It’s easy to forget, as we absent-mindedly reheat a cold meal or decant a tin of soup for a quick warming supper, that the humble domestic microwave would’ve been completely unthought of less than a century ago. The man we have to thank is Percy Spencer, a self-taught American engineer who accidentally melted a chocolate bar in his pocket while working with active radars — and thus the marvellous time-saving machine we know and love today was born, the microwave.
But like every technological advancement (looking at you, touch screens) we’ve started to take them for granted of late, and microwave shopping is far from the most exciting part of moving house or revamping the kitchen with new accessories such as kettles or coffee machines. It needn’t be that way, though. If you’re after a budget blaster that’ll reheat the odd dinner or pop the odd bag of corn, we can recommend the value models that’ll do a fine job and look surprisingly smart while doing it. But if you’re after more functionality from your microwave, then read on…
While microwaving can leave jacket potatoes, breads or pastries disappointingly soggy, many models these days come with convection oven or grilling modes that’ll keep things crisp without having to waste time or energy heating up the entire oven, and the best part is that it needn’t break your budget. Some higher-end models can steam your food, or come with a huge range of presets for truly foolproof cooking, but these will naturally cost considerably more.
Whatever your budget or style of cooking, there are a few things worth noting. Firstly, the higher the wattage of the microwave oven, the quicker you can expect your food to cook, so consider going higher if you’re constantly in a rush. Secondly, take a look at the capacity of the microwave (listed below in litres) to see how much you can cram into them, and figure out whether they’ll be big or small enough to suit the needs of your household.
1. Panasonic NN-DS596BBP
Our number one microwave gives a helping hand with all kinds of cooking
Best for: Steaming | Wattage: 1000 | Grill: Yes | Oven: Yes | Capacity: 27L
We can’t promise that you’ll never have to switch your oven on again, but with this multi-tasking microwave and a little creativity, you could give it a jolly good go. If you don’t have a lot of worktop or cupboard space for different kitchen gadgets, consider this: a microwave that’s also a grill, an oven, and a steamer, with an abundance of pre-programmed cooking modes that’ll help you cook a range of foods with just the touch of a button. It’s definitely on the pricier end of the scale, but for sheer versatility, this Panasonic microwave takes our top spot with ease
2. Sage by Heston Blumenthal Quick Touch Crisp
All the modes you could ever want in a smart-looking silver package
Best for: Crisping | Wattage: 900 | Grill: Yes | Oven: Yes | Capacity: 25L
If there’s room for it in the budget, this sleek silver Sage microwave could be the ultimate tool in your easy-cooking arsenal. It has a huge number of presets for everything from porridge and popcorn to grilled cheese and dried herbs — there’s even one for melting chocolate! — making it a good bet for foodies who want to use their microwave for much more than just reheating. The built-in crisper pan function also ensures that tricky snacks like pastries never go soggy while reheating. It’s definitely not cheap, but if you’re the type of person who wants their microwave to really earn its keep, this one is second-to-none.
3. Russell Hobbs RHFM2363B
This good-looking budget microwave proves you don’t have to spend a lot to get a lot
Best for: Value style | Wattage: 800 | Grill: No | Oven: No | Capacity: 23L
We understand the frustration of being on a budget but not wanting to plump for bulky-looking appliance that doesn’t fit your kitchen, so this flatbed microwave is our best pick for marrying value with good looks. The mirror-finish door looks especially sleek and reflects light to give the illusion of more space, while the non-turntable design is a revelation, fitting larger and odd-shaped plates and being easier to clean than an ordinary microwave. It doesn’t have the highest wattage, but it’s certainly respectable for the price.
4. Swan Retro Digital Solo Microwave
This colourful microwave breaks with the norm and cooks up a storm
Best for: Design | Wattage: 700 | Grill: No | Oven: No | Capacity: 20L
Can a microwave be cute? It’s certainly the first word that comes to mind when you see this colourful, curvy Swan Retro microwave. It offers a striking mix of bright shades to choose from, a refreshing change from the usual black and silver if that’s not your thing, and an eye-catching digital display that both looks cool and is ideal for short-sighted cooks to check on progress from afar. As well as microwaving at a top-notch 1000 watts, it serves as a grill and oven. Certainly one for design lovers, or anyone who wants a fully-featured microwave at a great price.
5. Whirlpool Absolute Built-in Microwave
This built-in microwave will fit into your kitchen, and your lifestyle, effortlessly
Best for: Built-in | Wattage: 900 | Grill: No | Oven: No | Capacity: 22L
Move over, corner microwaves: the built-in microwave is the ultimate space-saver in a galley kitchen or any room that lacks worktop space. In terms of functionality this Whirlpool microwave is pretty standard with no added grill or oven modes, so it’ll hardly replace your oven, but it does the basics well. Its foolproof Jet Start mode is especially handy for reheating food to the perfect temperature, so it’s great if you’re busy, and its polished, anti-fingerprint finish means it looks sleek wherever you put it.