Microwave ovens buying guide

For meals in minutes, microwave ovens are perfect for busy people who haven’t got the time they’d like to spend cooking. Some of today’s models incorporate a grill and/or fan oven so microwave ovens have another advantage: they’re perfect if you’re short of space. View our range of microwaves.

How do they work

Microwaves use ‘micro waves’ to heat food – in fact radio waves - at a frequency of 2,500 mega hertz (MHz). When the waves are absorbed by water, fats or sugars, they’re converted directly into atomic motion – or heat. Micro waves are not absorbed by most plastics, glass or ceramics but they are reflected by metal, so never put any metal pans or utensils in a microwave.

Unlike conventional ovens, in which heat is conducted from the outside of the food towards the centre, the microwave’s radio waves ‘excite’ the water and fat molecules evenly, throughout the food. And because only the food is heated, microwave ovens are more efficient.

One disadvantage, however, is that the air in the oven is at room temperature, so no crust will form on the food. That is, unless you choose a microwave with a grill.

Types of microwave ovens

Microwave with grill

All the features of a standard microwave oven, but with an internal grill. It can be used as a stand-alone grill; or for browning or crisping your food, in conjunction with the microwave.

Built-in

These offer a designer look to your kitchen and free up work top space. They vary from simple standard ovens to top-of-the-range models. They’re usually supplied with a fitting kit.

Combi

A combined microwave, grill and convection (hot-air) oven gives you more flexibility, as you can use the functions independently or together. Some combination ovens even offer a steaming function.

Microwave only

Can be used to defrost, reheat and cook foods.

Size and power

Size

Capacities vary from about 17L to over 32L. If you’re after a family-size microwave consider at least a 27L size. This will have a larger turntable and more interior height so you can cook more than one dish – or fit the Sunday roast in.

Power

Microwave power is measured in watts, and can range from 800W to 1100W. The higher the wattage, the quicker your food will cook.

Features to consider

Microwaves vary considerably in price, but this is not just dependent on their power or size. Consider what type of cooking you do (grilling, roasting) and how you store your food: if a lot is frozen then a good defrosting feature will be important.

Accessories

Consider buying microwave-safe trays, dishes or steamers – even an egg poacher – to give you more cooking versatility.

Automatic cooking and defrosting

The microwave considers the actual weight of the food, and works out the time needed to cook the food safely.

Chaos defrost

Uses random pulses of microwave energy to reduce the usual defrosting time even more.

Child lock

Prevents little fingers accidentally starting a programme or interfering with the cooking.

Drop-down door

This makes putting in and taking out food easier, and it makes a handy place to rest your hot dishes on.

Linings

Microwave ovens are much easier to clean than conventional ones. Top models also feature catalytic or pyrolytic liners, which are self-cleaning, so there’s never any build up of food or grease.

Multiple-sequence cooking

This automatically changes the power levels during cooking, ensuring the best cooking time; for example, first defrosting, then cooking the food.

Preset programmes

Some models have pre-set programmes; for example, from cooking popular foods to reheating and defrosting, taking the guesswork out of cooking.

Sensor cooking

The microwave automatically detects moisture in the food and the oven’s humidity, and then adjusts the power levels and cooking time accordingly, for the best results.

Turbo reheat

An added boost of power: great for reheating soups or baked beans!

Hints and tips

  • Use only microwave-safe containers or tableware. Ceramics, glassware and some plastics are fine but don’t use anything with a metal trim. Never use any metal containers or objects - even twist-ties, as they have metal in them. If in doubt, consult the manufacturer’s directions.

  • Leave any covered food vented when cooking it, so the steam can escape.

  • When cooking large amounts, stir the food halfway through the cooking time: this will help to reduce any possible ‘cold spots’.

  • Leave the food to stand for 2 minutes once it’s cooked, as the heat will continue to spread through the food.

  • Be careful when taking food out: although the container may not be that hot, the food inside will be.

  • Keep your microwave clean, as a dirty oven will cook more slowly and unevenly. Avoid using scouring pads, steel wool or other abrasives.

  • Don't press Start on your microwave when it's empty, as the microwaves will bounce off the interior walls and could cause damage.

  • You can’t use microwave ovens for sterilising baby bottles or other food utensils.

  • Check with your doctor if you have a pacemaker. Modern pacemakers are protected against interference, but some older ones may still be adversely affected by proximity to a microwave oven.

Defrost, reheat and cook foods fast.

All the features of a standard microwave oven, but with an internal grill.

A combined microwave, grill and convection oven gives you more flexibility.

A built-in microwave oven offers a designer look to your kitchen.