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Do you wish for more from your microwave?

Microwaves are a gadget found in almost all kitchens. While they’re meant to be a convenient way to get the cooking done, are they really as good as we all think?

Most of us use our microwaves either for heating up meals or defrosting. But do you find your microwave sometimes doesn’t quite deliver on these relatively simple tasks?

Maybe when you defrost, some food remains frozen while some starts cooking. Or when you heat up a meal, some parts are burning hot while others are still cold. Perhaps, rather than gently melting, your butter turns to liquid. Or maybe your scrambled eggs turn grey.

Don’t try this at home

A couple of years ago my oven conked out and left me trying to cook a roast with just my microwave (I wouldn’t recommend it!).

I always find that with a conventional oven, knowing when things are done comes with experience – it’s easy to see your roast turning brown and crisping up. But with a microwave, it’s just not as easy. And when you’ve got a solid piece of food, there’s no option of stirring to help distribute the heat.

I ended up cooking my chicken for too long, as I definitely didn’t want it underdone – especially after reading our campaign on Campylobacter in chicken. I’ve since learned that cooking on a lower setting for longer would probably have resulted in a more enjoyable dinner. But, like with any kind of cooking, practice, experience of your microwave and trial and error count for a lot.

Your microwave irritations

For an upcoming feature in Which? magazine, I’d like to know what irritations and annoyances you regularly come across when cooking with your microwave. I’d especially like to know if you’ve worked out how to get round these problems.

Do you have any great tips for microwave cooking that you can pass on to us?

Comments
MsSupertech says:
7 February 2015

Many supermarkets clearly prefer to pack ready meals in rectangular container because it’s a space-efficient way to transport them. Unfortunately this tends to cause food in the corners to overcook. It can happen in conventional ovens but the effect is much more pronounced in a microwave oven. Round containers are preferable for microwave cooking.
I gave up scrambling eggs in the microwave, it’s just easy too overcook then, the timing varies so much with size and number. On the hob I’m much more in control!

I keep several round dishes beside my microwave for this reason, so anything in a rectangular container is transferred before cooking or re-heating.

I also freeze food in Pyrex bowls, which is inconvenient for storage in the freezer and I have to use several layers of cling film to cover them. Only once have I managed to buy a bowl with a plastic lid. Defrosting and heating are easy and the bowls stack easily for storage when not in use.

Glass jars and bottles often break when frozen but I have never had a glass bowl crack. The reason is that the bowls have sloping sides.

Bobb says:
7 February 2015

We have a Samsung combi microwave, and the thing that I find most irritating is that it sports two thermostats which’re nowhere in agreement! It’s far too late to do anything about it, and I’ve adapted to the thing’s oddities, but surely the manufacturers should check the devices over before delivering them to the market? Oh, and many items are to be cooked from frozen, but I’ve learned that the oven is quite unable to maintain the required temperature for long. It’s better to dump the frozen item in the microwave for a while & then bring the oven up to the required temperature again – in the hope that it’ll then cook the meal!

David Russell says:
7 February 2015

We’ve had a perfectly satisfactory microwave oven (John Lewis brand, around £200) for 4 years. The door release push-bar has always been a bit “edgy” in use. Now it has failed completely with a problem that appears to be broken plastic something inside a completely sealed unit. The something stops the push-bar going far enough to open the door. Thus a sophisticated, otherwise fully-working, machine is rendered useless by a simple mechanical fault the local mender doesn’t want to know about (in terms of time to fix, thus cost, and difficulty of getting replacement parts).
Solution? A cheap and cheerful from Sainsbury for £40.

Andrew Heathcote says:
7 February 2015

My favourite way to cook potatoes is boil them, in their skins, (small are best) ;if you want to peel them it is easy, but be careful not to burn your fingers if you want them hot

Rev Ron O'Toole says:
7 February 2015

We recently purchased the Russell Hobbs 17litre model RHM1714B microwave.
The cooker is so unbelievably complecated that after a week we still don’t use it. We even thought of taking it back to Waitrose where we purchased,but my wife said we should persevere
Why oh why sell such a machine.
We’re used to iPads,mobile phones,laptops, all the technology of the 21rst century,but this Tussell Hobbs beats us.

When my conventional microwave wore out, I bought a Panasonic Inverter model. The medium and lower power levels are proportional, (rather than pulsed between full on and off). This is ideal for cooking slowly since the food does not intermittently boil over.

A simple microwave oven controls power by varying the percentage of the time that it is on full power and producing no heating. As Xohper says, this can cause problems.

An inverter model allows the power to be varied rather than just switched on and off frequently, so it’s a lot more than one of the pointless features that manufacturers are keen on introducing. The main concern is that inverter microwaves are more complex and expensive, and there is more to go wrong. It’s worth trying to find reviews if buying an inverter microwave to find out about reliability.

My oven is now nearly 8 years old and has been faultless. It also cost a reasonable 80 pounds, which was competitive, compared with other makes of the same capacity. Although agreeing with what you say, I will buy another inverter model when this one wears out.

I’m convinced of the benefits, Xopher. My concern was over the high cost of repair of other products using inverter technology. I have not heard of any problems with inverter microwaves, so hopefully they are reliable.

KitchenHelper says:
7 February 2015

Our LG one touch microwave has rusted where the wheels for the turntable go round and round. The enamel/coating wore away from the friction of the wheels on it. Apparently we were supposed to dry out the well in which the wheeled support sits after each use of the machine.
None of our earlier microwaves needed this to be done. What a faff and what a poor design.
Design is going backwards rather than forwards. Anybody else had this problem?
We don’t cook in ours as such, using it for defrosting and heating/re-heating drinks and the occasional ready meal. Don’t like soggy baked potatoes.
We never used our combination version as a cooker because all the clutter on the top got too hot.
But our children loved making quick meringues – nothing like a real meringue but oh so quick. Also they could shove in mini frozen pizzas and micro chips and prepare their own food as and when they wished. Now that’s all they remember of the food from their childhood and have banished all the lovely home cooked (from fresh) food their mum gave them. At one stage our youngest daughter was so obsessed with the microwave that we used to have to pretend to cook fresh food in the microwave before she would eat it at all.
But let’s face it, there is something just a little magical about a microwave. 🙂 Hurrah for the popty ping! (as they call it here in Wales)

Perhaps we should give some thought about what we would NOT like microwave ovens to do. I have seen a Russell Hobbs model that had a ridiculous flashing light display when operating.

Some time ago I saw a video of a microwave that played music. New World only make cookers, ovens and hobs at present, but if they start producing microwaves, the obvious choice of music would be Dvorak’s 9th Symphony. 🙂

Especially good for gently warming a Hovis loaf.

Well DT seemingly has an all dancing one so I am not surprised you saw one that plays music wavechange!

🙂

Thinking about sophisticated microwaves, I wonder if steam microwaves are worthwhile or just a current fad. I expect that they would be easy to keep clean.

Jane – I have been sent an email comparing two microwaves but I am confused as the text:
” Daewoo £43 70% Samsung £86 71%
[Samsung] A combi that excels at defrosting and cooks well, you’ll also find non-standard features like deodorisation, an anti-bacterial interior and an eco mode.”

However clicking on the link takes one to a review that says the Samsung is microwave only. Can you check it out. ?

I appreciate the Daewoo is cheaper but the brand gets a pasting in the readers reviews. So I am surprised to see it recommended ahead of the Samsung on the basis of cost without a caveat.

See the other Daewoo Best Buy Daewoo KOR6A0R review.

Our present microwave oven has a stationary plate and a revolving heat source at the top and it does not heat the food evenly – it appears to be off centre. Our previous one had a revolving plate which seemed to be more effective. However, the present one has a self cleaning system which is very effective.

You’ve raised some good points Diesel. Although I find these “Weekly Scoops from Which?” interesting it’s best not to make a buying decision on the basis of only the limited information given – although it helps to narrow down the choice and guide us in discriminating between products. Obviously, with head-to-head comparisons, it’s vital that important details [like functionality, or user experience] don’t get sidelined.

The amazing thing is how incredibly cheap these products are nowadays. Our first michaelwave [as my mother called it], a Sharp, cost over £400 in the 1990’s! It was jolly good though and lasted over twenty years until we realised that we really didn’t need one.

In all the time that I have owned a microwave, I have rarely cooked a complete meal in it, even though it is typically used several times a day. When I am on holiday, I am often living off-grid, with a limited electricity supply and no microwave. Unlike Patrick, I really miss not having a microwave.

A big advantage of a simple microwave is that it does not get hot, so nothing gets baked on and it is very easy to keep clean. Mine is still very presentable after 25 years. What puts me off buying a combination oven is that it could be difficult to keep clean.

Are there any combination ovens that are really easy to keep clean?

It is surprising how many little things you do in a microwave – a big mushroom for breakfast, porridge, eggs, heating milk for coffee, a quick jacket potato, quick veg, a quick cheese sauce, quick microwaveable rice, a quick ready-meal, reheating something, the list goes on. They all save time and most of them save using a saucepan.

So when a microwave oven becomes unusable, we also really miss it and the hunt is on for a replacement.

We are on our first combi (3rd if you count the 2 that were returned in their first weeks) and although we were always happy with a simple microwave oven, the combi does so much more that we would always get another combi now. We don’t even use most of the features but having an extra small oven that heats up quickly is very useful.

The Panasonic has a self-clean plate at the back that works well. It’s a shame they didn’t put one above the grill as when we tried the chicken setting, it spat all over the top and is impossible to clean off. The rest is fairly easy to keep clean.

I have the same problem with my ordinary oven. Part of it is very difficult to clean, which is really annoying.

One of the most frequent uses of my microwave is simply to re-heat filter coffee. It spoils very quickly if left on the hotplate, so I turn off the hotplate. Later on, I pop the cold coffee in the microwave and set the time for a cup or mug, and out it comes at the perfect temperature for drinking.

Having only a simple microwave oven, I often finish off cooking under the grill.

Johnnny J. says:
8 February 2015

How many years are microwaves SAFE to be used, assuming one uses one for a maximum of 10 minutes per day? ( My Panasonic 897W is 14 years old.)
Many thanks.

I checked the HSE website recently and found no information about testing for safety.

It is important to check that the door is not distorted or otherwise damaged and that there is no debris on it or the front of the microwave that could prevent to door closing properly. There should be no sign of damage to door catches or interlocks and the microwave should shut off immediately if the door is opened.

Microwave leakage testers are readily available but quite expensive. My guess is that a company that does PAT testing may have a tester and will be able to check the electrical safety as well as for microwave leakage.

The usual response from a manufacturer asked this question would be to book an engineer for a service visit. This advice may be in the instruction manual.

Since a microwave oven uses a fan to cool the magnetron (the bit that produces microwaves) it could pull in dirt and grease from the atmosphere with a possible risk of overheating. Mine was remarkably clean after 20 years (when I took it apart to put a new bulb in) but I don’t do much frying and grilling.

If there is no fault, a competent local repairer might be a cheaper option, but it’s worth checking they can check for microwave leakage if that is your concern.

I think this should be useful as apparently the risk level from microwaves is actually low – providing that you do not do anyhting silly like operating it with the door open and standing in front.

http://www.jmpee.org/jmpee_site/Vol_46%283%29/JMPEE46-3-128Shiffmann.pdf

I came across this new innovative microwave pressure cooker in today’s online @dailymail.co.uk -Science & Tech – “Makes meals twenty times faster.” Which? may want to check it out. Might persuade Patrick to forget all ideas of a slow cooker.

From information on the Lakeland website, this operates at a much lower pressure than a normal pressure cooker, so the operating temperature will not be much above normal boiling point.

Perhaps the main advantage is that it will avoid splashing the inside of the microwave with food.

Excellent site Lakeland with a great returns policy. Looking at the microwave range of bowls and pots made me wonder if this was worthy of a Which? article.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptkzzNaZb7U

The development of the microwave to include an infra-red sensor and a screen! : )