A microwave oven

If you're thinking about buying a microwave, here's what to consider.

Size

  • Standard microwaves vary in size from around 20 to 35 litres based on their claimed internal capacity.
  • Check how much usable space it has – actual capacity can be less than what manufacturers say. Make sure it will fit your microwave cookware and your baking dishes – take a dish with you to see how it fits.
  • Check the external dimensions will let it fit in the desired spot in your kitchen. You'll need to allow at least 10mm (preferably 50mm) at the sides and back where the heat vents are located for ventilation.


Power

  • Most ovens have around 1000 watts of cooking power. That's plenty. Smaller ovens work fine on 600 to 800 watts, and larger ones are often up to 1200W.
  • Generally speaking, the greater the wattage, the faster the food cooks. However, we've usually found the claimed wattage is quite different from the actual power output, so don't put too much faith in the numbers. Most of the models we've tested had a lower output wattage than claimed. So, use cooking times in recipes as a guide only.


 Ease of use

  • Easy-to-use controls and instructions are a must.
  • If you like to see what's cooking, make sure the window is large and gives a clear view.
  • Check that the oven light gives good illumination of the turntable.
  • Cheaper ovens may still have rotary controls, which some users find easier to use. Digital touchpad controls and displays suit others. Make sure the display letters and control labels are large enough to be easily read.


 Cleaning

  • Check inside for vents and cracks where grease and grime can hide.
  • Racks and turntables that are easy to remove make cleaning easier.
  • A stainless steel exterior looks more stylish, although it's harder to keep clean than plastic.
  • Tip: Keep the walls and ceiling of your microwave clean, and your food will cook faster. Heating a bowl of water in the microwave will make splatters and splashes easy to wipe off.


Cooking features

Think about what you need – the usual rule is the more features the more you pay.

  • Automatic programmes make defrosting, cooking and reheating more convenient. Automatic defrost usually prompts you to enter the weight and type of food, and the oven calculates the time. Common automatic programmes are for potatoes, fresh vegetables, rice, drinks, meat, soups, and frozen dinners.
  • Sensor programmes measure vapours emitted during cooking to control the cooking time. You don’t have to estimate cooking times and food quantities. Our previous test of sensor-models found sensors didn’t always achieve the best results.
  • Quick/boost start: This starts the oven, usually by pressing a single button. With most models, the cooking time increases in 30-second or one-minute steps. It’s particularly handy for reheating.
  • Multi-stage cooking allows you to programme the microwave to perform a sequence of functions, such as defrost and then cook.
  • Child safety lock: Allows you to push a sequence of buttons to deactivate the microwave.
  • Standalone timers can be used to time other tasks – such as boiling an egg – without operating the microwave.
  • Adjust time during cooking lets you increase or decrease the cooking time without stopping the oven.

Combination models

Combination microwave ovens have all the features of a standard microwave plus a top and bottom element. See Combination microwaves for more information.

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