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The first microwave ovens hit the consumer market in 1967. Since then, they’ve become staple kitchen appliances.
Whether you’re cooking a full meal or simply warming up a cup of coffee, a microwave is an indispensable kitchen helper. As a result, there are hundreds — if not thousands — of options for you, the consumer, to choose from.
At BestReviews, we aim to help our readers find the best products to suit their individual requirements. To avoid bias, we never accept free samples from manufacturers. To determine which products are the best on the market, we consult experts, analyze data, and obtain feedback from real owners. The result: fair and thorough reviews you can trust.
If you're ready to buy a microwave, please see the matrix at the top of the page for our recommendations. If you’d like to learn more about how to pick the best microwave for you, please continue reading this shopping guide.
If it's your first microwave, the logical question to start with is, "Do I need a microwave?"
Of course, we can't answer this question for you, but they are ridiculously handy as far as kitchen appliances go. Most people find them useful.
Here are just a few reasons why you might benefit from having a microwave in your kitchen:
A microwave can speed up cooking tasks that take hours in a conventional oven. For example, you can bake a potato in a microwave in about five minutes.
If you bake often, microwaves are great for “stovetop” tasks like melting chocolate or butter. These jobs require a lot more time and attention when done on the stovetop; a microwave is a definite timesaver.
It's possible to toast nuts and fresh bread crumbs in a microwave.
Do you love Taco Tuesday? A microwave is perfect for warming tortillas.
It's possible to steam vegetables and other foods in a microwave.
You can use a microwave to kill bacteria on kitchen sponges.
Microwaves are great for preparing TV dinners and other frozen convenience foods.
If you live somewhere without a full kitchen, a microwave is a great alternative cooking appliance.
Born and raised in Paris, the land of unapologetic butter, Francois has spent the last 20 years shaping the American culinary world behind the scenes. He was a buyer at Williams-Sonoma, built the Food Network online store, managed product assortments for Rachael Ray's site, started two meal delivery businesses and runs a successful baking blog. When he's not baking a cake or eating his way through Europe, Francois enjoys sharing cooking skills with cooks of all levels. Rules he lives by: "Use real butter" and "Nothing beats a sharp knife."
When you're looking at microwaves, you'll probably see a lot of references to wattage.
The majority of home microwaves fall in the range of about 600 to 1200 watts.
More watts equals more power. Your food will cook faster in a microwave with more watts.
The higher the wattage of a microwave, the more power it has. Some microwaves have additional cooking functions, such as broiling and convection heat.
Here are some factors you may wish to consider before buying a new microwave:
Size matters when it comes to microwaves. When considering a specific product, ask yourself the following questions before you make your choice:
How much counter space will this model require?
How much cooking space does this microwave offer?
If you have little counter space, you'll need a compact microwave. The tradeoff is that you won't be able to cook a large amount of food in it at any one time. However, that shouldn't be a problem if you're only cooking for one or two people.
The largest microwave on our shortlist is the LG Counter Top Microwave, which has an internal capacity of two cubic feet. It's ideal if you'll be cooking for a large family, but it’s not so great if you have limited counter space.
The largest microwave on our shortlist is the LG Counter Top Microwave, with an internal capacity of two cubic feet.
Quick keys, also referred to as "shortcut buttons" or "preset cooking times," are handy buttons that you’ll see on some microwaves. The buttons are pre-programmed with the cooking times for certain popular items.
For instance, if there's a button marked "Baked Potato," you press it when you want to prepare a baked potato. The microwave automatically runs itself at the right power level for the appropriate amount of time.
Different microwaves have quick keys for different items. For instance, the Kenmore Countertop Microwave has shortcut buttons for potatoes, rice, vegetables, popcorn, and frozen pizza. The Panasonic Microwave only has a button for popcorn.
Some people like a microwave with as many quick keys as possible. Others never use them. Really, it comes down to your personal preference.
Having variable power controls means that you can set your microwave to a number of different power settings; it's not just “all or nothing.”
The problem is that most microwaves with variable power controls simply alternate between full power and no power when you set them to cook at a lower setting. While this method works to an extent, the results can be less than perfect.
If you plan to use your new microwave at less than full power, we recommend a model with inverter technology.
Some items require cooking on multiple settings. For instance, a dish might need one minute on defrost followed by three minutes at half power and two minutes at full power.
Microwaves with multi-stage cooking capability — like the Kenmore Countertop Microwave — let you program in each stage. So, when you hit start, the microwave will cook your food however you've programmed it, with each new stage starting automatically as soon as the previous one has ended.
This means you don't have to hover around the microwave, changing the setting every few minutes. You can just press “Start” and relax until your food is done.
Multi-stage cooking is ideal for anyone who wants to take a hands-off approach to cooking complex recipes in the microwave.
Although microwave cooking is quick and convenient, the end results aren’t always as good as if the food had been cooked on the stovetop or in a conventional oven.
Sensor cooking, however, is here to change that. Microwaves with sensor cooking technology can read the levels of humidity inside the microwave. They then automatically adjust the cooking time and the power levels to produce the best results.
The LG Counter Top Oven offers sensor technology. In fact, this feature is one of the product’s major draws.
So, gone are the days when you pull a frozen dinner out of the microwave to find the middle boiling hot and the edges still chilly.
If you want to get optimal results every time, we recommend a microwave with sensor cooking technology.
How much should you spend on a new microwave? That depends on how big it is, how often you plan to use it, and what you plan to use it for.
If you just want a small, basic model for occasional use — or for doing things like melting chocolate and toasting nuts rather than full-on cooking — you can get away with spending about $50 to $60.
If you're umming and ahhing over whether or not to get a microwave, remember those two magic words: microwave popcorn.
However, if you'll be using it daily as your main cooking appliance, you'll want something that gives better results when cooking more complex dishes. In this case, you'll be looking at spending at least $150 to $200.
For those users who want something in the middle for semi-regular use, you can get a decent mid-range microwave for around $100. Most of the microwaves in our product matrix huddle around this price mark.
Q. Do microwaves have safety features that prevent small children from using them?
A. Some, but not all, microwaves have safety features that protect small children. If you're worried about kids getting their mitts on the microwave and doing some damage — to themselves or to the oven — consider a microwave which has a child lock function.
Q. Are some microwaves easier to clean than others?
A. If you've ever had an exploding incident in your microwave, you know how tough it can be to get it sparkling clean again. Thankfully, some modern microwaves are made from special non-porous materials that wipe clean with little effort. For instance, the LG microwave on our shortlist has an easy-clean interior.
Q. How can I maximize the internal capacity of my microwave?
A. Most of the time, the food you're cooking is on the bottom of the microwave with a whole lot of unused space above it. If you want to cook more than you can fit on the turntable, look for a microwave with racks.
You may also be able to buy these racks separately, but if you do, make sure that they're the right size and that they're microwave-safe.