There are three main types of microwaves which include countertop, over-the-range, and built-in models. For this article we are only going to focus on countertop microwaves. These appliances plug into a standard electrical outlet and do not require any special installation. They typically range in capacity from 0.5 cubic feet to 2.2 cubic feet. You should know the size of plates or pans you plan on using to cook or reheat your food and make sure that the size of microwave you buy will accommodate them.
The power of a microwave is measured in watts. Compact or cheaper units will generally be around 800 watts or less with larger microwave ovens around 1000-1400 watts or even more. More power, or watts, usually means more heat which translates into faster cooking times and better overall performance.
Maybe the most important factor in making a good microwave is how evenly it heats your food. In addition to that we used power, capacity, price, convenience features, and other customer reviews to come up with our ratings.
Capacity: 2 Cu. Ft.
We chose the GE JES2051SN as the best microwave. In testing it had the best automatic sensors we have seen out of all the microwaves which left food evenly cooked, but not burnt. The keypad is a bit cramped with lots of buttons and it is not the most intuitive to use, but once you get the hang of it it’s not that bad. Overall the GE JES2051SN was the best performing microwave we found.
Capacity: 2.2 Cu. Ft.
The Panasonic NN-SN952S microwave really excels at defrosting and reheating. It uses inverter technology to allow for delicate defrosting without cooking the food at all. Meanwhile its genius sensor works great at automatically cooking foods. The touchpad is also pretty easy to use.
Capacity: 2.2 Cu. Ft.
The Kenmore Elite 75223 is the most expensive microwave on our list, but you can often find it on sale for much cheaper. The sensor cooking works great and it gives you several one touch settings for popular foods such as pizza and potatoes. It also has multi stage cooking which enables you to defrost and then cook without interruption.
Capacity: 2.2 Cu. Ft.
The Panasonic NN-SD972S is similar to the NN-SN952S with the main difference being the dial that is part of its interface. Some users will like the dial, while others may find it more confusing. It also uses the same Genius sensor and inverter technology to provide excellent sensor cooking and defrosting. For your convenience it also has 18 preset Auto-Cook items.
Capacity: 1.6 Cu. Ft.
The Panasonic NN-SD772SAZ is basically the same as the NN-SD972S except it is 1.6 cubic square feet instead of 2.2 cubic square feet. That size might be better suited for some of you since it is smaller. The actual dimensions are 21.9 x 19.9 x 11.9. It also scored one of the highest ratings from Amazon buyers with a 4.7 star average.
Capacity: 1.4 Cu. Ft.
The GE JES1460DSBB is our selection for best microwave under $150. It is smaller than the number one GE model, has 100 less watts of power, and comes in black or white. However, its sensor cooking still really good and we think the keypad is less complicated and easier to use.
Capacity: 1.2 Cu. Ft.
The Panasonic NN-SN651BAZ is the smallest and cheapest Panasonic microwave on our list. However, it still uses the same Genius sensor and inverter technology as the larger models. One of the best sellers on Amazon, it comes in black with a simple keypad interface.
Capacity: 1.1 Cu. Ft.
Our choice for the best microwave under $100 is the RCA RMW1182. Also one of the best sellers on Amazon, it comes in stainless steel with a unique grilling feature. A glass turntable and a grilling rack are included. It does not have sensor cooking, although it does have some individual food item buttons. The keypad interface is a bit hard to use since it does not have individual numbers.
Capacity: 0.7 Cu. Ft.
Another good choice for a microwave under $100 is the GE JES1072SHSS. At only 0.7 cubic feet of capacity it is small and with only 700 watts of power it is under-powered compared to top tier models. Despite that it still achieved a 4.8 rating from users on Homedepot.com which gives you a good indication of its solid performance.
Capacity: 0.6 Cu. Ft.
We picked the Westinghouse WCM660B as the best cheap microwave. This compact microwave is the best selling microwave on Amazon. The performance does not compare to the other units on this list, however it is decent for the price. Due to its small size it is a good choice for those budget-conscious shoppers who need a microwave for their small apartment or dorm.
Microwave Buying Guide
Here are some features to look for when shopping for the best microwave:
Power / Watts – The wattage relates to how much heat an appliance puts out. The more watts the faster your food will cook. Budget models will have about 600-850 watts. Medium sized versions usually have between 900 and 1100. Top of the line units usually have 1100 watts or more.
Capacity – The capacity is measured in cubic feet. Full-size microwaves are usually 1.5 cu. ft. and larger and are recommended for large dishes like lasagna. Medium sized models are around 1.2 cu. ft. Compact units may be as small as .5 cu. ft. and have less cooking power, but take up much less counter space.
Turntable – While most units are not good at heating food evenly, a model with a turntable rotates the food to provide more even cooking. You should know that turntables often lower the stated capacity of a microwave because rectangular or square pans or platters that are too large will not rotate on the turntable. We highly recommend getting a model with a turntable.
Sensors – They adjust the power levels and cooking time for various food items by monitoring the humidity in a microwave to prevent overcooking. Many new models, other than budget units, come with a sensor as standard equipment.
Inverter – When you operate a normal microwave at reduced power, it typically alternates between states of full power and no power. Inverter technology allows the appliance to use a small percentage of its power over the entire time to cook or defrost food more evenly. This is not a standard feature and not one you absolutely must have, but it does come in handy especially when defrosting or softening foods like butter or ice cream.
Convection Oven – This uses a fan to circulate the heated air evenly around the unit to shorten cooking. With this feature it is almost like having a second oven to cook in, but experts say the results will not be the same as a regular convection oven. At an additional cost of about $100, this feature is an expensive option and not one that is necessary for ordinary users.
Convenience Features / Buttons – Many units come with shortcut buttons for foods like popcorn, baked potatoes, vegetables, and many more that automatically cook your food for you. Look for a model with shortcuts you would actually use. You will find models may use either a keypad or dial for setting cooking time and power levels. Some other buttons you mind find helpful include a 30 second or 1 minute key, defrost, and reheat.