Microwaves: Buying Guide
Nothing says convenience like a high-quality microwave. Whether it’s reheating last night’s leftovers, defrosting bread for that perfect sandwich, or using it to steam vegetables to save on hob space, a microwave lends both accessibility and style to a modern kitchen .
Current microwave technology means we’re no longer restricted to simply reheating and defrosting food. Different types of microwaves come with a range of exciting features such as humidity sensor cooking, invertor technology, and flatbed models that let you cook food exactly how you want it.
But not every microwave is right for every kitchen. To help you find the best microwave for your home, we’ve written this handy microwave buying guide to walk you through the different types of microwaves available, and the main factors you’ll need to take into account.
Before you start
When deciding on the best microwave to buy for your kitchen, it can be tempting to move towards the flashier models that offer touch-controls and rapid defrost options. However, you should avoid making any permanent decision until you’ve considered three key factors. Space, budget, and your kitchen needs.
While not as expensive as other kitchen appliances, you still want to be sure you’re getting the best value for money when buying a microwave. If you’re just planning on reheating food on a busy evening, there is little point in buying a microwave that comes with a range of fancy cooking options.
Most microwaves are small, especially when compared to major kitchen appliances such as fridges and ovens . That being said, the types of microwaves you can buy will still be determined by the size and available space of your kitchen.
Finding a location for your microwave in a large kitchen likely won’t be a problem, but if you have a small kitchen or live in a studio flat, then you’ll want to measure the space you plan to put your microwave so you can find a model that fits snuggly. Knowing how much space you have is incredibly important if you plan on purchasing an in-built microwave, as you’ll want to make sure it fits the cabinet space it’s going to be sat in.
Microwaves are a very economical investment. Even high-end models typically won’t cost more than £500. But it’s still very important to settle on a budget when deciding which microwave to buy. Having a budget in mind will not only reduce the temptation to pick up a fancier model than you actually need, but it’ll mean you have more money to put towards other important appliances, like a coffee machine .
Lastly, you need to bear in mind exactly what your cooking requirements are. If you do a lot of oven cooking and just want another appliance to handle simple things like soup, then you won’t need to buy a microwave with extensive setting options.
If, on the other hand, you find you don’t have time for cooking on a regular basis, then a grill or combi option might be the best microwave to buy. These types of microwaves let you cook a range of nutritional meals in half the time without having to do much prep work.
Types of microwaves
There are three main types of microwaves available: solo models, microwave grills, and combi-microwaves. Each model comes in a range of style options as well as providing varied levels of power, capacity, and capability, all of which you’ll need to consider when choosing which microwave to buy.
While solo models are capable of conducting simple task, a combi-microwave will often come with all the advanced functions associated with the latest in modern microwave technology. Naturally, each type of microwave has its own benefits and drawbacks. Knowing what you need in a microwave beforehand is going to key to finding the best microwaves to buy.
For a microwave that just works, you won’t need anything more than a solo microwave. Simple but stylish, their compact size lets them easily slip into most kitchens while still being able perform reheat, defrost, and basic microwave cooking options flawlessly. Solo microwaves are your standard type of microwave and are the perfect model if you only plan on using it sparingly.
Unfortunately, while solo microwaves have a huge design range, they’re small size can be a hinderance, especially if you suddenly find yourself needing to cook larger meals quickly. And while they’re definitely the best microwave to buy price wise, anything below the most expensive models will come with limited task functions.
Microwaves and grill
Microwave grills take everything that makes solo microwaves great and simply increases their size while adding a grill function. A microwave grill can do everything a solo microwave can, but the added grill allows you to cook a wider range of foods. They’re the best microwaves to buy if you want to brown your food quickly for a crispy topping.
Being larger and more capable, microwave grills are typically more expensive than solo microwaves, but the added bonuses often offset the additional cost. It’s important to consider, however, that microwave grills are still rather limited in the food they can cook. They can’t cook like an oven and are not suitable for large meals.
The most impressive of all microwave types, combi-microwaves are capable of cooking most foods, including a roast. Also called convection microwaves, a combi-microwave circulates air and heat through the microwave’s interior, allowing it to roast and bake a variety of foods. A combi-microwave is essentially a miniaturised oven but cooks food at a much faster rate.
The downside to a combi-microwave is its size. They’re much bigger and bulkier than other microwaves, and while they do cook faster than an oven, you’ll still have much less space. Unsurprisingly, combi-microwaves are the most expensive type of microwave available, but that does mean you get a variety of modern microwave features on the majority of models.
Styles of microwaves
The different types of microwaves available are not the only thing you’ll need to bear in mind when buying a microwave. To really find the best microwave for your kitchen, you need to account for a microwave’s style. Freestanding microwave models are more convenient but drawer and built-in versions provide that sought after integrated kitchen aesthetic. Your choice of microwave style will again depend on numerous factors, particularly how much space you have available.
A freestanding microwave is what most people think of when they imagine a traditional microwave. Freestanding models sit on your countertop and only need to be plugged in to function. This gives you incredible flexibility on where you can place it, making them ideal for open plan kitchens. And as a bonus, they can also be taken with you when you move.
Despite being the cheapest style of microwaves, the main drawback of a freestanding design is finding one that matches your kitchen aesthetic, especially if you have a fitted kitchen.
Speaking of fitted kitchens, if you want a microwave that will blend in seamlessly with a predetermined design, then picking a built-in model will likely be your best option. Their sleek and varied designs mean you can match them to your kitchen units or even hide them away behind a matching cupboard door. While they do need to be fitted, you can still use any type of microwave for that cooking flexibility.
However, built-in microwaves are very expensive, requiring you to purchase the microwave and then pay for the required installation costs. Ideally, if you’re looking for a built-in microwave, it’s best to do so alongside purchasing a fitted kitchen to save on cost.
A unique take on contemporary microwaves, a drawer microwave is exactly how it sounds. This style of microwave fits seamlessly under your lower kitchen cabinets or oven, meaning all you have to do is pull it out and place your food in it.
Drawer microwaves are great for small and big kitchens alike as they free up worktop space and offer improved accessibility with a modern finish. They still retain many of the best parts of other microwave types but with greater cooking space thanks to their flatbed design
Like their built-in cousins, however, they are very expensive as they’ll need to be properly fitted for accessibility and safety. They also don’t offer a convection microwave model due to the way they need to be installed, limiting them to the capabilities of solo and grill microwaves. They’re not a substitute for an oven.
Once you’ve settled on your microwave type and style, it’s time to look at the all-important features. On a basic level, you’ll want a microwave that offers a large, clear window with good interior lighting, a big door to make taking those hot bowls out easier, and clear button labelling with a well-lit screen.
As for cooking specific features, all microwaves come with an array of basic settings such as defrost and reheat but having pre-set or automatic timers can really streamline the cooking process. Touch-screen pads make interacting with your microwave seamless, and child locks offer a good protection method to stop settings being changed once your microwave is cooking.
Pre-set cooking times
All microwaves have in-built cooking times, but many models now come with a suite of pre-set times for common foods. When you select one of the various food settings, you only have to enter its weight and the microwave will work out the optimal cooking time.
On top of this, you can also purchase microwaves that come with multi-step processes that allow you to first defrost your food and then cook it.
Quick cook and quick defrost
If you find yourself rushing out at night, then you might want to find a model with a quick cook and defrost setting. Like pre-set cooking times, these settings only require the weight of your food before cooking or defrosting it in the optimal time.
Vegetable steamers are a brilliant feature to buy if you have a small kitchen hob but do a lot of cooking. Steamers can quickly cook your veg by filling the upper portion of your microwave with steam and superheating the food, leaving you with the hob space for other important sides. Steamers also have the added bonus of reducing the fat concentration in foods.
Far easier to use than typical push buttons and dials, touch panels allow you to be more precise in your timings and make microwaves more accessible for those suffering from hand injuries.
An excellent feature to have in any type of microwave, invertor technology is designed specifically to cook food at different power levels for that perfect finish. It uses an inverter circuit rather than a transformer so that it can seamlessly switch between power levels and maintain the best cooking temperature.
Other interesting sensor-based features to look out for include humidity sensors. These sensors can work out the weight of your food and the time to cook based off the steam being generated as it heats up, timing it perfectly.
Child locks are neat addition to have to avoid any unfortunate mishaps. They work by simply locking the microwave controls once it’s active to avoid the settings being changed, also requiring a firm press of the door button before it will open.
Easy clean interior
Perhaps one of the best features of many microwaves is their easy clean interiors. Many models are lined with ceramic or stainless-steel, which are both stain and odour resistant. But if you’re after the easiest clean possible, keep an eye out for microwaves with catalytic or pyrolytic linings. These are self-cleaning and absorb all the grease that comes of food. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find a microwave with a self-cleaning function to with them.
Other things to consider
Lastly, there are a few minor but still useful factors you should consider before making your final decision on which microwave to buy. Cost, power and efficiency, and a microwave’s overall capacity are worth noting to find the best model for you.
Overall, a microwave is going to cost you between £50-450. The cost of your chosen microwave will depend on type, style, and features. Solo, freestanding microwaves are often the cheapest, while a built-in combi-microwave will likely cost closer to £500.
With all that said, you can usually find the best microwaves for around £200. Just remember that the more you pay, the better its power and selection of features are likely to be.
Microwaves come in a range of powers. Smaller models operate at 600 watts but the largest can be as powerful as 1,100 watts. On average, the best microwave’s function at anywhere between 700-850 watts. This power level is more than enough to cook most foods.
You’ll also want to consider a microwave’s heat category. These ratings range from A to E, A being the least powerful and E the most. As a rule, the higher the rating, the faster your food will cook.
An important rule to remember, however, is that high power is no indication of quality. Some microwave with high power might incinerate your food while those at a mid-range price are capable of baking a cake to perfection. Bigger size equals more power requirements but not necessarily better efficiency.
While size is the external measurements of your microwave, its capacity is the internal space it has for cooking your food. Measured in litres, the smallest microwaves will only have a capacity of 15-20 litres, making them ill-suited for large meals. Grill and combi-microwaves on the other hand can be as big as 30+ litres. Capacity can also be increased by purchasing a model with flatbed technology instead of a turntable. Not only does this increase space it also lets you put in larger rectangular plates. If you plan to cook a lot in your microwave, you’ll want to pick up one with a sizable capacity.
Traditional microwaves work by venting their air out their top, back, and sides. This can be problematic as it requires you to leave space around your microwave for the air to escape, otherwise it might stain your kitchen surfaces.
More modern microwaves can be externally vented with piping but are more expensive, or you can get recirculating models that cycle air from the kitchen or internally vent, making them quieter and more economical.
Where to buy a microwave
You can purchase the best microwaves from all good kitchen retailers but at Wren Kitchens, we stock a vast range of options for you to choose from. Either pop into your nearest store or make your purchase online. Let us know exactly what you’re looking for and we’ll find the best microwave to fit your dream kitchen.
Here at Wren Kitchens, our dedicated team of experts have decades of experience behind them. If you’re looking to buy your dream kitchen, get in touch and book an appointment at one of our showroom. Together, we’ll ta ke the first steps in making that dream kitchen a reality.
If you’re interested in the best ways to clean your microwave, you can read all about it in our article on how to clean your microwave.
If you want to fit your kitchen out even further but want to do more research, you can find a range of kitchen and appliance buying guides in our inspiration section.