What’s the difference between a microwave and combi microwave?
Microwaves get their name from the microwave energy they use to heat food. But many microwave ovens are combination or combi microwaves, so called because they use not only microwaves but also convection and radiant heating to cook your food – just like your oven and grill. This means combi microwaves are well-suited for a variety of food preparation tasks – from melting chocolate and butter to browning certain meats and baked goods – not just reheating leftovers.
Combi microwaves start at around £80 and go all the way up to £500, with countless models on the market.
What makes a great combi microwave?
One reason microwaves have a bad reputation is their penchant for cooking and reheating food unevenly, with some parts of a dish noticeably better done than others. This isn’t entirely the fault of the microwave – some foods will absorb heat more rapidly than others.
The vast majority of microwaves use a turntable to try to counteract this – it automatically rotates your food, attempting to ensure that it’s as evenly heated as possible by the oven’s fixed heating element. Alternatively, some microwaves have a flatbed design, which eschews a turntable in favour of a rotating heating element. This is supposed to cook and heat food more evenly, but this isn’t necessarily the case as our tests show.
What wattage should I go for?
Manufacturers list the output power of their microwaves with a wattage. In theory, a higher wattage means the microwave should cook your food more quickly and efficiently. In practice, no microwave will reach its stated output wattage as inherent inefficiencies result in input power wasted as excess heat.
It’s also worth noting that various standards for measuring output wattage have been used over the years, so the stated wattage of the trusty 1980s model still limping along in your gran’s kitchen can’t be easily and directly compared to new models on sale today.
What difference does internal volume make?
One advantage that flatbeds do have is that the absence of a turntable that allows you to fit bigger or awkwardly shaped dishes inside the microwave compared to a turntable model. All manufacturers quote the internal usable volume of their microwaves in litres – we’ve listed a more relatable height by width by depth figure in millimetres in the reviews.
Greater internal volume obviously means a bigger microwave taking up more space on your kitchen counter – a potential problem in smaller kitchens. We’ve listed the dimensions of each microwave, including a figure with their doors open. Bear in mind that you’ll also need to leave some clearance space around the vents for expelling excess heat.
How does fan type make a difference?
The fan or fans used in a microwave to both expel excess heat and circulate hot air around food in convection mode also generate noise. This can be bothersome and intrusive, especially in homes with combined kitchen/living room areas, so we also measure the noise generated by each microwave in decibels.
The testing lab isn’t perfectly silent, due to air conditioning, but the decibel (dB) figures should give you a good idea of what to expect. Normal conversation usually takes place at 60 to 65dB, while heavy traffic and most vacuum cleaners clock in at around 70 to 85dB. The lower the dB figure, the better.
What accessories should I look out for?
We haven’t reviewed enough microwaves with features such as steamers to make any meaningful comparisons, but we do note the accessories included with each microwave. For a combi microwave, a metal grill is the least we’d expect. Anything more, from browning pans to utensils, are nice to have but shouldn’t be your primary deciding factor as third-party accessories are cheap and widely available.
How important is ease of use?
Microwave controls range from push buttons and dials to touch-sensitive buttons, sliders and even screens with menus. Those controls might be clearly labelled in English or have cryptic icons. A combi microwave might have all the features you want and be efficient, but if it’s difficult to use without reaching for the manual, it’s all for nought.