We all know that microwaves are super-convenient appliances for quick food preparation. But, if you thought they were just for reheating leftovers and ready meals, you might be surprised what some machines can do.
You have straightforward solo microwaves that will do the basic heating and defrosting tasks. Then there are combination models – some with integrated grills and others that work as a countertop oven.
What were the types of microwave oven?
Solo microwave are the ultimate for simple tasks, but make sure you do your homework before buying: high price and high wattage does not necessarily equate to high quality. Solo’s tend to be cheap, compact, easy to use and less bulky than their combi cousins, meaning you shouldn’t need much space on your kitchen worktop. On the downside, they generally have a smaller capacity and limited functionality, although with many of the latest models you should find an array of auto-cook programmes as well as the standard heating and defrosting settings. You will also find they don’t crisp or brown your food as well as a regular oven, so are better suited as a speedy alternative to heating or cooking than an overall oven replacement.
Combi go beyond the features of a regular solo microwave, some of which have functions that may rival your regular oven. When a combi microwave features a grill, you will get all of the regular features of a solo microwave, but with the added benefit of an internal grill. By using a heating element together with normal microwave cooking, your food will be browned as well as cooked, giving it a greater appearance and texture. Bear in mind, however, that the grill element is likely to be less powerful than a conventional grill, so toasting may be slower and foods can become drier.
Capacity This generally varies from about 17L to over 32L. For larger families, look for at least 27L, which will have a larger turntable and more interior height so you can cook more than one dish at a time. When you're comparing models, the turntable size and interior height are more important than capacity. During our microwave tests, we consider the widest size plate that can fit through the door and sit flat on the turntable inside. For family use, ideally the turntable diameter should be at least 30cm and the interior height more than 20cm to accommodate larger plates and portions of food.
The heating category simply reflects the wattage, with A being the least powerful and E being the most powerful. As a result, you can assume that the more powerful categories further down the alphabet means the faster your food will cook.
When it comes to microwaves, wattage equals power. Wattages range between 650W-1950W and in general, the higher the wattage, the quicker the cooking time.
Some combination ovens only have pre-set programmes for combination cooking. This means the microwave power level and convection temperature are fixed - medium microwave and 180°C/350°F, for example. A model that allows you to select your own settings is the most versatile.
You will also need to consider clearance space - no matter the microwave, all models will require some space around them for sufficient air ventilation. Check the clearance space required for the model before you buy and ensure there is a power outlet close to the area you intend on housing your microwave.