Microwave ovens

microwave in kitchen

Which type of microwave is right for you?

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.

From our test

View all

Join us now to unlock this content

Unlock all of Consumer from just $12 a month

  • Heaps of buying advice so you can choose with confidence
  • Independent reviews of thousands of products and services
  • Personal advice an email or phone call away on our advice line (members only)
Log in

Microwave types

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.

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.

Combination microwaves

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 microwave 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.

Choosing the right type

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.

Standard 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 18 to 35 litres based on their claimed internal capacity. For larger families, look for at least 30L, which will have a larger turntable and more interior height.
  • Check the external dimensions, including the power cord at the back, will 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 usually 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.

Inverter

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.

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 usable space carefully. Will it fit your dishes? Take your largest microwave cookware dish with you to make sure.
  • 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.
  • Unlike a standard oven, a combo microwave should be cleaned each time you use it. If you don’t, any grease or food residue will be baked on next time you use it and be difficult to remove.
  • Combos are more versatile than a benchtop oven – a benchtop oven can bake, roast and grill, but can’t do microwave functions. For a similar space, you’ll get better cooking performance and more versatility than a benchtop oven.
  • Combos don’t perform as well as a built-in or freestanding oven. There’s no bottom element so there’s limited browning and crisping for foods that require base cooking, such as pizza, pies and pastry.

Microwave functions

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.

Microwave cooking tips

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.
14apr microwave ovens frozen chicken default

Safe defrosting

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.

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.

Reliability

We asked our members about their microwaves to find out which brand is most reliable.

To see which brands are best, become a paying Consumer member or log in.

Advisory default

Consumer Advice Line

Paying members can contact the Consumer Advice Line with any consumer-related issue. Anyone can call the Advice Line if they have an issue with a Consumer Trusted business.

Become a paying member

Appliances clp promo default

More Appliances reports

Check out more of our tests, articles, news and surveys in our Appliances section.

Browse reports