MICROWAVES

REPORTER: SOPHIE HULL.

From piping hot .... to stone cold. Whether its reheating or defrosting, cooking or steaming. your micowave can over or underperform with the touch of a button.

From $60 $600, the most popular microwaves basically offer the same but only a few deliver.

Choice's consumer expert Christopher Zinn says, "You really need to know the size, the wattage, the price, those issues around ease of usage and then you can make your decision", he said.

Of the $119 Midea, Christopher said, "This is typical of a low price machine. It's quiet small, controls don't allow an easy start. The main concern it just doesn't open and close too easily".

Of the $199 LG - "A mid price machine far easier to open, simple controls".

And the $499 Smeg: "This is the high price machine a lot more space, great viewing window, easy to open and great controls. What you get for the added money is more features, more enhancement, the design, the stainless steel".

So, how do they compare in performance? We put them to the test, first heating soup and then lasagna.

The mid and top range microwave warmed the meals well, heating to a similar temperature. Food from the cheaper microwave was considerably colder. "One of the disadvantages of having a cheap microwave is it's smaller and it takes longer to achieve the same heating. But with any microwave, you will find especially with the liquid, that there will be hot spots and cold spots", Christopher said.

"A couple of cooking tips when you are cooking and re-heating food is make sure you stir it at the beginning, the middle and the end and when you have something dense, that is impossible to stir, then when you take it out make sure you leave it on the bench to let it sit for 2 to 5 minutes to make sure that the heat distributes evenly through out the food", said Editor of Home Beautiful, Wendy Moore.

"In general microwaves heat fairly inconsistently, the way the waves go through the food is quiet inconsistent and particularly the weight and the density of the food can change how fast it cooks", Wendy added.

We reheated the same type of meal three times in each microwave to see if there would be a variation in temperature. All microwaves displayed a considerable inconsistency, some as much as 20 degrees difference. "It can be dangerous as well -- hot food can burn and undercooked food can be a really serious health risk". Wendy said.

"Then you need to consider the type of food you are reheating. Think about the density, the shape, and the portion size", she added.

"There's lots of variables. There's the containers that you put it in -- is it long and thin, is it wide, is it covered with some sort of cling film", Christopher said.

"What you are looking for is something that is low and round and really easy to spread your food out that is going to cook it faster and more evenly. What you are trying to avoid is the situation where it is all piled up and that is where it is really going to cause cold spots on the inside and probably over cooking on the outside", Wendy said.

Using pre-set buttons our testers defrosted frozen chickens. Our top range microwave took the least time -- close to 1 hr. The mid-priced microwave approximately an hour and 20 minutes. The cheap microwave took the longest -- needing more than an hour and 45 minutes to fully defrost. "The time the manual gives for defrosting really should only be a guide. What's is important is that you really make sure it's totally defrosted from point of view of food safety", Christopher said.

"If you are defrosting meat or chicken make sure you cook it straight away --don't hold it in the fridge or bench afterwards because that is when bacteria can really get out of control and it can be dangerous", Wendy warned.

Overall the mid and top priced microwaves performed the best. But at almost double the price, is the expensive microwave worth the extra money? "If all those advanced features are not something you are not going to use day to day, then it's not worth the money", Wendy said.