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Microwave and benchtop ovens

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Which type of oven is right for you?

We've tested a range of standard microwave ovens, combination microwave ovens and benchtop ovens. Find out how they rated.

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From our test

Which type?

Standard microwaves

A microwave oven is great for defrosting meat and reheating meals. But many can do much more: most have auto and sensor cook and reheat functions that make your microwave oven a very versatile appliance. 4 standard microwaves in our latest test can also grill.

Automatic programmes prompt you to enter the weight and type of food, and the oven calculates the time. Sensor programmes go a step further and measure vapours emitted during cooking and adjust the cooking time and power level. Reading your microwave’s manual and a bit of trial and error will help you get the most out your new appliance.

As a general rule, the more features the more you pay. So think about what you’ll use your microwave for and choose a model that has the features you need.

Compare all the standard microwave ovens we've tested.

Combination microwaves

Combination microwave ovens can cook by microwave, convection and grill cooking, or a combination of the first two methods. They suit people who like to cook a little but have limited kitchen space or live alone.

Combining several types of cooking into one appliance is a space-saver – it beats having a separate microwave and oven. But will a combination microwave be big enough for your cooking? The models we tested ranged in internal volume from 23 to 33 litres – that’s roughly half what you’d expect from a standard 60cm-wide wall oven. If you often cook more than one dish at a time (or for more than one or two people) then you’ll struggle with just a combination microwave.

Compare all the combination microwave ovens we've tested.

Benchtop ovens

These space-saving compact ovens sit conveniently on your benchtop, which means there's no bending over to get dishes in or out. But they're not well insulated, so the exterior gets very hot.

You mustn’t let anything – including yourself – get too close. And never place items (especially plastic utensils) on top of a benchtop oven.

To get the best out of any of these ovens, you'll need to experiment with cooking times and temperatures.

Benchtop ovens are fast to heat up – and in quick cooking jobs they use less energy than a full-sized oven. When it comes to longer cooking (like roasting a chicken) they lose heat through the walls … but most of the models in this test still use less energy for this sort of task than a full-sized oven.

In dollar terms, the savings aren't likely to be huge. Roasting a chicken in these benchtop ovens costs between 24 and 53 cents. In a regular full-size oven it cost 63 cents.

Compare all the benchtop ovens we've tested.

Microwaves checklist

Before buying a microwave, consider these features.

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.

Size

  • Standard microwaves vary in size from around 20 to 35 litres based on their claimed internal capacity.
  • 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.
  • 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 baking dishes.

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.

Microwave functions

Automatic programmes

These 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

These 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 1-minute steps. It’s particularly handy for reheating.

Multi-stage cooking

This allows you to programme the microwave to perform a sequence of functions, such as defrost and then cook.

Child safety lock

This allows you to push a sequence of buttons to deactivate the microwave.

Standalone timers

These can be used to time other tasks – such as boiling an egg – without operating the microwave.

Adjust time during cooking

This lets you increase or decrease the cooking time without stopping the oven.

Under the grill

Fancy a golden topping on your microwaved potato bake? 4 standard microwaves in our latest test can also grill.

We tested how well they grilled toast, plus put them through our usual tests – cooking broccoli, defrosting chicken and mince, and reheating quiche.

Become a Gold or Silver member to find out how they rated.

The combination models we've tested can also grill, as well as cooking by microwave and convection.

Combination microwave checklist

Think a combination microwave might suit you? Check these points before you buy.

  • Don’t be seduced by bells and whistles. Too many settings and features often just add confusion.
  • Try the door. It should be easy to open and stay in position without swinging open or slamming shut, especially as it can get very hot.
  • Check the useable space carefully. Will it fit your dishes? Take your largest microwave cookware dish with you to make sure.
  • And if there’s a turntable, will your dishes have enough space to rotate? On the microwave and combination settings the dish will have to rotate.

Built-in or benchtop?

Last time we tested combination microwaves, you could choose between built-in and benchtop units. This time all models we tested are designed for benchtop use – although you can get a “trim kit” for some models that lets you build your microwave into a wall cabinet. Ask the retailer if there’s a kit and whether it comes with the microwave or has to be bought separately.

Tip: Make sure you have the minimum recommended clearances around your combination microwave. They get much hotter than conventional microwaves when used for convection or combination cooking. Check the manual to get these clearances right.

Microwave oven reliability

Become a Gold or Silver member to find out which brands of microwave oven rated best in our reliability survey.

Microwave cooking tips

Tips for perfecting your microwave cooking.

Cooking hot and cold
There can be uneven heating – cold spots and hot spots – in a microwaved meal. It's important either to stir part way through cooking or to let food stand for the recommended time. This gives the heat time to distribute evenly through the food – particularly important for solid or dense dishes like lasagne, quiche and meat that can't be stirred.

Another way to attain more even temperatures is to divide food into individual portions, and to stir or turn it frequently. Uniformly shaped food cooks more evenly than irregular shapes.

Taste and appearance
Microwaving is great for fresh vegetables and fruit, as you need less water, which can dilute the natural flavour. Shorter cooking times can also help retain flavour.

On the other hand, some food fails to develop an appetising brown crust and nutty flavour with a regular microwave. You can try basting with seasonings containing food colours (such as soy sauce), otherwise your best bet is a combination oven.

Nutrient values
Microwave cooking is more nutritious than boiling as nutrients aren't lost into the cooking water. It's comparable to steaming or baking, and perhaps better as shorter cooking times may preserve more of certain nutrients.

Food poisoning
Microwaves don't kill bacteria, but heat does. At least 70°C has to be maintained for several minutes to kill most food-poisoning bacteria. The trouble is, microwaves often cook food unevenly and bacteria can survive in the cool spots.

Infant milk
Is a microwave oven suitable for warming infant milk? Babies have been severely scalded by milk heated in a microwave. Always let the milk stand for at least 20 seconds, shake it well and test it first. Overheated breast milk can coagulate (curdle) at high temperatures, causing loss of quality and nutritional value.

Superheating
Water can sometimes heat past its boiling point without bubbles forming. When you move the cup or add coffee, the water can explode into steam and cause scalding. This is called "superheating". To reduce the risk:

  • Use a wide-mouthed container.
  • Avoid using straight-sided containers with narrow necks.
  • Let the container stand for about 20 seconds after heating.
  • If you're adding sugar or instant coffee, do it before heating.
  • Check your instruction manual for more hints to avoid superheating.
  • Eggs can also superheat and explode in their shells or even when poaching. You can prick the yolks, but it's safer to avoid poaching or cooking eggs in the shell.

Microwave cookware

For microwave cooking use glassware, such as Pyrex, and plastic containers that are heat resistant and microwave safe.

China, pottery, earthenware and ceramic containers are also suitable provided they are non-porous and don't have a metal trim.

For a combination microwave’s microwave setting you can use the same cookware as you would in a standard microwave. Similarly, the cookware you’d use in an oven is fine on the convection setting or grill setting.

It's the combination setting where things get tricky: you can't use metal, non-heat-resistant plastics, or anything that isn't microwave safe. As above, stick to Pyrex-style glassware and microwave- and oven-safe china, pottery, earthenware or ceramic cookware.

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