If you're someone who likes preparing meals, whether that's with ingredients shopped by yourself or from meal kits and grocery delivery services, then a microwave can be your best friend. Microwaves get a bad wrap, but they're actually helpful assistants in the kitchen if you know how to use them properly. With thousands of options on the market, however, it can be hard to know which ones are worth your money and trusting your meals with.
Questions you may ask during the microwave buying process include: Do I need something small? Something stylish? What about a microwave that can be controlled from a phone? Should I opt for a solo microwave or a multifunctional unit? Or perhaps something simple without all the costly bells and whistles?
The answers depend largely on your cooking habits and space but know that there are excellent options a-plenty. We dug deep into dozens of the most popular models to find the best microwaves available in 2023.
Farberware takes top honors with a microwave that delivers most consistently on overall performance. It's roomy, under $200, boils water in just under three minutes and boasts a popcorn setting that actually works. This is due to its sensor heating technology that detects (through steam) when something is finished cooking (or reheating), so you don't have to worry about burning your meals or second-guessing cooking times.
While it isn't the most technologically advanced on this list, it is certainly the most reliable after testing nearly a dozen models. And frankly, consistency and durability should be some of the most important factors to keep in mind while searching for long-term kitchen appliances.
We're also big fans of the Memory option that allows you to store customized settings so that frequent meals can be cooked with a simple press of a button.
Farberware with Smart Sensor specs:
Dimensions (D, W, H): 17 x 20.5 x 12.5 inches
Capacity: 1.6 cubic feet
Finishes: Stainless steel with black
Features: Safety lock, inverter precision cooking technology, blue LED display
At less than $75, Avanti's no-frills machine makes an awesome addition to any starter home. What you save on money, you don't sacrifice in quality -- it is extremely easy to use with five power levels and a defrost function, making it an ideal option for anyone who couldn't care less about the cutting-edge features of more modern alternatives.
Our only gripes are that it is completely manual (not digital) and only available in an all-black finish, but don't let that deter you from buying if you're on a budget and just need something that gets the job done. If you're deadset on digital controls, Insignia is a small appliance brand we recommend and its smallest model retails for just $80 at Best Buy.
Avanti MM07K1B specs:
Dimensions (D, W, H): 13 x 17.5 x 9.75 inches
Capacity: 0.7 cubic feet
Features: Defrost, rotating turntable, five power levels
If you're cooking for one and don't need a microwave that takes up too much counter space, Black & Decker's small but mighty digital option is a kitchen (or dorm room) necessity.
In addition to its pre-programmed buttons for ingredients like popcorn, potatoes, pizza, frozen vegetables and beverages, its large, LED digital display makes the control panel easy to read and navigate. It also boasts a child safety lock so that little ones aren't sneaking things into its compartment to pose a potential fire risk.
A 0.7 cubic feet capacity definitely puts this on the smaller side, but it is also available in two larger options for bigger households (or very hungry individuals).
It's no surprise that practically any kitchen appliance can be found with smart home capabilities. And while syncing something like a microwave to your phone and/or Amazon Echo may give "robots are taking over the world" vibes, the ability to control your device from afar is pretty nifty.
Toshiba is already a leader in smart technology and its countertop microwave is no exception. You can manage its use with voice commands, app control or through its simple button panel. An LED cavity life with eco mode helps to reduce energy consumption while an option to mute sound will ensure that no annoying beeping noises will disrupt those around you, especially in the wee hours of the morning when you're getting ready for work.
Toshiba ML-EM34P(SS) specs:
Dimensions (D, W, H): 16.6 x 20.4 x 12.4 inches
Capacity: 1.3 cubic feet
Finishes: Black, stainless steel
Features: Works with Alexa, humidity sensor, eco mode and muting
As far as we're concerned, style is just as important as quality when it comes to countertop microwaves. Since the appliance will be sitting out for you and guests to see, it needs to look sleek and clean rather than ugly and archaic. Enter the Galanz Retro Microwave: a chrome-handled, bright-colored device that sits pretty and produces food cooked to perfection.
Not only can you customize the color and choose between a more modern or classic look, but Galanz also offers three different sizes to accommodate daily microwave needs.
A rotating glass turntable keeps the temperature consistent, but Galanz has also enhanced the product with adjustable power levels, a child safety lock and a defrost option that actually works (instead of cooking whatever you put in it).
We love a hybrid that will ultimately save you money and space and Panasonic's four-in-one HomeChef is a pricey but worthwhile investment. Featuring an air fryer, convection bake, broiler and microwave all in one, you can cook practically anything in the sleek, large-capacity unit that has garnered thousands of five-star reviews from Amazon alone.
What also separates this model from the pack is its ability to transform from countertop use to a build-in with the purchase of a trim kit. This versatility allows it to travel with you easily if and when you move. And with a stainless steel exterior, it should vibe with most contemporary kitchen decor.
Panasonic HomeChef 4-in-1 specs:
Dimensions (D, W, H): 15 x 15.4 x 9 inches
Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet
Finishes: Stainless steel
Features: Air fryer, convection bake, genius sensor cooking, broiler
Safety lock, inverter precision cooking, LED display
Defrost, five power levels
Interior light, safety lock, express cooking
Eco mode, safety lock, timer presets
Alexa-enabled, humidity sensor, eco mode and muting
Air fryer, convection bake, genius sensor cooking, broiler
How we evaluated the best microwaves for 2023
We scoured the most popular online retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and The Home Depot to compile a list of their highest-rated microwaves. With the help of chefs and food editors, we relied on their industry knowledge to help narrow this list down to a dozen or so options, representing categories like low-budget, multifunctional and sleek design. We dug deep into reviews and user ratings to make sure there will no red flags as it relates to performance and durability.
From there, we visited a local small appliance showroom to get our hands on each model to ensure they are well-constructed and test how intuitive the controls are. We also took preexisting "best of" round-ups and dedicated microwave reviews on CNET into consideration, as these were a result of real-world testing of the products.
Chances are, you'll start your microwave hunt by thinking about what size is right for you. A 2.2-cubic-foot, 1,250-watt microwave isn't necessarily the best option for everyone.
If you're in a tight space or have restrictions on wattage (my college dorm capped us off at a measly 900 watts), then you'll do best to look for compact models under 1,000 watts. You'll also want to consider whether you want to look at over-the-range microwaves, countertop microwaves or inverter microwaves.
Once you've settled on a size and power, consider which functions mean the most to you. If you never eat popcorn but eat a lot of leftover pizza, make sure the model you choose has the single-slice option. Microwaves come with dozens of features, power settings and preset cooking programs but, with the exception of a few such as defrost or warm, you might not find yourself using them all that much.
Color and design
Narrow it down to the right size, power level and function set, and all that's left is to pick a color. A few of the models we tested come in multiple finishes, so if your microwave will become part of your kitchen landscape, you should be able to find the right hue.
One final tip: Don't toss the manual as soon as you open the box! Your microwave's owner's manual is a great resource for exactly how to use each cooking mode. Every manufacturer seems to do things just a bit differently, and there were time guides and helpful explanations in every manual we encountered during testing.
How much wattage should I look for in a microwave?
Microwaves are differentiated by the number of watts they put out -- the higher the wattage, the faster the cooking. The range can vary from 500 to 1,500, though we recommend a minimum of 700 for anyone who microwaves often and/or in larger quantities. The exception is dorm rooms and certain small apartments where electrical outlets may not be able to handle a higher wattage.
Are microwaves safe?
Because of the use of electromagnetic radiation, many often wonder if using a microwave is dangerous but there is very little evidence that microwaves pose a risk on their own.Both the US Food and Drug Administration and World Health Organization have reiterated that microwave use is completely safe and without the risk of radiation exposure.
That said, there are certain materials like plastic that have been scientifically proven to release BPA and phthalates (chemicals used to create plastics) into your food when heated in microwaves, which can have adverse effects on the body's hormones and reproductive system. Using glass or porcelain plates, bowls and other containers to heat food in a microwave is the safest way to guard against potential exposure to BPAs.
When was the microwave invented and by whom?
Microwaves have changed a lot since the first commercial model was released in 1947. If you're not familiar with this essential appliance's origin, here's a quick rundown: While working on magnetron production for the military in World War II, Percy Spencer, a Raytheon employee and physicist, discovered that a candy bar in his pocket had melted. Spencer quickly filed a patent for an invention based on the strange accident, and the microwave oven was born.
What are the types of microwaves?
Microwaves can either be over the range/built-in or designed for countertop use only. Conventional microwaves turn power on and off to distribute the heat, whereas inverter microwaves continuously run power and typically result in more evenly distributed cooking.