Microwave ovens are a versatile and popular kitchen appliance that many people now have in their kitchen. While they won't be able to cook absolutely everything (you'll still need a stove or kitchen range for that), they are very good at reheating leftovers, melting chocolate or butter, “baking” potatoes, popping popcorn, and steaming vegetables. You can even use it to thaw meat and other foods before cooking!
There are microwave cooking devices that let you boil eggs, steam vegetables, or make rice. Adding to the appliance’s versatility are the many microwave food products, from full meals to side dishes to desserts that take just a few minutes. While wattage is a good indicator of a microwave’s cooking power, lower wattage ovens can cook everything you need – they’ll just take a little longer to finish.
01 of 08
Best Overall: Panasonic Microwave Oven NN-SN651B
A mid-sized oven with 1.2 cubic food capacity and 1200 watts of cooking power, made by a company with some of the best ratings on microwaves and with a price that won’t break the budget, this microwave will do everything you need, and then a little more. The turntable is 13 1/2 inches in diameter, so it will hold your largest dinner plates as well as casseroles and serving dishes, while the interior footprint is slightly less than 14x14 1/2 inches, so your plates can hang over that turntable just a little bit and still turn smoothly.
When you cook at lower power, most microwaves power on and off to provide that lower power, but this one provides a continuous stream of lower power throughout the cooking time, for more even cooking without hot or cold spots. This also has a turbo defrost feature for those days when you forget to pull food out of the freezer in advance.
The proprietary cooking sensor automatically adjusts the power and cooking time for different foods. There are 12 cooking presets, a quick-minute timer, a delayed start function, and a keep-warm setting, so dinner will always be on time and hot.
02 of 08
Best Budget: Toshiba EM925A5A-BS Microwave Oven
For less than $100, this microwave has everything you need for basic tasks, plus a little more. It’s not the largest microwave you’ll find, but it’s not the smallest. It’s great for reheating dinner for one, or steaming frozen broccoli for a side dish. The inside capacity is .9 cubic feet, and it has a 10.6-inch diameter turntable that’s large enough for a dinner plate or a casserole dish.
This has 900 watts of cooking power, 10 power settings, and a digital control panel. The defrost setting lets you choose a defrosting time or you can enter a weight to let the oven do the thinking. Presets for popcorn, potato, pizza, frozen vegetables, and a dinner plate give you one-button cooking, so you don’t have to guess how long you’ll need to cook those items. If oven beeping annoys you, you can turn off the sound.
03 of 08
Best for Small Spaces: Daewoo KOR-7LREM Countertop Microwave Oven
Not only is this microwave small enough to fit a small kitchen, or dorm room, it adds a decorative element and fun color to a space that might have any room for pieces that are purely decorative.
This has the all-important popcorn button as well as a defrost button, and you can select auto-cook presets numbered from 1-5 for beverages, soup, baked potato, fresh vegetables, or frozen vegetables. The 10-inch turntable is large enough for your dinner or a casserole dish.
This has 700 watts of cooking power, .7 cubic feet of cooking space, and 5 power levels to choose from.
04 of 08
Best for Families: Panasonic Microwave Oven NN-SN966S
With 2.2 cubic feet of cooking space and 1250 watts of cooking power, this microwave has space to heat food for the family, and the power to get the job done quickly. The turntable is a whopping 16 1/2 inches in diameter, so it will hold several plates, large serving dishes, or a large casserole.
Proprietary technology heats food evenly while it also speeds up defrosting time, so you’ll have less waiting time, no matter what’s for dinner. The “genius sensor” adjusts the power and cooking time for different foods. The keep-warm feature will hold your food at serving temperature, while not overcooking it, and the delay start lets you prep food, put it in the oven, and start cooking at just the right time so it’s ready for dinner.
There are 14 presets including essentials like popcorn, pizza, soup, oatmeal, pasta, and frozen foods, so everyone in the family can prepare foods without having to guess how long to cook. Ten power levels, along with options for sensor reheating and cooking round out the functions that make this oven ideal for families of any size.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Best Convection Cooking: Toshiba EC042A5C-BS Microwave Oven with Convection Function
Microwave ovens are great for steaming and reheating, but they’re not good at browning foods. This combination microwave and convection oven takes care of that problem. You can microwave or convection-cook the food separately, or you can use them in combination for super-fast cooking and perfect browning at the same time.
This doesn’t have as many specific food presets, with just popcorn named, but it has buttons for auto bake, auto roast, sensor cook, sensor reheat, auto defrost, timed defrost, and for keeping food warm. You can also set up to three favorite combinations of time and power so your hot chocolate is always perfect and your butter melts just right.
Convection cooking can be set from 175 to 525 degrees and there are 10 microwave power levels using 1000 watts of power.
06 of 08
Best Commercial Quality: Panasonic Countertop Commercial Microwave Oven NE-1054F
If your microwave is constantly working, particularly for reheating single dishes of foods for family members who operate on different schedules, a commercial microwave might be a great choice. This isn’t a huge machine at just .8 cubic feet of space, but it is built for quick cooking and long life despite heavy use.
This has 1000 watts of power that it uses efficiently, feeding the energy from the bottom so it travels less than typical microwaves that product the energy at the top of the cooking chamber. This doesn’t have a turntable, so your cooking space isn’t limited by that disk area, so you can fit larger casseroles or arrange more plates and bowls without them tipping or wobbling.
The keypad includes braille, with 10 buttons that are shortcuts for a variety of cooking times. You can also program multiple-stage cooking, with different times and power levels at each stage.
Since this is designed for commercial use, the design is more stark than friendly, but the stainless steel exterior would blend well with a modern kitchen’s décor.
07 of 08
Best Design: Nostalgia RMO400RED Retro Microwave Oven
The retro design of this microwave is just funky enough to look modern at the same time. The vibrant red will add a pop of color while the oval window, digital clock, and round controls evoke an era when space travel was a fantasy. In a modern kitchen, it would add a note of whimsy.
It isn’t all about design, though. This offers .9 cubic feet of cooking space and 800 watts of cooking power, a dozen programmed cooking settings for favorites like popcorn, potatoes, pizza, vegetables, and more.
The chosen cooking settings appear on the clock, so the controls are simple, while the LEDs made it easy to read, even if it’s a late-night popcorn snack. This has a rotating glass turntable and should hold plates up to about 11 inches in diameter.
08 of 08
Best with Grill Function: Farberware Black FMO12AHTBSG Microwave Oven with Grill Function
The grilling function on this microwave sets it apart from the rest of the pack, while its standard microwave functions are everything you’d expect from a quality microwave. It has 1.2 cubic feet of cooking space, 1100 watts of cooking power, a 12.4 inch turntable, and 10 levels of microwave power.
Cooking presets include popcorn, potato, frozen pizza, frozen vegetable, beverage, meat, and dinner plate. You can defrost by time or weight, set your own cooking time and temperature, and set multi-stage cooking to change the cooking power during the cooking time.
The grilling function can be used alone, or in combination with microwave cooking so you can cook quickly while also browning and crisping the food. A grilling rack is included.
Our writers spent 6 hours researching the most popular countertop microwaves on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 17 different microwaves overall, screened options from 11 different brands and manufacturers, read over 8 user reviews (both positive and negative), and tested 1 of the microwaves themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.