AN INDISPENSABLE piece of kitchen kit, a cheap microwave should be a part of everyone’s cooking repertoire.
But with prices ranging from as little as £40 to over £1,000 for built-in combination models with all the bells and whistles, it’s difficult to know which to go for.
No need to fret, though, as we’ve broken it down into the different types of microwave available and what they do, size, capacity and basic functions that all microwaves should have.
Since we’re concentrating on cheap microwaves, you can safely assume there won’t be any in the sky-high price bracket on our list as they often have high-tech features that most people simply wouldn’t use.
After all, when was the last time you needed to cook a rotisserie chicken and rued the day your microwave didn’t have that ability?
Make a list of what you usually use your microwave for or what you’d like it to do that your current one can’t.
If you just defrost food or warm up a pot of baked beans from time to time, a basic model will be fine.
But if you’d like one that has the ability to cook like an oven and takes all the guesswork out of doing so, a combination model could be for you.
Next, work out where in your kitchen the microwave will sit.
Ideally, you need a 15cm gap both above and behind the appliance for ventilation, even more for combination models.
If you don’t have the worktop space, bear in mind that they can be wall-hung with brackets.
The next thing to look at is the size of the turntable and the height of the interior, rather than the capacity/volume.
A turntable that’s 25cm or more in diameter an interior height above 20cm is what you should be aiming for.
Microwave with grill
These have all the features of a regular microwave, but with an internal grill.
The combination of a heating element as well as microwave cooking means your food will be browned as well as cooked – an anaemic-looking chicken breast is never a good thing…
The microwave and grill can be used separately or together.
This is basically a microwave, grill and oven all in one, providing all the flexibility you could ask for. All three elements can be used separately, while the microwave and grill can be used together. You can also bake in combination ovens, but these models tend to be bigger than microwave-only and microwave-with-grill designs.
This varies from about 17 litres to over 32 litres. Single people or couples will get on fine with a 20-litre model, while families should go for one that’s 25 litres and above. But remember, it’s the size of the turntable and the interior height that’s more important here.
Microwave power is measured in watts. The higher the wattage, the quicker your food will cook. They range from 650W to a whopping 1,950W, the most common being 800 and 850W.
Handy, time-saving and designed to take the guesswork out of cooking, look for autocook/reheat/defrost, which will automatically work out the length of time it takes to cook an item of food once you’ve entered its weight.
One-touch controls are pre-set programmes that allow you to reheat and defrost popular foods by pressing just one button, while auto-weight cook will automatically calculate the cooking time of your food according to how much it weighs.
We’ve found two microwave-only models, two microwaves with grill and two combi designs that all offer incredibly good value.
1. Black 700w 20L Manual Microwave
- Black 700W 20-litre Manual Microwave, £45, Dunelm – buy here
A brilliant entry-level model if all you really use a microwave for is to heat up food and defrost that chilli you cooked last week.
This smart black design has five power settings, a defrost setting, a 35-minute timer and a one-year guarantee.
You can’t really say fairer than that for less than £50.
2. Flatbed Digital Microwave
- Flatbed Digital Microwave, £50 (was £59), George Home – buy here
This is a brilliant find, firstly because it has money off, and secondly because it has no turntable, meaning you can heat up food on much larger plates and in square or rectangular dishes.
It has five power levels, a 700W output, a defrost setting and is 20 litres in capacity.
3. Cookworks 800W Grill Microwave D80H
- Cookworks 800W Grill Microwave D80H in Silver, £64.99, Argos – buy here
One of the cheapest microwaves with grills we’ve found that doesn’t compromise on features.
The microwave is 800W, the grill is 900W, there are eight programmes, a defrost option, a 20-litre capacity and a roomy 24.5cm turntable.
4. Sharp R664 Compact Grill Microwave
- Sharp R664 Compact Grill Microwave, £74.99 with free delivery, Amazon – buy here
Similar to the Cookworks model but slightly more powerful and with a couple more programmes, this is a great-value microwave with grill and comes with free delivery to keep your wallet even happier.
The microwave is 800W and the grill nice and powerful at 1,000W, plus it has a 20-litre capacity, 10 automatic programmes and a kitchen timer, too.
5. Hokku designs 20-litre 800W Countertop
- Hokku designs 20-litre 800W Countertop Microwave, £90.99 (was £99.99), Wayfair – buy here
6. Hotpoint MWH2734B Freestanding Combination
- Hotpoint MWH2734B Freestanding Combination Microwave in Black, £149.99, John Lewis – buy here
Probably the best-looking combination microwave we’ve found at a still-decent price, this design has some nifty features that make it well worth the extra money.
It’s nice and roomy at 25 litres and has six power levels with an 800W microwave and a 900W grill.
But the best features are probably the full-surface quartz grill with self-cleaning function and the Dynamic Crisp function for super-crunchy pizza bases.
A two-year guarantee is also included in the price.
If our round-up of cheap microwaves isn't what you're after, we've also looked at the best microwaves with extra features.
Looking for more great household goods? Read more home products reviews.
Check out our full range of product reviews in the Sun Selects homepage.
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