Best microwaves 2020: These are the best you can buy
Originally a machine of convenience, the microwave oven is now an essential part of any kitchen.
Whether you want to just heat liquids quickly (or warm up cold food), or dive into more complicated cooking modes, you need the best microwave oven. In this ranking, we’re bringing you our top choices, so that you can find the model that best suits your needs.
- Best for versatility: Panasonic NN-DF386
- Best for value: Sharp R861SLM
- Best for steam cooking: Panasonic NN-DS596
- Best for ease of use: Sage Quick Touch Crisp
- Best for features: Panasonic NN-CT585SBPQ
We’ve reviewed microwaves and combi ovens from all of the biggest manufacturers, and we’re happy to recommend five of them.
Out of the models that we’ve reviewed, two stand out. If you want the best cooking experience, mixing microwaving with grilling, the Panasonic NN-DF386 is the best model. If you’re on a tighter budget, the Sharp R861SLM is exceptional value for a combi oven.
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How we picked the best microwaves
Microwaves fall into two main categories: standard microwaves, which use a form of radio waves to rapidly heat foot, and combi ovens that also add in alternative cooking methods, including conventional ovens and grills.
The former is useful for quickly heating foods and defrosting; the latter gives you a wider choice of cooking options, suitable for all types of food.
- To test each type, we select a variety of food to cook, taking in baked potatoes, frozen pizza, defrosting bread and the like.
- We also test any special programmes or features that each model has: some Panasonic microwaves, for example, have a Pana-crunch pan, which is designed to give you a crispy finish to your cooked food.
- Usability is also exceptionally important, with many microwaves having indecipherably controls. We thoroughly test each microwave, rating it for the quality of its controls, and the options available.
1. Panasonic NN-DF386
A combi oven that can do everything a microwave can, plus create beautiful crisp food
- Excellent results
- Lots of programs
- Crisper pan
- Fairly pricey
- Not the fastest we’ve tested
If you’re after an attractive, well-featured, do-it-all appliance then you won’t go far wrong with the Panasonic DF386. Sure, it might not be able to steam-cook like its sibling in this roundup, the NN-DS596, but this combination microwave-grill-oven cooks food brilliantly. It’s a little slower than some microwaves, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in precision.
The Panasonic NN-DF386 comes with the Pana-crunch pan and an enamel tray for use with the oven or grill, and has seven auto-weight programmes for popular foods: chilled quiche, frozen potato products, pastry items, chilled pizza, frozen pizza, gratin potato and gratin pasta.
You can even use the Sensor programmes without having to enter the cooking time, weight or power level before you hit start; the NN-DS596 just works it out for itself. Other great features we love include a clock, timer delay and child-safety lock.
- Read our Panasonic DF386 review
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2. Sharp R861SLM
A great value combination oven
- Good value
- Cooks fairly evenly
- Vibrates, can be noisy
- Flatbed is a little ugly
The most striking thing about the Sharp R861SLM’s design is its unusual pull-down door, which makes the appliance look far pricier than it is. Inside, the flatbed design with no turntable offers greater cooking flexibility, and a supplied wire rack and baking tray make handy vessels for a wide range of food and meals.
The standard features include buttons to select the time in 10-minute, one-minute and 10-second increments; defrost by weight or time; plus the ability to select cooking method by microwave, grill, oven or a combination of the microwave with one of the others.
There are six auto menu functions available with a button’s press: jacket potato, pizza, rice, oven chips, cake, and roast chicken. A further seven functions offer auto reheat, beverages, vegetables, soup, grilled bacon, grilled fish pieces, and roast beef/lamb.
The only fault we found with the Sharp R861SLM is its tendency to vibrate and make noise while it cooks. That can be a little annoying, but if you’re in the market for a decent-sized microwave, grill and convection oven, its features and premium looks far outweigh that negative.
- Read our Sharp R861SLM review
3. Panasonic NN-DS596
A handy microwave that also handles steam cooking
- Steam oven
- Large capacity
- Crisper pan
- A bit bulky
The Panasonic NN-DS596 is a feature-packed microwave-grill-oven combi that also handles steam cooking. It’s perfect for anyone who frequently finds themselves short of oven space, or simply wants the convenience of a microwave with some bonus foodie features.
With a large capacity of 27 litres, plenty of smart programmes for popular foods, and a rectangular, full-width tray that slides into the appliance like an oven shelf, the NN-DS596 offers more than simply a way to heat your lunch soup. You can cook or defrost by time or weight, steam-cook in combination with the microwave or quartz grill to keep food moist, and heat food from the bottom up with the bundled ribbed cooking pan – or the Pana-crunch pan, as Panasonic calls it.
It isn’t the cheapest combi option on the market, but it’s a contemporary and high-end appliance that you’ll rely on for quick and easy meals for years to come.
- Read our Panasonic NN-DS596 review
4. Sage Quick Touch Crisp
A very easy-to-use microwave with tonnes of features
- Foodie options
- Intuitive controls
- Crisper pan
- No oven
The Sage Quick Touch Crisp is every bit the smart, sophisticated kitchen appliance we’ve come to expect from Sage. The feature-rich microwave-grill combi comes with a slew of settings to precisely cook everything from pasta and grilled cheese to vegetables and roasted nuts. In short, it’s foodie heaven – if you’re able to fork out £349.95 for the privilege.
The Quick Touch Crisp’s main settings are for straightforward cooking: a Smart Cook/Grill, and Smart Reheat or Defrost. Selecting one these from the microwaves screen leads you to written menus to select the food type, and the possibilities are almost endless. To make life a little less complicated, there are ten hidden shortcut buttons inside the door for your favourite programmes, grilling and more.
You also get a clever 290mm Crisper Pan on legs that folds down for grilling and folds away when you want the pan down low for general microwaving tasks. Plus, there’s Sage’s popular ‘A Bit More’ button, which does exactly what you’d expect.
While this is clearly an appliance designed for the keen cook, kitchen novices shouldn’t be put off. The Quick Touch Crisp is bustling with features, but it’s simple and intuitive to use, and could well be the making of nervous and inexperienced chefs.
- Read our Sage Quick Touch Crisp review
5. Panasonic NN-CT585SBPQ
A well-featured, full-size microwave combi oven
- Compact yet large capacity
- Doubles as an oven and grill
- Fast combination cooking
- Short power cable
- Food needs turning very regularly when grilling
If you’re after a full-sized, well-featured combination microwave, oven and grill that doesn’t swamp your workspace, the Panasonic NN-CT585SBPQ will prove the perfect fit. With a brushed stainless steel finish, solid design and responsive buttons, this unusually compact microwave makes light work of the full range of cooking tasks.
Its six power levels can be controlled precisely, rather than just switched on and off, thanks to its built-in inverter – and its powerful grill does a stellar job of crisping up food. It’s so powerful, in fact, that you’ll need to turn food frequently, but we have no complaints about its efficiency. Defrosting, too, is much better than with most other microwaves at this price point.
Other notable perks include a scrolling text “operation guide” that reminds you how to use the microwave. This is useful, but once you’ve got the hang of the controls, you can turn it off. Add to that a wire rack for grilling and an enamel tray for grilling and baking, and you have one of the best packages around for £200.
- Read our Panasonic NN-CT585SBPQ review
How to choose the right microwave?
What type do I need?
A basic microwave oven uses electromagnetic radiation to heat food and items only. These models can be quite cheap, and are useful for heating and reheating items rapidly, or for defrosting. They’re not particularly versatile, and some foods can be a bit soggy after being cooked in a standard microwave.
A combi oven is a microwave that also has alternative cooking options, giving you more flexibility. A conventional oven lets you cook as normal, while microwaves with integrated grills can be good for crisping up food. Some have all three options. Many of the posher microwaves can combine cooking types, starting with microwaving, for example, before finishing off with the grill or oven.
What power should I go for?
The power rating in Watts, is a useful measure for microwaves. Simply put, the higher the power setting, the quicker your microwave can heat items.
Typically speaking, the highest setting is for reheating beverages, while the lowest can help rise dough or soften ice cream; the power levels in between are for defrosting up to more gentle cooking. A 750W microwave is the minimum you should buy, but an 850W or 1000W model gives you more flexibility.
Your microwave’s manual should have a settings guide to help you choose the right option. And, many microwaves have built-in programmes that set everything automatically, such as a defrost option where you just have to enter the weight of the meat that you want to thaw.
What else should I look out for?
Cheaper microwaves still use a turntable inside, which reduces the size of dish that you can use. Look for a model with a flat bed if you want to use larger cooking dishes. Look for accessories in the form of wire racks and baking trays, and a larger range of cooking
Related: Best Kitchen Gadgets