A microwave can be one of the biggest timesavers in your kitchen. Whether you’re heating milk, grilling a pizza or cooking a full-on roast dinner, there’s a microwave to suit every taste and budget.
But how do you pick the right one for you? With so many features, options and styles, deciding which microwave would suit your lifestyle isn’t easy.
That’s why we’ve come up with a guide to the questions you should be asking yourself when shopping for a new or replacement microwave.
Whirlpool MAX Microwaves
What do I want to cook in my microwave?
It’s the most obvious question so let’s start here. Are you simply looking to warm up a pot of beans or reheat last night’s takeaway?
Or are you hoping to find something a little more versatile to brown dishes, cook pizza or give your jacket potato a crispy skin.
Then there’s the third aim of using your microwave as a second oven, or even your only oven. Do you want to be able to roast a chicken, cook other joints of meat and/or have extra room at Christmas for example, to do the potatoes and other side dishes when your main oven is full.
What type of microwave will I need?
Once you understand what you’ll be cooking in the microwave, you can focus on the type to suit you from a choice of three.
A standard microwave is the most basic and comes with simple settings and timers designed purely for reheating, warming, defrosting and ready meals. A favourite with students, they’re also great for anyone on a budget who just wants to use the microwave occasionally.
A microwave featuring a grill is the next level up. This allows you to crisp your food, make toast, brown dishes and do things like pizza. It can be far more useful than a standard model for those living alone and small families.
Combination microwaves are the top-of-the-range with an oven inside that can cook a proper family meal. They are great for additional cooking space or even as the only way to roast, making them perfect for those with small kitchens and busy professionals who don’t cook regularly.
Do they all come in different sizes?
By nature of the technology, combination ovens will generally be larger both on the outside and inside than standard models. These can range from as small as just 13 litres internally, which is perfect for those with limited worktop space.
Combis can go up to 40 litres with grill microwaves sitting somewhere in between – but there are various size-related options to think about.
For example, couples might look for ones with extended turntables to fit two ready meals inside at once or families might benefit from a microwave with dual shelving.
Panasonic now have flatbed microwaves that do away with the turntable entirely to create more space inside and use inverter technology to heat the food with a constant pulse without it having to move. The Whirlpool Max range has a more diagonal shape to its sides and a rounded back, to fit neatly into a corner.
Before you go out shopping for a microwave, ensure you measure the space you have available. One with a pull down door, rather than it opening to the side, might suit the space better. If it is going on a shelf, you can buy trim kits to make it seem as if the microwave is fully built-in to your kitchen units.
How complicated are microwaves to use?
Microwave technology has moved on a lot in the past few years and no longer do you have to settle for a manual dial control to select the cooking time. These do still exist though for those wanting the most basic operation.
But even microwaves that have lots of buttons, dials, electronic controls or touch-sensitive panels aren’t as complicated as they look.
Pre-programmed buttons for the most common food and dishes create cooking cycles with just one press. For some products, you simply need to enter their weight and then let the microwave do its stuff. Many packets also have letters or symbols which correspond to those on the microwave for easy selection.
Older technology still exists that features a sensor inside to detect the food weight while others have delayed start options or memory banks to program with the cooking jobs you do most often.
What else should I consider?
Colour is always a key factor for many people but with microwaves these days, you don’t just have to settle for white. Silver and stainless steel are also available but come in a higher price bracket as you move through those finishes. Black and red are also popular.
Power levels are less important with today’s microwaves, especially in terms of grills and combinations. The higher the power, the faster food will cook and it can range from 700 watts to 1200. Automatic power selection is common now though and is managed by the pre-programmed buttons for different types of food.
If you’re cooking in the microwave often, consider investing in one with a wipe-clean lining. This will save the need to scrub it with special products or cloths to remove any splatters. More expensive models may have catalytic self-cleaning linings.
Do I have to spend a fortune on one?
Prices of microwave range wildly depending on whether you look at own-brand products such as Hitachi, Goodmans or Prestige or brands such as Panasonic, Whirlpool or Sharp. A standard microwave can be bought for as little as £30.
Grills and combinations can start as cheap as £50 but go all the way up to £299 for the most feature-filled model.
Microwaves can also save you money on electricity and gas compared to conventional cooking as all the energy goes into cooking the food from the start. They also use little or no additional water and fat, which could make for healthier meals.
By simply entering the weight and type of food, the microwave will determine the power and length of time it needs to cook.
The option to create your own pre-programs based on the food you cook most often.
The option to reduce the level of power used during the cooking cycle. Handy for defrosting bread or warming up dishes without re-cooking them.
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