There’s no microwave in my current rental apartment (and sadly, no room to add one of my own). While I’ve gotten used to reheating leftovers in a pot or pan, I’m never not aware of the fact that it would be a much more efficient task if I had one. There are other perks of the appliance I miss too: quickly defrosting frozen foods, softening butter and ice cream to just the right consistency, melting chocolate for baking, and, of course, making popcorn.
There’s also been a bit of a vocal pro-microwave renaissance among food-industry people. Chef David Chang and New York Times reporter Priya Krishna published a cookbook a couple of years ago that has an entire section on the title appliance, and Chang even came out with his own line of microwavable dishes. Food writer, editor, and cookbook author Matt Rodbard loves microwaves, too (and has a section of his own book dedicated to them). “For me, it’s all about knowing what to use them for and what not to use them for,” he says. “Nachos are so good in the microwave because you don’t burn the chips. That really changed my life. Ina Garten has a great thing: She melts down a full pint of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream to make a perfect crème anglaise.”
Microwaves, though, do run the gamut of just how exacting they are (and, accordingly, how expensive). If you want one with lots of precise settings, it might be smart to invest a bit more. If you’re just looking for a simple machine that will warm up your coffee and last night’s stir fry with little fuss, you can definitely get away with spending less. To find the best at each end of the spectrum — as well as plenty in between — I chatted with folks who are very passionate about their own.
What we’re looking for
Most of the microwaves on this list are countertop-style, made to be plugged into an outlet and sit on top of a surface. Two, however, are built-ins — the kind of units you install when you’re remodeling or giving your kitchen a serious upgrade.
The microwave is an appliance that will generally live out in the open and therefore needs to fit in a given space, whether that’s on your countertop, nestled into a shelf, on top of your fridge, or wherever else. Here, I’ve listed the exact dimensions.
The cubic measurement, on the other hand, tells you what a microwave’s capacity is on the inside. If you plan to use one to cook for more people or to make full-on meals, a larger-capacity model will be better for you. If you plan to employ it only for yourself, you should be totally fine with a smaller one.
Best overall microwave oven
Style: Countertop | Size: 12.25” x 20.7” x 15.8” | Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet
Catherine McCord, creator of the blog Weelicious, has had a bunch of different microwaves over the years — but she really loves her current Panasonic. (When we culled a list of the best-rated microwaves on Amazon, we found that Panasonic was one of the best-reviewed brands.) It’s “large-capacity, powerful, and has great functionality,” she says. And after three years, the Panasonic is still speedy and going strong. “I don’t need an overly complicated microwave, but I do like that with this one you can customize within certain presets — like you can select different times within the defrost setting,” she says, adding that she also uses it to make popcorn a lot, as well as single-serve items like mug cakes and mug macaroni.
Before she renovated her kitchen in 2019, Strategist senior editor Winnie Yang had owned the Panasonic for a few years, too, and says it performed just as well as the high-end Thermador over-the-range microwave with which she replaced it. “It did a great job heating things more thoroughly and consistently than other countertop microwaves I’ve owned,” she says, attributing that to its 1,200 watts of power and inverter technology. The latter function emits radiation consistently instead of sporadically like regular microwaves.
Best less expensive microwave oven
Style: Countertop | Size: 15.6” x 19” x 11.1” | Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet
If you’re in the market for a microwave to do the most basic job of reheating leftovers (but still do it well), this Hamilton Beach is a solid bet. It has a slightly smaller capacity and lower wattage than the Panasonic, but two Strategist staffers — associate editor Jenna Milliner-Waddell and writer Arielle Avila — bought ones for their New York rental apartments within the past couple of years. “I got it because it was one of the cheapest ones I could find, but it still looked nice — and I haven’t had any issues so far,” Avila says. “I’m honestly surprised by how quickly it heats up leftovers.” Milliner-Waddell was drawn to this particular appliance because of the price, too, and because it fit perfectly into an open shelf cubby in her kitchen, which otherwise has limited counter space. And while Milliner-Waddell and Avila really only use it for reheating, the Hamilton Beach does have some presets.
Best simple microwave oven
Style: Countertop | Size: 11.7” x 20.4” x 15.8” | Capacity: 1.1 cubic feet
Recipe developer and video host Ali Rosen mostly uses this countertop Samsung microwave to reheat leftovers, for which she says it has “been perfectly serviceable” since she bought it five years ago. Her favorite feature is that when you click “start,” the timer automatically sets for 30 seconds instead of a full minute like many other machines, which is useful “if you’re microwaving something from frozen and you don’t want to overcook it,” she says. “The shorter amount of time is just a better checkpoint.” Beyond that, she says she appreciates that there aren’t too many buttons or presets and that she never has to mess with wattage to heat up food properly. While fancier models can get ultra-specific, Rosen says she doesn’t need that level of precision. “My microwave is here to make my life easier,” she says, “and this does that.”
Best less expensive simple microwave
Style: Countertop | Size: 20” x 18.5” x 12” | Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet
This commercial-style microwave operates with a dial instead of buttons, making it particularly simple to use. Ryan Dolliver, beverage director at Palmetto in Brooklyn, recently bought one for his home kitchen when placing a big Webstaurant order, and he has ended up appreciating the “no frills” design of it, he says. You can choose from 15 seconds to six minutes on the interface, and it comes with suggestions for the amount of time to set for popular foods like a slice of pizza or cup of soup. Dolliver mostly uses it for warming frozen bags of ingredients he has vacuum-sealed because “I find that running bags under hot water is slow, inconsistent, and a huge bummer if a hole forms in the bag while it’s submerged,” he says, as well as for “rapid — less than 30 seconds — roasting and toasting of grains and spices. Just place on a platter and zap.”
Best quiet microwave oven
Style: Countertop | Size: 19.2” x 15.9” x 11.5” | Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet
Most microwaves make a loud beep when your food is done reheating. And while of course that can be helpful if you’re in another room or distracted by other tasks, it can be annoying. This is especially true if you’re living with roommates, a baby, or pets you don’t want to disturb. This Toshiba — which was favored by tons of Strategist readers in a previous version of this story and boasts 4.5 stars on Amazon with close to 14,000 ratings — allows you to turn the sound off by simply holding down on the number eight for three to five seconds.
Most stylish microwave oven
Style: Countertop | Size: 17.3” x 19.1” x 11.5” | Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet
While looks might not seem like the most important factor to consider when purchasing a larger appliance, it’s certainly part of the equation — especially when said appliance is going to sit out on the counter. For Sarah Leon, an editorial consultant and former executive digital director of W magazine, that was certainly the case. She and her husband Teddy Wolff recently renovated their Brooklyn kitchen and decided not to have any built-ins or hidden appliances, so Leon says she “chose based on which handles and metals looked best.” For her, that meant a Breville model similar to the one listed above (their exact microwave is an older version of it that’s no longer available). Leon loves the finish and the cylindrical, not-bulky handle. “Visually, it’s more attractive than a lot of other microwaves,” she says, “It looks luxe.”
But it also works well — while the button configurations are slightly different, both models have super-responsive power settings, something Leon finds particularly important after trying other microwaves where adjustments didn’t make much of a difference (she uses a higher wattage when making something quick-cooking, like popcorn, and a lower one for foods that need a gentler hand, such as eggs). Food blogger and recipe developer Nicole Modic owns the Compact Wave Soft-Close and loves it. She says she gets an even cook on everything she puts inside, whether just warming through leftovers or defrosting chicken nuggets for her kids. “The close is pretty quiet,” she says, “but the actual microwaving is, too, which is most impressive.”
Best multifunctional microwave oven
Style: Countertop | Size: 20.5” x 21” x 12.5” | Capacity: 1.1 cubic feet
Recipe developer and cookbook author Kristina Cho loves the microwave part of this multifunctional machine, which also works as an air fryer and convection oven (Breville says the former is for making crunchy foods and the latter is for baking, even though they run on similar technology). It heats food evenly without hot spots, whether you’re warming leftovers with multiple components (like rice and chicken on the same plate) or even soup, which Cho says would remain partially cold with every cheaper microwave she previously owned. She also appreciates that it’s fast, heating a bowl of pasta in just 30 seconds. And finally, she notes, the “interface for it is very intuitive.” It operates with one dial that controls time and another for wattage, denoted by cook, reheat, and defrost, with multiple levels in between each. Judy Joo, chef and host of Food Network’s Korean Food Made Simple, says the presets work beautifully, too. “I love the soften butter preset. A lot of microwaves will melt the butter in one area. But this works perfectly. And the same goes with melting chocolate function. Usually part of it stays hard and part of it burns. I don’t know how this one does it, but it’s just perfect.”
Best less expensive multifunctional microwave oven
Style: Countertop | Size: 21.5” x 21.8” x 13” | Capacity: 1.5 cubic feet
This multifunctional model comes in at basically half of the price of the Breville. It was another favorite among Strategist readers in a previous version of this article and boasts some of the best reviews on Amazon too. It has, notably, the biggest capacity of all the countertop models on this list, particularly helpful for a machine where you’re as likely to bake an entire chicken inside as you are to reheat a mug of coffee. One reviewer says they turn to it daily to prepare anything from frozen pizza to steak, using it so often that it’s essentially replaced their regular oven, stovetop, toaster oven, and fryer. But if you just want to zap something, it’ll do that, too, with a defrost function that’s better than that of any other microwave one buyer says they’ve ever owned. It has, notably, the biggest capacity of all the countertop models on this list, making it a machine that can both bake an entire chicken and reheat a mug of coffee. One reviewer says they turn to it daily to prepare anything from frozen pizza to steak, using it so often that it’s essentially replaced their regular oven, stove top, toaster oven, and fryer. But if you just want to zap something, it’ll do that, too, with a defrost function that’s better than that of any other microwave, according to a second buyer.
Best microwave oven for travel
Style: Countertop | Size: 14.1” x 17.8” x 10.3” | Capacity: 0.7 cubic feet
At 701 watts, this microwave has a fairly low power consumption compared with most others on the list. This means it may take a little longer for your food to heat — but it also makes it uniquely suited for traveling. “I need the lowest power unit available and don’t care if it takes a few seconds longer to cook a meal,” writes someone on Amazon who bought this for their camping trailer and runs it using a solar battery. Another reviewer likes that it doesn’t have a digital display, which can “really light up your sleeping space in a small RV.” And a third who uses this microwave in their solar-powered van likes it so much that they found themselves using it more than their propane stove, praising its ability to heat up leftovers, quickly make frozen burritos, and soften potatoes.
Best over-the-range microwave oven
Style: Built-in | Size: 9.4” x 15.4 x 29.9” | Capacity: 1.8 cubic feet
Now we’re onto the built-in models, which require a professional to install (unless you’re especially handy). This one, which is the simpler and less expensive of the two, is meant to sit above your stove (it has lights underneath to shine down on your burners). It comes recommended by Deborah VanTrece, owner of Atlanta’s Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Orethea’s at the Point. She particularly likes the sensor cooking technology, which can detect humidity levels and automatically adjust the cooking time and power level for optimal performance.
Best built-in microwave oven
Style: Built-in | Size: 29.9” x 15.1” x 21.9” | Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet
Three of the people I spoke with enthusiastically recommend their microwave that is built into the wall. The one listed here, which opens like a drawer, runs upwards of $2,000 and requires a pretty serious installation. It’s the kind of thing you’d be likely to buy only if you were remodeling your kitchen or upgrading your major appliances. That said, if you do find yourself in such a position, the Wolf is “extremely quiet, the drawer mechanism is really smooth, and it heats incredibly evenly even without a turntable,” says Samantha Skaggs, creator of Five Heart Home. It has similar sensing technology to the over-the-range LG, a quality she finds helpful for reheating leftovers. When you have to determine the timing for that yourself, she points out, the food is often deceptively hot on the outside and still cold on the inside. Cook and Top Chef Canada host Eden Grinshpan recently built her dream kitchen from scratch and included a similar appliance from Wolf (it’s technically a “steam oven,” but it can do everything a microwave can do including pop popcorn, she says).
• Arielle Avila, Strategist writer
• Kristina Cho, recipe developer and cookbook author
• Judy Joo, chef and Food Network host
• Eden Grinshpan, cook and Top Chef Canada host
• Sarah Leon, editorial consultant
• Catherine McCord, creator of Weelicious
• Jenna Milliner-Waddel, Strategist associate editor
• Nicole Modic, food blogger and recipe developer
• Ryan Dolliver, beverage director at Palmetto
• Matt Rodbard, food writer, editor, and cookbook author
• Ali Rosen, recipe developer and video host
• Samantha Skaggs, creator of Five Heart Home
• Erin Schwartz, Strategist writer
• Deborah VanTrece, owner of Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Orethea’s at the Point
• Winnie Yang, Strategist senior editor
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