Price: £100 | Buy now from Appliances Direct
If you’ve got a small kitchen or you’re just tight on space, the Hotpoint Curve MWH 1311 B is an ideal candidate for the job. This small, yet tall microwave sits perfectly in the corner – that’s thanks to its curved and stocky design. The dials around the front are simple to use; the left dial controls the power (Keep warm, Defrost, 400W, 600W and Max), while the right dial is your timer.
Despite its compact size, the MWH 1311 B has a 280mm turntable and has a total capacity of 13l, which should suffice for most. However, due to its size, don’t expect to fit a large-sized plate or a tall bottle of baby milk inside.
It performs well in our tests, though, there’s no oven or grill to be seen – it’s a conventional microwave.
Key specs – Type: Turntable; Dimensions: 360 x 353 x 392mm; Stated volume: 13l; Turntable diameter: 280mm; Stated power output: 700W; Convection oven/grill: No/no