If you get it right, a microwave can quickly become one of your best friends in the kitchen. Of course, what you want to use the microwave for will govern what type you should buy, so it. We’ve outlined the different styles of microwaves available and done the research to recommend the best.
For more unbiased expert buyer’s guides to investment kitchen kit, visit our reviews section to find over 400 round-ups of everything from the best fridge freezers and best slow cookers to the best dishwashers and best kettles. Read more about how our experts review products.
Jump to section:
- Best combination microwave for high functionality and price: Hotpoint Supreme Chef MWH 338 SX, £329
- Best combination microwave overall: Sage The Combi Wave 3-in-1 Microwave Oven, £399.95
- Best combination microwave for steam cooking: Panasonic Combi Microwave Oven 4-in-1 NN-CS89LBBPQ, £499
- Best combination microwave for families: Panasonic 4-in-1 Combi Microwave Oven NN-DS59NBBPQ, £449
- Best combination microwave for style: Smeg 34-litre Combi-Microwave Oven, £429
- Best budget microwave: Russell Hobbs RHMD714G Scandi Microwave, £84.97
- Best microwave for small spaces: Swan Retro Digital Microwave, £94.95
- Best microwave for ease of use: Russell Hobbs Buckingham digital microwave, £90
- Best microwave for Scandi kitchens: Swan Nordic digital microwave, £99.99
- Best microwave for longevity: Bosch HMT84M451B Solo microwave, £159
Hotpoint Supreme Chef MWH 338 SX – Star buy
Best combination microwave for high functionality and price
Wattage: 900W (1200W for grill)
Star rating: 5/5
This multi-cooking microwave has similar functions to some of the other models we tested, but its performance, ease of use and clear instructions made it stand out from the rest. Offering microwaving, grilling and a convection oven, it’s got everything the average kitchen might need in one.
It does the basics very well but comes loaded with settings and functions, including dough-rising and butter-softening. The ‘Dual Crisp’ function produced excellent results when we tested bacon. Overall, this was our favourite microwave: a robust option that can do pretty much everything except the washing-up.
Read our full Hotpoint Supreme Chef microwave review.
Sage The Combi Wave 3-in-1 Microwave Oven – Star buy
Best combination microwave overall
- Super easy to use, endless clever functions
- Great for families
- Need adjusting from usual temperatures
Star rating: 5/5
As we have come to expect from Sage, with their intuitive technology, good looks and ease of use, this combi-microwave is no exception and more. Thanks to the well-written, logical instruction book of many preset programmes and cooking methods, it was one of the fastest to get up and running. Say hello to healthy cooking with the 3-in-1 merging of air-frying, convection and microwave and perfectly cooked food using their Element iQ™ inverter system, which steers power to where and when it’s needed.
Read our full Sage The Combi Wave 3-in-1 Microwave Oven review.
Panasonic Combi Microwave Oven 4-in-1
Best combination microwave for steam cooking
- Technology at its best
- Steam for healthy cooking
- Confusing instruction book
Wattage: 1000W (1300W for grill)
Star rating: 4.5/5
The Panasonic 4-in-1 Combi was both the largest and most expensive combi microwave on our test. Still, it comes with a wealth of programmes and presets, including 12 combi-cooking options and 36 auto programmes. This is the only combi to offer steam for healthy, nutritious and super tasty food. For its sheer size and power, the Panasonic is remarkably quiet, easy to use and will easily replace a regular oven for those with less space or supplement for those who need more capacity.
Read our full Panasonic Combi Microwave Oven 4-in-1 review.
Panasonic 4-in-1 Combi Microwave Oven NN-DS59NBBPQ
Best combination microwave for families
- Oven-style door, great for small kitchens
- Plenty of functions
- Easy to fill and empty water containers
- Comprehensive manual
- Window steams up easily
- Jacket potato not cooked through
Wattage: 1000W (1350W for grill)
Star rating: 4.5/5
Another Panasonic 4-in-1 model, but this one comes with fewer cooking options and programmes than its older sibling above. Like the above four-in-one model, the DS59 can steam foods, be used as an oven, grill and, of course, microwave. It also comes with a generous selection of presets for ultra-specific cooking. There are six combi-cooking options and 28 auto programmes.
Unique to this model is the steam cooking function. Great for steamed veggies and fish, this setting is an ideal choice for cooking healthier, more nutritious and altogether tasty food, but we put this setting to the test by making a batch of delicious steamed gooey toffee puddings. These were perfectly moist, bouncy and perfectly baked. When testing the defrosting function, we found it was a little ferocious, with the thinner parts of our raw chicken turning white.
This is a large piece of kit but, like the other Panasonic model, we envision people using this instead of their oven for smaller, everyday dishes or even as an extension of their existing oven. A great option for four or five people thanks to its 27L capacity.
Smeg 34-litre Combi-Microwave Oven
Best combination microwave for style
- Super-powerful yet quiet
- Generous 34 litres
Star rating: 4.5/5
As we would expect from Smeg, their combi-microwave is a lovely looking, well-built, stainless steel oven that will stand out in any kitchen. There are ten programmes and 40 settings behind its seemingly simple interface. The shortcuts menu of super-useful settings covers all bases from melting butter and chocolate to a handy 30-second time increase while cooking. With a generous 34 litres, the Smeg will work well in any household needing extra capacity.
Read our full Smeg 34-litre combi microwave oven review.
Russell Hobbs RHMD714G Scandi Microwave
Best budget microwave
- No baked potato setting
Star rating: 4/5
The Russel Hobbs Scandi Microwave may be small with just 17 litres capacity. Still, it is big in good looks with its soft touch wood effect accents and mirrored door with programmes and settings rarely found in a microwave of this size and price, including eight auto-cook settings and various handy shortcuts. At just 700W, the Scandi may take a little longer to cook, but if you want a small, functional, good-looking microwave, then this is the one.
Read our full Russell Hobbs Scandi Microwave review.
Swan Retro Digital Microwave
Best microwave for small spaces
- Retro styling
- Perfect for small spaces
Star rating: 4/5
Brighten up your kitchen with this retro-styled microwave which comes in a range of 11 different colours, so something for everyone. The footprint is small and, at just 20 litres, this is not a microwave for families but one to sit beautifully in any small kitchen. It comes with several added extras, including a range of auto-programmes from defrosting by weight between 0.1 and 2kg and 12 simple auto cooking programmes, each with further choices.
Read our full Swan Retro Digital Microwave review.
Russell Hobbs Buckingham digital microwave
Best microwave for ease of use
If you’re looking for a reliable, sturdy, basic microwave which you can set up and start cooking with in no time, this is a great option. It has few added extras but above average cooking prowess. Its defrost option impressed, evenly defrosting a chicken breast without leaving frozen patches, as did the preset baked potato function. Instructions are very clear and detailed, meaning extras are easy to use.
Read our full Russell Hobbs Buckingham microwave review.
Swan Nordic digital microwave
Best microwave for Scandi kitchens
Microwaves are notoriously bulky and monochrome, so the matte-coloured finish of this Scandi-influenced Swan oven is a welcome addition to the microwave scene. Its diminutive size makes it a good option for smaller kitchens, although its 20-litre capacity matches its footprint, so we wouldn’t recommend this for larger families.
Read our full Swan Nordic digital microwave review.
Bosch HMT84M451B Solo microwave
Best microwave for longevity
With an impressive 25-litre capacity, 315mm turntable and 900W maximum power, the Bosch Solo is a good choice for families. Bosch is a heritage brand and its ‘Invented for Life’ label carries some heft, so we’d expect this to endure the test of time. It’s a utilitarian machine with intuitive buttons and simple presets, although spud lovers should be aware there’s no baked potato option. However, we used pack instructions to blast a potato and the results were good.
Read our full Bosch Solo microwave review.
Other microwaves tested and rated
Life is complicated enough without the added stress of trying to get your head around microwave terminology. To break it down for you, there are three types of microwave – generally speaking, you will pay more for each additional feature a model offers.
We suggest working out what you’d like to use your microwave for as this will determine which microwave you should buy. Maybe you simply want to defrost meat, cook ready meals and prep the odd baked potato. You may also want your microwave’s performance to rival an oven’s in terms of crispness and water retention. Or do you want something which goes even further and will, in effect, replace your oven by offering grilling, microwaving and convection cooking in one?
Unless otherwise stated in the product title, most microwaves tend to be classed as ‘microwave-only’. This means they’ll perform the basic tasks expected of them – heating up or defrosting food. If you don’t fancy blowing the budget and you only need the basic features, then a classic microwave will serve you well.
A grill microwave goes one step further than a traditional model and is able to grill food, giving foods such as bacon that authentically grilled texture rather than making them dry out.
This is the closest you’ll find to a traditional oven in microwave form. Depending on how much you fork out, some models will even be able to bake sponge cakes. What’s more, they also have the ability to brown foods – so if you’re trying to achieve a perfectly crisp baked potato, a combination microwave will certainly do the trick.
A solo microwave
If you simply want to defrost the occasional dish or piece of meat, reheat a beverage or leftovers and fast-bake a potato, then a simple microwave will do the job perfectly and not break the budget. Standard microwaves tend to be smaller, so if space is tight, this will be perfect, but if you have several to cook for, you may want to look for a larger size or, instead of a classic turntable, flatbed microwaves tend to be larger, and they are easier to clean.
Microwave and grill
The next step from the solo microwave is to add a grill for crisping up, browning, or fuss-free grilled bacon. You may, however, want to consider size as the grill does take up room in what often is already a smallish cavity – though, on some more expensive models, the grill element is enclosed, which helps.
Combi microwave oven
Should you have more room, a big family or want extra cooking capacity from time to time, then the combi is worth a look. They once had bad press for being a costly mistake; the element for the oven was exposed and challenging to clean and took up space in the cavity, but the latest technology has almost eliminated those issues (with hidden oven elements).
The straightforward combi will give you an extra oven to cook and bake, just like a regular oven, which can be a real bonus for smaller households, second homes, student accommodation or small flats.
A level up from this are the two-in-ones, which combine oven-cooking with the speed of microwaving for either cooking from scratch or ready meals to get supper on the table in no time.
3-in-1 microwave, oven and grill, (or with some air frying) and even 4-in-1 (all as before plus steam).
All these extras come at a price and are a serious investment, so work out what you want from yours, and as you can see from our round-up, there are plenty to choose from.
If you are replacing an old microwave, you may be intrigued to find microwaves with inverter technology. Whatever you were used to with your old oven, you will be amazed at how this technology has changed using a microwave, and for the better. Without getting into science, this new technology means the oven constantly operates at the correct power for whatever is cooking, unlike an old oven where the power fluctuates continuously. The result is gentle cooking resulting in juicer, moist, evenly heated food.
When asked, our readers told us their main reasons for using a microwave were defrosting, reheating meals and cooking porridge. So, we blasted jacket potatoes to make sure they cooked through to the centre yet stayed moist at the edges. We defrosted chicken breasts and then cooked them through in the microwave too, looking for a tender, juicy finish. Where applicable, we also grilled bacon and if the microwave had a steam function, we made gooey toffee puddings.
Each product was tested against a set testing matrix. The results of this decided each product’s overall star rating. The following were:
Ease of use: microwaves are used mainly by those who want to make life simpler. We looked for pared-down functionality, simple design and easy-to-follow instruction booklets.
Cooking versatility: we wanted to know if customising settings and using presets delivered equally good results.
Defrosting: an essential function for most, we looked for effective thawing, with presets a bonus.
Moisture retention: we checked the food didn’t dry out before it had finished cooking.
Additional features: small extra features like a child lock or kitchen timer were appreciated, plus we looked at how well more prominent features such as grills and convection ovens performed.
Size: we assessed the size of the microwave and the space it took up in the kitchen. The models we tested need to be installed a specified height above the floor, with plenty of room all around for ventilation.
Sustainability: we looked at everything from the recyclability of the packaging, spare parts information, the warranty of the microwave, the wattage and more.
Cleaning: the ease of cleaning both inside and out and finger marking, especially on stainless steel.
Microwave recipes and tips
10 dishes you can cook in a microwave
10 easy, healthy microwave meals
How to cook food in a microwave
Microwave mug cakes
Microwave banana pudding
Microwave coffee and walnut cake
Food writer and appliance reviewer Elaine Lemm is a former chef trained at the Ritz Escoffier School in Paris and was the owner of renowned cookery school Cuisine Eclairée for 10 years with bases in the UK, Italy, France, and Sweden. She now shares her passion for food and cooking as a freelance writer and has written for many leading titles including five years writing about and developing recipes on British and Irish food for the New York Times Company online and was voted one of the top 50 food writers in the UK by The Press Gazette. Read on for her top microwave picks, from the best budget microwave to microwaves for families, stylish kitchens or unique functionality.