Microwaves are the easy way to heat meals and defrost meat. Combination microwaves can also be used as an oven to bake, roast and grill. If kitchen space is a squeeze, a combination model could replace your regular oven.
We’ve tested standard and combination microwave ovens by cooking broccoli, defrosting mince and chicken, and reheating quiche. We've also tested combination models by baking scones, roasting chicken and cooking pizza.
Snapshot: The Home & Co 20L Microwave EM720CWW (F)-PM is a standard microwave with 10 power levels, auto cook and auto reheat. How well does it defrost mince and chicken?
Snapshot: The Home & Co 25L Stainless-Steel Front Microwave EM925ENV is a standard microwave with 10 power levels, auto cook and auto reheat. How well does it defrost mince and chicken?
Snapshot: The Kogan 32L Convection Microwave Oven with Grill KAMWO32CSSA is a benchtop combination microwave with 5 power levels, auto cook and auto reheat. How well does it cook and grill?
Snapshot: The Home & Co 34L Microwave EM134AL7 is a standard microwave with auto-cook and auto-reheat. How well does it defrost mince and chicken?
Snapshot: The Living & Co 900W 30L Microwave LM900B is a standard microwave with auto-cook. How well does it defrost mince and chicken?
Snapshot: The DeLonghi DE60COMBI is a built-in combination microwave with 5 power levels, auto cook and auto reheat. How well does it cook and grill?
Snapshot: The Electrolux EMF2527BA is a benchtop combination microwave with 5 power levels, auto cook and auto reheat. How well does it cook and grill?
Snapshot: The Whirlpool GT286BLM is a microwave with a grill and crisp and has 5 power levels. How well does it defrost mince and chicken?
Snapshot: The Whirlpool JQ280IX is a benchtop combination microwave with 7 power levels and auto-cook. How well does it cook and grill?
Snapshot: The Miele M6012 SC is a 25L standard microwave with auto-cook. How well does it defrost mince and chicken?
Snapshot: The Miele M 6262 TC is a 48L microwave with a grill and 7 power levels. How well does it defrost mince and chicken?
Snapshot: The Samsung ME6104ST-1 is a standard microwave with 10 power levels, auto cook and auto reheat. How well does it defrost mince and chicken?
Snapshot: The Samsung ME6124ST-1 is a standard microwave with 10 power levels, auto cook and auto reheat. How well does it defrost mince and chicken?
Snapshot: The Samsung ME-83D-1W is a standard microwave with 6 power levels, auto cook and auto reheat. How well does it defrost mince and chicken?
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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.
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 of 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. Some standard microwaves can grill, which make them more versatile.
A combination microwave combines two appliances in one. They can be used as a microwave, an oven, and in combination mode (combining microwave, bake and grill functions).
A combo may suit if you have a studio apartment, caravan, or holiday home with limited space for both a microwave and an oven. It can also be a useful addition to a full kitchen if you often use more than one oven at a time.
Combination microwaves can be benchtop or built-in. Some can be installed either way.
Built-in ovens are great for smaller kitchens as they save on bench space. They can be integrated within a kitchen to fit in with other appliances and usually sit flush with cupboard units. These models need a “trim kit” but this may need to be bought separately. They should be installed by a qualified electrician. Benchtop ovens must be freestanding – they can’t be placed in a cabinet. They also shouldn’t be put where heat and steam are produced (for example, next to a conventional oven).
In convection and combination modes, combination microwaves get hotter than standard microwaves do, so ensure all minimum recommended clearances are observed. You’ll find these measurements in the installation instructions.
As a general rule, the more features the higher the price. So think about what you’ll use your microwave for – if you’re only going to use it to reheat cups of forgotten coffee or last night’s leftovers a standard model will do the job.
Most people don’t get the most out of their microwave and only use a few functions. Reading your microwave’s manual and a bit of trial and error will give you a new perspective on what they can do.
Some models in our test use inverter technology, which claims to cook more evenly. Inverter microwaves deliver continuous heating at reduced power. So, for example, if you select 50 percent power the microwave delivers a true 50 percent power, not a “pulsed” delivery of full power half the time (like most microwaves do). If you have a Bluetooth connection there’s also a risk your inverter microwave will interfere with it.
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.
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.
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.
This allows you to programme the microwave to perform a sequence of functions, such as defrost and then cook.
This allows you to push a sequence of buttons to deactivate the microwave.
These can be used to time other tasks – such as boiling an egg – without operating the microwave.
This lets you increase or decrease the cooking time without stopping the oven.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The best way to defrost meat and poultry is overnight in the fridge, under cold running water, or quickly in a microwave. Never defrost meat or poultry by leaving it at room temperature.
If you’re defrosting a whole chicken in the microwave, put it on a microwave-proof rack so that the meat doesn’t sit in the thawed ice and start to cook. Don’t defrost meat in its wrapping – and don’t let any part of it get warm and/or brown during defrosting. After defrosting, leave meat to “stand” so it can reach a uniform temperature (for mince that’s about 10 minutes; whole chicken takes about 15 minutes).
Meat defrosted in the microwave should be cooked immediately. Never refreeze raw meat that’s been defrosted. It’s OK to freeze it after it’s been cooked.
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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