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Whether you’re in a rush to eat or like to meal prep and reheat, a microwave can be an incredibly helpful appliance. It's also a great way to make dessert in a mug or warm up no-longer-hot beverages, like when your morning coffee goes cold. Microwaves can help you shave minutes off recipe prep too—you can heat up ingredients or melt butter quickly and efficiently.
But while it may seem easy to buy the first microwave that appears on your online search results, or to purchase the first one you run into that's on sale at the department store, in reality, it’s very important to choose the right appliance for you and your needs. The first thing to consider is the proper size and style for your kitchen, whether it's a countertop, drawer, or over-the-range model. The second thing to consider is the microwave's features, which can vary greatly from model to model. These can include anything from a popcorn setting, to an auto-defrost feature, to a button that quickly adds 30 seconds to your cook.
There's a lot to consider. And we found the Toshiba ML-EM34P(SS) Smart Countertop Microwave Oven offers many key features (and some handy extras) to fit a range of needs, making it our favorite.
Here, we list our picks of the best microwaves to help you narrow down your choices.
Best Overall: Toshiba ML-EM34P(SS) Smart Countertop Microwave Oven
What We Love: Comes in two colors and three sizes, Alexa- and Echo-compatible, fingerprint-resistant finish
What We Don't Love: No reminder beep to tell you if you left something in the microwave
The Toshiba Smart Countertop Microwaves Oven checks all the boxes in terms of features, price, and style. Best of all, this voice-activated smart device is compatible with both Alexa and Echo systems. This microwave is even controllable by an app, so it can stay cleaner on the outside and fingerprint-free.
With 23 different settings to heat various foods along with an automatic mode, it takes the guesswork out of reheating. Available in both stainless steel and black stainless steel, it comes in three sizes: 1, 1.2, and 1.3 cubic feet. There’s a built-in humidity sensor for cooking, and you can turn the sound off so you don’t wake anyone during your midnight snack.
Toshiba designed this microwave with energy-saving features, like an LED light, to help you save money, and it also has a child lock to avoid mishaps. Reviewers also highlighted the door handle (as opposed to a button), as well as how easy it is to use—after a learning curve.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 20.4 x 16.6 x 12.4 inches | Interior Capacity: 1.3 cubic feet | Wattage: 1100 W
Best Budget: Insignia 0.9 Cu. Ft. Compact Microwave, Stainless Steel
What We Love: Small footprint, easy to operate, cooks evenly, solid performer for the price
What We Don't Love: May be too small for larger dishes, beeping doesn't stop before five beeps even if door is opened beforehand
Ideal for college dorms and apartments, the Insignia 0.9-cubic feet compact microwave proves you can buy a new microwave without breaking the bank.
The 900-watt microwave comes with a stainless steel finish, a removable turntable, and a push-button opening. Weighing only 27 pounds, it’s small enough to fit atop a mini-fridge or in an open cabinet. One drawback to consider is that the features are pretty basic, and there aren’t too many extras, like a heat sensor.
Still, at the price, it's a great value: Reviewers like that it cooks food evenly, it doesn't take up a lot of space our power, and the stainless steel finish is easy to clean.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 14.8 x 19.1 x 11.5 inches | Interior Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet | Wattage: 900 W
Best Design: Breville The Smooth Wave Microwave
What We Love: Sleek look, spacious interior, has heat-sensing technology, includes a child lock
What We Don't Love: Some users say it can heat unevenly, some have problems closing door after a few months
The Breville Smooth Wave Microwave is the best choice if you are looking for a microwave with all the bells and whistles. The stainless steel finish, knobs, and LCD panel give it a somewhat more sophisticated look and the kind of quality you’d expect from Breville.
The 1.2 cubic feet of interior space is wide enough to fit a 12.4-inch turntable, which means this countertop model is generously sized, yet not overly bulky. It’s loaded with features, which include automatic sensors that determine the ideal time and power settings.
There are also presets for different foods, as well as a convenient button to instantly add 30 seconds to the cooking time. Rounding it out is a patented soft-close door and child-lock function, making it a great choice for a family. The stainless steel interior is also easy to clean, the door closes quietly, and the presets are intuitive, many reviewers say.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 17.5 x 20.4 x 12.4 inches | Interior Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet | Wattage: 1250 W
Related: The Best Countertop Microwaves
Best Over-the-Range: Whirlpool WMH31017HS 1.7 Cu. Ft. Microwave Hood Combination with Electronic Touch Controls
What We Love: Easy to install, fingerprint-resistant finish, two-speed ventilation, quick heating
What We Don't Love: Many may get too hot to touch if stove has been used for a while
Over-the-range microwaves are best for anyone who wants a larger-capacity microwave without taking up any counter space. This Whirlpool 1.7-cubic feet model even has a light that shines down on the stove to make it easier to see when you’re cooking a large meal.
Whirlpool packed in plenty of other helpful features to this full-size microwave, including a button to add 30 seconds to the cooking time, fingerprint resistance, and a child safety lock. It also offers two speeds for ventilation and a filter to avoid picking up scents. Reviewers say it’s easy to install with the included mounts, and that—while it doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles—it heats quickly and evenly..
Dimensions (LxWxH): 15.6 x 29.9 x 17.1 inches | Interior Capacity: 1.7 cubic feet | Wattage: 1000 W
Best Built-In: Panasonic Genius Sensor 1200 W Built-In Microwave Oven
What We Love: Can poach and braise, defrost setting works quickly, roomy considering how light it is, turbo defrost option works great
What We Don't Love: Operates a bit loudly
The Panasonic Genius Sensor microwave is not only a great built-in, but it can also function as a countertop model. With a 13.4-inch glass turntable, this versatile microwave has a capacity large enough for most families.
With 10 power levels, Panasonic engineered this to not just reheat, but to cook food as well. It can braise, poach, and steam far faster than traditional methods. The Genius Sensor button automatically determines the best time for both cooking and defrosting. And if you must defrost quickly, you’ll really appreciate the Turbo Defrost button. It’s done with Inverter technology, which heats food evenly (no cold spots!).
Reviewers like that the turbo defrost option does the job well, and that there is an "add 30 seconds" option, though it requires a push of a second button to start.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 15.8 x 20.7 x 12.25 inches | Interior Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet | Wattage: 1200 W
Best Drawer: Sharp Stainless Steel Microwave Drawer Oven (SMD2470ASY)
What We Love: Looks sleek, heats evenly, useful reheating sensor, easy to clean
What We Don't Love: Very expensive
Drawer microwaves are ideal for anyone who wants appliances built into their kitchen cabinetry. The Sharp Microwave Drawer with Concealed Controls is a sleek and stylish option with lots of features.
What sets this microwave apart is the hidden controls, which pop out with just a tap of the finger. The angled control pad gives you access to all the presets, including sensor cook, auto-defrost, melt, soften, and warm. The interior space measures 1.2 cubic feet with enough room for 4 quart-sized casserole dishes. It’s perfect for anyone who must reheat large quantities of food.
The interior surfaces were designed to make cleanup easy, and the automatic door shut with a gentle nudge. It does come with a child-proof lock.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 23 x 23.9 x 15.9 inches | Interior Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet | Wattage: 950 W
Smart capabilities and 23 settings make the Toshiba ML-EM34P(SS) Smart Countertop Microwave Oven (view at Amazon) a great microwave for a good price. The compact and affordable Insignia Compact Stainless Steel Microwave (view at Best Buy) is perfect for smaller spaces.
What to Look for When Buying a Microwave
The capacity of a microwave is measured in cubic feet. Compact microwaves measure less than one cubic foot and are ideal for dorm rooms, studio apartments, and smaller kitchens. Models between 1 and 1.5 cubic feet are considered midsize. This should be adequate for most people without taking up too much counter space.
A full-size microwave is between 1.5 and 2 cubic feet, which is good for anyone with a larger set of dishes. A microwave that's more than 2 cubic feet is extra large. This is best for larger families or anyone that uses a microwave at least daily.
The external size of a microwave varies with internal capacity. For the most part, extra buttons and functions will make the external size of the microwave larger. A smaller microwave will measure approximately 18 x 14 inches, while larger models are approximately 24 x 20 inches. Keep in mind that it is particularly important to choose the right size microwave if you are buying a built-in or drawer model.
Wattage refers to how much power a microwave has. The higher the wattage, the faster the cooking time. About 1000 watts is average, with more compact models having less. You shouldn’t buy a microwave with less than 700 watts because food can cook slowly and unevenly.
Other than timed cooking, every microwave is different. Choose features based on your needs. For example, if you defrost foods frequently, choose a model with auto defrost. Do you reheat in your microwave? Look for pre-programmed settings and automatic sensor cooking. Want to control your microwave from an app? Go for a smart microwave. Families with young children should definitely consider microwaves with a child lock.
Is there anything you shouldn't put in a microwave?
Todd Nash, an executive chef with Good Time Design, says that how well food cooks in a microwave is dependent on moisture. "Of course you don’t want to put anything metal in a microwave but as for food, the microwave works best for items that have more moisture in them," he says. "You can always add moisture to help with this like a small ramekin of water to help create steam."
How do you clean the inside of a microwave?
"Unplug the microwave, clean with soapy water, disinfect with a bleach wipe, then wipe with a wet towel and let it air dry," says Aaron Schwartz, chef at Ranch 45 Local Provisions in Solano Beach, California. Nash does it differently. "The best way I have learned is to put a small bowl of water in the microwave or a wet paper towel on the bottom and heat it until it starts to create moisture in the microwave," he says. "Then just use a sponge or towel to clean the inside."
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Amanda Lauren is a freelance writer who has written hundreds of articles about home and lifestyle. She’s personally used a variety of microwave brands over the years.
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