Hairy Bikers Route 66: what time it’s on BBC Two tonight, and where Dave Myers and Si King visit

Si King and Dave Myers are back with another show full of accessible and delicious culinary flavours as they embark on a life-long ambition to ride their bikes on one of the world’s most iconic road trips.
The Hairy Biker duo will take on America’s Routed 66, a 2,000-mile trail of tarmac that travels form Chicago to California.
The pair will explore the different sights, sounds and tastes of America past and present as they go, meeting local cultures and communities as they go and sampling several delicacies.
Here’s everything you need to know about it.

When will the new Hairy Bikers show be on?

The first episode of the new six-part series will air on BBC Two on 12 September at 8pm to 9pm.

The next episodes will follow that format every Thursday at the same time.

Where will they stop off at?

Expect the bikers to park up all along the famous route through the heart of the States. From Chicago to St Louis, from Native American tribes to new immigrant communities, they visit a varied cross-section of cultures.

Si King, Dave Myers Monument Valley, Arizona-Utah Border
The Hairy Bikers in Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah Border (Photo: BBC)

They head to Texas to work with cowboys, drive through the prairies of Oklahoma, traverse the 50+ degrees Celsius Mojave Desert and swoop into Monument Valley.

They end in Los Angeles where they come face to face with some of the newer, healthier, and not so healthy food trends in town.

What can we expect from the first episode of the series?

The adventure starts on the road from Chicago, which attracted migrant workers from all over the world to its meatpacking industry.

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As a result, the local dishes of the city are seriously diverse, and the bikers tuck into everything from hickory-smoked BBQ meat to a soggy Italian beef sub that sees the two adopt a position to avoid dropping bits of it onto their clean boots.

They then head down through to a small town part of America where they enjoy some retro entertainment by the side of the road before sampling a championship-winning apple pie.

The pair receive an invitation to cook with the Amish community too and learn about their technology-free way of life.

Finally, the bikers cross the Mississippi river into Missouri, where they head on to the city of St Louis. There they try out a local delicacy, Ted Drewes’ “concrete custard”, a rich, thick slab of pudding that is served upside down.

The end with the tale of the more recent migration of the town’s Bosnian community.

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Mark Diacono’s new book Sour shows how sharp tastes can transform your cooking

So often we think of sour as a negative thing, that something is too sour instead of well-soured. But in his new cookbook, Sour: the magical element that will transform your cooking, Mark Diacono reveals sourness as an essential element of decent cooking.

He says it’s a clever catalyst for bringing out the complexities in a curry or the intensity in tomatoes – remember that splash of vinegar in the best tomato sauce recipes?

If you are also someone who shudders at the idea of sour foods, pinching your mouth at the thought of a suck of lemon or a dish drenched in Sarson’s, you should bear with him.

If you recoil from a reminder of sweet and sour sauces – one of the rare times sour gets a mention in the name of a recipe – and so often associated with cloying takeaways, Diacono understands. He describes most of these as “sickly sweet and eye-closingly sour”.

The rise of sourdough bread

“The trick with a really good sweet-and-sour anything,” he says, “is to make it sweet and sour, rather than an over-sweet and over-sour melange. A lot of that is about when you add the sweetness and when you add the sour.”

The graduated lime-green colour of the book’s cover is as acidic, astringent and zingy as any sour taste. However, the sour that has been the real breakthrough food of recent years, sourdough bread, is different from these wince-making flavours.

Instead it is chewy and comforting, made from flour and water. It is given its rise by the addition of the fizzy, live starter, providing us with lots of nutrients, good bacteria and slowly released energy, as well as deliciousness.

Get sweet on sour

This is a book of two parts. Diacono takes us first through a number of souring skills, sharing the methodology and background to sourdough. He also explores the processes of souring dairy into buttermilk, ricotta, soured cream and paneer; wine into vinegar; fruit and veg into sauerkraut and kimchi.

If you’re not sure you have the patience for any of this, skip straight to the recipes. There’s a far-reaching range from gooseberry focaccia and Turkish yogurt soup to buttermilk fried chicken and pork vindaloo.

He had been experimenting with his souring skills in the kitchen for some time before deciding to write about them. He worked with River Cottage for years before moving to his own patch, Otter Farm, where he grew exotic treasures such as apricots and Szechuan pepper.

“I realised I was trying to do the bacterial cookbook, but that wasn’t a great sell,” he explains. “I wanted to show how I was falling back in love with all the sours, from natural sours to zingy sours. As I wrote the book it really became about using sours to make everything you cook a little bit better.”

When he says he was falling back in love with sour, that’s because he remembers loving sour flavours as a child. His own daughter is the same, he says. Watch the way children devour raspberries and blackberries, citrus fruit, pickles and yogurt, and it’s clear we’re born with a sour side.

From buttermilk to soused herring

How do you explain a taste that runs a scale from bread and buttermilk to grapefruit and soused herring?

“It’s not an absolute,” Diacono says. “Sourness is much more of an experience than a taste.”

Sourness is of course very close to acidity, an area Samin Nosrat approached in her popular book and Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. The difference is that while acid is a technical term, and all foods fall somewhere between one and 14 on the pH scale, sourness is a flavour.

Lemon juice has a pH of two, vinegar three and oranges four. But how we taste their acidity will depend on that particular lemon, vinegar or orange, and what we eat it with, in or after. It is always relative, Diacono explains, and moderated by saltiness and bitterness as well as sweetness.

A taste of honey

Here’s a surprise: honey, a favourite sweet food, is on the acidic end of the pH scale, with a value of four. Nosrat investigated this in her chapter on acid. It makes me wonder about the intentions of Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, the chefs behind Middle Eastern restaurants Honey & Co, Honey & Spice and Honey & Smoke.

I had always thought the names referenced their love of sweet things, but a look at the menu – especially at Honey & Smoke – shows due diligence towards sour as much as any flavour.

“Everything we cook has a sour element to it. It can be lemon juice, vinegar, yogurt or some sharp, sour fruit like grapes or plums – not to mention pickles, which we have with every single meal,” says Packer.

She suggests we see sour as we do salt, as a staple seasoning. “A sour note will always balance out the sweetness and turn something that could be cloying into something light,” she continues. “Good chocolate has to have nice acidity to it, and all fruits bring sour as well as sweet tones which makes them perfect for desserts.”

Simple ways to start

Not sure where to start? The methods for making ricotta and paneer are easier than finding a tub in the supermarket and opening it. “There is a soft thrill in recognising that you are doing something for the first time that you know you’ll repeat again and again,” Diacono says of the first time he made paneer.

Our interest in bacterial foods and gut health is soaring and we see kefir, kombucha and kimchi lining supermarket shelves. “I feel a lot better eating lots of probiotic and prebiotic foods,” says Diacono. “It’s a quiet revelation and plays a crucial role in mental health. I’ve heard it called our next space travel.”

‘Sour: the magical element that will transform your cooking’ (Quadrille, £25) is out now

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10 best charcoal BBQs for outdoor living – how to pick the right one for you

Most barbecue experts will argue that grilling over charcoal produces a much more authentic flavour than a gas flame. We would tend to agree, though there is a counter argument to this. Given that the smoke – and hence the flavour – a barbecue produces is created by meat fats dripping onto the flameless coals below, does it really make that big a difference whether the heat source is a pile of coals or a searingly hot metal sheet? Truth is, most people won’t be able to tell the difference. Nevertheless, the jury’s out.

The main benefit of charcoal is that it’s readily available at every petrol station, whereas gas needs to be bought from a specific supplier who likely won’t be open on a Sunday, just when you might need it most. Charcoal barbecues are also usually cheaper to buy and easier to assemble. On the flip side, gas barbecues are quicker to heat up and are much more controllable.

If you’re in the market for a charcoal model, you’ve come to the right place because we’ve called in a cluster of top-rated models and put them to the test. However, if you still prefer the idea of cooking on gas, mosey over to our gas barbecue roundup where we put some of the best models through their paces.

What not to do

When it comes to charcoal grilling, the number one rule is to make sure you light it early enough. Time and again, visitors have arrived for a barbecue lunch only to discover that the host hasn’t even lit the barbecue, let alone started cooking.

It usually takes about 25 minutes for charcoal and 40 minutes for briquettes to reach optimum grilling temperature, so lighting it well before lunchtime is a good way to impress your hungry guests and ensure that they don’t ignore your next invite.

Another common mistake we all make is not waiting till the coals are a uniform grey before slapping on the grub. If you start too early, you run the risk of scorching everything to a cinder, which will in turn lead you to believe that the food is properly cooked when it most likely isn’t.

The best way to light charcoal – and measure the amount of charcoal required – is to invest in a chimney starter (Weber makes an excellent one). Simply load it to the top with charcoal or briquettes, place a couple of firelighters on the BBQ’s charcoal grate, light them and put the chimney starter on top. The funnel effect draws in air from the base, creating an intense heat that prepares the charcoal or briquettes in a matter of minutes. When ready, carefully pour the contents onto the charcoal grate and replace the cooking grill. Voila, instant barbecue readiness without having to reach for the hairdryer.

Charcoal or briquettes?

Good quality lumpwood charcoal is the favoured fuel of experts because it isn’t coated in any ignition chemicals and it produces a perfect cooking temperature. However, it does burn down quite quickly and the heat it emits isn’t very consistent. While extremely convenient, self-lighting charcoal (the stuff that comes in a brown paper bag) isn’t the best option because it rarely burns evenly and it’s impregnated with combustible fuel that can taint the flavour of food.

By comparison, briquettes provide a much more stable burn and they last for ages. However, most briquettes are also coated in a combustible fuel that takes quite a long time to burn off. Briquettes are perfect for slow cooking, smoking or grilling several batches of food in sequence.

What type of grilling is best?

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There are two main types of grilling: direct and indirect. In a nutshell, direct grilling is cooking without a lid. This method is more volatile and time-consuming since it involves turning food continuously to prevent overcooking. Direct grilling also makes it difficult to engage in conversation because all it takes is one moment of taking your eye off the ball and before you know it, three chicken legs have turned to toast.

By contrast, indirect cooking with a lid on is far more stable and less time-consuming because the coals are kept at a more modest temperature and the food is cooked using the convection process. You’ll also have more time to socialise with guests. Just be sure to stick to the maxim “if you’re looking, it ain’t cooking” and your food will come our perfectly every time. Hopefully.

It goes without saying that you should try and opt for a barbecue with a lid because it basically offers both methods of cooking. For instance, you could start by searing the meats directly for a minute or two and then put the lid on and leave well alone with only the occasional peek to check everything’s going according to plan.

Napoleon Pro 22K-LEG

£299 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Ease of use

napoleon pro

Key specs – Grill size/area: 57cm; Weight: 28kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: Yes; Shelves: No; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

This exceptional kettle-style model pips the similarly-styled Weber for our best buy by dint of a wavy-shaped cast iron grill that can be lowed or raised to three different heights.

Having a barbecue with an adjustable height grill (or charcoal tray for that matter) is a big advantage for two reasons: it’s great for searing steaks and a boon towards the end of the cooking session when the coals are nearing the end of their useful life and you still have the kebabs to do. With oven gloves on, simply lift, twist and drop or raise the 57cm grate to any position before or during the cooking process.

The Pro 22K also comes equipped with a hinged porcelain-enamelled steel lid replete with built-in thermometer, an ash catcher with integral air vents, and four sturdy legs. It’s an absolute joy to grill on and it seems to be as sturdily built as the Weber, though you are advised to get a cover for it. Hotly recommended.

Weber Performer Deluxe GBS

£549, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Speedy ignition

weber performance deluxe

Key specs – Grill size/area: 57cm; Weight: 43.5kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: Yes; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

The story goes that Weber’s oft-copied kettle design came about when its founder George S Stephen cut a spherical metal buoy in two, put a grill and charcoal grate in one half and used the other half as a lid. 67 years on and the US company’s kettle barbecue has become an icon of alfresco dining the world over.

This particular open-cart model is equipped with a porcelain-enamelled lid with integral holder, a 57cm steel cooking grate, and a wrap-around table for condiments and serving dishes.

However, what will almost certainly pique the interest of most – or at least anyone who struggles to light the charcoal in time – is the presence of a unique gas ignition feature that greatly reduces the time it takes for the charcoal to reach optimum cooking temperature.

Simply attach a camping-style gas canister, fill the two supplied charcoal baskets and put them on the fuel grate, push the ignition button and a flame below kickstarts the charcoal. Yes, that’s right, no firelighters required and certainly no need to unfurl an extension cable so you can fan the flames with a hairdryer while your guests look on in bemusement.

Weber barbecues aren’t cheap but their build quality is exemplary – proven by their extraordinarily long lifespan. Indeed, we know of one that is entering its 25th year of reliable service.

Char-Broil Kamander

£629.99, BBQ World
Best for: Versatility

char broil commander

Key specs – Grill size/area: 50cm; Weight: 58kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: Yes; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

If you like the idea of slow cooking but can’t afford a Big Green Egg, try this equally efficient but much cheaper alternative from US BBQ giant Char-Broil. The Kamander comes equipped with an insulated double-walled steel body and a heavy-duty lid replete with an oven-like gasket and a metal latch.

Once sealed, the coals in this BBQ remain hot for hours on end. Indeed, you could feasibly prepare a slow-cooked spicy Moroccan lamb over a period of three to four hours and then conventionally grill a bunch of chicken legs over the same charcoal. It’s that competent.

The air management system is also brilliant. Instead of bending down and fiddling with a hot lever, this one has an air intake tube that runs from the base of the unit to a numbered dial sited just to the left of the folding side table. There’s another air outlet dial on top of the lid. For fast and furious grilling, open both vents fully and for slow cooking, close them to position one.

The Kamander’s 50cm porcelain-coated cast iron grill isn’t the biggest on test but it’s of ample size for a party of six. However, because it retains heat so well, it will easily perform at least two consecutive cooking sessions on a single load of charcoal. Best employ the help of a friend when assembling it though because this beast’s base and lid are mightily heavy.

Argos BBQ Kitchen

£80, Argos
Best for: Design

argos

Key specs – Grill size/area: 55cm; Weight: Not given;Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: Yes; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

For the price, this Argos-branded barbecue cart is excellent value and it’s a great looker, too. Resembling the little robot in the Cadbury’s Smash ad from the 1970s (perhaps you’re too young to remember), the kettle-like Argos features an ample 55cm wire grill with a warming rack above, a built-in thermometer and storage spaces galore. In fact, in the pantheon of summer barbecues, this one is better designed than most.

Aside from the small amount of storage space to the right of the grill, there’s a large wire plinth on the base for plates, cutting boards, etc, and – unique among barbecues – a recessed shelf to store condiments like BBQ sauce, mustard, ketchup and seasoning salt. It also comes with a row of hooks for the barbecue tools and – for those who like cracking open a beer while at the coal face – an integral bottle opener.

The materials used in its construction aren’t too shabby either, though you are advised to buy a cover for it because, at this low price, one can’t guarantee how many winters it will last.

Napoleon Professional PRO605CSS

£1,169.99, BBQ World
Best for: Serial entertainers

napoleon professional

Key specs – Grill size/area: 5451cm²; Weight: 110kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: Yes; Shelves: Yes; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

If you have a huge family or entertain on a massive scale, consider gracing your specially constructed barbecue section with this handsome, corrosive-free stainless steel behemoth.

The PRO605 comes with a whopping 5451cm² (605 square inches) of grilling estate, which is good for about 16 burgers, 20 sausages and 15 chicken legs. It also comes with a full-width stainless-steel rack for gentle cooking or warming.

The grill – made from wave-shaped cast iron – is divided into three parts so it’s easier to lift when loading the charcoal and easier to clean, too. And if you like rotisserie cooking you’ll love the included clip-on charcoal-powered rear burner. Granted, it’s fiddly to fill with pre-heated coals but it does the job admirably well. However, you will need to fork out extra on the optional rotisserie kit.

Like the grill, the charcoal bed is also comprised of three separate cast-iron sections replete with handles for fuss-free loading. And if you ever need to top up the charcoal on the fly, simply open the hatch at the front and chuck it in. The whole shebang is topped off with a huge cupboard and a giant roll-top lid – with built-in thermometer – that is so perfectly balanced it takes absolutely no effort to lift.

These are all great reasons to consider investment but what really grabs the attention here is the addition of an adjustable height charcoal bed. Simply pull on the handle on the right to adjust the height to any one of six positions, from low down all the way up to about an inch below the grill – perfect for steak searing and end-of-session grilling when the charcoal’s on the way out.

This is a stunning model in so many respects but be warned that it arrives in a massive box on a palette which is too big to fit through the front door, so you’ll need to empty the contents on the pavement or front yard and lug in the individual parts. Expect to take about three hours to build it, though you can also order it pre-assembled for around £50 extra.

Tepro Toronto Click

£99.95 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Budget-conscious grillers

tepro click

Key specs – Grill size/area: 54 x 42 cm; Weight: 26.3kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: Yes; Shelves: Yes; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

Here’s an inexpensive option that also comes with an adjustable charcoal grate. Simply turn the front-mounted handle and the whole charcoal grate moves up and down (from 2.3-inches to 8.6-inches below the cooking grate). This is a great feature to have, especially if you’ve loaded too much or two little charcoal.

The cooking grate itself measures an adequate 54cm x 42cm and features a removable centre section that can be replaced with a range of optional inserts, like a wok, cast iron Dutch oven or pizza stone. A hatch in front of the unit allows access to the charcoal chamber.

The Tepro was easy to assemble using a slot-in system and very few screws. However, the whole thing is a bit rattly and the materials used in its construction don’t look especially durable, so you’re advised to keep it under cover when not in use.

LotusGrill Mini

£130, LotusGrill
Best for: Portability

lotusgrill

Key specs – Grill size/area: 28cm; Weight: 2.8kg; Portable: Yes; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: No; Direct/Indirect grilling: Direct

If you have a small patio, balcony or boat – or perhaps have neighbours who always complain about the smoke from your barbecue – consider this excellent little fan-powered two-person traveller.

The brilliantly designed LotusGrill Mini uses a battery-powered fan to heat up the charcoal in less than five minutes, and with very little smoke in the process. Once ready for grilling, you can turn the fan down or off for general grilling duties or whack it up to full speed for steak searing. Granted, the grill is only 28cm in diameter but that’s more than enough width for a few small kebabs, a trio of burgers or half-a-dozen sausages.

Part of a wider range of models, this little fella weighs just 2.8kg and comes supplied with a carry bag, so it’s just as practical for picnics and camping as it is for home use. It’s also available in three attractive colours: anthracite, red and blue.

Barbecook Joya

£63 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Tabletop grilling

barbecook joya

Key specs – Grill size/area: 26cm; Weight: 4kg; Portable: Yes; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: No; Direct/Indirect grilling: Direct

Outdoor table-top grilling has two main bonuses: it’s more enjoyable grilling one’s own cuts and it’s much more sociable, especially for the host who usually has to stand alone for 90 minutes in front of a blazing inferno while everyone else is having a jolly old time.

Enter the attractive Barbecook Joya, a small circular table-top BBQ with a polished ceramic bowl and enough grilling space (26cm) for a cosy alfresco party for two or four at a pinch. Simply place it on an outdoor table, pour some water into the fire bowl (it helps protect the table from the heat of the grill), insert the supplied tray of Easy Grilltabs (or any other type of charcoal), fire it up and let your guests take charge of their own lunch using the four bamboo tongs provided.

Barbecook’s Easy Grilltabs briquettes are produced from sustainable African Invader bushes and burn for about an hour – more than enough time for a languorous lunch in the sun.

Everdure by Heston Blumenthal Fusion

£799, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Rotisserie grilling

everdue

Key specs – Grill size/area: 48 x 33 cm; Weight: 35.9kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: No; Direct/Indirect grilling: Direct

This snazzy unit from Everdure’s Heston Blumenthal range uses an electric oven-style element to prepare the charcoal in about 15 minutes, so best make sure you have an electricity supply nearby before biting the bullet.

The Fusion doesn’t come with a lid so grilling is of the direct method, which means never taking your eye off the ball or the food will quickly turn to a carbonised crisp. The stainless steel grill itself measures a rather small 48cm x 33cm, so it’s just about big enough for a table of four.

However, what really sets this model apart is the addition of a hidden rotisserie system. Simply push down the concealed columns on either side of the unit to release them, open the hatch on the left and pull out the rotisserie bar and prongs. Now load it with a seasoned leg of lamb, chicken or joint of sirloin beef and retreat for a natter with the guests while the Fusion does the rest.

Despite the high price and the fact it requires an electricity supply, the undeniably stylish Fusion grills superbly well. However, it’s that clever pop-up rotisserie that clinches it.

Original Jerk J Cut Barrel Barbecue

£800, Original Jerk
Best for: Well-heeled traditionalists

original jerk

Key specs – Grill size/area: 84 x 55.5 cm; Weight: Roughly 80kg;Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: No; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

London-based Original Jerk specialises in the manufacture of bespoke hand-built barbecues using brand new 45 gallon oil drums. Beloved of out-of-town commercial barbecue operations and Caribbean beachside restaurants, the humble oil drum provides acres of grilling space, making it the ideal choice for those who entertain on a regular basis.

This superbly made J Cut model measures 1.4 metres in length and comes with a huge 84cm x 55.5cm laser cut steel grill, a smaller smoking/warming shelf above, two timber side shelves and, rare for a barrel barbecue, a massive lid with integral thermometer for indirect cooking requirements. You could feasibly load this model with 25 large hamburgers and still have plenty of room to move them around.

Finished in heat-proof matt black paint with laser-cut Original Jerk logo (the company also provides custom paint jobs, laser cut graphics and handmade lettering), this model screams authentic rustic chic and comes with a high price to match. Turnaround time is about two weeks from date of order.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in April 2019.

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9 best toastie makers, starting from £17 – can Breville be beaten?

For anyone who grew up in the 1970s, the Breville sandwich toaster was a must-have addition to your kitchen appliance collection. There was nothing quite like biting into a tasty – but usually searing hot – cheese and tomato toastie with perfectly sealed edges and that iconic triangular scalloped shape.

Then the microwave happened and sandwich toasters fell out of favour and found themselves relegated to the back of the cupboard. Now though, they’re more advanced and more popular than ever, with machines that feature multiple plates so they can cook a variety of quick snacks, including sandwiches, omelets, waffles, paninis and even steak.

How much should you pay?

Prices vary from cheaper models at just £10, increasing to advanced models costing almost £90. You do, however, mostly get what you pay for and we didn’t find a toaster under £15 that we felt produced consistent results.

The more you pay, the more likely you are to get removable plates and more cooking options, so if you want a machine that does more than one thing, then they’re worth the investment.

How we test

Each toaster took slightly different sizes of bread, so we tested thin or medium white slices in a variety of loaf sizes. We wouldn’t recommend thick sliced, as it doesn’t toast as well in most machines and, crucially, means less filling.

What we put in the sandwiches varied – a standard favourite was cheese and tomato but we also tried chopped onion and ham. We preferred using a low-fat cheese such as edam or gouda to prevent leakage, although some lower-fat cheddars were acceptable.

Many of the toasters don’t have timers, so it’s trial and error to find the exact level of crispness you prefer – although they all feature cool-touch handles so it wasn’t a problem to open them and have a peek after a few minutes. And while all of the toasters we tried (with the exception of the Dualit cage) had non-stick plates, to achieve a crisp outside most suggest buttering both sides of the bread.

Toastie makers are listed in price order.

Judge Sandwich Maker

£18.99, Wayfair
Best for: Budget toasting

judge

Key specs – Size: 25 x 26 x 12 cm; Weight; 1.6kg; Material; Stainless steel; Power: 750w; Removable plates: No; Cord store: Yes; Extras: None

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This was the cheapest toastie maker we tested, and it didn’t have the bells and whistles of some, but it was the best we found in the budget price range.

The plates are quite compact, so we tested smaller sliced loaves and we wouldn’t recommend overfilling, as not only does it make the toaster hard to close, it does result in leakage. Once we realised this, we were a little less enthusiastic and found that using a lower-fat cheese produced better results – sliced edam worked well.

The plates are not removable, so when it did leak we had a bit more cleaning on our hands but it heated up quickly and the crunch was as good, if not better than some of the more expensive machines.

Dualit Sandwich Toaster Cage

£14.63 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: A space-saving alternative

dualit

Key specs – Size: 30 x 15 x 2.4 cm; Weight: 340g; Material; Stainless steel, plastic; Power: N/A; Removable plates: N/A; Cord store: N/A; Extras: None

If you’re already in possession of a stylish Dualit toaster, then this simple cage, which slides into the toaster’s extra-large slots, is a great addition.

Available to buy separately or at the same time as you purchase your toaster, it’s also a good option if you’re watching the calories, as you don’t need to slather the outside of the bread in butter and is best used with lower-fat cheese such as edam. In fact, if you try it with full-fat cheddar you’ll probably end up with an empty sandwich and an oozing mess in your crumb tray.

We preferred to use thin-sliced bread to ensure we could get a decent filling and the cool-touch handles meant it was easy to take in and out of the toaster to check on its progress.

Salter Deep Fill Sandwich Toaster Press

£21.97 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Larger slices

salter

Key specs – Size: 30 x 26.5 x 12.5 cm; Weight: 1.9kg; Material; Stainless steel; Power: 900w; Removable plates: No; Cord store: No; Extras: None

Salter claims the XL plates in this machine allow for larger sizes of bread and deeper fillings, so we tried a slightly taller slice, packed it full of cheese, tomato and onion, and were pleasantly pleased.

There are only indicator lights to say when it has reached temperature, so the first couple of sandwiches are guesswork to get them to the preferred colour and crispness. However, the cool-touch handle is easy to open and close if you decide your toastie isn’t quite done. It took just four minutes to create a deep-filled, crispy brown sandwich. The slightly larger slices did mean a bit of extra crunchy crust around the edges, but that was one of our tester’s favourite bits and it did ensure no leakage.

As with most other “cut-and-seal” functions, the seal of the toastie was fine but the cut was more of a dent, meaning we had to separate the slices with a sharp knife. Our only tiny quibble with this well-priced machine was that the plates are non-removable, which means cleaning is trickier if there is leakage. Otherwise, it’s a great-value toaster with consistent results.

Russell Hobbs 3-in-1 Sandwich, Panini and Waffle Maker

£28.55 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Value for money

russell hobbs

Key specs – Size: 25 x 23.2 x 10.5 cm; Weight: 2.54kg; Material; Stainless steel, plastic; Power: 750w; Removable plates: Yes; Cord store: Yes; Extras: Grill plates, waffle plates, recipe booklet

This was the best-priced machine we found with three sets of removable plates – one for deep-fill sandwiches, one for grilling and one for waffles. All the plates are dishwashers safe, too.

The deep-fill sandwich plates took a fair amount of filling before we experienced any leakage and that was possibly because we were experimenting with smaller slices of bread, which weren’t big enough to seal. Most of the time, our toasties were a great colour and beautifully crisp with oozing filling.

We tried the waffle recipe included in the booklet too and can confess that we’re now waffle converts. You can cook meats on the grill, as long as they’re not more than 10cm thick, so at a push you could use it for pretty much every meal of the day.

This compact machine is a good option for those who want a variety of functions in a small footprint.

Morphy Richards MICO Toasted Sandwich Maker

£29.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Microwaveable toasties

morphy richards

Key specs – Size: 30 x 26.5 x 12.8 cm; Weight: 0.9kg; Material; Metal, silicone; Power: N/A; Removable plates: Yes; Cord store: N/A; Extras: None

A lovely, crispy toastie from a microwave, who’d have thought it? Well, not us, so we set about testing this bright orange sandwich toaster with vigour. Firstly, unlike the other machines, this will only produce one sandwich at a time, so not great if you’re feeding big numbers.

It features Morphy Richard’s “heatwave” technology – it turns microwaves into conventional heat – which amazingly produces a lovely crisp sandwich, you just have to turn the whole thing halfway through to get an even browning. We like our toasties relatively dark, so we did three minutes on each side.

It takes slightly larger bread slices, but don’t overfill or you won’t be able to lock the two separate parts together. Apart from that, we were rather surprised that the crunch and colour were as good as many of the standard machines we tried.

It dismantles easily and can be popped into the dishwasher to clean. It’s pretty compact, too, so easy to slot away in a drawer. This is a great lunch solution if you have a microwave at work but no other cooking facilities.

Russell Hobbs Four Portion Deep Fill Toastie

£30.58 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Families

russell hobbs four toastie maker

Key specs – Size: 34.1 x 22.6 x 10.1 cm; Weight: 2.71kg; Material; Stainless steel, plastic; Power: 1520w; Removable plates: No; Cord store: Yes; Extras: None

This four-portion sandwich maker is great if you have lots of hungry mouths to feed. It’s still fairly compact though, so is also easy to store.

It heats up in the time it takes to butter eight slices of bread and the deep-fill pockets hold plenty of filing, with no spillage. The shape of the plates mean the sandwiches are easy to remove too, ensuring you don’t burn fingers as you try to get them from toaster to plate.

We did need to leave them a little longer than some to get the degree of brownness we preferred but as it produces double the amount of sandwiches, it wasn’t an issue. It’s a shame the plates aren’t removable though, but the non-stick coating does make them a breeze to clean, making it only a minor quibble.

Breville Deep Fill 2 Slice Sandwich Toaster

£37.64 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Large toasties

breville

Key specs – Size: 30 x 26.5 x 12.8 cm; Weight: 2.38kg; Material; Stainless steel; Power: 850w; Removable plates: Yes; Cord store: Yes; Extras: None

If you were the proud owner of a sandwich maker back in the 70s then it’s a good chance it was a Breville model. First to the market, it continued to develop and refine its toasters over the intervening 40 years.

Now, there are a number of models available but we were keen to test its deep-fill toaster, which is the daddy of them all. With a solid construction and pleasing shape, the non-stick plates take the slices sideways to accommodate different sizes of bread, although we wouldn’t recommend a large batch loaf.

Keen to try out how far we could push the deep-fill facility, we piled cheese, onion and tomato onto square medium-sliced bread. The deep hinges meant it was more than capable of handling what we threw at it and it sealed well with little or no leakage.

There’s no timer, so toasting is all about trial and error and personal preference. We opened it at five minutes and found a well-sealed, pleasingly brown and crispy toastie. The removable non-stick plates are dishwasher safe and waffle plates are also available to buy as an extra. It also stacks away neatly on its side, so it doesn’t take up too much room either.

Tefal Snack Collection Multi-Function Sandwich and Snack Maker

£53.92 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Accessories

tefal

Key specs – Size: 28 x 22.5 x 11.4 cm; Weight: 3.11kg; Material; Stainless steel; Power: 700w; Removable plates: Yes; Cord store: Yes; Extras: Variety of extra plates available, recipe book

There are 16 different plate sets to collect for this toaster, making it a hugely versatile machine. It comes with sandwich-making and waffle plates, which are neatly held in plastic containers for easy storage. Other plate sets are available for around £15 and include panini, French toast, pasties, donuts, heart-shaped waffles and baby Dutch pancakes.

For the purposes of this test, we stuck with the sandwich plates, which are a decent size and simple to click in and out of place. They’re dishwashers safe too (as are all the other plate options), so they’re quick and easy to clean.

While this machine is one of the most expensive we tested, the sandwiches were some of the best we tasted, and the quality of the non-stick meant we could use just a thin coating of butter on the outside to achieve a perfectly brown and crispy exterior. We did get some cheese leakage the first time but a simple adjustment in bread size and positioning meant the next ones were perfectly sealed all the way round.

A handy light appears when the machine is hot enough to start toasting.

Cuisinart 2-in-1 Grill and Sandwich Maker

£89.99, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Multi-functions – grilling and toasting

cuisinart

Key specs – Size: 41 x 25.5 x 14 cm; Weight: 3.9kg; Material; Stainless steel; Power: 1000w; Removable plates: Yes; Cord store: Yes; Extras: Set of grill plates, recipe book

As well as sandwich plates this machine comes with interchangeable grill plates, which are a great addition if you prefer bigger, thicker toasted sandwiches such as paninis.

In grilling mode – this machine can also cook steaks and other grilled items – the floating hinge means the lid rests gently on what you’re grilling. In sandwich mode, it locks to ensure standard toasties are perfectly sealed. There are also three temperatures to pick from. The mid-temperature produced nicely browned, crispy, well-sealed toasties in around five minutes.

The machine itself has a solid construction but was a tad larger than some of the other models we tried, and the extra plates mean it takes up a little more storage room. The accompanying recipe book is a nice touch with instructions for meals as varied as black truffle and quail egg croque monsieur to crab burgers.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in April 2019.

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9 of the best rice cookers – how to pick between Tefal, Lakeland and more

Rice is the ideal accompaniment to some of the nation’s favourite dishes – chicken tikka masala, Thai green curry or sweet and sour chicken, to name a few – but cooking it to perfection can be tricky.

Increasingly popular in UK kitchens, rice cookers can help take the strain out of preparing all sorts of rice, grains and pasta. They’re much less hassle than keeping a constant eye on a boiling pan, as all you have to do is add the recommended amounts of rice and water to the pot and press start. Simple.

Types of rice cooker

There are two types of rice cooker: plastic microwave models and electric machines. The latter features a removable metal or ceramic non-stick bowl that sits on a heating element, which then heats the water from below.

As a general rule, cheaper models turn off this element once boiling point has been reached for a set period of time, or the weight of the contents has decreased to a certain level. Pricier designs feature “fuzzy-logic” programmes that automatically alter the cooking time and temperature depending on the contents of the bowl.

Don’t buy a rice cooker if you think it’s going to considerably speed up the cooking process. It won’t. What it will do is allow you to get on with life while a machine does all the hard work, and hopefully delivers perfect rice every time.

And although the machines and internal bowls are not dishwasher proof, washing by hand is simple as the non-stick interiors mean all they need is a quick soak, a wipe round with a wet sponge and some washing-up liquid. The rest of the machine should be gently wiped with a damp cloth to remove spillages.

How much should you spend?

If you’re an occasional rice eater, then spending between £8-10 will get you a small microwave cooker that, while not a looker, will do the job. They’re not huge though, so not great for making big quantities, and they’re not as sophisticated as electric machines either, so they won’t have extra functions.

Simple electric rice cookers with just a few programmes can be found for around £20-£25, but if you want a machine that can multi-task then prices can rise to more than £300 for profession-style models. At this price you’ll get many programmes and a large capacity that allows for the cooking of 10 portions or more at once.

How we test

From uncomplicated microwave models to multi-functional, or “fuzzy logic”, machines, we tested the latest rice cookers that claim to dish up fluffy and delicious rice every time.

In the simpler machines, we cooked three types of rice, white long-grain, basmati and brown long-grain. Where applicable with multi-function cookers we also tested specialist rice cooking programmes, such as risotto or ones that produce a crunchy, crispy bottom, featured in dishes such as tahdig in Persian cooking, socarrat in Spain and nurungji in Korea.

Best budget rice cookers

Joseph Joseph M-Cuisine Microwave Rice Cooker

£16.67 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Microwave cooking

joseph joseph

Key specs – Type: Microwave; Size: 22 x 14 x 18 cm; Material: Plastic; Programmes/functions: Rice, grains and porridge cooking; Capacity: 2L (up to 6 portions); Accessories: Internal colander, measuring cup, spatula; Dishwasher safe: Yes

Beautifully designed, as you’d expect from the clever gang at Joseph Joseph, this compact rice cooker is elegant enough to act as serve-ware as well as cookware, saving on the washing up, and it’s also compact enough to store away in a cupboard. Unlike its electronic rivals, every part of this microwave cooker is dishwasher safe too.

The rice paddle, in a bold contrasting colour to the rest of the cooker, is also what locks the lid in place when in use and ensures you’re never likely to misplace it. Cooking times vary depending on how powerful your microwave is but we used the guidelines based on an 800w microwave and it produced both basmati and long-grain rice to a good standard, although if brown rice is your thing, we’d recommend a bit more water and a longer cooking time to ensure the rice isn’t too firm.

As well as rice, it can cook grains, such as quinoa, and porridge oats. We liked that you could cook from just a single portion up to six, but the recommend amount for a single portion erred on the small side. While it’s not a sophisticated multi-cooker, for the price, it looks good and cooks rice well.

Cookworks Rice Cooker

£22.99, Argos
Best for: Simplicity

cookworks

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 23.5 x 33 x 25.5 cm; Material: Plastic, glass, steel; Programmes/functions: White rice, keep warm; Capacity: 1.5L (8 portions); Accessories: Measuring cup, spatula; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

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Not a fan of any other rice than white and don’t want any extra functions? Then this simple does-what-it-says-on-the-tin electric rice cooker is a great buy. With an attractive black exterior, featuring carrying handles and feet to raise the base from the worktop, this cooker has no fancy buttons and lights, just a cook and keep warm switch at the front.

The glass top is a nice touch but do be careful leaning over the vent or you’ll end up with a face full of steam. The smallest amount of dry weight rice you can cook in this machine is two cups, which equates to around four to six portions.

The rice we cooked did form a very thin crust on the base of the non-stick bowl, as is the way with many of these heat-from-below machines, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker. The rest of the rice was fluffy and separated well into grains.

Unfortunately, it’s not recommended for brown rice, so if you prefer your grains whole then this isn’t the machine you’re looking for.

Russell Hobbs Rice Cooker and Steamer

£18, AO.com
Best for: A value for money electric option

russel hobbs

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 24.5 x 28 x 32 cm; Material: Glass, plastic, stainless-steel; Programmes/functions: Rice, steaming, auto keep warm; Capacity: 1.8L (approx.18 portions); Accessories: Steaming basket, measuring cup, spatula; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

If all you require is rice cooking and vegetable steaming, then this is a great-value buy. The glass lid means you can see what’s going on inside and it has a professional-looking steel exterior.

It has two basic settings – cooking and keep warm – and does exactly what the name suggests, cooking rice or steaming vegetables pretty well. Initially, there were a few issues with the long grain forming a rather thick crusty layer on the bottom of the inner pan but adjusting the amount of water we put in for the next lot helped to minimise this. It produced better results when we cooked bigger portions, so it’s probably not a good choice if you regularly cook small amounts.

Instructions are basic, so when we steamed for the first time we added more water than necessary to the bowl below the steamer, but this is easily rectified. We love that you can cook rice and steam vegetables at the same time, too – although take care when removing the lid as it releases quite a lot of steam.

Best mid-range rice cookers

Judge Horwood JEA10 Family Rice Cooker

£31.49 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Large numbers of guests

judge

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 27.7 x 30 x 30.5 cm; Material: Plastic, aluminium; Programmes/functions: Rice, risotto, steaming, auto keep warm; Capacity: 1.8L (18 portions); Accessories: Steaming basket, measuring cup, spatula; Extras: Condensation collector; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

Although it’s just a rice cooker by name, this machine also steams and can prepare a simple risotto. A better choice for families, as the minimum cooking amount is three cups of rice (four to five portions), it will accommodate up to 1200g of uncooked rice, providing at least 18 portions in one go.

As well as the three kinds of rice we tested, it can also prepare wild rice if mixed with basmati (on its own it requires too much water). In the tests, there was a bit of a crusty bottom to long grain rice, while the risotto recipe we tried was a little too firm, but a little more liquid would fix that.

An automatic six-hour keep warm function switches on as soon as cooking is over, too. However, it’s recommended that risotto should be consumed straight away. Often rice cookers will leak a little water from the lid when opened (that’s just the condensed steam), so the condensation collector here was a nice addition.

Although it’s not dishwasher safe – like most of the models we tested because of their delicate interior on the non-stick cooking bowl – the pan was easy to clean.

Lakeland Mini Multicooker

£49.99, Lakeland
Best for: Compact kitchens

lakeland

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 23.5 x 28 x 20 cm; Material: Plastic, stainless-steel; Programmes/functions: Rice, porridge, quinoa, cake, yoghurt, quick cook, slow cook, bread proving, keep warm; Capacity: 1.8L (approx. 16- 18 portions); Accessories: Measuring cup, spatula; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

If you think a rice cooker is an unnecessary addition to a tiny kitchen, then this neat little multi-function machine might change your mind.

The instructions for cooking rice are a little confusing, but we used one cup of rice to one cup of water, which produced good results for both basmati and long grain rice. Brown rice needed about a cup and a half of water to every cup of rice.

Although there is a warm function, the recommend use time was no more than four hours, which might limit the time you’re out the house. Basmati and long-grain cooked pretty quickly though – between 20 and 25 minutes – and was fluffy and light with only minimal crusting. There is also a quick-cook function and this seems to produce pretty much the same results in a little less time, around 15-20 minutes.

The multi-function features include slow cooking for casseroles and programmes for porridge, quinoa, cake baking (ready-made mix) and yoghurt.

Best high-end rice cookers

Tefal All-in-one Pressure Cooker/Multi Cooker

£74.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Speedy cooking under pressure

tefal all in one

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 34 x 34 x 39.7 cm; Material: Plastic, coated aluminium, stainless-steel; Capacity: 6L (approx.20 portions); Programmes/functions: 25 different programmes for pressure cooking, baking, steaming, browning and frying, including rice, porridge, cereals/grains, risotto, soup, baby food, cakes, pasta, delay start, keep warm; Accessories: Steaming basket, trivet, measuring cup, rice spoon; recipe booklet; Dishwasher safe: Accessories only

Pressure cookers of old were steam-spouting monsters that seemed only to occupy the far reaches of grandma’s kitchen, hissing at us to keep our distance. Thankfully, judging by this multi-cook model, modern machines have moved on leaps and bounds.

While it looked a little complicated at first – checking safety valves and seals are all in place before you start is a must – this electric pressure cooker made light work of all we had to throw at it. If you’re looking for speedy results, this is a good choice as, once it came to temperature, it cooked rice, grains and oats quickly.

White basmati took just nine minutes and brown just 15, plus there’s a keep warm facility. The steaming basket, trivet and recipe books help you cook meals as varied as risotto, beef and squash curry, and apple and yoghurt cake. Its large capacity makes it great for a family or dinner party, too.

Sage Risotto Plus Cooker

£69 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Preparing hassle-free risotto

sage

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 23 x 25 x 26 cm; Material: Glass, stainless steel and aluminium; Programmes/functions: Risotto, rice, sauté, steam, slow cook, auto keep warm; Capacity: 3.7L (up to 20 portions); Accessories: Steaming basket, measuring cup, non-stick spatula; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

For those of us who are fed up of standing over risotto pouring in ladles of hot stock and constantly stirring, this could be a revelation. Don’t like risotto? No matter, this large capacity machine cooks simple rice and steams too.

Results were generally pretty pleasing, producing fluffy basmati, although the long grain did stick to the bottom of the pan a little – an issue with many electric rice cookers as the heat comes from the below the pan.

We tested it with just two cups of uncooked rice each time but the machine is big enough to take up to 10, which nets around 20 portions – more than enough for a big family gathering.

When cooking risotto, we found the searing function useful as it meant less washing up – there was no need for another pan to soften the onions. Preparing the risotto was simple too, just pop all the ingredients in the pot and press the risotto button. It will then cook under its own steam.

There’s also a handy 30-minute keep warm function. And, as with many other rice cookers, you can use it to cook grains and porridge, steam, and it also has a slow cook programme. We think this makes it a reasonably priced option if you require a multi-purpose machine.

Tefal MultiCook Advanced 45 in 1 Multi Cooker

£94, AO.com
Best for: Multiple functions

tefal 45 in 1

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 28.6 x 32.8 x 45.4 cm; Material: Plastic, coated aluminium, stainless-steel; Capacity: 5L (approx.18 portions); Programmes/functions: 45 different programmes for baking, steaming, stewing, slow cooking, browning and frying, including rice, porridge, cereals/grains, risotto, soup, yoghurt, baby food, dessert, pasta, cream cheese, bread rising, delay start, keep warm; Accessories: Steaming basket, measuring cup, rice spoon, soup spoon, spoon rack; Dishwasher safe: Bowl, steam basket, lid and utensils

Despite there being an eye-watering number of programmes and functions on this machine, it’s actually pretty easy to use, with a clear display and a comprehensive instruction booklet.

This machine can perform so many tasks – including cooking baby food, porridge, yoghurt, pasta, stews, cream cheese and desserts, as well as prove dough – you might feel it’s not worth having any other small appliances at all, except perhaps a toaster.

The round bottom pan looks like an old-fashioned crock-pot but we soon discovered that this curving base and non-stick interior was what helped prevent our rice from sticking. However, it was also good for Asian-style crusty rice, turning out an attractively shaped patty at the end of cooking.

There’s a delay start button for when you want to programme food to be ready when you get home from work and the DIY function allows you to change automatic cooking times to suit your taste.

While the results were great, producing fluffy, separated, well-cooked grains for all the rice types we tried, a cooking time of over 45 minutes for two cups of long-grain rice meant it was the slowest on test.

Yum Asia Sakura Fuzzy Logic Rice Cooker

£119, Yum Asia
Best for: Professional results at home

yum asia

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 39 x 29 x 24 cm; Material: Ceramic, stainless steel, plastic and aluminium; Programmes/functions: Regular and quick cook programmes, steaming, slow cooking, cake baking, porridge and yoghurt making, keep warm, preset timer; Capacity: 1.5L (up to 8 portions); Accessories: Steaming basket, measuring cup, non-stick spatula, soup ladle, manual with recipes; Extras: Condensation collector; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

It might be the most expensive machine on test but we found this attractive, egg-shaped model gives plenty of bang for your buck. It cooks many different types of rice to perfection, as well as featuring steaming, slow cooking, cake baking, porridge- and yoghurt-making programmes.

This, combined with the fact that it’s modelled on specialist Japanese rice makers (which can command prices of up to £350), makes the price worthwhile.

The blue touch-button control panel on the front is both easy to read and operate. The seven-phase cooking process works automatically depending on the amount and type of food you add and the chosen cooking process, so all you need to do is press go.

We tested both the regular and fast cook settings and it produced fluffy separate grains in around 25 minutes on fast and 35 minutes on regular. We also experimented with the crust function. At an hour and a half, it’s not a quick supper but the results showed us exactly why the crusty bits at the bottom of a rice pot are a much-prized feature in Asian cooking.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in March 2019.

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9 best microwaves – how to pick between Kenwood, Bosch and more

From your morning porridge to speedy dinners, having a microwave on hand can halve cooking times, making it an essential for families and single households alike. Even better, the latest features mean that getting great results can be foolproof, so there’s no need to worry about soggy bread, unevenly heated meat or dried-out dishes.

Microwaves come in three varieties – solo, which offer straightforward heating and are usually affordable; microwave grills, which have a heating element that browns food as well as heating it; and combination microwaves that also work like a conventional oven using hot air but on a smaller scale. They usually have the option of combining microwaving with convection heat, so you can roast a chicken in as little as half an hour and bake cakes faster.

Plus, while you’ll always find a selection of power levels, many microwaves now come with presets for different functions or foods, and accessories. These include grill racks, steamers and crispers, so you can expand your microwave cooking horizons to cookies and cakes, healthy fish and veg, or tasty toasties.

How we test

Our kitchen became home to more pings than a table tennis tournament. While microwaves can be used to heat a variety of foods using different functions, we’ve tested some of the most common, using each microwave’s programmes where available.

Each was used to heat lasagne, with a thermometer to measure the internal temperature after standing, defrost bread without turning it into soggy slices or leaving a dry crust, cook carrots, and grill toast (where applicable), with combinations tested for baking sponge too.

All the microwaves we tested heated efficiently, so most of the assessment relates to ease of operation, the ability to produce good results without additional cooking and overall performance.

Best microwaves under £100

Russell Hobbs RHM2031 20 Litre Stainless Steel Digital Microwave With Grill

£66.97 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Compact kitchens

russell hobbs stainless steel digital microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 20 litres; Type: Microwave grill; Dimensions: 26.2 x 45.2 x 39.5 cm; Features: 9 programmes, 800W microwave with 5 power levels, 1000W grill

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While it wasn’t the most compact microwave we tested, this Russell Hobbs model is still ideal for tucking under a wall cabinet – plus, unlike many of this size, it includes a grill function and a rack.

As you’d expect, there isn’t a huge amount of space inside but you can still make toast for two on its grill-only setting, or combine the grill with microwave power for browned fish, pies or puddings. The grill can run for up to 95 minutes, which might be handy if you’re browning in batches, and puzzlingly, there’s a 0 per cent power level, although we have no clue as to what it could be used for.

Useful features included being able to set a time for the microwave to start by itself, and the ability to defrost by time or weight, though not by food. We used the weight option for bread, which was selected by turning the main dial, though without the instructions at hand, this wouldn’t be obvious.

The preset time was six minutes 15 seconds without a signal to turn the food, but we found it easily defrosted in three minutes 30 seconds. The grill was more successful – we toasted bread for three minutes each side and even though the second side was browner, the toast was excellent.

Although there’s a good choice of programmes (such as spaghetti and rice), vegetables wasn’t one of them, so we cooked carrots on the potatoes setting, which took five minutes. They were soft yet retained their shape.

Fortunately, there was a reheat programme for the lasagne, with 200g predicted to take one minute 30 seconds. The centre of the food only reached 55°C so needed another minute. A good performance but you might have to adjust power levels or cooking times.

Wilko Microwave 20L

£70, Wilko
Best for: Those on a budget

wilko stainless steel microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 20 litres; Type: Solo; Dimensions: 25.6 x 45.1 x 34.5 cm; Features: 8 auto-cook programmes, sequential cooking, 3 defrost settings and express, 800W microwave with 5 power levels

Proving that solo microwaves don’t mean compromising on style, this sleek-looking model comes in a stainless-steel version as well as copper or black. It has more going for it than a shiny finish though, with five power levels, including defrost presets for meat and fish, eight auto programmes for different foods, delay start, child lock, a 60-minute digital timer and an express button corresponding to three rapid blasts of heat.

Its controls aren’t the most intuitive to use but with the instructions at hand, the microwave can do quite a lot. The instant start button, for example, adds time in increments of 10 seconds for those who like a fuss-free approach to cooking. Inside, you’ll find a 27cm-diameter turntable, large enough for an average dinner plate.

In testing, the auto reheat programme allowed two minutes 30 seconds for our lasagne, which was enough to heat it to 82°C in the centre, but left the sauce on top cool in a couple of spots. Using the option for seafood, we defrosted bread for one minute 30 seconds, which was effective, leaving some moisture on the plate but without the slices becoming damp.

A vegetables auto programme cooked 200g of carrots for four minutes 30 seconds, leaving them slightly soft without being mushy. Complete with a two-year guarantee, for the price, we felt this model was great value.

Kenwood K25MMS14 Solo Microwave

£79.99, Currys
Best for: Microwave cooking devotees

kenwood solo microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 25 litres; Type: Solo; Dimensions: 30.6 x 51.3 x 43 cm; Features: 8 auto-cook programmes, 900W microwave with 5 power levels

This smart silver design is ideal for those who plan to use their microwave for more than reheating. It’s packed with handy features, such as a two-stage mode that lets you set it to defrost then switch to cooking food, and a roomy interior with enough space to cater for a family – both of which make it a bargain at its sub £100 price.

Other features we liked were the button for increasing the time by 30 seconds, a kitchen timer button that made using this function straightforward, a child lock and the ability to set the power from 100 per cent to 10 per cent.

More buttons come in the form of defrosting by weight or by time, but not by type. As different food defrosts at different rates, this does mean you’ll have to keep an eye on whatever you’re thawing. We found that the preset time for defrosting 200g bread was four minutes but it only needed just over two minutes.

Similarly, the auto-cook for vegetables wasn’t a one size fits all, as our carrots were given a time of two minutes 50 seconds, which wasn’t enough to cook them through. They needed another minute on full power to soften.

Cooking the lasagne also took a bit of guesswork, as there’s no auto-cook for chilled food. Instead, we heated 200g for three minutes on full. The meal reached 70°C in the centre but the edges of the lasagne started to dry out, so a lower power level for longer may have been more suitable.

Best microwaves under £500

Swan 20L Nordic Digital Microwave

£109.99, Swan
Best for: Affordable style

swan nordic 20l digital microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 20 litres; Type: Solo; Dimensions: 25.7 x 45.1 x 34.2 cm; Features: 800W microwave with 6 power levels

Proving that a basic microwave doesn’t have to be boring, Swan’s Nordic design looks stylish sitting out on a worktop. Available in two Scandi-inspired colours, white and grey, and finished with a mirrored door and wood-effect handle and dial, it’s ideal for a minimal kitchen.

Plus, while it’s compact enough to tuck below wall cabinets, its cavity will still accommodate a 25.4cm dinner plate. The controls are better than basic, too, and feature a digital display, an assortment of labelled buttons and a dial for setting weight and a 30-minute timer.

Cooking options include defrost, express (a one-touch 30 seconds, one minute or one minute 30 seconds button) and eight auto-programmes for foods such as popcorn, pizza or potatoes.

There’s less guidance on which programmes suit which foods compared to pricier models but this microwave would suit someone who’s more interested in hot food fast, rather than microwaving as a primary cooking method.

We used the reheat programme for lasagne, which took two minutes 30 seconds, reached 76°C in the middle after standing, and a seafood defrost programme for 200g of bread, which took just over three minutes, but left the thickest slice slightly frozen in the centre.

An auto-programme for vegetables cooked 100g of carrots in three minutes 50 seconds. They were soft but still held their shape, so might require a reduced time. For the price, you’d expect a few more functions than it has, but it definitely leads the way in good looks.

Bosch Series 2 HMT84M421B White Microwave

£139, AO.com
Best for: Families

bosch series 2 white microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 25 litres; Type: Solo; Dimensions: 30.5 x 51.3 x 40.8 cm; Features: 7 auto-cook and defrost programmes, 900W microwave with 5 power levels

It may lack the bright colours of some but behind the white exterior lies a workhorse of an appliance that’ll heat, cook and thaw without skipping a beat. That, coupled with a generous size and 31.5cm turntable, makes it a good fit for families as well as anyone who needs more capacity than the average solo can offer.

Seven programmes (rice, potatoes and veg, plus four defrost) use your food’s weight to predict cooking time, while five different power levels with a corresponding button – from gentle 90W to 900W – also provide heating flexibility. There’s even a memory button to create your own programme and a 99-minute timer for low and slow cooking.

There wasn’t a preset for ready meals but using the guidance of a lower power level, we chose 600W, which estimated four minutes of cooking. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough after standing (the temperature only reaching 65°C) so we cooked the lasagne for another minute on full and it was piping hot.

Defrosting bread was simple using the preset, although the smallest amount possible on this was 200g (we were defrosting 150g). This took five minutes 30 seconds, which seemed long, but the bread came out perfectly thawed.

Finally, carrots were cooked on an auto-programme for three minutes 55 seconds and came out soft and tasty. What we especially liked about this model was the amount of guidance and range of options that made it easy to avoid overcooking – a great buy if you can make room for it.

Hotpoint Supreme Chef Multifunction Microwave Oven MWH 338 SX

£219, AO.com
Best for: Entertaining

hotpoint supreme chef multifunction microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 33 litres; Type: Combination; Dimensions: 37.3 x 49 x 54 cm; Features: 11 programmes, 900W microwave with 7 power levels, 1200W grill, 80-200°C convection oven

While most microwaves are great for families, the Supreme Chef goes one better with its range of features. You’ll find a cleaning cycle that removes odours, advanced distribution of waves to prevent hot spots, and even a “frying” crisping function so you can make speedy fish and chips.

The Special Menu includes settings for dough proving, melting butter and softening ice cream, but it’s the Chef Menu that takes the hassle out of preparing good food fast, such as scrambled eggs, pizza and chicken.

We used it for heating lasagne on the low rack, although the quantity couldn’t be adjusted from 1200g, as it was designed for cooking from scratch. Instead, we removed it once it began to look brown on top after 10 minutes of microwave heat and the grill, which heated it evenly.

The defrosting bread programme thawed a couple of slices in a minute, while microwaving on 750W cooked carrots in three minutes 30 seconds. A crisper plate with a removable handle was especially good at toasting bread using the Dual Crisp programme, and the small sponge we made using the Chef Menu came out golden and fluffy after 18 minutes – again, not being able to adjust the quantity from 900g was frustrating, but the results were as good as oven baked.

The one downside of this model is the size – it’ll take up most of the depth of a worktop, although the dropdown door makes getting dishes in and out easier, and it’s incredibly roomy. A great option for extra oven space when you’re feeding a crowd.

Panasonic Slimline Combination Microwave Oven NN-CD58JS

£225, John Lewis
Best for: Healthy after-school meals

panasonic slimline combination microwave oven

Key specs – Capacity: 27 litres; Type: Combination; Dimensions: 31 x 52 x 39.5 cm; Features: 29 programmes, 1000W microwave with 6 power levels, 1300W grill, 100-220°C convection oven

Not content with loading its microwaves with great presets, Panasonic has gone one better with this model, adding eight Junior Menu functions for preparing dishes for children.

This means you can cook pasta bake or flapjacks in smaller portion sizes, filling after-school tummies faster, as well as making healthy purees and veggies for babies and toddlers. It’ll also cater for the whole family with 29 auto-programmes, including those for roasting meat and cooking fish and vegetables up to 40 per cent faster, compared to other combination and grill ovens.

We used the junior pasta bake auto-cook programme to heat 200g of lasagne, which took seven minutes using a mix of grill plus microwaving. This gave the food a golden crispy top, and it reached 85°C in the centre. It also defrosted bread perfectly on a specific programme – we felt this was by far one of the best microwaves for fast, even thawing.

It also cooked 100g carrots on another junior auto-programme, resulting in tender but firm vegetables. Our toast took longer than using a toaster – six minutes to golden – but on the plus side, didn’t need preheating. We had less success with baking using microwaves and convection – our sponge didn’t rise well and browned unevenly.

One aspect worth noting is that while it’s billed as slimline (taking up 20 per cent less counter space than previous models), it’s still quite wide. However, the upside is enough space for dinner plates.

Sage The Quick Touch Crisp Microwave BMO700BSS

£249.99, Lakeland
Best for: First-time microwave cooks

sage lakeland the quick touch crisp microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 25 litres; Type: Microwave grill; Dimensions: 31 x 52 x 42 cm; Features: Cook/grill, reheat and defrost presets for different foods, 900W microwave with 10 power levels, 1100W grill

If all you use your oven for is frozen pizza, you might be better off investing in The Quick Touch Crisp. Not only does it have its own crisper pan and a preheat function to prevent soggy results, it uses intelligent inverter technology with a grill to turn out crispy golden-brown pastry, quiche and more.

It also does much of the thinking for you, using cook, reheat and defrost presets to determine time and temperature for a variety of foods, from jacket potatoes to melting chocolate. Other thoughtful touches include a “Favourite” setting, allowing you to create a preset for a frequently cooked dish, and a shortcuts panel is hidden behind the door for tasks such as melting butter.

Chilled ready meal lovers will find that there isn’t a button for them, so you’ll have to take your pick between reheat leftovers or a frozen ready meal option. We used the former for lasagne and the microwave allowed four minutes 30 seconds for 200g, reaching a good 71°C in the middle, with no cold spots.

While there’s a defrost setting that adapts heat time and weight to food type, there wasn’t a preset for bread, so our slices ended up a little moist underneath from over-thawing. However, using the crisper plate after a three-minute preheat turned it into an evenly browned toastie, which we could specify by portion size rather than weight.

A fresh veg auto-cook programme worked well for carrots, needing only three minutes, plus we also tried the baked beans preset that cooked uncovered without spitting or exploding beans. While the choice of presets is good, it doesn’t cover everything, so knowing how to cook other foods would be helpful.

KitchenAid Freestanding Microwave Oven KMQFX33910

£399, AO.com
Best for: Serious cooks

kitchenaid freestanding microwave oven

Key specs – Capacity: 33 litres; Type: Combination; Dimensions: 37.3 x 49 x 54 cm; Features: 50+ recipes, 10 programmes and 5 professional cooking functions, 900W microwave with 7 power levels, 1200W grill, up to 200°C convection oven

It’s unusual that you’d turn to your microwave for your bread-proving or yogurt-making needs, yet this KitchenAid model can be used for both and more.

Essentially, it’s like a multi-functional oven on your worktop, complete with a drop-down door, two-tiered steamer accessory and dedicated programmes (for veg, fish and more), crisper plate and two grills. There’s even an automatic programme to make cleaning the interior as simple as a quick wipe over.

The auto cleaning came in handy when we warmed up lasagne – we chose the low rack in conjunction with the combi grill option and a 350W microwave setting for a crispy top but weren’t prepared for the amount of spatter this produced. There also wasn’t much of a guide for cooking time. We allowed 13 minutes but the edges had started to burn and the centre reached 97°C by the time we removed it, so it didn’t need as long.

We had more success with bread – using the specific “Jet” defrost programme, this allowed 30 seconds for 100g, plus three minutes standing. While it still felt chilled when removed, it was easily sliced in two. Our toast needed just three minutes on high each side on the high rack for a golden brown surface.

The Dual Steam function and its accessory was by far the best at cooking carrots, needing two minutes 30 seconds to produce beautifully cooked, soft and tasty batons, while the Chef’s Menu programme was simple to use and baked well-risen sponge without any need for preheating an oven.

The price tag might be at the top end but if you’re a keen cook with limited oven space or short on time to indulge your passion, this ticks lots of boxes.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in January 2019.

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8 best food processors – how to pick between Magimix, Tefal and more

Who doesn’t need an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, especially ones that can take care of some of the more mundane aspects of cooking, such as chopping the onions, grating a wedge of hard cheese, neatly slicing potatoes for a cream-laden gratin, or quickly creating a purée, soup or smoothie?

A food processor will do exactly this. These kitchen workhorses fly through some of the chores of food preparation by chopping, slicing, grating, mixing, blending, kneading, and even dicing. A food processor, however, should not be confused with a blender. A food processor is a multi-function gadget comprising of a mixing bowl(s) with a range of attachments, including grating and slicing discs or blades, knives and whisks. Blenders are usually single-function and create smoothies, juices, soups or batters. Both are useful in the modern kitchen.

How we test

We have rigorously tested all the processors here in a domestic kitchen setting on the most popular functions by grating several kilos of hard cheese and fresh coconut (almost impossible to do on a hand grater) and creating enough shortcrust pastry to provide quiches and pies for months.

Root vegetables sliced – and where appropriate diced – for over eight litres of soup then blended in the processor, plus meat was chopped for burgers and chilli. As not all processors have blenders, they were not tested, but some special functions were.

Prices for food processors range from over £1000 for a top-notch, professional piece of kit to down as low as £49.99. They all do a job, some faster, quieter and neater than the others. Price does often influence the speed and quality of the processing, although do not underestimate cheaper models.

Before you decide which one suits your needs, here are a few questions you may want to consider.

What do you want to use the processor for?

Are you a busy cook making family meals, baking, bread making and entertaining, or, do you merely want to speed up preparing ingredients? Your choice will help determine what functions are essential to you.

How much space do you have?

Multi-function processors are bulky, some with many attachments. Perhaps a compact style will suit you better.

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How many are you cooking for?

Buy a processor that’s too small and it will be frustrating, too big and you will not get the best out of it.

Do you need all those attachments?

Unless you’re a keen cook, many will end up gathering dust at the back of a cupboard alongside that once-you-thought-would-be useful spiralizer you bought summers ago.

Here’s our pick of the best budget, mid-range and high-end processors.

Best budget processors

Tower T18004 1.5L Food Processor

£29.99, Robert Dyas
Best for: Light, infrequent use

tower t18004 food processor

Key specs – Size: 42(H) x 25(W) x 34(D); Bowl size: 1.5 litre; Power: 600w; Attachments: 1 grating/slicing disc, blender disc and stainless-steel chopping blade; Additional notable features: 1.4-litre blender

The Tower processor sits at the lowest price point of all the machines tested and, although not the best on test, it has some great features that anyone seeking a simple, easy-to-use processor for lighter duties would appreciate.

The processor base, jugs and attachments feel extremely light but are also a little flimsy. The bowl was not as easy to fit onto the bottom compared to others and the lid was a little tricky to use – anyone with wrist problems would struggle, although we suspect this problem would ease with continued use.

There was very little to complain about with the slicing and grating though, but only one size makes its uses limiting. The light stainless-steel blade performed well and chopped through onions, carrots and celery without struggle, and blending a soup was as straightforward as it comes. Pastry fared less well, and it needed much more processing than is right to create a light and crumbly finished dough.

Do not, however, dismiss this food processor, it has its place, and for someone who will only expect it to perform light duties and doesn’t want to over-challenge it with large quantities, the Tower delivers good results, even if it does take a little longer than others.

Andrew James Multi-Functional Food Processor

£56.49 (price correct at time of publishing), Andrew James
Best for: Value for money

andrew james multifunctional food processor

Key specs – Size: 23 x 41.5 x 23 cm; Bowl size: 2.4 litres; Power: 800w; Attachments: 8 with 4 grating/slicing discs, blades, whisks, coffee grinder, citrus press, spatula and large 2-part plunger; Additional notable features: 1.5-litre blender

The Andrew James processor, cost-wise, may be sitting towards the lower end of the market but it delivers a vast range of attachments and accessories. The processor itself is robust and a good weight, and – with the addition of rubber suction cup feet – stays relatively still while processing, although when grating hard cheese, it did move slightly and was rather noisy.

The controls are straightforward with the dial having two speed settings, pulse and off. Equally the set-up instructions were easy to follow and the machine was up and running in about 10 minutes – most of that time was spent sifting through all the attachments to sort out what was what.

The Andrew James machine is good value considering it’s so well-equipped, meaning there is little need for any other gadget. The attachments are not as substantial as the more expensive machines but made short work of all the punishing processes it was put through, with little wastage.

There is no storage with this processor though and with so many attachments – jugs, bowls etc. – it requires a lot of space. The blades and the slicing discs, as would be expected, are super sharp and with no distinctive safe storage, accidents can happen, as a cut finger here bears testament.

Best mid-range processors

Tefal DO824H40 Double Force Pro Food Processor

£119.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Reliable performance

tefal double force pro food processor

Key specs – Size: 40(H) x 32(W) x 28(D) cm; Bowl size: 3 litres; Power: 1000w; Attachments: 3 reversible grating/slicing discs, dough blade, stainless steel chopping blade, whisk/beater, citrus press, spatula, storage box; Additional notable features: 2-litre blender, EasyLock lid and dual force motor

The Tefal processor has an impressive range of attachments, which at this price is a bargain. It’s sturdy and even on top speed there was little vibration, meaning a very quiet machine. There is also an in-bowl storage box and the cord winds neatly away, making this an excellent space-saving processor.

The 1000w motor and large three-litre bowl means the Tefal can tackle hefty loads and quantities, and in every test it performed exceptionally well, evenly and with little or no waste. There is also a series of pre-programmed tasks found on the control panel, which intuitively chooses the motor speed most suited to the task.

However, the instructions supplied with the processor are complicated to work through, with page after page of tiny drawings and text is kept to a minimum. With patience, good eyesight, plenty of time and some knowledge of food processing, it is possible to work it out though. Anyone new to using a food processor would possibly struggle to get the answer they need, which is a shame as this is an excellent machine and offers excellent value for money.

KitchenAid 5KFP0919 2.1L Food Processor

£179, KitchenAid
Best for: Efficiency and style

kitchenaid food processor

Key specs – Size: 195(W) x 540(H) x 260(D) mm; Bowl size: 2.1 litre (also available in 1.7 litres); Power: 240w; Attachments: 3 grating/slicing discs, dough blade, stainless-steel multifunction blade, 2-part plunger; Additional notable features: 1-click, twist-free lid locking system

The KitchenAid shines on style and performs extremely well. The neat, semi-retro appearance of this machine means there’s no hiding this beauty away in a cupboard.

The instructions are straightforward, with the processor up and running within minutes, and the innovative one-click, twist-free bowl and latched lid locking system was the best lock of all the processors tested, making this both a secure and safe machine to use.

The discs and blades store inside the bowl, which can be a faff as they need to be removed every time, but cleverly inserted so sharp edges are facing down to prevent slicing fingers when removing them. The cable is stored in the base too, all of which makes the KitchenAid neat and tidy on the worktop.

Do not be put off by the 240-watt motor either; this machine packs a punch with its smooth, quiet and powerful delivery, with two speeds and pulse delivered by the simple push down buttons. The KitchenAid performed well in all functions, with a variety of slicing thicknesses, grating hard cheese into fluffy clouds and producing delicate shreds of vegetables through to hefty chunks. The stainless-steel blade whips through meat, pastry and purées in a flash, too.

It’s not the cheapest processor but far from the most expensive, making this a great-value, super-efficient and good-looking machine.

Ninja 1100W Smart Screen Food Processor with FreshVac Technology

£179.99, Ninja Kitchen
Best for: Healthy lifestyles

ninja smart screen food processor

Key specs – Size: 17 x 21 x 43.5 cm; Bowl size: 1.1 litres; Power: 1100w; Attachments: 1 reversible slicing and grating disc, double dough blade, stainless steel 4 blade knife, 2-part pusher,large feeder tube; Additional notable features: 3 speeds, touch pad control panel, 2.1-litre vacuum blending pitcher, 2.1-litre vacuum blending pitcher lid and valve, FreshVac technology vacuum blending pump, 2 x 600ml lidded drinking cups

By just peeping inside the Ninja box, it’s evident that this machine is for much more than just food processing. With only a 1.1-litre processing bowl, it doesn’t handle vast quantities but what it does do is grate, slice, blend, chop and whip up pastry extremely quickly, thanks to a powerful motor and a fearsome-looking four-blade knife.

There is only one reversible disc though, meaning less versatility than machines of a similar price. The pastry is easy to make but needs caution, as the ferocity of speed here could quickly over blend.

The machine is sturdy and with four suction-cup feet it clings to the work surface and keeps vibration to a minimum. But even with this steadiness, the motor is extremely noisy.

The complete Ninja system also includes a large 2.1-litre blender and an even more fearsome-looking six-blade knife for making healthy smoothies, juices and frozen drinks. Impressively, the machine knows what jug you’re using (food processor, blender or single-size drinks cup) and intuitively adjusts speed and processing accordingly.

The Ninja is an impressive food system, which is not just useful to the home cook but to anyone seeking a healthy eating and drinking lifestyle.

Magimix 4200XL Food Processor

From £269.95 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Larger family

magimix 4200xl food processor

Key specs – Size: 42.5(H) x 21(W) x 26.5(D) cm; Bowl Size: 3 litres; Power: 950w; Attachments: 2 slicing discs, 2 grating discs, dough blade, stainless steel blade, triple pusher and extra-large feeder tube, egg whisk, blending tool and spatula; Additional notable features: Large, medium and small bowl (with blades)

This good-looking, solid machine comes in five colours and with not one but three bowls, which nest neatly one inside the other. The large blades and discs are interchangeable with the main (three-litres), medium (2.6-litres) and mini (1.2-litres) bowls. The three sizes of bowl give greater flexibility in quantities, from chopping herbs through to large batches of pastry and even 1kg bread without strain.

There are just three operating push buttons on the base, with a pulse, stop and auto button, where usually there would be at least two speeds. Pushing auto, the processor runs in a continuous mode, which gave better and more even results and created the best pastry of all the processors tested. The 950w motor was supremely efficient and made light work of producing even slices and grating with no wastage.

The Magimix is the quietest of the processors tested too, as its solidity holds it firmly on the worktop with little or no vibration. This solidity, however, makes the processor one of the largest and heaviest but, if you have a large family to feed, are a fervent baker or avid cook, you’re going to love this machine.

Cuisinart FP1300U Prep Pro

£250, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Unusual attachments

cuisinart prep pro

Key specs – Size: 42(H) x 20(W) x 28 (D) cm; Bowl size: 3 litres; Power: 550w; Attachments: 2 slicing and grating discs, mini bowl and blade, dough blade, stainless steel blade, 3-part pusher, large feeder tube, egg whisk, blending tool and spatula; Additional notable features: Touchpad control panel, dicing and spiraliser kits

The Prep Pro is the latest processor from Cuisinart and is a sturdy machine with a slick, attractive design, touchscreen controls and no fiddly buttons, which makes it easy to clean.

From box to functioning took longer than most, as the processor comes with a host of unusual pieces, including a dicing attachment. The step-by-step instructions are clear and mean the machine is easier to use than at first glance. Our early attempts of diced potatoes resulted in varied sizes and shapes but, with practice, quickly became neat and even; this could be our favourite attachment to date.

The base of the Prep Pro was lighter than expected when compared to similarly priced machines, but that in no way affected the rigours of the testing, which were all tip-top with no complaints at all. The processor sits well on the counter with little vibration, meaning it’s also quiet.

There are many parts to the Cuisinart Prep Pro and thankfully storage has been well thought through, with separate boxes for discs and blades. The dicer and spiraliser will need extra room in the cupboard but are worth it.

Best high-end food processors

Thermomix TM5 Touchscreen

From £964, Thermomix
Best for: Professional chefs and serious cooks

thermomix tm5 touchscreen

Key specs – Size: 33(H) x 32(W) x 30(D) cm; Bowl size: 2.2 litres; Power: 550w; Attachments: 4 blades, cutting and stirring knife, heating system, Varoma steamer, measuring cup, butterfly whisk, spatula, recipe chip; Additional notable features: Speed continuously adjustable from 100 to 10,700 rpm, Cook-Key (not included)

At close to £1000, the Thermomix needs to pack a punch, and it does. This processor is one of the simplest and quietest to use, yet bizarrely has the least amount of attachments with the functionality to replace almost all small kitchen cooking appliances in the kitchen.

The Thermomix weighs, cooks, chops, crushes, emulsifies, whips, mixes, steams, blends, kneads, grinds simmers, grates and mills – phew. What it does not do is slice or grate medium cheese but harder varieties chopped well. Making pastry was easy too, as ingredient by ingredient is weighed as it’s added to the bowl, and processing a batch took 15 seconds.

There is a recipe chip included in the price, which gives easy access to tried-and-tested, basic recipes displayed on the touchscreen. There’s also a subscription-based service called Cookidoo that provides access to thousands of recipes online.

To justify the price is easy given the range of functions, but for this machine to realise its full potential, it needs to be in the hands of a serious cook, a busy working parent wanting to quickly and easily make nutritious meals, or the professional chef desperate for another pair of hands in the kitchen.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in January 2019.

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7 best spiralizers for 2019 – get in a twist with these top buys

Courgetti, zoodles, even cunoodles (cucumber noodles for the uninitiated) – call them what you will but the spiralizer is one kitchen gadget that’s here to stay.

The clever contraption has been around for some time now (originating in Japan and gaining popularity back in 2014) but rather than being a flash in the pan, this inexpensive item has well and truly earned its place in our kitchens.

For those that haven’t the foggiest what we’re talking about, a spiralizer turns a whole host of fruit and veg – from courgettes and cucumbers to beetroot and apples – into long springy noodles. Not only is this a great way of sneaking in extra portions of veg and hitting your five a day, it’s also a godsend for those following a low carb diet. However, it’s not just for people watching their weight – a spiralizer can transform the humble spud into curly fries in no time at all.

In case that’s not enough to sell it to you, we’ve also found it’s a great way of getting the kids excited about cooking too. Even little hands can twist the lever of the counter-top versions with no fear of cutting themselves.

When making a decision on which is the right spiralizer for you, consider how much space you have. Handheld versions are best if cupboards are at bursting point. But if you’re short of time or have mobility issues, the electric spiralizers require zero elbow grease.

We tried out everything from the cheap and cheerful through to the heavy-duty machines, with a variety of veg (both hard and soft) to see which ones could handle the job.

Cuisique Spiralizer

£21.97 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Overall value

Cuisique

Key specs – Type: Manual; Dimensions: 25 x 14 x 14 cm; Included: 4 blade insertions and juicing function; Dishwasher safe: Yes

Until now, we’ve been used to feeding the veg into our spiralizers with a sideways action, but this contraption lets gravity do half of the work and now we’re not sure we want to go back. The gadget comes with a built-in bowl to catch the noodles without making a mess and can also grate, mandoline and juice – quite the all-rounder.

We found that veg fed through easily, even the tougher types like beetroot, but the bowl did need emptying fairly frequently if you’re making larger batches. The only downside we could find was the cutters need storing separately, as they don’t attach to the main machine when not in use like some others we’ve tried. That said, if you have the space, you certainly get a lot for your money here.

Lurch Attila Hildmann Vegetable Spiralizer

£33.95 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Long noodles

Lurch

Key specs – Type: Manual; Dimensions: 23 x 13.9 x 27.4 cm; Included: 3 blade insertions and recipe book; Dishwasher safe: Yes

This model has your classic spiralizer design and allows for the blades to be stored in the base, while suction pads stop the machine from slipping when in use. It comes with three insertions – spaghetti, fine spaghetti and spirals – but in all honesty, they’re all much of a muchness, producing long springy noodles for miles and miles – or until your courgette runs out.

A collaboration with vegan cookbook author Attila Hildmann, this machine also comes with a selection of recipes to get you started.

OXO Good Grips Hand-Held Spiralizer

£12 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Space saving

Oxo

 

Key specs – Type: Handheld; Dimensions: 9 x 8 x 8 cm; Included: 1 blade; Dishwasher safe: Yes

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Most counter-top spiralizers require a fair amount of storage space, but that’s not the case with this handheld version from OXO. It’s from a reliable brand we’ve long been fans of and, as you’d expect, the sturdy, spiky pad is good at keeping everything in place.

Once the veg is secured, twist away like a pencil sharpener and out come the noodles. It’s definitely easier to use with soft flesh fruit and veg – namely, courgettes – but if you’re new to spiralizing and want to try out an inexpensive option before buying an investment piece, we think this works well.

KitchenAid Spiralizer

£99, Debenhams
Best for: Professionals

Kitchenaid

Key specs – Type: Automatic; Dimensions: 7.4 x 31.4 x 14.7 cm; Included: Spiralizer attachment, fruit and vegetable skewer, fine spiralizing blade, medium spiralizing blade, spiral slicing with 12mm corer, spiral slicing blade with 23mm corer, peeling blade, storage case; Dishwasher safe: No

If you’ve already got a shiny KitchenAid, you probably don’t want yet more kit cluttering up the kitchen. Thankfully, this nifty attachment can be added to your current machine, expanding what it’s capable of without taking up much more room.

This serious-looking bit of kit made light work of peeling, coring and slicing, as well as spiralizing, coping effortlessly with hard potatoes and the like. Sadly you can’t whack the whole thing in the dishwasher once you’re done though, so bear that in mind if you hate washing by hand.

The attachment comes with a skewer to attach your chosen fruit or veg to, two spiralizing blades (fine and medium strands), as well as two corers and a peeler for super speedy spuds.

Easy Store Spiralizer and Inspiralize Everything Book Bundle

£44.47, Lakeland
Best for: Inspiration

Easy Store

Key specs – Type: Manual; Dimensions: 24 x 14 x 14.5 cm; Included: 4 blade insertions and a recipe book; Dishwasher safe: Yes

If you like the idea of spiralizing but don’t quite know where to start, this helpful bundle from Lakeland includes a recipe booklet to give you a dose of inspiration.

The rotary handle didn’t require too much force to get going and the suction pads stopped the machine from slipping once in use. There’s a choice of four blades, which offer varying noodle widths and thickness for both hard and soft veg, and everything can be neatly stored in the base of the machine.

It’s also a little more compact than other machines on this list, which made finding a home for it a lot easier.

Morphy Richards 432020 Electric Spiralizer

£34.99, Morphy Richards
Best for: Effortlessness

Morphy Richards

Key specs – Type: Automatic; Dimensions: 20 x 13.5 x 27.3 cm; Included: 2 blades; Dishwasher safe: No

Most spiralizers require a certain level of elbow grease but with this electric version you can get vegetable noodles at the press of a button. We can see this being particularly useful if you need to make vast quantities of veg (perhaps you’ve got a big family or you’re catering on a larger scale?).

However, we found it worked better on straighter veg such as courgettes or carrots as opposed to squash or apples due to the shape of the chute. Easy to clean, and good looking enough to leave on the kitchen counter, this is a great option if you’re short on time.

SharpPeel Stainless Steel Julienne Vegetable Peeler

£4.99, Lakeland
Best for: Small budgets

SharpPeel

Key specs – Type: Handheld; Dimensions: 12cm; Included: 1 blade; Dishwasher safe: Yes

Ok, so it’s not quite a spiralizer but you get a surprisingly similar effect with a julienne peeler. If you’re short of space and looking for a budget option, this simple stainless steel gadget is ideal.

You won’t get the super-long spirals that the machines are capable of, but the blade will produce matchstick strips of fruit and veg that work particularly well in a coleslaw, stir fry or bircher muesli.

Despite its simplicity, it comes with a generous three-year guarantee. Watch your fingers though – it’s extremely sharp.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in January 2019.

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6 best slow cookers – pick between Breville, Russell Hobbs and more

The joy of a slow cooker is being able to throw a bunch of food in a pot, switch it on, and go about your day without giving it another thought. When you return to it hours later there will be a fully cooked meal ready to be served, without the stress of having had to labour over it.

And there may be more benefits to slow cooking than you might think. Despite the appliance being on for several hours at a time, it uses less energy than a conventional oven, and the nature of stewing food in a single pot over long periods of time means it retains the nutrients and juices that may otherwise be lost in other forms of cooking.

If you’re wondering what types of meals can be made in a slow cooker, each brand provides a number of recipes in the appliance instruction manual, with everything from a country chicken casserole to steamed chocolate pudding.

Cooking times for traditional recipes can also be translated for a slow cooker. If a meal would normally take between 30 and 60 minutes in the oven, it would take between six and eight hours in the slow cooker on a low setting, and between two and four hours on a high setting. But you will need less liquid than in traditional recipes, as the liquid will not evaporate during the cooking process.

If you’re taking meat out of the freezer to go into a stew or casserole then be aware that it should be thoroughly defrosted before being slow cooked. Many brands will recommend browning any meat before putting it in the pot, and some slow cookers are designed to be able to sear or sauté meat in the cooking pot itself before adding the rest of the ingredients. Raw red kidney beans will need to be soaked overnight and boiled before being put in a slow cooker, too.

Most slow cookers have ceramic cooking pots but the ones with searing abilities are made with aluminium. The only thing to note about these pots is that they are made from a malleable material, and can sometimes get bent out of shape. Nearly all slow cookers have clear glass lids that let you see what’s going on inside, but beware of lifting the lid off during cooking – the heat that builds up inside the pot is integral to the slow cooking process and releasing it by taking the lid off too often will increase the overall cooking time.

What to expect

Each slow cooker comes with a simple set of settings: low, high, and either keep warm or auto. A keep warm setting will keep your food at a level temperature, usually for up to four hours, while an auto setting tends to cook food on the high mode until reaching a certain temperature, at which point it will switch to the temperature on a low setting. If you know you’ll be away from your slow cooker when you want to turn the food off a high setting but still keep it warm, this is a useful function.

While digital slow cookers may have more complex settings, the cooking options are the same – low, high and keep warm – but you can program how long to cook your meal for and they usually automatically switch to a keep warm setting as soon as the time is up.

Cookworks 3.5L Slow Cooker Black

£19.99, Argos
Best for: Uncomplicated cooking

cookworks slow cooker

Key specs – Size: 3.5L; Dishwasher safe: No; Cooking pot: Ceramic; Settings: 3 (manual); Timer: No

This Cookworks appliance is as simple as they come, and makes for uncomplicated, easy slow cooking overnight or over the course of the day. It has three settings; low, high and keep warm, the latter of which can be used for up to four hours to keep food at a level temperature, while the 3.5L capacity makes a sizeable amount of food that can easily feed a table of four people with room for leftovers.

Unlike other products on this list, the ceramic bowl and glass lid are not dishwasher safe, but for people who want a simple, no-frills cooker that they can plug in and switch on before going about their day, the price makes it a top choice. Our tester made a hearty vegetable lasagne in this slow cooker, which lasted for a good couple of meals. It also comes in a 1.5L and 6.5L capacity.

Crock-Pot 2.4L Two Person Slow Cooker

£20.15, Amazon
Best for: Dinner for two

crockpot two person slow cooker

Key specs – Size: 2.4L; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Cooking pot: Stoneware; Settings: 3 (manual); Timer: No

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Crock-Pot boasts being the original slow cooker brand, having first hit the market in 1970 as a humble bean-cooker. It’s no surprise then, that the brand has a wide range of slow cookers available, from original, three-setting cookers to ones with digital programming, and even a couple with aluminium pots that let you sauté food before stewing it.

Our tester chose this smaller, classic version to make the most of its abilities as a compact cooker. The round appliance has three manual settings; low, high and keep warm. The latter is not to be used for cooking, but it is a handy way to keep your food at a steady temperature for up to four hours once a dish is done. Our tester found this particularly helpful when they made a black bean chipotle chilli as part of a dinner for two, and they were able to go back for seconds, which was still nice and warm.

Lakeland 3.5L Slow Cooker

£29.99, Lakeland
Best for: Lunch with leftovers

lakeland slow cooker

Key specs – Size: 3.5L; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Cooking pot: Ceramic; Settings: 3 (manual); Timer: No

Lakeland has a range of slow cookers and this 3.5L oval version is ideal for cooking lunch for two people with leftovers, or dinner for four. It comes with a warning that the outer layer may get hot while cooking, and the handles and cooking pot itself can become quite hot to touch, especially if cooking on the high setting. Like the other slow cookers on this list, it has a plastic handle in the centre of the glass lid making it easy to serve the food without fear of burning yourself.

It has three settings, low, high and auto. The auto setting may work best if you need to cook something for a particular amount of time; it has an average cooking time of six to eight hours and cooks food on a high setting until reaching a particular temperature, then switches to keep the food warm until it’s ready to serve. Our tester found this worked well for making a stew that had been kept warm without overcooking when the tester came back to the pot. This slow cooker comes in a 1.5L, 3.5L and a 6L capacity.

Andrew James Slow Cooker 1.5L

£17.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Making breakfast

andrew james slow cooker

Key spec – Size: 1.5L; Dishwasher safe: Ceramic bowl; Cooking pot: Ceramic; Settings: 3 (manual); Timer: No

Our tester was speaking to a friend about slow cookers recently and was casually told: “There’s nothing like eating porridge made in one.” And as our tester discovered, they were right. Tip in the ingredients and switch it on before you go to bed, and you’ll wake up to a hearty bowl of slow-cooked oats.

This compact slow cooker is a handy size for making yourself breakfast or smaller meals, and comes with settings low, high and auto. Homeware brand Andrew James says the auto setting allows people to set the appliance to cook frozen food for the day to be ready to serve 8-10 hours later, but this presumably does not mean for meat, fish or poultry. The auto setting works the same way as others on the list, cooking at a high temperature before switching to a lower heat. This model is available in 1.5L, 3.5L 6.5L and 8.0L.

Morphy Richards Red Sear and Stew digital Slow Cooker 3.5L

£54.99, Morphy Richards
Best for: Time-specific cooking

morphy richards red sear and stew digital slow cooker

Key specs – Size: 3.5L; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Cooking pot: Not ceramic (appears aluminium, but not stated); Settings: 3 (digital); Timer: Yes

A number of brands offer slow cookers with added features, and this Morphy Richards model lets you sear meat on the hob inside the cooking bowl itself before transferring it to the cooking base to let it stew. Just be sure not to use metal cooking utensils, as you don’t want to scratch the non-stick surface.

The digital settings on this appliance allow you choose a low, high or keep warm setting and how long you want food to cook for. The timer starts from a minimum cooking time of four hours and increases in 30 minute increments. Once you press the start button, the timer counts down until the cooking time ends.

Unfortunately there is no delay start function, but if you will be away from the slow cooker once it finishes cooking, it automatically switches onto the keep warm function for two hours, giving you some wiggle room. Our tester found this function exceptionally useful when needing a little extra time as they made a fish curry for some dinner guests. Morphy Richards makes a range of slow cookers, but this model is also available in 6.5L.

Breville 4.5L Black Slow Cooker

£17.48, Asda
Best for: Dinner with guests

breville black slow cooker

Key specs – Size: 4.5L; Dishwasher safe: Glass lid only; Cooking pot: Ceramic; Settings: 3 (manual); Timer: No

Breville makes two slow cookers, a 1.5L version and this larger pot that works well for bigger groups of diners. The three manual settings comprise of low, high, and auto, but Breville recommends using the low option as a keep warm function if you need to.

It will gently simmer whatever is in the pot, and is also ideal for cooking food overnight or if you’re out for a lot of the day. Our tester used it to cook a hearty vegetable tagine for friends – the hours the food spent in the pot brought out the spices and flavours in the dish.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in December 2018.

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8 of the best air fryers – how to pick between Tefal, Lakeland and more

If you’re looking to be a little healthier in 2019, it makes sense to start in the kitchen. But aside from altering what you eat, you may also want to alter how you cook it.

Air fryers are one such gadget that claims to cook the food you love, but in a much healthier way. Requiring little or no oil, the counter-top ‘fryers’ are convection ovens that circulate heat to cook your food. Cooking items often much quicker than a regular oven, giving them a crispy texture, the results are similar to frying, but with significantly less fat. They’re also less messy than frying and easy to keep clean.

And they’re versatile, able to cope with anything from traditional fried food, to meat and fish, pizza dough and even cupcakes. Simply place the food inside, spray with oil if directed (though many items don’t need it) and set your temperature and timer. Most fryers will require you to take your food out and shake it part way through to ensure even cooking.

Prices for air fryers vary greatly depending on the size of the fryer, and how many settings it has. Things to consider when looking for the right one for you is how many people you intend to regularly cook for, and whether you’re looking to use it for cooking items such as chips and bread-crumbed food, or whether you want to ‘roast’ bigger items, such as a whole chicken.

We evaluated our machines, not only based on how well they cooked a range of foods, but also on ease of use, appearance, value for money, and crucially for a counter-top item that you may want to keep out or put in the cupboard, how bulky they were or not. Here’s our round-up of the best.

Power Air Fryer XL

£94.99, High Street TV
Best for: All-round healthier cooking

power air fryer xl

Key specs – Dimensions: 35.3cm (d) x 35.3cm (w) x 39.6cm (h); Capacity: 5 litres; Power: 1700W; Max temp: 200°C/400°F; Settings: 7; Accessories: Baking tray, basket divider, recipe book; Dishwasher safe: Some parts

With seven different cooking functions, the Power Air Fryer represents great value for money. According to its makers, this machine can air-fry, grill, bake, sauté, roast and steam. Family-size at a generous five litres, there’s plenty of space inside too.

Handy accessories, such as a baking tray and basket divider, mean that you can cook several different items at once, making it even more family-friendly. And the seven pre-set functions cover popular items, such as French fries, roasts, shrimp, bake, chicken, steak and fish, set at the optimum time and temperature.

The results were crispy on the outside, while the food items we tried remained moist and fluffy on the inside. That said, this egg-shaped machine does take up a fair bit of space, so won’t be for everyone, though it is also available in a smaller 3.2 litre format.

Tefal AH960840 Actifry Genius XL Healthy Air Fryer

£167 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Great-tasting food

tefal ah960840 actifry genius xl healthy air fryer

Key specs – Dimensions: 47.6cm (d) x 32.8cm (w) x 26.3cm (h); Capacity: 1.7kg; Power: 1500W; Max temp: 220°c/428°F; Settings: 9; Accessories: 300 recipe ideas via the Actifry app; Dishwasher safe: Some parts

This is one high-tech gadget, which is reflected in the higher price point of this machine. Tefal’s air fryer is all about intuitive settings, and ease of use. While most fryers require you to remove the food part-way through to shake and check on cooking progress, Tefal’s does it for you with a stirring tool and window in the lid allowing you to check on your food.

There’s also nine automatic programs – chips, breaded snacks, battered snacks, rolls, meat and veg balls, chicken, wok, world cuisine, and desserts – and a touchscreen display, which makes using the machine nice and easy. Food was well cooked, crispy on the outside, moist in the middle.

You can also set a delayed timer for up to nine hours, while a keep-warm function automatically kicks in after three minutes. However, we found the stirring arm did have the tendency to knock the crumbs off bread crumbed items. And there’s no getting around the fact that the shape and size of this machine makes it a little awkward, as the housing for the display unit sticks out pretty far from the rest of the fryer. However, this has to be one of the most sophisticated, user-friendly and well thought out machines we tested.

VonShef 5L Air Fryer

£64.99, VonShef
Best for: Value for money

vonshef 5l air fryer

Key specs – Dimensions: 35.5cm (d) x 35.5cm (w) x 38.5cm (h); Capacity: 5 litres; Power: 2000W; Max temp: 200°C/400°F; Settings: 0; Accessories: 3 recipe ideas; Dishwasher safe: No

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Stylish, with copper-coloured features, the VonShef air fryer looks good. And simple to operate, it’s easy to use too. Unlike more expensive models, there’s no pre-set functions or digital displays here. Instead the fryer operates via two dials, one for time and one for temperature, while a cooking guide on the top of the unit and in the accompanying instruction booklet provides guidance for commonly cooked items.

We found this air fryer to be a lot quieter during cooking than many of the others we tested. And don’t be misled by its simplicity; this fryer cooked food just as well as more expensive models, though we did note that items took slightly longer to cook.

And, with an 800g-capacity basket, it’s perfect for family cooking. However, it feels a lot chunkier than some of the other, more simple fryers on our list, though the brand also offers a 1.5 and 3.5 litre machine.

Lakeland Touchscreen Air Fryer

£79.99, Lakeland
Best for: Space saving

lakeland touchscreen air fryer

Key specs – Dimensions: 27cm (d) x 32.5cm (w) x 34.5cm (h); Capacity: 2.6 litre; Power: 1300W; Max temp: 200°C; Settings: 0; Accessories: 0; Dishwasher safe: Some parts

This fryer gets points for its size and simple matt black appearance, which is a lot more attractive than a number of other air fryers we tested. Simple and no-frills, there’s no recipes provided, except a guide to making homemade chips. And the only real difference between this and other simple machines on our list was its digital screen over dial controls.

But the results during testing were impressive, with food cooked well and the unit not getting as hot as many of the other models we tried. We were also impressed with its slim appearance, which meant that it fits much more easily on a counter-top if you did wish to keep it out.

However, the drawback to the space-saving design is a smaller cooking basket. Whereas many machines can handle up to 700g of food, this fryer has a maximum capacity of 500g. But it’s perfectly fine for those cooking for just one or two people.

Wilko Air Fryer with Removable Basket

£40, Wilko
Best for: Size vs value

wilko air fryer

Key specs – Dimensions: 33.5cm (d) x 28.5cm (w) x 31.0cm (h); Capacity: 4 litres; Power: 1400W; Max temp: 200°C; Settings: 0; Accessories: 0; Dishwasher safe: 3-litre cooking basket, grill tray

With a four-litre capacity, this fryer is quite a bit bigger than many other fryers, especially with budget options. And yet the design is still compact enough to sit on your counter top. Made with versatility in mind, there’s a dual capacity non-stick four-litre pot, ideal when cooking for four, and a removable three-litre basket for when cooking for one to two people, and a little wire rack is included for grilling.

The main difference with this and other pricier models is the dial controls, rather than a digital screen. And whereas other fryers have a 60-minute cooking timer, this one extends just up to 30 minutes. We also found the unit got pretty hot while cooking, so you may want to keep some space around it if keeping it on the counter. But for the price, we really couldn’t fault it.

Salter EK2205 Healthy Digital Hot-Air Fryer

£65.99, Robert Dyas
Best for: Recipe inspiration

salter ek2205 healthy digital hot air fryer

Key specs – Dimensions: 31.4cm (d) x 31.4cm (w) x 35.9cm (h); Capacity: 4.5 litres; Power: 1400W; Max temp: 200°C; Settings: 0; Accessories: Recipe book; Dishwasher safe: Some parts

If you’re looking for some meal ideas, as well as healthier ways to cook them, then this might be the choice for you. This Salter air fryer comes with a 22-page recipe book to help you decide what to have for dinner, including grilled prawns coated with butter and garlic, tandoori chicken and duck stir fry, among others.

We found the unit got pretty hot during use. And though the instructions recommended pre-heating the machine for three to five minutes during use, we found we didn’t need to. This air fryer actually seemed to cook items quicker than other machines we tested. And with a 4.5-litre non-stick cooking basket, it’s big enough to cook for the family.

Morphy Richards 480004 Air Fryer

£79.98, Currys
Best for: Pre-set cooking

morphy richards 480004 air fryer

Key specs – Dimensions: 33.7 cm (d) x 27.9 cm (w) x 31.3cm (h); Capacity: 3 litres; Power: 1400W; Max temp: 200°C; Settings: 10; Accessories: 0; Dishwasher safe: No

Fry, bake, roast or grill with this great-value fryer. With 10 pre-set functions, the Morphy Richards unit is designed to do the work for you, with each setting set to the optimum temperature and time for everything from chips to chicken, vegetables, pizza and cupcakes.

And usefully, and unlike other machines, there’s also a defrost setting. With a large cooking pan, it’s also suitable for serving up to four people. However, the touch screen isn’t the most responsive and felt a little clunky to use. But overall, if you’re looking for something to do the work for you, this is the machine for you.

Cookworks Health Fryer

£66, Amazon
Best for: Small kitchens

cookworks health fryer

Key specs – Dimensions: 34.5cm (d) x 27cm (w) x 34.5cm (h); Capacity: 0.7kg; Power: 1300W; Max temp: 200°C; Settings: 0; Accessories: 0; Dishwasher safe: No

While this certainly isn’t the prettiest fryer on our list, it’s certainly practical. The cylindrical design looks akin to a large kettle and there’s no digital display or pre-settings here. But though simple, the cooking results were great, with food crisped on the outside and moist in the middle.

It also comes with a recipe for home-cooked chips, but otherwise the instructions and cooking guide are a little sparse. And the machine only cooks for up to 30 minutes. It’s basic, sure, but it cooks food perfectly.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in December 2018.

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12 best non-stick frying pans – toss up between Tefal, Lakeland and more

The range of good things that can come out of a frying pan makes a mouthwatering list: a full English breakfast, stir fries, pancakes, omelettes, steak and frittatas, to name a few. Even better, making them doesn’t have to be unhealthy. The latest pans are non-stick wonders with durable coatings that will see you through years of flipping and frying.

Buying the best frying pan comes down to how you like to cook. If, for example, you like the option of finishing dishes off in the oven, you’ll need a pan that can withstand higher heat or have a removable handle.

Size is important too – 28cm larger pans are great for one-pot dishes, while if you tend to fry single ingredients, such as eggs, a 20cm pan will be easier to store. Similarly, look for high sides if you’d also like to use your pan for deep frying as well as shallow. Most pans can be used on all heat sources, including induction, but it’s always best to check.

Types of non-stick

In order to make a frying pan non-stick, the surface needs to be coated. Coatings fall into two categories: ceramic and chemical/plastic. Ceramic coatings are made from inorganic natural materials, such as minerals or sand, that are bonded and layered onto the pan’s surface. Generally, the thicker the coating, the more durable it will be over the pan’s lifetime, so one ceramic pan may not be as robust as another.

Ceramic coatings have become popular because they’re made without PFOA and PTFE. These chemicals have some safety concerns and so many manufacturers have removed them from their coatings altogether. However, you’ll still find those made with Teflon (a PTFE-based formula), which can break down and give off fumes if overheated. To cook safely, stick to medium or low heats for cooking, don’t exceed the maximum temperatures supplied by the manufacturer, and replace the pan if the coating starts to deteriorate

How we test

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A robust non-stick coating is an essential element of a frying pan, so we cooked foods likely to adhere. We chose eggs and prepared each pan with a light wipe of vegetable oil, turning the kitchen into a hotel-style omelette station.

We also sautéed minced beef and onions to see if they’d leave any stains or burnt bits behind. Other features we marked each pan on included how easy it was to clean, how quickly it heated up and remained hot, and if the design was ergonomic and easy to use.

Circulon Momentum Hard Anodised 30cm Frying Pan Skillet

£57, Circulon
Best for: Families

circulon momentum hard anodised frying pan

Key specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Oven safe: Up to 240°C; Dimensions: 30cm x 7cm; Guarantee: Lifetime

Meet the generously proportioned frying pan with big ambitions to be your go-to cookware choice. Not only can you fit family meals into this large pan, you can cook with metal utensils without worrying about damaging its non-stick coating.

Plus, rather than a smooth base inside, it’s ridged with concentric circles, and features an edge-to-edge induction-compatible base (so every bit of the base heats evenly) with a hard anodised aluminium body and ergonomic soft-grip handle.

In tests, it performed incredibly well, heating on induction as evenly as gas on both low and high heats. Egg moved easily around the pan, although the underside took on the ridges from the surface. It also performed well with onions and meat – while there was some mess left behind, they cooked evenly without burning and the pan was easy to clean after.

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Robert Welch Campden Non-Stick Frying Pan 28cm

£74, Robert Welch
Best for: Serious cooks

robert welch campden non stick frying pan

Key specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Oven safe: Up to 220°C; Dimensions: 28cm x 7.5cm; Guarantee: 25 years for body (10 years for non-stick)

For an incredibly good pro-style frying pan, Robert Welch’s Campden pan is hard to beat. Like many, it’s made from non-stick coated stainless steel but the devil is in the detail. For example, its non-stick coating, Excalibur is PFOA-free and reputedly the most durable non-stick coating in the world.

In tests, it lived up to our expectations as eggs slid around the surface freely, while meat and onions left barely any burn marks behind – and those that remained were wiped away easily. It worked happily on an induction hob and while it took a little longer to heat up than lighter designs (it’s pretty weighty), once it was hot, it retained heat well.

It also cooked food evenly, whether it was in the middle or at the sides, thanks to a copper core sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. What we especially liked about it was its ergonomic yet modern design. A long handle means your hands never come too close to the heat, plus it’s scooped at the top for a thumb, so holding it is comfy.

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Debenhams Home Collection Hard Anodised 28cm non-stick frying pan

£35, Debenhams
Best for: An upgrade from basic models

debenhams home collection hard anodised non stick frying pan

Key specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Oven safe: Up to 210°C; Dimensions: 28cm x 4.5cm; Guarantee: 10 years

If you’re keen to invest a bit more in your everyday cookware without blowing your budget entirely, this anodised aluminium frying pan from the Home Collection is an affordable upgrade, featuring a metal riveted handle, large 28cm size, oven suitability and non-stick coating.

In tests, it heated up quickly on a medium setting and stayed nicely hot. It also worked on an induction hob without issue. While the non-stick coating wasn’t as slippery as others we tested, there were only tiny flecks of egg left behind.

It struggled a bit more with meat and onions with visible burn marks, although these could be cleaned away by hand and by the dishwasher. We also found that the handle was shorter than some and grew warm – when picking it up, fingers were too close to the heat, so wearing an oven glove might be more comfortable.

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Berghoff GEM Cast Aluminium Frypan with Detachable Handle 24cm

£25, House of Fraser
Best for: Easy storage

berghoff gem cast aluminium frypan

Key specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: No; Oven safe: Up to 240°C; Dimensions: 24cm x 5cm; Guarantee: 10 years

Whether you have limited space for cookware storage or simply like to keep your cupboards tidy, Berghoff’s Gem cast-aluminium frying pans are an ideal solution. The handles click on and off, meaning that they can be popped in the oven without worry about melting, and be stored in a fraction of the space usually required.

However, while the pan we tested had a great non-stick surface that was easy to clean, it was disappointing to find that it wasn’t dishwasher safe, reducing its convenience. It worked well on induction, though, needing a nudge to free egg from its surface, and worked beautifully for meat and onions, with very little mess left behind.

One quibble was that the handle itself wasn’t terribly ergonomic, being quite straight and hard plastic – we’d love to see this with a shaped soft-grip handle instead.

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Tower Olive Lite Cast Aluminium Frying Pan 24cm

From £27.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Colour in the kitchen

tower olive lite cast aluminium frying pan

Key specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: Yes but handwash recommended; Oven safe: No; Dimensions: 24cm x 5cm; Guarantee: 10 years

Finished with an olive oil-infused non-stick coating and a gorgeous olive green colour, this pan is for those who want their kitchenware to be eye-catching. As well as a durable die-cast aluminium body and bonded steel base, the pan features a chunky wood-look Bakelite handle, which was comfy and sturdy.

In testing, eggs needed a little help to get moving but otherwise didn’t stick. There were some scorch marks left behind by the meat onions but these cleaned away easily. It worked fine on induction but needed at least a medium heat to really get cooking. One downside was that while the pan felt robust and well-built, it was quite heavy for its size.

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GreenPan Venice Pro 24cm

£45, GreenPan
Best for: Easy everyday cooking

greenpan venice pro

Key specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Oven safe: To any temperature; Dimensions: 24cm x 5cm; Guarantee: Limited lifetime warranty

For everything from a thick omelette to midweek casseroles, a pan that can go from the hob to the oven at any temperature is a win. Greenpan’s ceramic-coated frying pan is just one such piece of versatile cookware that combines non-stick capabilities with robust durability.

Its slim stainless-steel handle and mid-weight hard anodised body made carrying it around the kitchen effortless, while its surface was supremely non-stick. None of what we cooked stuck and it worked happily on induction.

However, you may have to adjust how you cook as this pan is very efficient at heat conduction, getting hot quickly and taking longer to cool down, which caught us out by burning the onions and there was still an audible sizzle at a low heat. Meat left behind a sticky mess but the pan was easy to wash.

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Lakeland Hard Anodised Bell Shaped 28cm Frying Pan

£42.99, Lakeland
Best for: Great value

lakeland hard anodised bell shaped frying pan

Key specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Oven safe: Up to 180°C; Dimensions: 28cm x 5cm; Guarantee: 3 years

There’s a lot to love about this versatile pan – triple layers of PFOA-free non-stick inside, a wide base that can accommodate a family fry-up, and a smart charcoal finish – but it’s the finer points that will ensure you’ll use it on a regular basis.

These include layers of non-stick on the outside, too, so sauce spillages and splashes can easily be wiped away, plus a bellied shape for easier stirring. The pan is made from heavy-gauge aluminium, which heated up fast and stayed hot even when the induction hob zone was reduced, and has a riveted stainless-steel tapered handle with a soft silicone coating.

This meant that even when the heat was at its highest, the pan was cool enough to pick up and carry. Its medium weight was perfect – not too light so it felt flimsy and not too heavy to toss food. Eggs moved around the pan without sticking once, and while there were a few scorch marks from the meat and onions, these washed away in seconds.

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Stellar Rocktanium 24cm Non-stick frying pan

£25.49 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Healthy cooking

stellar rocktanium non stick frying pan

Key Specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Oven safe: Up to 210°C; Dimensions: 24cm x 5cm; Guarantee: Lifetime, 10-year non-stick

A good non-stick pan is as essential as a smoothie maker in a health-conscious home. Stellar’s Rocktanium design includes all the features you’ll need for cooking with little to no oil, finished as it is with hard-wearing PFOA-free Quantanium that’s harder and more durable than conventional non-stick.

It also boasts a durable aluminium body, secure riveted handle and large hanging loop/thumb hole. In testing, it showed exceptional heat distribution and retention – we had to turn down the heat twice as the food was starting to brown much faster.

Our eggs slipped around the pan easily, although there were a few scorch marks left behind. There were also a few burns marks from the meat and onions but these cleaned away easily.

Buy now

Kaufmann Sienna 2-Piece Frying Pan Set

£33.89 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: First home and students

kaufmann sienna frying pan set

Key specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Oven safe: Up to 210°C; Dimensions: 21.5cm x 5.6cm, 29.7cm x 6.6cm; Guarantee: 10 years with 5-year non-stick

Delivering frying flexibility, this twin pack of pans is a perfect first-home buy beyond its price tag. While the brand may not be familiar yet, it’s actually a new range from cooking experts Horwood, meaning the pans are just as durable and well-built as the rest of its products.

The stainless-steel pans feature riveted handles, PFOA-free non-stick coating and are even durable enough to survive high oven temperatures and are induction-compatible.

During testing, they handled eggs without incident, but there was far more sticking when it came to onions and meat, with fatty mess clinging to the surface. Fortunately, this came off in the wash to leave it sparkling.

We also found the design of the handles awkward to use – while they’re a nice length, the end can dig into your hand and the part closest to the pan grew uncomfortably warm on gas.

Buy now

Judge Radiant Frying Pan Non-Stick 22cm

£15.99, Wayfair
Best for: Budget

judge radiant frying pan

Key specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Oven safe: Up to 150°C; Dimensions: 22cm x 6.5cm; Guarantee: 25 years with 10-year non-stick

For a brighter take on the humble frying pan, look no further than the Judge Radiant range – its cherry red hue is ideal for adding a pop of colour to your kitchen, as well as some cooking flair.

Its non-stick features Teflon plus it’s PFOA-free and reinforced with stainless steel. Besides featuring an aluminium body, it has a stay cool handle that didn’t grow hot even on a gas burner, and a comfy soft grip.

However, as we were using an older induction hob to test, unfortunately, it wouldn’t work with this pan – although this shouldn’t be a problem on newer hobs. What we did like about the Radiant pan was that it heated up quickly, was lightweight and handled eggs with no mess. Our onions seared themselves onto the surface once they began to brown but the meat was no problem. Food cleaned away with no traces left behind.

Buy now

Tefal Non-Stick Veggie Frying Pan

£29.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Vegetarians and vegans

tefal non stick veggie frying pan

Key specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Oven safe: Up to 175°C for an hour; Dimensions: 28cm x 5cm; Guarantee: 2 years, 10 years repairability

We’re all guilty of sizzling out the goodness from our vegetables, so here’s a smart pan that locks vitamins and flavour in. Tefal’s Veggie Pan comes with a specially created Thermo-Spot, which turns from purple to dark green when the pan reaches the optimum temperature for cooking vegetables, 140°C. This means that you can expect up to 30 per cent more vitamin C, as well as less burning to boot.

Other notable features are that it’s made from aluminium with a distinctive green Bakelite handle (so you can spot it in the cupboard) and a stone-effect surface with ceramic non-stick coating that can even withstand metal utensils.

In tests, it worked perfectly on induction, and egg moved around the pan effortlessly. Onions singed slightly and needed a lower heat – this is where the Thermospot came in handy by knowing the pan was still hot. Meat cooked efficiently but started to stick on a high heat. The pan was comfy to hold, a medium weight and easy to clean, even on the outside, thanks to a matching ceramic coating.

Buy now

JML Copper Stone Non-Stick Pan 24cm

£24.99, JML
Best for: Copper lovers

jml copper stone non stick frying pan

Key specs – Suitability: All heat sources including induction; Dishwasher safe: No; Oven safe: Up to 150°C; Dimensions: 28cm x 5cm; Guarantee: 1 year, non-stick lifetime of pan

For those who love the look of copper cookware but not the price tag, here comes a pan you’ll love to have on show. We tested the 24cm version, although there’s a handy set of three available.

Made to withstand high heat, the Copper Stone pan has a forged aluminium core and steel base with a ceramic non-stick coating inside (PFOA- and PFOS-free but not PTE free) and a wood-look Bakelite handle.

The first thing that’s noticeable about the pan is how chunky it is – the rim’s almost half a centimetre thick, yet this didn’t seem to affect how quickly it heated up. Its handle is also wide – fine to hold when cooking but awkward to pick up.

It worked on induction and eggs moved around once firm. Cooking meat and onions left a few burn marks at the edge but these cleaned away by hand as dishwashing wasn’t recommended.

Buy now

This article has been updated. It was originally published in November 2018.

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Food podcasts: The five best for cookery fans from Out To Lunch with Jay Rayner to Off Menu

Out To Lunch with Jay Rayner

The food critic Jay Rayner discovers brilliant anecdotes with celebrities in this podcast
The food critic Jay Rayner discovers brilliant anecdotes with celebrities in this podcast (Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty)

The food critic and writer takes a celebrity to lunch. Sounds simple, right? But what follows is riveting conversation about food and feelings – and there are brilliant anecdotes, too. Series one has concluded but you can indulge in hours of chat with the likes of Tracey Ullman and Jamie Dornan. audioboom.com/channels/4983509.

Table Manners with Jessie Ware

Singer Jessie Ware and her mother Lennie grill some of Britain’s biggest names around their dinner table in their gossipy and entertaining podcast.

The seventh series is under way and the all-conquering Ed Sheeran and “Domestic Goddess” Nigella Lawson are among the guests who’ve discussed food, family and more while tucking into a feast prepared by the hosts. play.acast.com/s/tablemanners.

Desert Island Dishes

Taking inspiration from Desert Island Discs, chef and food writer Margie Nomura invites her castaways to select seven dishes that have shaped their lives.

This emotive series will no doubt evoke memories of childhood meals. desertislanddishes.co.

Off Menu

Whip smart and funny, this podcast, featuring Ed Gamble, has all the ingredients for a sonic treat
Whip smart and funny, this podcast, featuring Ed Gamble, has all the ingredients for a sonic treat

Comedians Ed Gamble and James Acaster invite guests to order their dream meal – consisting of four courses and a drink – before quizzing them on their choices.

Whip smart and funny, this podcast has all the ingredients for a sonic treat – and reveals a lot about relationships and attitudes to food. offmenupodcast.co.uk.

The Food Programme

Presenter Sheila Dillon looks at topical issues and features relating to food – from examining the future of chocolate, to the dearth of women chefs in South Asian restaurants.

The recent Jamie Oliver two-parter marks 20 years since he rose to fame as the “Naked Chef” and examines his recent business woes. bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnx3.

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9 best saucepan sets from Tefal, Le Creuset and more

There are many pieces of equipment you can skimp on in the kitchen, but a good set of saucepans is not one. They are paramount to good cooking, whether you’re learning the ropes or are already an experienced chef. But choosing the right ones for you isn’t always easy, so we’ve put them to the test to find the very best.

How to choose a saucepan

There are many things to consider when choosing a pan. You want them to look good on the hob but other things to consider are:

  • Heat source – most pans work on gas and electric but not all on induction hobs, so it’s worth checking this before you buy.
  • Budget – a set of saucepans can set you back anything from tens to hundreds of pounds, and with pans, you usually get what you pay for. A good pan set can last a lifetime if well looked after though.
  • Space and needs – a set of pans could include just two great pieces, or 15, so it’s worth considering the size of your kitchen and what you’ll actually need them for.
  • Size and weight – although pans are usually standard in size, they vary enormously in weight depending on their construction. Consider how heavy they are without food, as this can easily double when full.

How we test

All pan sets were put into a domestic setting and used in general day-to-day cooking to test the heating, evenness of cooking and cleaning of the pans, all with and without lids.

The 20cm pan in every set was tested for heat-up speed and distribution using one litre of water brought to boiling on high heat with the lid on, plus then hard-boiled for three minutes to check the quality and fit of the lid, noise and steam emission.

Saucepan sets are listed in price order.

Berghoff Leo Non-Stick Saucepan Set

£60, Argos
Best for: Ease of use

berghoff

Key specs –Number in set: 3; Material: Aluminium; Non-stick: Yes; Lid: Silicone rimmed tempered glass; Handle: Phenolic silicone; Oven safe: No; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Sizes: 16, 18 and 20 cm; Hob types: All; Guarantee: 10 years

These eye-catching pans delivered well in all cooking tasks and nothing stuck to the bottom of them. Cleaning was simple too – even though they are dishwasher safe, they hand-washed quickly and easily.

They weren’t the quickest pans to heat up, but once water was boiling there was not a whisper of noise, thanks to the well-fitting silicone lids and steam vents. Plus, an integrated straining function meant draining the cooking water was easy too.

These pans feel sturdy and come with soft-touch handles, making them simple to lift and move around safely, even when full. You can’t go far wrong with this great-value set.

ProCook Professional Steel Saucepan Set

£67, ProCook
Best for: New cooks

procook

Key specs – Number in set: 2; Material: Stainless steel; Non-stick: No; Lid: Stainless steel-rimmed glass; Handle: Cooltouch; Oven safe: Yes, to 260°C; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Sizes: 14 and 16 cm; Hob types: All; Guarantee: 25 years

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If you’re new to the kitchen and want to invest in a couple of good pans, these ProCook products are the best fit for you. They’re part of a much broader range of professional-standard pans, but these sturdy stainless steel vessels will work well in the hands of both a chef and home cook.

They were among the fastest to heat up, with warmth radiating all the way up the sides for even, quick cooking. The curved handles stayed cool too – thanks to ProCook’s Cooltouch technology – and made the pans comfy to handle and safe to use on the stove. However, they do get very hot in the oven, despite claiming to be oven-safe, so watch out for that.

VonShef Hard Anodised 5-Piece Pan Set

£68.99, VonShef
Best for: Value for money

vonshef

Key specs –Number in set: 5 ; Material: Anodised aluminium; Non-stick: Yes; Lid: Cast steel; Handle: Cast steel; Oven safe: Up to 220°C; Dishwasher safe: Handwash recommended; Sizes: 16, 18 and 20 cm saucepans, 14cm milk pan, 24cm frying pan; Hob types: All; Guarantee: 2 years

This five-piece set from VonShef covers all bases with three good-sized, lidded saucepans, a milk pan and a frying pan, making it an ideal starter set that is exceptional value for money.

They’re all made out of anodised aluminium, which the makers claim is three times harder than stainless steel. They certainly felt robust while still a manageable weight, but the cast steel felt quite narrow in the hand and needed a firm grip to feel secure.

The pans have a double layer of non-stick coating, so food slid around well and required little oil. The pans heated steadily, and although not as fast as some, the distribution of heat was even. Better still is the ability of these pans to go from hob to oven, further adding to their versatility.

Tower Ice Diamond Saucepan Set

£93.38 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Family cooking

tower

Key specs – Number in set: 5; Material: Heavy gauge aluminium; Non-stick: Yes; Lid: Stainless steel-rimmed glass; Handle: Stainless steel; Oven safe: Yes to 280°C; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Sizes: 16,18 and 20 cm saucepans, 20 and 28 cm frying pans; Hob types: All; Guarantee: 1 year

The five-piece Tower Ice Diamond pan set gets its name from the unusual ice-textured finish and diamond-reinforced non-stick surface, which reduces the need for oil and makes them easy to handle.

The walls of these pans are thicker than any other we tested, and the slightly flared shape gives them a solid, sturdy appearance, without making them too heavy.

The pans were the slowest to heat water to boiling but, once heated, there were no dead spots, and everything cooked quickly and easily.

Oven-safe and dishwasher-friendly, this set is great for the demands of everyday family cooking and will not disappoint.

Green Pan Mayflower Saucepan Set

£104.95, Natural Collection
Best for: Superb non-stick coating

greenpan

Key specs –Number in set: 3; Material: Aluminium; Non-stick: Yes; Lid: Stainless steel-rimmed glass; Handle: Wood; Oven safe: No; Dishwasher safe: Hand-wash recommended; Sizes: 16, 18 and 20 cm; Hob types: All; Guarantee: Lifetime warranty with normal use, 2 years on non-stick coating

The colour of these pans alone makes them appealing, but the Thermalon Infinity non-stick diamond coating also made it the slickest set we tested.

No food came close to sticking to the bottom, and a quick wipe round was all that was needed for the most part after cooking, which is just as well as these pans are not dishwasher safe.

The wooden handle was comfortable to hold and did not retain heat. However, this also means the pans are not suitable for the oven. Heating speed and distribution was good, and all cooking was even.

The lightness of the pans make them easy to lift, but also a little skittish with hard-boiling water, which had the pan rattling and spitting out steam. These durable pans should last for years to come.

Circulon Total Hard Anodised Saucepan Set

£109.99, Circulon
Best for: Reliability

circulon

Key specs – Number in set: 3; Material: Hard anodised aluminium; Non-stick: Yes; Lid: Stainless steel-rimmed glass; Handle: Curved phenolic with hanging hook; Oven safe: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Sizes: 16, 18 and 20 cm; Hob types: All; Guarantee: Lifetime

So assured is Circulon of its Total Hard Anodised range of pans that it offers a lifetime guarantee (when used in a domestic setting).

And these pans were our top performers – all have a non-stick coating both inside and out, so even when mashed potato burnt in a moment of distraction, one swish of a wooden spoon around the pan lifted everything off the bottom easily.

The speed of heating was rapid too, and the distribution of heat was even. Plus, the easy-to-hold handles and the gently curved lips of the pans made pouring a pleasure. These are all-round super reliable pans that can be used for years to come – and are a reasonable price considering the quality.

Lakeland 5-Piece Copper Coloured Pan Set

£124.99, Lakeland
Best for: Style

lakeland

Key specs –Number in set: 5; Material: Lightweight aluminium; Non-stick: Yes; Lid: Stainless steel-rimmed glass; Handle: Stainless steel; Oven safe: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Hand-wash recommended; Sizes: 16, 18 and 20 cm plus 14cm milk pan and 25cm frying pan; Hob types: All; Guarantee: 3 years

These good-looking copper-coloured pans would make a statement in any kitchen and are far too pretty to hide away in a cupboard.

The five-piece set consists of a milk pan, frying pan and three saucepans, so they cover all needs, although the largest – a 20cm saucepan – only holds 2.3 litres, which may not be big enough for larger families.

We found the riveted, slim handles ensured excellent grip though, while a well-fitted vented glass lid released steam, keeping the pans quiet on the hob. The dual-layered non-stick coating meant that food slipped around the pan, and cleaning by hand was easy.

These pans also heat up quickly, and can be used on the stove or in the oven, so their versatility is impressive.

Tefal Ingenio Stainless Steel Pan Set

£202.50, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Clever design

tefal

Key specs – Number in set: 13; Material: Stainless steel; Non-stick: Yes; Lid: Stainless steel, silicone rim; Handle: Detachable phenolic cool touch; Oven safe: Yes, to 260°C; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Sizes: 16, 18 and 20 cm, plus 2 frying pans (22 and 26 cm); Guarantee: Lifetime warranty with regular use, 2 years on non-stick coating

The smart design of these pans will easily win fans for their practicality and versatility. The set includes three saucepans, two frying pans, three lids, refrigerator covers and two detachable handles, so you can build the pan you need and move them from hob to table to fridge with ease.

The pans also stack one inside the other, thanks to the removable handles, making them more compact to store. Once handles are attached though, they feel secure and are comfortable to hold.

All the pans have Tefal’s titanium non-stick coating, making them easy to clean, and its recognisable Thermo-Spot, so you can tell when they’ve heated up to optimum temperature and are ready to use. A rubber-edged rim to the lids includes a gap for easy drainage, too.

Le Creuset 3-Ply Stainless Steel Pan Set

£345, Le Creuset
Best for: Lifetime use

le creuset

Key specs – Number in set: 3; Material: 3-ply stainless steel; Non-stick: No; Lid: Stainless steel; Handle: Stainless steel and helper handle; Oven safe: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Sizes: 16, 18 and 20 cm; Hob types: All; Guarantee: Lifetime

Le Creuset pans are made with layers of stainless steel bonded with aluminium. This made them the fastest to heat up on test and gave them the best heat distribution. As a result, food cooks quickly with less heat needed. There’s no non-stick coating though.

The handles are securely riveted and comfortable to hold. Plus, there are helper handles to compensate for the heaviness of these sturdy vessels. They might be expensive, but this high-performing, stylish set will last you a lifetime.

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