Microwaves are essential appliances used daily in most household kitchens, and 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, they're easy to move around if needed. They're also typically compact enough that you can find a spot for them in the smallest of kitchens, even if it means keeping one stashed on a table or storage cart. Not sure which model is right for you? We took a list at the options to give our best recommendations.
Panasonic NN-SN966S Countertop/Built-In Microwave with Inverter Technology
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 1,250 watts of cooking power, this microwave has the space to heat food for the family and the power to get the job done quickly. The turntable is a whopping 16.5 inches in diameter, so it will hold several plates, large serving dishes, or a large casserole. There are 14 presets including essentials like popcorn, pizza, soup, oatmeal, pasta, and frozen foods as well as 10 power levels, with options for sensor reheating and cooking.
Proprietary technology heats food evenly and speeds up defrosting time, so you’ll spend less time waiting no matter what’s for dinner. The “genius sensor” adjusts the power and cooking time for different foods, the keep-warm feature holds your food at serving temperature without further cooking 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. After zapping a range of foods from Indian curry to grains to leftovers, we couldn't find any cool spots (areas that don't heat food as evenly as the rest); the finished food came out just as intended.
Price at time of publish: $340
Capacity: 2.2 cubic feet | Turntable Diameter: 16.5 inches | Cooking Power: 1,250 watts | Dimensions: 26.5 x 16.75 x 21.5 inches | Warranty: 1 year
"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."
Best Convection Cooking
Toshiba EC042A5C-SS 1.5 Cu. Ft. Convection Microwave Oven
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 of 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 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 170 to 425 degrees and there are 10 microwave power levels using 1,000 watts of power.
Price at time of publish: $236
Capacity: 1.5 cubic feet | Turntable Diameter: 13.6 inches | Cooking Power: 1,000 watts | Dimensions: 24.98 x 23.52 x 16.19 inches | Warranty: 1 year
Toshiba EM925A5A-BS 0.9 Cu. Ft. 900-Watt Countertop Microwave
Fits dinner plates
Round turntable might not fit rectangular dishes
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, either. It’s great for reheating dinner for one or steaming frozen broccoli for a side dish. The inside capacity is 0.9 cubic feet, and it has a 10.6-inch diameter turntable that’s large enough for a dinner plate or rounded 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 the oven beeping annoys you, you can turn off the sound.
Price at time of publish: $115
Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet | Turntable Diameter: 10.6 inches | Cooking Power: 900 watts | Dimensions: 19.1 x 16.1 x 11.5 inches | Warranty: 1 year
Best Commercial Quality
Panasonic 1000-Watt Commercial Microwave Oven with 10 Programmable Memory NE-1054F
Easy to use and clean
Quick and even heating
Keypad includes braille
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 0.8 cubic feet of space, but it is built for quick cooking and long life despite heavy use.
This has 1,000 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 and 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 a 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.
Price at time of publish: $320
Capacity: 0.8 cubic feet | Turntable Diameter: N/A | Cooking Power: 1,000 watts | Dimensions: 20.125 x 16.5 x 12 inches | Warranty: 1 year
Best With Grill Function
Farberware 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, 1,100 watts of cooking power, a 12.4-inch turntable, and 10 levels of microwave power.
Cooking presets include popcorn, potato, frozen pizza, frozen vegetable, beverages, 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.
Price at time of publish: $162
Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet | Turntable Diameter: 12.4 inches | Cooking Power: 1,100 watts | Dimensions: 20.5 x 17.3 x 12.8 inches | Warranty: 1 year
Best for Small Spaces
Black+Decker EM720CB7 0.7 Cu. Ft. Digital Microwave Oven
Powerful for its size
Six express heat buttons
Custom memory function
Can’t fit full-size dinner plates
Tough to open door
At just under 1.5 feet wide, this compact model is ideal for smaller spaces. Whether you wish to reheat leftovers in a dorm, coffee at work, or for occasional use in a small apartment kitchen, this 0.7-cubic foot microwave has enough power to handle basic microwave tasks without taking up valuable space. Instead of a handle, the door is operated with a push button, which saves even more space. The glass turntable is round and can be removed to clean spills and splatters.
We found that 11-inch dinner plates didn't fit inside this microwave, so it's recommended that you use smaller, salad-sized plates. As for power, we were impressed with how the appliance's power. We found most dishes were sufficiently reheated in the same amount of time as they would have been in an over-the-range microwave despite the small size and lower wattage.
Price at time of publish: $100
Capacity: 0.7 cubic feet | Turntable Diameter: 10 inches | Cooking Power: 700 watts | Dimensions: 17.3 x 10.2 x 13 inches | Warranty: 1 year
"It easily fit under kitchen cabinets, and there was even room to place items on top of it, which could be handy in small kitchens where space is tight."
Hamilton Beach P90D23AL-WR 0.9 Cu. Ft. Stainless Steel Microwave Oven
Express cook buttons
Variety of cook functions
Smaller than average
Some limits to one-touch cooking
Concerns about longevity
If you need a microwave for occasional use, there's no need to invest in a model loaded with bells and whistles. This affordable pick has all the standard features you need in a microwave and doesn't take up too much space. It has express cook settings for one- to six-minute cook times that can be selected by pressing the corresponding digit on the keypad. The start button doubles as a 30 second express setting and power level can be adjusted for tempering chocolate or defrosting meat. There are basic one-touch button presets for baked potato, popcorn, pizza, beverage, frozen dinner, and reheating. The keypad can also be locked to keep kids from playing with the settings.
Even though this microwave is on the smaller side compared to others on this list, we could fit a standard dinner plate on the turntable just as well as a larger, more expensive, and more powerful over-the-range model. This model has toned down alerts and beeps much more quietly than other models.
Price at time of publish: $82
Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet | Turntable Diameter: 10.5 inches | Cooking Power: 900 watts | Dimensions: 17.09 x 14.25 x 22.2 inches | Warranty: 1 year
"The beverage preset button is particularly useful, as it allows you to choose between 4-, 8-, 12-, and 16-ounce options."
GE 950-Watt Countertop Microwave
If you have a vision for the perfect kitchen, you’ll want to find appliances that match the overall decor. White microwaves are popular since the color goes with just about everything, and this 1.1-cubic-foot model from GE has a simple appearance that won’t dominate the kitchen while still looking nice and neat.
The 950-watt machine has a number of helpful functions, including defrost settings, a timer, dedicated popcorn and potato buttons, a pause feature, and a handy button to add 30 seconds to the cook time. The white model doesn’t come with a handle and instead opens with the push of a button.
Many reviewers admire the microwave’s simplicity, citing the buttons are easy to use and clearly labeled, though some wished they had LED-backed lighting. Though white is certainly a popular color for this model, it does also come in stainless steel or black.
Price at time of publish: $144
Capacity: 1.1 cubic feet | Turntable Diameter: 12 inches | Cooking Power: 950 watts | Dimensions: 12 x 20 x 15.5 inches | Warranty: 1 year
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.
What to Look for in a Countertop Microwave
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 dishes and cookware) in countertop microwaves.
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 that if the microwave has additional functions, such as grilling or convection cooking, those functions might use a higher wattage than the microwave element.
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.
While the primary purpose of a microwave is to help you cook or reheat food, it can still be fashionable. If you’re looking for a new microwave, take a look at the place in your kitchen you plan to put it. Do you want a fun pop of color there? Or would you prefer something more subtle that blends in well with the rest of your appliances? Color may not be the determining factor in what microwave works best for you, but it certainly can be an element to consider.
Can you put a countertop microwave in a cabinet?
Countertop microwaves are not designed to be kept in enclosed spaces, such as a cabinet. Doing so may block the air vents located on the sides, top, or back of a microwave, which creates a safety and fire hazard. Blocking the vents may cause a microwave to overheat or malfunction. If you have enough clearance so that the vents are 3 inches from cabinet walls, it can be done.
If you want to save counter space, your next best option is to look into having an over-the-range mounted microwave or drawer microwave added to your kitchen.
Can you mount a countertop microwave?
Countertop microwaves do not come with mounting hardware. They are designed to stand on a flat surface, like a countertop or an open shelf. If you're replacing an existing mounted microwave, you should be sure to carefully measure and find a model that fits the opening.
Does a countertop microwave need a dedicated circuit?
A dedicated circuit is an outlet that is used by only one appliance and is linked to its own circuit breaker in your whole house electrical box. Not all microwaves require a dedicated circuit. Built-in and mounted microwaves typically use dedicated circuits because they tend to be larger and have high power ratings. Countertop models tend to be smaller and use less power and can be used in a standard outlet. If you're concerned about safety, it's best to get your electrical setup checked by a certified electrician.
Do countertop microwaves need to be vented?
No. Countertop microwaves are designed to recirculate air through a filter and vent it back into the kitchen. This is why it's important to not block the vents on the sides or back of the microwave.
Do countertop microwaves have filters?
No, countertop microwaves do not typically have filters in them. If you’ve heard about microwave filters, it was probably in reference to mounted or over-the-range microwaves. These appliances have filters to catch grease or reduce odors and should be cleaned or replaced regularly.
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.
This roundup was updated by Sharon Lehman, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist who happily makes space for any gadget that makes cooking faster and easier. It was also updated by Allison Wignall, whose work has been featured in publications including Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, and Southern Living.