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10 best microwaves for quick and easy oven cooking

·15-min read
<p>Freestanding solo microwaves are most suited to anyone looking to just plug in and heat up</p> (The Independent)

Freestanding solo microwaves are most suited to anyone looking to just plug in and heat up

(The Independent)

The humble microwave has come a long way since it first appeared on our kitchen counters in the late 1960s. Since then, it has become a staple in every student’s home and a time-saving must-have for anyone too busy – or hungry – to wait to eat, with 93 per cent of UK households owning a microwave in 2018.

Many models now do far more than heat up leftovers too. While all cook and defrost food, some have a built-in grill or steamer while combi microwaves can do anything an oven can, including baking cakes or roasting a chicken.

These take up much more room than a standard model and are considerably more expensive, yet could easily replace an oven in any kitchen.

Freestanding solo microwaves are the best bet for anyone looking to plug in and cook, although built-in machines that may need to be professionally installed are worth considering if worktop space is precious. In both cases, larger families should always look for a capacity of more than 20 litres.

Though a higher wattage means faster cooking, only pay extra for other additional features if you think you’ll really use them. Some worth the money might include an air fryer function, simmer or keep-warm capability or a flatbed turntable to fit larger dishes.

Read more:

Many of the latest models now also have inverter technology using continuous and precise microwave emissions to cook food more evenly and prevent overheating.

We put a range of microwaves to suit all needs to the test, evaluating their ease of use, design, size, extra features, cooking results and cost.

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.

The best microwave 2021

  • Best overall – Hoover chefvolution HMCI25TB-UK microwave: £249.99, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best combination microwave – Smeg MOE34CXIUK 34 litre combination microwave oven: £369, Longeatonappliances.co.uk

  • Best small microwave – Swan retro 20 L 800W countertop microwave: £75, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best budget microwave – Russell Hobbs RHMM713: £64.97, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best integrated microwave – Panasonic NN-CS89LBBPQ combination microwave: £467, Johnlewis.com

  • Best multi-purpose microwave – Whirlpool W collection W7 MW461 UK built-in microwave oven: £596.02, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best easy-to-use microwave – Bosch HMT75M461B 17 litre microwave: £120.14, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best compact microwave – Elements 20L 800W black and copper microwave: £80, Dunelm.com

  • Best for sleek design – Tower rose gold 800W 20L manual microwave: £72.99, Robertdyas.co.uk

  • Best for extra features – Sage combi wave 3 in 1: £399, Johnlewis.com

Hoover chefvolution HMCI25TB-UK microwave

Best: Overall

Power: 900W

Dimensions: 48.3 x 40.5 x 29.2cm

Capacity: 25l

Convection oven/grill: Yes/yes

With a microwave, grill and convection oven in one machine, this digital Hoover microwave is packed with features for a surprisingly reasonable price. It even boasts the latest inverter technology to disperse heat evenly and preserve food’s flavour, a feature normally reserved for pricier appliances.

It’s a decent 25l capacity, 27cm turntable and 900 watts of power mean cooking is quick and easy. There are also a staggering 32 automatic programmes for one-touch cooking of everything from porridge to salmon fillets. The oven and defrost settings both worked well, although the grill was slower than one on a traditional oven. We also found it tricky to judge grilling times because it’s not possible to see through the door during cooking.

However, this microwave’s almost-silent operation, glossy black exterior and multi-functional capabilities make it an excellent addition to any kitchen for a fantastic price.

Buy now £249.99, Hoover.co.uk

Tower rose gold 800W 20L manual microwave

Best: For sleek design

Power: 800W

Dimensions: W45.5 x D33 x H25.5cm

Capacity: 20l

Convection oven/grill: No/no

Microwaves aren’t usually the most attractive kitchen appliance but this sleek model is a great buy if you want to make a statement. With its shiny rose gold accents, the manual microwave is a head-turner when out on the kitchen worktop and is a breeze to operate too. Plug in and start cooking immediately, with six power levels and eight autocook settings including fish, popcorn and – curiously - spaghetti. However, the pizza setting left ours with a soggy bottom so is best avoided.

We found the chunky dial made it easy to heat for exactly the required time and the defrost function worked particularly well to cook frozen foods including a cottage pie and soup. Larger households might prefer a bigger capacity or higher wattage but this compact model is ideal for the average user looking for a no-fuss, easy to clean microwave that won’t be an eyesore.

Buy now £72.99, Robertdyas.co.uk

Sage combi wave 3 in 1

Best: For extra features

Power: 1100W

Dimensions: 51.9 x 51.3 x 31.6cm

Capacity: 32 litre

Convection oven/grill: Yes/yes

There’s almost nothing this sleek, brushed stainless steel microwave can’t do. A convection oven, powerful microwave and air fryer in one, it uses inverter technology to automatically adjust power intensity for more even cooking results, particularly noticeable on delicate and reheated foods.

The large but very quiet machine has a whopping 19 pre-set options including ones to soften butter, cook bacon and melt chocolate and these generally worked well. We did need to add extra cooking time when baking chocolate chip cookies using the pre-set function though.

We were particularly impressed by the air fryer, which made it possible to cook foods like chips that normally go soggy in the microwave. We also loved the keep warm setting and the ability to turn off the turntable rotation to use a square dish.

It’s a dream to use straight from the box too, with a clever soft-close door and a useful digital screen which gives step-by-step instructions so there’s barely any need to look at the manual.

The steep price tag is the obvious downside, but is worth the stretch if you have the space and will definitely use the extra oven space and air fryer.

Buy now £399.00, Johnlewis.com

Russell Hobbs RHMM713 scandi compact white manual microwave

Best: Solo microwave

Power: 700W

Dimensions: 45.1 x 35.3 x 25.8cm

Capacity: 17l

Convection oven/grill: No/no

If simplicity and style top your wish list, this Russell Hobbs microwave is a winner. Also available in black and grey, the dinky white model has a tactile wooden handle and just two easy-to-use dials for super-simple operation. There’s a digital version if you prefer pre-set functions, but for straightforward cooking, reheating and defrosting, this has everything you will need at a great price. Just be aware that the maximum power is only 700 watts, so we felt dishes took a little longer to cook than expected and the instructions on some ready meals will need adjusting accordingly. It’s worth measuring your dinner plates if you regularly reheat leftovers too as the turntable is just 24.5cm in diameter.

Buy now £64.97, Amazon.co.uk

Bosch HMT75M461B 17 litre microwave

Best: Easy to use microwave

Power: 800W

Dimensions: 46.1 x 35.1 x 29cm

Capacity: 17l

Convection oven/grill: No/no

This no-nonsense Bosch microwave was straightforward to operate and performed well in all our tests. It was easy to adjust cooking times for different weights with the turn dial and the seven pre-set programmes cooked potatoes and vegetables well, though our frozen mince wasn’t quite defrosted all the way through and needed extra time adding.

Anyone hoping to whip up feasts for a large family might prefer a bigger capacity, but we found all but the biggest dishes and plates fitted inside comfortably. We especially loved the memory button, which can be programmed with the cooking information for a favourite dish so it can be cooked at the touch of a button.

Our only complaint? The black glossy exterior showed fingerprints easily, but the pop out controls made cleaning quick and easy so it wasn’t a huge problem.

Buy now £1120.15, Amazon.co.uk

Smeg MOE34CXIUK 34 litre combination microwave oven

Best: Combination microwave

Power: 1100W

Dimensions: 51.9 x 50.7 x 31.4cm

Capacity: 34l

Convection oven/grill: Yes/yes

Smeg’s first-ever freestanding microwave is a great-looking machine with an impressive 1110 watts of power for super-speedy cooking. Inverter technology ensures even results every time and the defrost setting was very effective, thawing our mince thoroughly without browning it.

Other features we loved included the keep warm and stew functions for slow cooking, although we found the grill a little slow to use and the settings tricky to remember without the manual to hand.

The oven is top-notch though, preheating quickly and delivering perfect results every time. Yet keen cooks should note it only reaches 200°C so won’t manage anything that requires very high temperatures.

Buy now £369.01, Loneatonappliances.co.uk

Elements 20L 800W black and copper microwave

Best: Compact microwave

Power: 800W

Dimensions:45 x 36 x 26cm

Capacity: 20l

Convection oven/grill: No/yes

This compact, good-looking microwave is a great buy if you want a grill included but don’t want to splurge on the most expensive models. It has a respectable 20 litre capacity and 800 watts of power and heated everything from soup to ready meals with no issues.

The grill and defrost settings were a little slower to operate and needed watching during use to adjust timings, but it’s hard to complain for this price.

It looked stylish out on the worktop and we thought its copper-coloured handle and buttons made a nice change from most microwaves. There’s a coordinating toaster and kettle in the same range to complete the look too.

Buy now £80.00, Dunelm.com

Panasonic NN-CS89LBBPQ combination microwave

Best: Integrated microwave

Power: 1,000W

Dimensions: 50 x 43.7 x 39.1cm

Capacity: 31l

Convection oven/grill: Yes/yes

Another mighty multi-tasking machine, the freestanding Panasonic 4-in-1 is a kitchen whizz, as you might expect for the hefty price. It functions more like a small oven than a microwave, with two levels for cooking, 36 pre-set programmes and no glass turntable.

We did need to keep the manual close by to make full use of this appliance but it was worth the effort. The oven was just as good as a standalone one and we loved the fact we could use different cooking methods at the same time. Using the oven and the grill simultaneously for instance worked well to cook lasagne and give it a crispy top. The grill was a little slow on its own though and we found it difficult to see the food cooking so would have preferred a brighter light inside.

However, we were wowed by the microwave’s steam technology, which uses an integrated 800ml water tank and two steam outlets to inject steam directly into the oven for healthy cooking. There’s even a hot steam programme to aid cleaning, while the flat grill heater means it’s easy to wipe down.

Buy now £467.00, Johnlewis.com

Swan retro 20 L 800W countertop microwave

Best: Small microwave

Power: 800W

Dimensions: 44 x 30.7 x 25.2cm

Capacity: 20l

Convection oven/grill: No/no

Microwaves are rarely described as cute but this freestanding machine in baby blue could change that. Also available in other colours including cream, green and orange, the retro styling includes simple chrome dials, an unusual circular digital display, rounded edges and a curved statement handle.

There are five power levels including a defrost setting and all worked well for straightforward reheating and cooking, with an audible alert when food is ready.

With a 24.5 cm diameter turntable, it might not fit your biggest dinner plates but it’s ideal for everyday use, looks lovely and won’t dominate your worktop.

Buy now £75.00, Amazon.co.uk

Whirlpool W collection W7 MW461 UK built-in microwave oven

Best: Multipurpose microwave

Power: 900W

Dimensions:59.5 x 56 x 45.5cm

Capacity: 40l

Convection oven/grill: Yes/yes

There’s no real need for an extra oven if you have this multipurpose but expensive machine, the only built-in microwave featured in our list. Although it’s very heavy and awkward to fit, its clean lines and digital display look great once installed and its mammoth 40l capacity and 40cm turntable mean it can manage almost any cooking task easily.

Results were consistently impressive too thanks to its 6th Sense technology which cleverly adjusts the time and temperature of food during heating to ensure nothing is over-cooked. We also liked the steam setting for making healthier meals, and the useful crisp function which gave our pizza added crunch.

Buy now £596.18, Amazon.co.uk

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

- More expensive than standard or grill microwaves- They take up more space

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

Anyone certain they will use the extra oven space and steamer won’t fail to be impressed by the budget-busting Panasonic 4-in-1. However, for the sheer range of features included at the price, it’s hard to beat the Hoover Chefvolution, which has the latest inverter technology, a good capacity and a decent oven. If you just want a microwave to zap leftovers and warm soup without taking up too much space, choose the Swan retro, as its wide range of colour options make it a great choice for most kitchens.

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Enjoy the benefits of more kitchen gadgets and check out our guide to the best air fryers and soup makers

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