Your microwave is one of the things that you don’t want to think about. It should be there; it should work and work well. Nobody wants to go through the trouble of fixing a microwave, hiring someone else to fix it or searching through the manual to figure out how to use it. At the same time, you want a microwave that is modern and can do all the things that you would expect an appliance can do this year.
In the interest of finding a microwave that meets all these needs and more, we’ve scoured the internet for the best countertop microwaves available on the market today. We looked at specific criteria and set up a grading system that covers all the angles, so you don’t have to. We’ll go over what you should look for in a countertop microwave and which ones might be best for you and your home.
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First, let’s lay out what we mean by countertop microwave. These microwaves are generally for home use and, of course, sits on your countertop. They are portable and can be moved from one place to another, not that you would want to seeing as how they are so heavy.
This portability is in stark contrast to installed microwaves, which usually pair with ranges and stoves. These paired microwaves do not often come sold separately, and have slightly different functionality. Today we are looking only at the best countertop microwaves.
How We Chose Our Ratings
There are two main areas of criteria that we formed: cooking and features. We looked at how well the microwaves cooked, and the many different ways they could do it. Sprinkled in are ease of use, portability and efficiency. They are listed here roughly in order of weight and importance.
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Microwave cooking power is measured in watts; the higher the wattage rating, the more powerful the microwave. This more or less translates to the speed of cooking, as more powerful microwaves run hotter and thus cook and heat food faster. Higher power is more desirable, usually, because we don’t want to sit around all day waiting for the food to get warm.
However, efficiency is also important because you don’t want your countertop microwave to be using a lot of power without doing a good job of heating food. Also, a microwave that runs too hot might be off-putting for some people who aren’t used to the higher heats. You want a microwave that is consistent with its power, not a runaway train.
The future is now, and modern humans don’t have the time to look up how long something should cook and on what settings. That’s for suckers. These days we want our microwaves to have buttons and settings, so we can “fire and forget.” There’s got to be buttons for every conceivable cooking setting and food item. A tall order, but we put a man on the moon and a computer in every pocket, so we don’t think it’s unreasonable.
While we did like a lot of features and functions, there is such thing as too much. There has to be a lot of things that the microwave is capable of, but it also has to be intuitive and relatively simple to operate. You shouldn’t need a degree in microwave-ology to operate this thing.
Accuracy and Consistency
These newfangled features are great if they work. When you press defrost, and it melts your food into goo, then there is a problem. The best countertop microwave should perform the functions you ask it to correctly, every time and the same way.
There shouldn’t be any guess work when it comes to using your microwave. It the reheat setting consistently screws up and under or overheats your food, there isn’t much point to using the settings, and we are back to just watching and testing. You need a reasonable amount of precision and consistency with your cooking, so your countertop microwave should run like clockwork.
One of the newer features for microwaves these days is a convection setting. Basically, this turns your microwave into a small, portable oven. We truly live in amazing times. No longer will you be restricted by your apartment’s size; you can bake anywhere now!
Convection capability is great, but it isn’t an automatic win. Convection microwaves tend to have smaller cooking cavities and are bulkier because of all the extra equipment required. The convection cooking also isn’t exactly like a conventional oven; you get less control because there is no bottom heating element. These convection microwaves are also, predictably, more expensive than their standard countertop counterparts.
Still, if the convection function is done right, it can be a huge benefit. You can do away with the conventional oven, bring convection into your small home or just have a backup oven for when you are putting together those epic holiday family meals. They are a big plus in our book.
Speaking of cooking cavities, size is also a major deciding factor. It would be higher on this list of criteria, but it is a little tricky. Bigger is often better, as it often gives you more room inside to fit food and therefore can be more versatile with your cooking. No more reheating leftovers piece by piece.
However, bigger also means higher countertop space requirement. We don’t all live in mansions with islands in our kitchen; some of us have to make every square inch of counter space count.
What might be a big beautiful Cadillac of microwaves to one person, might be an unwieldy monstrosity to another. We settled on finding microwaves with a good interior to exterior size ratio; more space inside for cooking relative to how much space the microwave takes up is always better.
The Top 5 Best Countertop Microwaves
On to the list! We’ll start at the top, but you shouldn’t stop there. Everyone’s kitchen is different, and we all have different cooking needs. We selected a collection of countertop microwaves that covered as many bases as possible, and they are all winners in our book. So, if the first one doesn’t sell you, keep reading, the next one will be different and may be the one for you.
1. GE JES2051SNSS Stainless Steel Countertop Microwave
- Auto and time defrost
- Extra-large 16" turntable
This countertop falls directly into that “Cadillac of microwaves” category. It is pretty, flashy, has tons of settings and is spacious inside. It has a whopping 2 cubic feet of space inside so you could even fit a small bird in there. This size also comes with a power boost, as this GE model runs at 1200 watts; 200 above the industry average of 1000.
The features on this thing are almost overwhelming. Some of this stuff is so simple you’ll wonder why not every microwave has them. Things like being able to shut off or simply reduce the beeping when food is done, operating the timer without engaging the microwave for other cooking tasks and preprogramming settings. It also, of course, has all the requisite one-touch cooking options for things like potatoes and popcorn.
This GE microwave is fast, powerful and accurate, but it is not without its downsides. Its size is also a curse as well as a blessing if your kitchen countertops are small. It takes up a lot of space. But if you have the money and space for this microwave, you can’t do much better.
2. Samsung MC11H6033CT Countertop Convection Microwave
- Power Convection cooks faster and more evenly to deliver oven-quality results
- Combines an interior fan to evenly distribute heat with powerful down streaming hot air
- Toast, crisp, and brown your favorite food
This convection microwave is the best in its class. It has an efficient and powerful convection setting that blows other convection microwaves out of the water. A lot of convection microwaves cook food unevenly because there is no bottom heating element. This can lead to pizzas that are crispy on top but soft and cold on the bottom. Not with this model. The wizards at Samsung have figured out the best way to replicate an oven with a microwave to date.
But that’s not all, this Samsung is no slouch in the standard microwave field, either. It comes in at a standard 1000 watts with 1.1 cubic feet of cooking space. Not fantastic, but more than enough for most people. It could be bigger but, you know, convection. It doesn’t have a mountain of presets, but it does have the important ones (popcorn, reheat and defrost). All in all, it is a decent microwave that turns into a fantastic mini convection oven if you can afford it.
3. Panasonic NN-SD681S Stainless Countertop Microwave
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This microwave from Panasonic is futuristic as all get out. It’s got more setting than you thought were possible, and its accurate sensors ensure that your food gets cooked the way you want when you want it. It has 1200 watts of power and 1.2 cubic feet of space packed into a conveniently small frame.
It also uses “inverter” technology, which heats food with constant microwaves instead of pulsing as standard microwaves do. This Panasonic microwave puts it to good use with its Turbo Defrost feature, which works like a charm.
However, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference in cooking power with an inverter microwave, besides the impressive defrosting speeds. Also, the many features and functions are great, but they are a pain to learn and understand. The manual might as well be in Greek when it is explaining some of the advanced features. However, if you are a tech-savvy person who likes unprecedented control over how their microwave works, this one is for you.
4. Cuisinart CMW-100 1-Cubic-Foot Stainless Steel Microwave Oven
- 1000-watt stainless-steel microwave oven with 1-cubic-foot interior
- Touchpad controls with LCD; 25 preprogrammed settings; 10 power levels
- 8 presets with serving-size options; 2-stage cooking operation
This compact countertop microwave is for the space conscious who just want something that will work. This Cuisinart model has plenty of settings, but not too many. The touchpad is also responsive and is easy to operate. It puts out the standard 1000 watts and has a respectable 1 cubic foot of interior space. This microwave just has all the things you need, and none of the things you don’t.
It’s hard to say anything bad about this microwave, but that’s because it doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, either. It’s just a good, not too basic not too complicated microwave that will cook your food well; just don’t expect it to dazzle you. It’s hard to be disappointed by this one.
5. Daewoo KOR-7LREM Mini Maker Grill
- Included Components: User Manual
- Container QTY: 40ft HQ
This one we liked almost purely for the aesthetic. It looks great with a retro-futuristic look and mint green paint job. You’ll be heating up TV dinners Flash Gordon and Fallout style with this chic little number. It has a decent amount of basic functions, and its simplistically elegant design is easy to understand and operate. It doesn’t have a whole lot of space, with less than a cubic foot of space, but the whole appliance is compact and can fit in all sorts of nooks and crannies.
The main downside of this microwave is power. It only puts out 700 watts, so it isn’t going to cook things as fast as you might like. However, this means that it does not use much electricity, which is accentuated by its eco standby feature.
If you can’t find these brands in store, here are a few things to think about when looking for your best countertop microwave.
- Space: The more cubic feet inside, the better, just make sure it fits on your counter.
- Power: 1000 watts or more is preferable, or you may spend extra hours of your life waiting for food to cook.
- Features: More settings are great, just be sure it is still intuitive, they won’t do you any good if you can’t figure them out.
- Convection: If you can afford it and might have a use for it, get it. It’s a godsend for studio apartment dwellers.