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If I had to keep just one thing from my kitchen, it would definitely be my Panasonic Combination Microwave, which is a 3 in 1 convection oven, 1000 Watt microwave and grill. My mum first introduced me to the ovens, when she bought one approximately 7 years ago. It was one of the forerunners to the model that I am reviewing, but was essentially the same. She bought it to use solely as a microwave, but subsequently found it so useful in the kitchen in general that she recommended it highly to me. My sister and I have both ended up purchasing our own and I can't imagine life without it. In fact, when I came across one in the Argos sale last year, I bought it to keep in the attic just in case anything happens to my current model, and Panasonic decide to discontinue it. I have the stainless steel finish one which is currently on sale in Argos for £219.99, although I paid £199 for my most recent one, and a similar price for my first a couple of years ago. There are cheaper white (£170)and silver (£190) models now available in Argos as well.
1000 watts microwave with 6 power levels
Grill with 3 settings, 1300 w
Fan assisted convection oven with temp range of 100-220 degrees Celsius
SIZE - w 52cm, H. 31cm, D40 -according to my tape measure!
Not suitable for use as a built in microwave.
Having bought my spare model last year, I have recent memories of setting the oven up, as I did want to make sure it was working before I banished it to the attic. Unpacking was easy but there was one fiddly bit - removing a wire tie from the back of the oven where it was holding the power cable so it was tucked out of the way in the box. This was so tight that I couldn't initially get a pair of scissors safely between it and the cable without doing damage. After a long time of careful manipulation, the tie finally snapped - and promptly fell through the metal grill on the back of the microwave. I didn't want to operate it with a stray piece of plastic/wire floating around inside, but my dad managed to come to my rescue and remove it with some fine pliers. After that, it was just a case of removing packaging materials from inside, setting the clock which fills the information display when the oven isn't working, and running the oven empty to burn off the oil used as a rust preservative after manufacturing. This was a bit smelly but the odour was gone after a few uses.
The oven uses Inverter technology which the manual doesn't explain in length but the upshot is it is said to provide for a better microwave performance, whilst allowing for a more spacious interior without a larger footprint on your work surface. I think my mum's model was slightly bigger as a whole, so bear that in mind if you buy an older used version. An important point is the fact the microwave has vents on the sides and on the top, and it needs to have 15cm clear above the oven so it isn't suitable for use as a "built in". It looks like a standard microwave in general and has a fairly smart design. The stainless steel finish would fit in with many kitchens but it does have the disadvantage of picking up finger marks easily. It isn't difficult to wipe though, and the inside is easy to clean, not least because you can easily see what you are doing. You can use a commercial oven cleaner in there, providing you avoid the microwave access point, but I have never needed to.
EASE OF USE
The microwave manual is long and thorough, as well as written in clear English. The oven has a small display panel which helps you remember what button to press next via on screen prompts. So once you have selected the convection oven function for example, it will tell you that you need to set the temperature next, and once the oven has preheated it will remind you to set the timer and press start. At the end of cooking it even tells you to open the oven door. We aren't that stupid Panasonic! Compared to some microwaves there are a lot of buttons to get used to, but this isn't surprising given the added functions there are. They soon become second nature.
HOW IT PERFORMS
I often have a lot of people to cook for and I also like to do batch cooking, so the ability to use the Panasonic as an overflow oven is fantastic. It certainly is a godsend at Christmas. It works as a fan oven so you need to follow the cooking instructions for those. I use it exactly as any other and it never lets me down. It produces excellent results and in less time than my gas oven. Roast potatoes are perfectly crisp which is the acid test for me.The only downside is the fact that a standard cookie sheet or baking tray is too large for this - and even some of the bakeware you think would fit doesn't because it becomes wedged as the turntable moves. One tray is supplied with the oven so it just a case of remembering to wash it up before you need to use it again! The oven is also too small to use for something like a turkey but for a 8" cake for example, it is fine. You can also choose to use the combination oven along with the microwave function (one after the other) but I have never needed to.
There are 5 power levels plus defrost. The top one is 1000 watt which is very fast but it is a higher setting than most microwave food instructions allow for. They always seem to presume you will be using an 800 watt oven, so it is a shame the next power setting down is actually 650 watts. Otherwise, this part is easy to use, and you can set a programme that will let you opt for your meal to be cooked by convection oven or grill as well. So you could choose microwaving for speed and programme the oven to finish your meal under the grill for crispness. You can also choose to delay the start of cooking by up to 9 hours, which is a nice way of making sure you have a bowl of hot soup ready when you come back from a walk, but as the oven cooks things quickly anyway, I don't use this function often.
GRILL AND CHAOS DEFOST.
There are 3 grill settings and you are provided with a grill rack that lifts the food closer to the heat. My mum's old Panasonic came with two of these racks, but the lower level one was not so useful as it extended cooking time so it isn't missed.. The grill works efficiently and evenly and I often cook vegetarian sausages this way. (Eight fit comfortably on the supplied rack.) I find that ready made foods require less cooking time than is stated on the packet in general, when cooked in this.
The chaos defrost function is separate from the standard defrost setting in the microwave menu. It is supposed to use random pulses of microwave energy to speed up the process. I haven't noticed much difference myself, but perhaps I would if I used it on something such as a large meat joint that would take a longer time usually.
There are several auto cooking programmes which allow you to cook chilled ready meals after just imputing their weight and type e.g Chinese or pasta. The Panasonic then selects the best method of cooking - such as microwave alone or with a grill. I used this once out of curiosity and it did work fine, but I don't think it is the most useful function. I am sure all chilled ready meals come with their own precise cooking instructions and you may as well use these to save yourself the trouble of weighing the meal.
There aren't many for me but I should say that the Panasonic is noisier than a standard microwave for me. The fan also keeps working briefly once you have finished cooking. It isn't very annoying for me personally though. Secondly, the oven gets hot on the outside - and takes time to cool down after use. This is relevant when you are using the grill or convection oven only. It is easy to forget it isn't just a microwave, as a convection oven it isn't so surprising it gets hot to touch, but it does mean I never let visiting small children in the kitchen when I have it in use. Lastly, if you switch the cooker off at the socket, you must reset the clock when you turn it on again. I prefer to do this rather than have it on permanent standby and displaying it's clock all the time as I think it is a waste of electricity but it is mildly irritating.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE CONVECTION MICROWAVE?
I would. In fact, I often use it in preference to my gas oven as it produces such good results. As a microwave it is powerful and fast, and the grill is a useful extra to allow for crisping of microwaved food in particular. My mum's model lasted 7 years, with frequent use - the door eventually ceased to open but we would have sought to get it repaired if she had not been moving in with me and so it was unnecessary. I use mine as an oven about 4 times a week and as a microwave or grill weekly and I can't imagine life without it. There are a few niggles - of which the hot outer surfaces when it's working is the main one - so I have decided to give it 4 stars although I think 4.5 is closer for me.
Available from Argos, Amazon, and other electrical retailers.
Panasonic NNCT579SBPQ Family Combination Microwave Oven in Stainless Steel / Short name: Pana NN-CT579SBPQ