CNN Underscored best microwave ovens top image

You might only have a transactional relationship with the squat rectangle on your counter or above your fridge. Warm burrito. Melt butter. But if you’re in need of a new one, know that you can expect more from the device that nukes your chicken noodle soup because today’s models have plenty of options besides “add 30 seconds.” The latest microwaves have sensors to determine just how long a potato needs to be cooked, plus they integrate with your smart home setup you can control via mobile apps. And they’re available in sizes to fit any counter and style, from retro-inspired compact devices to capacious ovens big enough to handle dinner for a large family.

We tested nine different microwaves by heating frozen burritos, popping popcorn, warming canned soup, cooking potatoes and intentionally heating sticks of butter until they exploded (and then cleaning it up) to discover which microwave deserves a spot in your kitchen.

The best microwave overall
The understated, well-built Toshiba EM131A5C-BS Countertop Microwave outshone more expensive models and delivered even heat and consistent results.
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The best compact microwave
The GE Smart Countertop Microwave provided steady performance in a compact package with an intuitive interface, and the smart features make setup simple.

Best microwave overall: Toshiba EM131A5C-BS Countertop Microwave

$149.99 at Amazon

underscored best microwave toshiba best overall

Microwaves are like supporting actors; you want them to be there to do the job without having to think about how hard they’re working. The understated Toshiba EM131A5C-BS Countertop Microwave, with even heating and solid performance that equaled that of pricier models, is a strong candidate to join the cast of your kitchen appliances.

The Toshiba’s rounded, sedate design keeps it from looking too boxy or flashy. The tapered handle feels sturdy and is plated to match the face (it’s available in stainless steel or black stainless steel) of the microwave. At 1.2 cubic feet and 1,100W, it was right in the middle of all of the models we tested for size and power. And it offers you the option to turn off the display when you’re not using the microwave or mute the beeps when you are cooking.

The microwave has six preprogrammed settings (popcorn, potato, rice, veggie, frozen pizza and frozen entrée), two defrost settings and sensor cooking. There’s a button to soften or melt chocolate or butter as well as a keypad for express cooking (pressing 1 starts the microwave for one minute.).

The interior light was best in class, clearly illuminating a bowl of soup well enough for us to judge that it was warm enough for kids at one minute and ready for the rest of us 15 seconds later. The settings were reasonably accurate as well, thoroughly cooking a half-pound potato in slightly under seven minutes and evenly popping popcorn with only a dozen unpopped kernels left in the bowl.

We only had minor complaints about the Toshiba’s performance. It’s a bit louder than the quietest models we tested — you can still easily have a conversation while it’s running, but you’ll know that someone is making popcorn. And it took three minutes for the frozen burrito to get hot — more in line with the smaller microwaves in the 900W range — and we lost some beans being lost out the sides in the process.

The interior and door were easy to wipe down after our exploding butter test, and the turntable has a small lip that kept butter from pooling underneath. Got more room in your kitchen? The Toshiba microwave is also available as a 1.3-cubic-foot smart model that works with Alexa as well as in a 1.6-cubic-foot inverter model if you really need a lot of space.

Best compact microwave: GE Smart Countertop Microwave

$119 at Best Buy

Underscored best microwave GE smart countertop

The GE Smart Countertop Microwave is a neat little choice if you’re looking for a smaller microwave oven with practical touches. It’s got a clearly laid-out interface and sensible design. And it is one of the smallest and least expensive microwaves available with truly smart features — perhaps the smartest among them is that it alerts you to your mistake if you try to start it before you’ve placed your food inside.

The smart features make setup simple. We were using the microwave via a downloadable app in under 10 minutes. Once up and running, the GE Smart can scan barcodes for many packaged foods (although likely not for everything in your freezer) to set cooking time and power accordingly, and recognize voice commands from Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa.

But more importantly, the GE Smart was a good performer even when used without the smart features. Six program buttons give you quick access to common settings from warming a plate of food to cooking vegetables, along with reheating and defrosting settings. Analog users will find program instructions at the top of the frame inside the door. The door slides open by a push button, which gives it a lower profile, but it’s less effective than a handle.

Rated at 900W, this smart microwave is less powerful than some of the larger models available for around the same price. That meant warming soup and heating a frozen burrito did take nearly a minute longer than models with more wattage, but the soup was heated evenly and our frozen burritos didn’t burst even with the additional time. And this smaller microwave evenly cooked a spud that could be mashed or eaten as a baked potato with a fat pat of butter.

The interior — at 0.9 cubic feet — is snug, but we were still able to fit a bag of microwave popcorn on the 10.5-inch turntable. The interior light was bright, which let us know that the bag needed an additional 15 seconds to pop all but 10 of the kernels.

While no microwave is really portable, it was easier to lift the 28-pound model on and off the counter than some of the large models we tested that can weigh in at close to 40 pounds. The GE microwave was loud at the start but got quieter once it was running. And there’s an option to silence the beeps, if you’re trying to eat popcorn after your kids’ bedtime. The small interior was quick and easy to clean of butter spatter. The brushed stainless front took only a few wipes, but the black border at the top did show fingerprints.

How our recommendations compare

The best microwave overall
The best compact microwave
What we loved about it

This midsize microwave with an easy-to-grip handle delivers steady performance without taking up too much counter space. It’s quick to clean and has a bright interior light to keep an eye on popcorn.

It’s a smart appliance at a much lower price than other smart models that performs well whether you’re using the keypad or your smartphone. It’s got an intuitive interface and simple styling that means it can fit in a lot of different kitchens.

What we didn’t like about it

The Toshiba is a bit loud while running and didn’t heat a frozen burrito as quickly or evenly as the other models we tested.

As a compact microwave it has a smaller interior and turntable as well as lower wattage than larger models. It also has a push button rather than a handle, and you’ll pay a slight premium for smart features.

Measurements

20.5” wide x 17.1” deep x 12.9” tall; 34.6 pounds

19” wide x 14.5” deep x 11.5” tall; 28 pounds

Wattage

1,100W

900W

Price $149.99 $119

How to pick a microwave

Underscored best microwave soup

There are three main types of microwaves. Many newer homes will have one of two types of built-in models, installed either in a cabinet below the counter or above the stove in place of a range hood, and generally incorporating an exhaust fan. In either case, these models are larger and more expensive, and your choice is likely limited by your current kitchen design (or by your renovation budget).

For this review, however, we looked at countertop microwave ovens: smaller, less expensive and very capable models suited for renters, apartment dwellers, those with smaller homes or anyone who needs a compact, flexible cooking appliance.

Even if you’re looking at countertop microwaves, you’ll want to decide first where it’s going to live in your kitchen. We suggest measuring your counter or pantry shelves to determine exactly how much space you have for a microwave.

While exterior finishes range from hard plastic to stainless steel, and you will want something that works with your decor, you’ll also want to focus your attention on the controls and features. Handles make it easier to close and open doors, whereas push buttons give a microwave a lower profile. If you’re an occasional microwave user, presets (preprogrammed functions designed to cook certain foods for a set amount of time at a set power level) likely won’t matter, but if you’re cooking a baked potato once a week, it’s nice to hit a few buttons and walk away.

While microwaves are available in very compact sizes, with many compact models measuring around 700W, with about 0.7 cubic feet of cooking space, we looked primarily at midsize units from 900W up to 1,250W. More wattage typically speeds up the time it takes to cook, reheat or defrost a given amount of food. Typically the more powerful models have larger interiors. Keep in mind that midsize models, ranging from 1.1 to 1.4 cubic feet, are big enough to fit a 12-inch dinner plate. Compact models typically can’t fit a full-size dinner plate because of smaller turntables (around 10 inches) and narrower interiors, though they have smaller footprints for tight kitchens and within their space limitations are often as capable as bigger models, just slower.

Nowadays, you’ll come across many “inverter” microwaves, which can vary their power output, allowing them to cook continuously at whatever power level you set. Traditional transformer-powered microwaves can only be “on” or “off,” so when you set your old microwave to 50% power the magnetron is actually alternating between cooking at 100% and not doing anything at all — full power and no power. The idea is that inverters can provide more efficiency and more even cooking, and handle tasks like defrosting meat without accidentally cooking it on the outside or gently melting chocolate or butter. That said, in our testing, microwaves with inverters performed well (bowls of soup were cooler to the touch, for instance) but overall had results consistent with transformer models, which may speak to overall improved design.

As for smart microwaves, we didn’t find that they provided much benefit. For us, scanning a barcode on a package or using voice commands wasn’t any faster than just typing in a few numbers or turning a dial, and you still have to place the food in the microwave. That said, they may offer additional accessibility benefits for some users, and plenty of folks just want to use their phones as their home’s nerve center, but beyond that we think these haven’t quite found their niche.

For this review, we didn’t test convection microwave ovens or other combination devices. These are becoming more common (part of the new wave of multipurpose countertop cooking appliances), and there are, of course, even air fryer microwave combos available nowadays. These ovens not only function as defrosters or food warmers but have an additional heating element and fan that circulates hot air, so you can bake or cook in them as you would in a toaster oven. While we didn’t consider convection models in this review, it’s something we might revisit in the future.

How we tested

Underscored best microwave popcorn

Over the course of a month, we popped bags of popcorn, heated canned soup, cooked half-pound potatoes and warmed frozen bean burritos.

With the popcorn, we kept an eye out for burned pieces and the number of unpopped kernels. We looked at how evenly chicken noodle soup heated in a ceramic bowl and whether or not that bowl could be handled without an oven mitt after a turn in the microwave. The potatoes allowed us to check the accuracy of a preprogrammed setting or manufacturer recommendation. Frozen burritos were a test of how uniformly each microwave could defrost and heat; if the tortilla warmed too quickly it tended to split, spilling the fillings, and we were able to check whether the interior was heated through.

We considered how heavy a microwave was to lift on and off the counter, even though we know most microwaves will stay in place until it’s time for them to be replaced. We looked at the design and functionality of each microwave: the interface, handle, button placement and interior light. We also assessed if it was easy to use the programs or add seconds to cooking time once the microwave was in operation.

We let butter splatter to see how much effort it was to wipe down the interior. After cooking and cleaning, we then weighed the performance of each model against each other and factored in the cost to help make a decision on which microwaves we would recommend.

Other microwaves we tested

Galanz ExpressWave

$189.99 $116.13 at Amazon

The sleek Galanz ExpressWave offers minimalist style with a pair of stainless steel bands that frame the modern black front; within it is oversized, with a spacious interior (2.2 cubic feet) and lots of power at 1,250W.

The Galanz relies on a dial rather than a number key for adjusting the cooking time or inputting the weight of meat you’re defrosting. It also has four sensor cook presets as well as eight reheating programs from frozen pizza to rice.

This inverter microwave was fast, which earned it points for convenience but not always points for performance. On the plus side, a bowl of canned soup was ready to eat in 90 seconds and a frozen burrito was evenly warmed right at two minutes.

But after one minute and 50 seconds, the popcorn was a bit overdone, with 20 unpopped kernels still in the bag. The potato preset nuked a half-pound potato for six minutes. While it was cooked through on the sides, it needed another minute to soften up the center.

The push button to open the door of the biggest model we tested did take a bit of, well, pushing. Even with more space to clean, the interior was easy to wipe down. The front remained streak-free, while the duller top showed smudges.

Breville Smooth Wave Microwave

$399.95 at Amazon

The Breville offers high-end design, with a soft-close door and brushed stainless exterior (not just a stainless steel face) as well as the usual Breville convenience features, but models less than half the price perform just as well. Though it is an inverter model, we didn’t see a gain in cooking or defrosting performance that justified the price tag.

With a whimsical greeting chime, a finishing beep that would be at home on a game show and adorable menu icons inside the right door frame, the Breville has some softer touches that were delightful. The 1.2-cubic-foot microwave also offers lots of possibilities for adjusting how long you cook or reheat your dinner. You can stop the turntable from spinning (useful if you’ve got a larger dish that might bump against the sides) and add “a bit more” cooking time (as found on other Breville products like Breville’s 4-slice toaster).

Looking to let the inverter microwave do the work? There’s smart cook, defrost and reheat buttons, which sense the steam released by the food in the microwave and adjust the power as needed. There are 15 different presets that cover everything from melting chocolate to making oatmeal. A pair of dials starts and stops the cooking process.

The 1,250W microwave heated food evenly, although we did find ourselves often adding a bit more time (pun intended) to the programmed options. Our baked potato needed an additional minute but was fluffy without the uncooked spots that showed up with less powerful models. The frozen burrito and canned soup were both hot within two minutes. A bag of popcorn required a few seconds over three minutes to pop the last kernels.

Butter came off the interior with a quick wipe of a damp cloth, and the brushed stainless hid fingerprints well.

Farberware Countertop Microwave

$126.99 at Amazon

The Farberware was a solid performer but needs to learn how to use its indoor voice. It effectively popped popcorn, but you wouldn’t want to try to watch a movie while it was running.

In its favor, at 1.1 cubic feet, it has enough room to fit a dinner plate or a small casserole dish without being a counter hog. The 1,000W microwave was within 30 seconds of the fastest times in warming the middle of a frozen burrito and heating a bowl of canned soup.

The LED-lit interface is intuitive with useful options up front like the ability to defrost by time or weight. It has six presets from warming beverages to cooking a potato (our half-pound test came in right under eight minutes) and a start button that can also add 30 seconds of cooking time.

While no microwave was quiet, the Farberware was louder than other models and the door opened and closed with a clunk of the handle. The interior was quick to clean, but the exterior tended to show smudges.

Galanz Retro Countertop Microwave

$125.83 at Amazon

With rounded corners and a window reminiscent of a tube television, the Galanz Retro certainly lives up to its name. Chrome accents and a quartet of available colors (our tester was a pleasing mint green) were nice stylish touches on the microwave that easily fits on a counter even in an apartment’s galley kitchen.

A compact exterior leaves less room for cooking and a 10.5-inch turntable means you can only fit an 11-inch dinner plate. Yet, at 900W, it still had enough power to bake a potato and warm up a frozen burrito. Heating, however, proved uneven, as our first bag of microwave popcorn came out burnt (a second bag was a bit overdone but not charred).

The curved handle was easy to grip and the door swung open and shut with a resounding thunk. A dial at the bottom is the key control feature; you can adjust the time and input the weight of what you’re trying to defrost or cook and work your way through seven preset cooking options and 10 reheating settings. You can also add 30 seconds by simply pressing the center button on the dial.

The exterior and interior were easy to wipe down, although a lip at the top of the door trapped some of the splattered butter. It’s available in smaller (0.7 cubic feet) and larger (1.1 cubic feet) sizes if you’re searching for a microwave to complete the vintage look of your kitchen.

Black + Decker Digital Microwave

$112.98 at Amazon

If you’re nostalgic for the microwave you had in college, the Black + Decker will take you back to your dorm room. The smaller dimensions (a little over 19 inches wide and under 12 inches tall) makes this a good fit for apartment or galley kitchens.

While you gain counter space, you do sacrifice some power (it’s 900W) and room to cook. A bag of popped microwave popcorn — with about two dozen unpopped kernels — had only a bit of clearance on each side and took up most of the 10-inch turntable, which could (unsurprisingly) fit only a 10-inch dinner plate.

The compact microwave has the same setup as the Farberware (this is a good thing), so you’ll know what to do even before you read the instruction manual. Soup took a bit over two minutes to warm, and our burrito needed about three minutes for the middle to get hot, which meant the filling started to escape the sides by the end.

The smaller interior wasn’t hard to clean, although a bit of butter did get trapped in the push button opening when we touched it with greasy fingers. There is a smaller model (0.7 cubic feet and 700W), but this is already a relatively affordable option well suited to warm up your mug of morning coffee or a bowl of soup.

Panasonic NN-SN67KS

$249.95 at Amazon

Daily microwave users will be drawn to the well-appointed Panasonic NN-SN67KS. The inverter microwave has 1,200W and, just as in “Spinal Tap,” the power levels go to 11.

The sensor cook function did well, baking a potato (one of 15 preprogrammed options) in eight minutes, and the inverter appeared to do its job on our bowl of chicken soup: It heated evenly, and the ceramic bowl was less hot to the touch once the cycle was completed than with other models. Our frozen burrito was hot in two minutes, though heating wasn’t completely even; it lost some filling as steam pressure on the warmer burrito edges pushed beans out the ends of the tortilla. Our popcorn (there are three presets for bags of different sizes) had only 15 kernels in the bottom of the bowl. There is also a keep warm feature, which can run for up to 30 minutes, that did indeed keep our soup warm.

The push button opens the door with less effort than other models. The interface is a snap to navigate, even with a lot of choices. Beyond the standard “add 30 seconds” option, the timer and clock buttons double as “more” and “less” buttons, adding or subtracting 10 seconds, respectively.

The Panasonic did take a bit more effort to clean, as condensation and butter got trapped between the door and the bottom frame. The 1.2-cubic-foot microwave comes in four colors as well as a 1.4-cubic-foot model that syncs with Amazon’s Alexa. While it was priced higher than other testers, the microwave comes with a five-year warranty on the magnetron tube parts (and a one-year warranty covering labor).

Samsung MSK14K6000AG Microwave

$149.99 at Best Buy

The black stainless steel Samsung is shiny like a sports car (you can also opt for stainless steel) with the soul of a minivan. It’s roomier than you expect inside, yet you wish it had a bit more giddyap.

While roughly the same exterior size as the Panasonic and Toshiba models we tested, the Samsung has more interior room (1.4 cubic feet) and a larger turnable (14.2 inches). It does however, have less power at 1,000W.

The front panel provides a button for each of the nine sensor programs as well as a number pad for you to punch in cooking times or select further options from the program menu. The microwave was effective, but the results weren’t competitive with our favorite models. The potatoes were cooked through but a bit rubbery. It easily reheated soup and warmed a burrito and effectively popped popcorn (we had 15 unpopped kernels).

All in all, this microwave functioned reasonably well, but the misses on the small details added up. The buttons needed a slightly firmer feel. The interior light was a bit too dim (ironically, it has an eco mode that turns off the display when not in use). And it was a bit louder than the quieter models when running (although you can mute the beeps).

On the bright side, the ceramic enamel interior made this the easiest model to clean, and this microwave comes with a 10-year warranty on the magnetron.