Top notch microwave

There are two main types of top notch microwave models available: countertop and over the range. Here’s what you need to know about each of them, as well as other specifications and features you should keep in mind while choosing your next microwave.

Type 

Countertop: These appliances sit on your countertop next to your cutting board and toaster. They don’t require any installation other than being plugged into a nearby electrical outlet. 

Over-the-range: Also known as OTR, built-in, or microwave hood, these units are installed above your range, freeing up countertop space and providing a vent that sucks in and filters out smoke and odors from cooking. They require professional installation, as they will be attached to the cabinets or the wall behind them and hooked up to electrical wiring.

The most common size is just under 30 inches wide and about 16 inches deep. Most have a left to right door opening, but some high-end models may have a door that opens downward as on a conventional oven. Either way, check to ensure that any adjacent cabinet-door fittings will not block the microwave or make it awkward to open. Keep in mind. OTRs are less convenient to access, especially for children or anyone wheelchair-bound. Also, be aware that while they do provide ventilation, they don’t exhaust as well as a hood that vents to the outside. 

Wattage

Microwaves are rated by the number of watts that they give out. Wattage can vary from 500 to 1500. For the most part, the larger the oven, the higher the wattage and the faster the oven will cook. However, other factors, like the size and shape of the cavity, can also affect cooking time. You should find 800-1200 watts sufficient.

Size   

Be sure to measure both your space and the microwave you are considering purchasing, including its height to make sure it can fit under a countertop. 

Microwave oven capacity is given in cubic feet but that number. doesn’t give you a realistic estimate of usable space.  Virtually all microwaves have turntables and it’s more important to measure the turntable. Its diameter will affect how big a dish the oven will be able to hold. If you have a favorite microwavable baking dish, either measure it from handle end to handle end or bring it to the store to determine if it will be able to rotate on the turntable. There are a few models that give you the option of deactivating the turntable. However, microwaves heat more evenly with the turntable rotating so we only recommend that you plan on using that feature occasionally to warm up food on a large platter or cook a lasagna. 

Features

Sensors cook or defrost foods automatically to a precise degree of doneness. They measure the moisture given off  during heating before calculating cooking time; they tailor the time to the actual food rather than cook for a predetermined amount of time.

Preprogrammed keys have preset power levels and times for functions like popping popcorn, cooking bacon, and melting butter. Although most microwaves will have a popcorn button, the other choices will vary from model to model. These programs always cook for the same amount of time regardless of the actual food. Sometimes you are given the option to select the quantity or package size. 

Express Keys for 1-minute or 30-seconds or the number on the key let you cook quickly without giving much thought to a precise time or power level.  

Convection Cooking or Grilling is available on many ovens. This capability adds considerably to the cost. While it can come in handy, especially around the holidays when you need extra oven space, it rarely works as well as a full-size oven or even some toaster ovens. 

  • For serious cooking, check out the best gas ranges
  • Or, try cooking with the best electric ranges

Top notch microwave

1. Toshiba EM925A5A

Best microwave overall

Type: Countertop | Size: 19.2 x 15.9 x 11.5 inches | Turntable: 10.6 inches | Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet | Power: 900 W | Finishes: Stainless steel, Black stainless steel | Power Levels: 13 | Features: Preprogrammed settings, Express keys, Control lock | App Control: NoNo price informationCHECK AMAZONSee all prices (1 found)Inexpensive Very even cooking performancePreprogrammed and express settingsNo sensors for automatic reheating

There’s a sweet spot for most appliances where the price, performance and features are all in balance. For microwave ovens, you’ll find that’s the case in the inexpensive Toshiba EM925A5A, which heats evenly and quickly and offers preprogrammed settings including ones for popular items like popcorn, “baked” potatoes, and pizza. 

You won’t find lots of fancy features here; there’s no voice control and no sensors to determine the setting and time precisely. But there are some nice touches for convenience, such as Express Cook: Press any of the buttons from 1 through 6, and then Start, and you get 1 to 6 minutes of microwaving. Toshiba even includes a mute button to eliminate beeping, so you can nuke a midnight snack without letting anyone know you’re breaking your diet. 

Best microwaves: Sharp ZSMC0912BS
(Image credit: Sharp)

2. Sharp ZSMC0912BS

Best microwave for those on a budget

Type: Countertop | Size: 19.1 x 11.5 x 16.1 inches | Turntable: 10.6 inches | Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet | Power: 900 W | Finish: Stainless steel | Power Levels: 11 | Features: Preprogrammed settings, Auto defrost, Express keys, Control lock | App Control: NoUS$105.95VIEW AT AMAZONSee all prices (2 found)InexpensiveSleek design Preprogrammed settings and express settings No interior lightNo sensors

On the lookout for a bargain, but don’t want a cheap-looking appliance? The Sharp ZSMC0912BS is the best budget microwave around. In spite of its great price, it has a sleek, upscale design with a large push button rather than a handle for opening the door.

Although it doesn’t have sensors for cooking or defrosting foods automatically, the Sharp is equipped with preset programs for pizza, beverages, reheats, and defrosting.  Need a quick warm up for your cup of coffee? Put it inside the oven and hit the start button for a 30-second zap. Still not hot enough? Hit start again for an additional 30 seconds. And press any of the keys from 1 to 6 to get a corresponding 1 to 6 minutes of heating. What you don’t get at this low price is an interior light to show you when the cheese on your pizza is melted.

Best microwaves: GE JES1072SHSS
(Image credit: GE)

3. GE JES1072SHSS

A great compact pick

Type: Countertop | Size: 17 x 10 x 13 inches | Turntable: 10.75 inches | Capacity: 0.7 cubic feet | Power: 700 W | Finishes: Stainless steel, Black, White | Power Levels: 10 | Features: Preprogrammed settings, Express keys, Auto defrost, Control lock | App Control: NoNo price informationCHECK AMAZONSee all prices (1 found)Simple, clean designCompact sizePreprogrammed and express settings Slightly long cooking times 

The GE JES1072SHSS is a smart pick if you have limited countertop space. You get a good-looking design with a space-saving footprint, but a turntable that’ s just as large as in bigger models. However, it only has 700 watts of cooking power which means you may find cooking times on the long side. This GE is a great choice if you can’t live without a microwave for making a quick cup of tea or heating frozen dinners, but it’s probably not the best pick if you actually use your microwave to make dinner regularly.

In spite of its small size, this oven is stacked with lots of preprogrammed settings for things  you’ll probably find yourself doing often, like popping corn, reheating, and defrosting. In addition, you get 6 quick start settings by pressing keys 1 to 6.  

Best microwaves: GE Profile JES2251SJ
(Image credit: GE)

4. GE Profile JES2251SJ

Best microwave for cooks

Type: Countertop | Size: 14 x 24 x 19 inches | Turntable: 16 inches | Capacity: 2.2 cubic feet | Power: 1,200 W | Finish: Stainless steel | Power Levels: 10 | Features: Sensors, Popcorn button, Add 1 minute, Auto Defrost, Keep warm setting, Delay start, Control lock | App Control: NoNo price informationCHECK AMAZONSee all prices (1 found)Large turntable holds large dishesHeats evenlySensor cookingExpensive

If you use microwave recipes for everything for things like poached salmon or tamale pie,  you need a bigger model. The GE Profile JES2251SJ can hold a large baking dish for a ziti or enchilada casserole on its humongous 16-inch turntable. At the holidays, you’ll find its large size handy for zapping a platter of roasted vegetables or turkey slices to warm them up. According to reviewers, this oven heats evenly as well as quickly thanks to 1,200 watts of power.

The GE is equipped with a sensor that detects when foods are done. If you like your veggies a little crisper or more tender than the sensor “thinks” is done, you can use the more or less button. On this oven, there’s a unique warm setting for holding a dish at serving temperature while you’re waiting for everyone to come to the table. 

As you would expect, this oven’s size and technology increase the price. At about $300, this microwave is  more than double the cost of our smaller picks.

Best microwaves: Whirlpool WMH53521H
(Image credit: Whirlpool)

5. Whirlpool WMH53521H

Best over-the-range microwave

Type: Over the Range | Size: 17 x 30 x 16 inches | Turntable: 14 inches | Capacity: 2.1 cubic feet | Power: 1,000 W | Finishes: Fingerprint stainless steel, Black stainless steel, Black, White | Power Levels: 10 | Features: Sensor, Preprogrammed settings, Steam, Auto Defrost, 30 seconds key, Control lock, Nonstick interior | App Control: NoNo price informationCHECK AMAZONSee all prices (1 found)Excellent cooking performanceSensor cooking Large turntable holds large dishesNonstick interior for easy cleaningExpensive

The Whirlpool WMH53521H is an over-the-range microwave with a 14-inch turntable that’s large enough to hold a baking dish filled with mac ‘n cheese or apple crisp.  If you should find your lasagna is too large to rotate on the turntable, you can turn the turntable off. Reviewers rave about this oven’s fast and even cooking. 

With sensors and preprogrammed pads for everything from cooking bacon for breakfast to softening ice cream after dinner, the Whirlpool eliminates much of the guesswork involved in microwave heating. A wire rack comes with the oven that makes it possible to reheat two dinner plates at once.  Inside, there’s a nonstick finish so you don’t have to work too hard to  wipe off splatters. And of course, you’re also getting a vent hood to clear your kitchen of odors from broiling salmon or smoke from searing a steak. 

Best microwaves: GE JES1097SMSS Smart Countertop Microwave Oven
(Image credit: GE)

6. GE JES1097SMSS Smart Countertop Microwave Oven

Best smart microwave

Type: Countertop | Size: 17.3 x 10.1 x 14.1 inches | Turntable: 10.5 inches | Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet | Power: 900 W | Finish: Stainless steel | Power Levels: 10 | Features: Preprogrammed settings, Express cook keys, Auto defrost, Scan-to-Cook, Control lock | App Control: : Yes, Amazon Alexa/Google Assistant/GE Appliances app

US$159.39VIEW AT AMAZONSee all prices (2 found)Heats evenlyVoice control works wellScan-to-Cook currently works with limited range of foods

With the GE JES1097SMSS you can give orders either through Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, using an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker to control it. With 900 watts of power, it’s faster at getting your soup hot than the Amazon Basics smart microwave, making it just as smart but noticeably more powerful.

This microwave can also be controlled through the GE Appliances Kitchen app, which some reviewers found a little difficult to set up. With the app installed and connected, you can use a neat feature called Scan-to-Cook. Scan the barcode of a supported microwavable food and the app detects the code and programs the oven appropriately. Reviewers found that the feature worked well, but at the present time the list of scannable foods isn’t that long. You can check out the list for yourself and see if your favorites are compatible with the oven.

Best microwaves: AmazonBasics Microwave
(Image credit: Amazon)

7. AmazonBasics Microwave

Best budget smart microwave

Type: Countertop | Size: 17.3 x 10.1 x 14.1 inches | Turntable: 10 inches | Capacity: 0.7 cubic feet | Power: 700 W | Finish: Black | Power Levels: 10 | Features: Preprogrammed settings, Express keys, Auto Defrost, Auto Popcorn Replenishment, Control lock | App Control: Yes, Amazon Alexa

US$59.99VIEW AT AMAZOn

US$61.66View at AmazonSee all prices (3 found)Voice-controlApp control from smartphone Reorders popcorn automatically Longer cooking timesPreprogrammed settings don’t work well

Need more Jetsons in your life? The AmazonBasics Microwave comes with voice control — well, sort of: Press the Alexa button on the microwave, and a nearby Amazon Alexa device (such as an Echo Dot) hears your instructions. That means you have to have an Alexa device in your kitchen in order to tell it to “microwave for 60 seconds,” “reheat a cup of coffee” or “defrost a pound bag of peas” and have the oven oblige. Reviewers found that the voice-control feature worked well, with the built-in Amazon Alexa assistant understanding and following instructions clearly.

One interesting feature is Auto Popcorn Replenishment. The microwave keeps a tab of how many bags of popcorn you have microwaved and automatically orders more — from Amazon, of course — when you run low.

However, there are a few gotchas to this microwave: CNet found that the presets didn’t work well with multiple quantities. While the oven microwaved a single potato just fine, when it tried three spuds at once, they came out hard in the center. With only 700 watts of power, it’s a slow-heating microwave. The AmazonBasics is the best budget smart microwave, and  a great pick for an office or dorm room to heat up ramen noodles or make a cup of cocoa. But if you rely on your microwave for made from scratch cooking, opt for a larger, more powerful model.

Best microwaves: Breville Quick Touch
(Image credit: Breville)

8. Breville Quick Touch

Best looking countertop microwave

Type: Countertop | Size: 18 x 20.5 x 12.5 inches | Turntable: 12.4 inches | Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet | Power: 1,100 W | Finish: Stainless steel | Power Levels: 10 | Features: Sensors, Preprogrammed keys, Express keys, Auto Defrost, A Bit More, Control lock | App Control: NoNo price informationCHECK AMAZONSee all prices (1 found)Beautiful designSensor cookingEasy to see inside during cookingExpensive

If your notion of smart is good looking, not high tech, you’ll love the beautifully designed stainless steel of the Breville Quick Touch. The door has a towel bar handle similar to the ones on professional appliances. The Breville doesn’t have number pads. Instead you operate it by turning dials to see the various sensor programming options on the LCD screen and press buttons to make selections and start the oven.

Inside the door, there are additional buttons for preprogrammed settings for various tasks you’re likely to do often like melt chocolate and soften butter. Another cute and useful touch is the Breville signature feature,  a Bit More button. Tap it and it gives your food, you guessed it, a bit more time. With thoughtful features and a beautiful design, the Breville Quick Touch is the best-looking microwave on this list.

Best microwaves: Samsung MC11K7035CG
(Image credit: Samsung)

8. Samsung MC11K7035CG

Best microwave convection oven

Type: Countertop | Size: 12 x 21 x 10 inches | Turntable: 13. 5 inches | Capacity: 1.1 cubic feet | Power: 1,100 W | Finish: Black stainless steel | Power Levels: 10 | Features: Sensor, Convection, Grilling, Air frying, Auto defrost, Stick-resistant interior | App Control: NoUS$399.99VIEW AT SEARSNo price informationCheck AmazonSee all prices (2 found)Convection, Grill, and Air Frying capabilitiesSensor cookingExpensive

You can’t beat the Samsung MC11K7035CG/AA for versatility. In addition to microwaving, it can bake, broil, toast, and air fry. That means you can buy back countertop space by getting rid of your toaster and your air fryer. You can even combine microwaves and convection or grilling to get both speed and browning. While you may sacrifice some browning and crisping in combi mode, it might be worth it when the kids are asking, “When’s dinner going to be ready?” And at the holidays, you have a second oven to heat up the dinner rolls or a   casserole while your number one oven is occupied by a turkey or ham.

For microwaving you have the benefit of sensors and preprogrammed settings. The oven cavity has a scratch resistant ceramic enamel finish that’s designed to make it easy to clean, which you’ll really appreciate if you roast foods like chicken that are likely to splatter.

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