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Microwaves are essential appliances used daily in most household kitchens. Today's models are built to do much more than just reheat last night's leftovers. Many microwaves feature cooking presets that can perform a variety of tasks with the touch of a button, like steam fresh vegetables, defrost chicken breasts, melt chocolate, soften butter, and bake potatoes. Some microwaves even have grilling and convection heating capabilities.
Microwaves designed for countertop use are ready to go right out of the box and, since they don't need any installation, easy to move around. They're generally compact enough that you can find a spot for them even in the smallest of kitchens, even if it means keeping one stashed on a table or storage cart. If your microwave is in need of an update, here's our list of the best countertop microwaves.
Automatic sensors adjust cooking times and power
Can defrost anything without cooking it
Can be used on a countertop or as a built-in
Too big for compact kitchens
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. Furthermore, our tester, who's owned a number of other microwaves, says that after zapping a range of foods—from Indian curry to grains to leftovers—she couldn't find any cool spots (areas that don't heat food as evenly as the rest).
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 most households.
"I was able to heat up two plates of leftovers at once so my kids didn’t have to fight over the first plate of piping hot pizza pockets." — Linnea Covington, Product Tester
Can microwave and convection-cook either separately or at the same time
Not as many food presets
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. Many reviewers highlighted this oven's convection performance, with one praising how well it crisped a range of foods, from potatoes to frozen pizzas.
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.
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.
Best Commercial Quality: Panasonic 1000 Watt Commercial Microwave Oven with 10 Programmable Memory NE-1054F
Easy to use and clean
Quick and even heating
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 produce 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. Many customers were pleasantly surprised with how quickly and evenly this microwave heated their food despite the lack of turntable.
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.
Bright retro design
Has 12 presets
Easy to operate
Louder than some other microwaves
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. Indeed, several reviewers lauded how much the microwave spruced up their space.
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.
Best with Grill Function: Farberware Black FMO12AHTBSG 1.2 Cu. Ft 1100-Watt Microwave Oven with Grill Function
Microwave and grilling functions can be used separately or together
Some say it gets loud when heating
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. Several customers raved about how well the grill function worked on a variety of foods, from toast to steaks. A grilling rack is included.
Solid basic functions
Some encountered button issues over time
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. Most customers find this microwave more than satisfactory for everyday uses; some did note, however, that they encountered issues with button functionality over time.
This has 700 watts of cooking power, .7 cubic feet of cooking space, and 5 power levels to choose from.
The Panasonic Microwave Oven NN-SN952S is our top pick thanks to its generous capacity large enough to feed a family. Its turntable can hold several plates and it has a "genius sensor" that auto-adjusts the power level and cooking time for different foods. If you'd like a microwave oven with convection heating capabilities, check out the Toshiba Convection Microwave Oven. It can be used to microwave cook or convection cook separately or at the same time and is quiet in use.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie is a cookbook author and product tester for The Spruce Eats. In addition to reviewing more than 90 products for us, Donna has compiled roundups on other small kitchen appliances such as the best toaster ovens, rice cookers, and air fryers of 2020.
This roundup was updated by Sharon Lehman, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who happily makes space for any gadget that make cooking faster and easier. She specializes in small kitchen appliance testing and reviews for The Spruce Eats.
External and internal dimensions: Countertop microwaves are generally smaller than their built-in counterparts, but make sure you have the counter space for the appliance, or that it will fit in your microwave shelf if you have one. Microwaves are measured in cubic feet. When measuring where you're storing your microwave, note that countertop microwaves' external dimensions vary, so be exact when you measure that space's width, height, and depth. Are you cooking for one or for an entire family? Make sure to look at internal capacity. This can measure anywhere from 0.5 cubic feet (the average dinner plate) to 2 cubic feet (larger dish- and cookware) in countertop microwaves.
Wattage: This refers to cooking power—meaning how quickly and evenly the microwave will cook your food. Most microwaves are typically 1,000 watts, but cheaper ones might have less power. Typically, appliances with 600 watts or less will cook your food more slowly and less evenly. Note, though, that if the microwave has additional functions, such as grilling or convection cooking, those functions might use a higher wattage than the microwave element.
Features: Today's microwaves often offer countless features. Some common ones you might find are power levels, a sensor that adjusts power and cook time depending on the food, presets for specific foods like popcorn, auto-defrost, keep warm, and more. Some even have a child lock feature, or settings that allow you to turn off all sounds.