Advertiser Disclosure

Best microwaves for every type of cook, meal and kitchen

best microwaves

AP Buyline’s content is created independently of The Associated Press newsroom. Our evaluations and opinions are not influenced by our advertising relationships, but we might earn commissions from our partners’ links in this content. Learn more about our policies and terms here.

Madeleine Streets
Updated April 18, 2024

Microwaves are the unsung hero of any modern kitchen: They make it easy to reheat leftovers, make popcorn, melt some foods and cook others, all in a convenient countertop appliance. I turn to my microwave when I’m looking to save time and effort and I know I’m not the only one, since the Bureau of Labor reports that over 90% of U.S. households now have a microwave. But while using a microwave is simple and intuitive, finding the best one for your needs can be trickier.

Today’s best microwaves do so much more than just reheat. You can find models that double up as other modern appliances, like air-fryers or convection ovens, or models that have smart functionality. You may want to pay more for a more powerful model or choose to save on a compact design that will fit into a space-limited kitchen. Whatever your microwaving needs, there is an appliance for you that will give you the capabilities you need — and nothing more. And if you’re looking for all the bells and whistles, you can find that, too.

What to consider when choosing a microwave

For this story, I spoke to Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, for expert insight into what makes for the best microwave. The answer? It’s different for everyone! “Think about how you cook and what you want to cook in it,” says Shimek. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when making your purchasing decisions:

Size and capacity

Bigger isn’t always better, but size is definitely an essential factor when selecting a microwave. The “standard” size microwave has just over a cubic foot of interior space, but there is some range on either side of this. Larger models of two cubic feet and above can accommodate multiple plates and serving platters that are large enough for a family, making it much easier to heat food in bulk. If you’re regularly cooking for a group, investing in a larger, more powerful machine may be worth it. However, if you have less countertop space in your home or are shopping for a dorm room or studio apartment, then a compact model might be more desirable.

You should also consider the way that you cook. “Smaller microwaves normally have lower wattage and are made for reheating,” says Shimek, “while larger microwaves are used more for cooking and reheating.” If you know you don’t need to use those higher power settings, a smaller model might be more practical and affordable. Just be sure to check the dimensions to guarantee a good fit, as some models are taller and narrower than others while still advertising the same internal volume.


Most microwaves are designed in a very similar way, which means that a few design details can make all the difference. One key decision is whether you prefer a handle or button opening mechanism. Handles are often preferred for being easy to clean and less prone to breaking, while buttons can be more accessible and more streamlined in appearance. Some microwaves have backlit buttons, so you can easily see what you’re doing even in dim lighting, while others may offer a dial feature.

It’s common for microwaves to come in either black or stainless steel, but there may be some variation in appearance. If it’s important to you to have a model that blends better with the other appliances in your kitchen, then it might be worth spending more on a similar model that comes in the finish you’re looking for — especially if you’re going to keep it for years and years.

Available settings

You might be purchasing a microwave for its reheating abilities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also benefit from added features. These can range from convenience settings to safety features, to entirely new methods of cooking. I always appreciate a microwave that offers a few easy presets, such as a keep warm function or a mute button, as these are easy to use but reap so many benefits. People with children or curious pets may want to prioritize models that include a child lock for peace of mind. Other shoppers may be looking for a microwave with several power settings for different kinds of cooking, or a humidity sensor that can adjust the power level to better suit the food inside.

Added functions

You may also want a microwave that doubles up as another appliance, as this is a great way to economize your countertop space and still get added functionality. Some microwave ovens can even do the duty of four or more appliances, making them the ideal choice for anyone with limited space. While the performance may not be as good as dedicated individual appliances, the cost and space savings can make it worth it.

Our top picks for the best microwaves

Best microwave for extra features: Panasonic Microwave Oven NN-SN686S

Best for extra features
Panasonic Microwave Oven NN-SN686S

Panasonic Microwave Oven NN-SN686S

To me, the Panasonic Microwave Oven NN-SN686S is the Goldilocks of microwaves. Costing just under $200, this model is a dedicated microwave (not a 4-in-1 hybrid) yet it offers so many additional features. Panasonic uses inverter technology to produce more consistent, efficient heating so your food won’t get hot on the edges while staying cold in the middle. There’s also a Genius Sensor which adjusts the power and timing to better cook the food inside.

Extra features include delay start, keep warm and child-lock settings, which add so much convenience at the press of a button. If you’re feeling ambitious, take advantage of the 14 dedicated auto-cook settings. Just remember to keep the manual, as the presets are not listed on the side of the unit. Panasonic manages to do all this with a smaller 1200W power unit, freeing up more internal space for dishes without expanding the overall footprint. At 1.2 cubic feet, this is a mid-range amount of capacity, which makes it a solid choice for most kitchens. I particularly like its lightweight feel: At just 25.5 pounds, this microwave is several pounds lighter than similar-sized devices and therefore more portable.


  • Presets: 14.
  • Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet.
  • Dimensions: 15.8 inches deep x 20.7 inches wide x 12.2 inches high.
  • Weight: 25.5 pounds.
  • Power: 1200 watts.
  • Price on publish: $197.99.

What we like:

  • Inverter technology helps to generate consistent, efficient heating.
  • Smaller, lighter footprint yet with a surprisingly capacious interior.
  • Smart genius sensor auto-adjusts power and timing for different foods.
  • 14 different presets, delay start, keep warm function and a child-lock setting.

What we don’t like:

  • Preset codes are listed in the manual, not on the device itself.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

The Panasonic NN-SN686S packs a ton of power into a sleek design, deploying inverter technology and offering useful features like delay start, keep warm and 14 auto cook options.

Get it here: Panasonic Microwave Oven NN-SN686S

Best value microwave: Toshiba EM131A5C-SS Countertop Microwave

Best value
Toshiba EM131A5C-SS Countertop Microwave

Toshiba EM131A5C-SS Countertop Microwave

Good value doesn’t necessarily mean the lowest price, but rather that you’re getting more for your money than you would elsewhere. This is a big reason why I love the Toshiba EM131A5C-SS Countertop Microwave. It costs just under $130, yet delivers the performance of more expensive machines. Not only is the device consistently even and efficient at heating food, but it includes several “nice to have” features that you often don’t get, even on much higher-end models. Specifically, I like the mute button, which is great when you’re reheating late at night or during nap time and the eco-mode, which makes smarter use of the 1100 Wattage.

This is also a great microwave for fans of a handle opening mechanism that’s easy to clean and open. Now, you won’t get some of the added convenience features of the Panasonic NN-SN686S and it is a little bulkier than other models of the same capacity, but I think it’s a small trade-off for the very appealing price and day-to-day performance of this model.


  • Presets: Six.
  • Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet.
  • Dimensions: 17.1 inches deep x 20.5 inches wide x 12.8 inches high.
  • Weight: 34.6 pounds.
  • Power: 1100 watts.
  • Price on publish: $129.42.

What we like:

  • Nice price for a powerful unit, that includes 10 power settings and an eco-mode.
  • A mute button and child-lock setting make this a great choice for families.
  • The handle is intuitive and easy to use and clean.
  • There are six preset options and an additional soften/melt function.

What we don’t like:

  • A bit larger and heavier than other 1.2 cubic foot microwaves.
  • Fewer added convenience features than the Panasonic NN-SN686S.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

The Toshiba EM131A5C-SS combines an affordable price with a few useful added features, like a mute button and a child-lock, which make everyday microwaving a little more pleasant.

Get it here: Toshiba EM131A5C-SS Countertop Microwave

Best budget microwave: Hamilton Beach Countertop Microwave

Best budget
Hamilton Beach Countertop Microwave

Hamilton Beach Countertop Microwave

Just because modern microwaves can offer extra functionality, it doesn’t mean they need to. Sometimes I just want an appliance that does what it says it will, without the extra frills that will inevitably inflate the cost. If that’s you too, then the Hamilton Beach Countertop Microwave is a solid option that’s available for just $80. It has 1.1 cubic feet of capacity, comparable to the other standard-sized microwaves on this list and similar dimensions to those models as well. You are getting a slightly weaker power unit — this microwave supports 1000 watts — which means cooking or reheating food may take a little longer to reach optimum temperature. However, you’ll still get six preset options and 10 power levels to customize your heating. There’s even a child-lock and convenient handle opening, for greater ease of use. You won’t get some of the settings of the more expensive options on this list, but I appreciate that this microwave gets the job done smoothly, for a decent price.


  • Presets: Six.
  • Capacity: 1.1 cubic feet.
  • Dimensions: 16.5 inches deep x 20.6 inches wide x 11.8 inches high.
  • Weight: Not listed.
  • Power: 1000 watts.
  • Price on publish: $80.

What we like:

  • The most affordable microwave on this list.
  • Decent amount of power and capacity for $80, at 1000W and 1.1 cubic feet respectively.
  • 10 power levels and six preset settings allow for substantial customization.
  • Child-lock and handle design make this a user-friendly model.

What we don’t like:

  • Less powerful than other microwaves of a similar size, so heating will take longer.
  • Limited additional functions and no convenience settings.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

If you’re just looking to heat food up in a simple, straightforward way, then the Hamilton Beach Countertop Microwave is a great option that gets the job done for under $100.

Get it here: Hamilton Beach Countertop Microwave

Best convection microwave: Toshiba EC042A5C-BS Microwave Oven

Best convection
Toshiba EC042A5C-BS Microwave Oven

Toshiba EC042A5C-BS Microwave Oven

Convection ovens are prized because they circulate heat around the interior, for more even and consistent heating of food. The Toshiba EC042A5C-BS combines microwave functionality with a convection oven setting, giving you much more versatility and creativity in the kitchen. You can even use the settings in combination for a third method of cooking, to better achieve thorough heating while also creating a crisp exterior.

This microwave can easily replace a traditional oven for many dishes, so I appreciate that it comes with a capacity of 1.5 cubic feet, to better accommodate larger dishes and serving trays. Of course, this means it will take up more space in the kitchen, but far less than a traditional oven would. You’ll pay a little more than other Toshiba models for the added capabilities, but you’ll also get all the best classic Toshiba features like the eco-mode, mute function and handle design.


  • Presets: 13.
  • Capacity: 1.5 cubic feet.
  • Dimensions: 21.5 inches deep x 21.8 inches wide x 13.0 inches high.
  • Weight: 44.8 pounds.
  • Power: 1000 watts.
  • Price on publish: $188.50.

What we like:

  • The combination of convection and microwave cooking allows for greater versatility.
  • The keep warm setting, child lock, 13 presets and mute button improve user experience.
  • Reasonable price for the greater capabilities and larger internal capacity (1.5 cubic feet).
  • The eco-mode and lower power level make this more energy efficient.

What we don’t like:

  • This is a heavy unit that takes up a bit more countertop space than other microwaves.
  • Slightly more expensive than the regular microwaves.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

If you have the space and budget for a larger, more versatile microwave then the Toshiba EC042A5C-BS is a powerful all-rounder that cooks with convection heat as well as microwaves.

Get it here: Toshiba EC042A5C-BS Microwave Oven

Best splurge microwave: Panasonic HomeCHEF 4-in-1 Multi-oven

Best splurge
HomeCHEF 4-in-1 Multi-oven, 1.2 cu. ft. 1000W

HomeCHEF 4-in-1 Multi-oven, 1.2 cu. ft. 1000W

No, I don’t need to spend nearly $500 to get a great microwave — but the Panasonic HomeCHEF 4-in-1 Multi-oven makes me want to! Not just a microwave but also a broiler, convection oven and air-fryer, this product packs a lot of capability into its moderate size. As a microwave, you get Panasonic’s inverter technology for consistent heating and 20 different preset cooking options. Then there are the three other cooking methods, plus the Combi 1 (broil and microwave) and Combi 2 (convection and microwave) settings.

The 1.2 cubic feet capacity accommodates a roast chicken or a large casserole dish. The HomeCHEF 4-in-1 shares the beloved features of the regular Panasonic microwave: a silent mode, a keep-warm setting and a child lock. This is a heavy unit at just over 39 pounds, but the overall dimensions aren’t too crazy for a regular countertop microwave. It’s also much more efficient than owning four separate appliances. Yes, it’s an investment purchase, but you get a lot of bang for your buck.


  • Presets: 20.
  • Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet.
  • Dimensions: 17.7 inches deep x 22.0 inches wide x 13.5 inches high.
  • Weight: 39.1 pounds.
  • Power: 1000W.
  • Price on publish: $499.99.

What we like:

  • Four different cooking functions, with additional “combi” settings for maximum versatility.
  • Includes preferred features like a silent mode, keep warm setting and child lock.
  • 15% more space efficient than other convection ovens, while accommodating 1.2 cubic feet.
  • 20 different preset options and a “one-push” reheating option.
  • Comes with additional accessories such as an air fryer basket, grill rack and enamel tray.

What we don’t like:

  • It’s the most expensive item on this list at nearly $500.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

For the ultimate in home-cooking convenience, the Panasonic HomeCHEF 4-in-1 Multi-oven is an investment but one that lets you broil, air fry, bake and microwave in style.

Get it here: Panasonic HomeCHEF 4-in-1 Multi-oven

Best compact microwave: Black+Decker EM720CB7 Microwave Oven

Best compact
Black+Decker EM720CB7 Microwave Oven

Black+Decker EM720CB7 Microwave Oven

Limited countertop space doesn’t need to prohibit you from owning a microwave. The Black+Decker EM720CB7 Microwave is noticeably more compact than any other product on this list, with a capacity of 0.7 cubic feet, weight of 22.5 pounds and smaller footprint by several inches. It also utilizes less power and is a great option for students, people starting out in their new homes or simply anyone who doesn’t want to overspend on unnecessary features.

Despite its small stature, the EM720CB7 still provides decent heating capabilities and even includes six preset options for convenience. There’s a child lock, 10 power settings and sensor technology that adjusts power levels as needed — all for under $100. No, this isn’t the most flashy or powerful model, but it saves valuable space and fulfills the key functions of a microwave, so you can use your countertops for something else.


  • Presets: Six.
  • Capacity: 0.7 cubic feet.
  • Dimensions: 13 inches deep x 17.3 inches wide x 10.2 inches deep.
  • Weight: 22.5 pounds.
  • Power: 700 watts.
  • Price on publish: $98.95.

What we like:

  • The smallest and lightest of all my picks, making it ideal for tiny kitchens or dorm rooms.
  • Nicely priced at under $100.
  • 10 different power settings and six preset options.
  • Includes a child safety lock and sensor technology for automatic power adjustments.

What we don’t like:

  • There is only room for a single small dinner place or low-profile mug.
  • Lowest power of any model on this list, so might take longer to heat through.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

Anyone with limited space for appliances will be delighted by the tiny footprint of the Black+Decker EM720CB7 Microwave Oven, as well as its low price and decent performance.

Get it here: Black+Decker EM720CB7 Microwave Oven

Best large capacity microwave: LG NeoChef Countertop Microwave

Best large capacity
LG Black Stainless Steel Series NeoChef™ Countertop Microwave with Smart Inverter and EasyClean®, 2.0 cu. ft.

LG Black Stainless Steel Series NeoChef™ Countertop Microwave with Smart Inverter and EasyClean®, 2.0 cu. ft.

Microwaves add convenience to your cooking life, but they can’t do that if you can’t fit your dishes inside. The standard capacity of 1-1.4 cubic feet may not be sufficient for families or anyone who likes to cook in bulk, so I’d recommend the LG NeoChef Countertop Microwave. With an impressive 2.0 cubic feet in capacity and a power level of 1200 watts, this microwave utilizes advanced inverter and sensor technology to evenly heat large volumes of food in record time. It also has a child lock and will shut off automatically once it detects that the food is finished heating, so you can be confident leaving it unattended.

To accommodate the larger capacity, it does have a wider footprint so this may not be suitable for anyone with limited counter space, plus it only features four preset options. However, it’s not too bulky to stop being practical and I think its sleek design helps to balance out its larger size. An interior EasyClean coating makes the NeoChef a breeze to wipe down between uses, while the exterior and control panel are also smooth and easy to clean.


  • Presets: Four.
  • Capacity: 2.0 cubic feet.
  • Dimensions: 19.8 inches deep x 23.9 inches wide x 13.6 inches high.
  • Weight: 36.4 pounds.
  • Power: 1200 watts.
  • Price on publish: $229.

What we like:

  • Large, sleek design that fits up to 2 cubic feet of volume.
  • Uses sensor technology to auto-shutoff once the food is detected to be done.
  • Uses inverter technology for more even heating, even with large amounts of food.
  • Includes a child lock and EasyClean coating inside for greater ease of use.

What we don’t like:

  • Larger footprint to accommodate the greater volume.
  • Only four preset options.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

Larger families or batch cooks will appreciate the LG NeoChef Countertop Microwave’s capacity of 2.0 cubic feet, sleek design and advanced heating technology, although it is a bit bulky.

Get it here: LG NeoChef Countertop Microwave

Best smart microwave: GE Smart Microwave Oven

Best smart
GE Smart Countertop Microwave Oven

GE Smart Countertop Microwave Oven

It seems like every appliance is being remade into a “smart” version and microwaves are no exception. That being said, I really like this GE Smart Microwave Oven. It can connect to WiFi and be programmed through a voice assistant, like Siri or Alexa, and it also supports a “scan-to-cook” function through the connected app. You scan the barcode on any frozen food package and then the smart appliance automatically selects the right power strength and time for that dish. These features are great for anyone who may be physically impaired, as well as for anyone who simply finds their hands full in the kitchen.

Measuring 0.9 cubic feet in capacity, this is a smaller microwave, which may be a positive to some and a negative for others. The actual heating ability is nicely consistent, powerful enough for the size and supports six preset options. Even better, I like that you won’t pay through the nose for the smart capabilities. At just under $140, this truly is an accessible option.


  • Presets: six, plus barcode “scan-to-cook” function.
  • Capacity: 0.9 cubic feet.
  • Dimensions: 14.5 inches deep x 19 inches wide x 11.5 inches high.
  • Weight: 27.8 pounds.
  • Power: 900 watts.
  • Price on publish: $138.16.

What we like:

  • The WiFi connection allows you to control your microwave through a voice assistant.
  • The scan-to-cook function automatically programs the right setting for frozen foods.
  • It takes up minimal countertop space, while the low weight ensures portability.
  • Very affordable at under $150.

What we don’t like:

  • Lower capacity of 0.9 cubic feet, which may prove too small for some.
  • Doesn’t include some of the convenience features of other microwaves; focuses on smart capabilities.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

If you want to remotely control your microwave from your smartphone or through a voice assistant, then the GE Smart Microwave Oven makes this easy and affordable.

Get it here: GE Smart Microwave Oven

How we selected the best microwaves

At the most basic level, a microwave needs to be able to heat food in a convenient and efficient manner. Beyond that, the “best” microwave will likely mean different things to different people, depending on how many people they cook for, the size of their kitchen, budget and preferred extra features. However, I’ve found a few consistent criteria that are useful in determining what deserves to be on the best microwaves list:

Heating capabilities

First and foremost, I looked at the power and technology used in each microwave. Shimek reminded me that greater power wattage isn’t always better, as smaller models may require less power to achieve similar results. This is especially true if you’re looking to thoroughly reheat food, rather than just heat the outsides. Instead, I factored in whether the microwave used inverter technology for a more even heat and whether it offered different power settings or sensors to improve performance. I also read expert assessments and customer reviews of how the microwaves worked during different use-cases, to ensure I only recommended products that were shown to be consistently effective for common daily uses like heating liquids, reheating frozen meals and making popcorn.

Value for money

Microwaves come at various price points and you’re not always paying for better quality. I considered whether the pricing reflected additional capabilities useful to the everyday person, versus unnecessary technology or settings. If a microwave also doubled as another appliance (or three), that was deemed as a useful attribute, but I also valued more affordable products that focused on their core capabilities. In general, it was important to find a range of microwaves that would suit different budgets and purposes, to create a list that was truly representative of what “value for money” means to different people.

Public and expert opinions

Many of us only have experience with a single model of microwave; it’s not an appliance that we casually upgrade like we would a smartphone. Therefore, while I did use my personal experience with the microwaves I was assessing, it was also important that I factor in the first-hand experiences of industry experts and verified customers. I read the published reports of various testing labs, hundreds of customer reviews and a few individual expert recommendations. I also spoke with Ron Shimek of Mr. Appliance for a greater grounding in microwave appliances, so that I was better versed in the topic and able to draw accurate, relevant conclusions.

How microwaves work

Microwave ovens are named for their source of heating power: microwaves. A magnetron inside of the unit produces the microwaves, which then bounce off the interior surfaces of the oven until they hit the food inside. When a microwave comes into contact with water molecules near the surface of the food item, it causes the molecule to vibrate with energy. This vibration generates heat, which warms the food.

However, microwaves only act on these outer surfaces of food; for the heat to reach the interior, it needs time to move on its own. This is why it’s often more effective to heat food at lower power for a little bit longer, so the heat generated by the microwaves can spread throughout the dish. Pausing the power to turn the food, mix it up or stir it can also help to disseminate the heat more effectively.

Microwave safety, care and maintenance

Despite common misconceptions, microwaves occupy a safe part of the electromagnetic spectrum and are safe for contact with the human body. Microwave ovens only have mesh-covered glass screens to keep the microwaves inside where they will heat up food, rather than heating up the rest of the kitchen. That said, microwave ovens are attached to a power source and there are some precautions to take to ensure that your appliance is operated safely.

“Number one is to cover your food,” warns Shimek. “If you do get a splatter, wipe it up as soon as you can. That spatter can burn into the liner of your microwave and cause a short circuit.” While these spills may seem cosmetic, the damage can be much more serious if you don’t catch it early.

“Number two, no foil in the microwave — and yes, the wrapper of a Pop Tart is foil,” says Shimek. This is because the metal of the foil will reflect the microwaves, not absorb them, which could cause overheating and combustion. Safe materials to use are glass, ceramics and microwave-safe plastics. If in doubt, Shimek recommends checking for a microwave-safe label, as some plastics may melt or release toxic chemicals when heated.

“Number three is to never run the microwave when empty,” says Shimek. “This can damage the Magnetron (the heating element) and possibly cause a fire.” Always check whether you really did put that dish inside the microwave before turning it on, as taking those extra seconds to verify could save you a lot of damage in the long run. And as always, review your specific appliance’s owner manual for the most comprehensive and accurate advice.

Differences between a built-in and countertop microwave

While all of the microwaves on this list are countertop models, many of them support being installed as a built-in appliance. This is because there is fundamentally no difference in the actual technology of these microwave ovens. Instead, this is mostly about choosing the best aesthetic design in your kitchen.

“Built-ins blend seamlessly into your kitchen cabinets, saving space but often costing more to install,” explains Shimek. “Countertop microwaves, on the other hand, are easy to move around and replace, but take up valuable real estate on your countertops.” If you’re renting, you’re more likely to stick with a countertop model. At the same time, homeowners may be more willing to invest in a professional installation that will support their long-term design vision for their home.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Which materials are safe to go into the microwave?

“For what you can safely put in the microwave, think glass, ceramic and microwave-safe plastics,” says Shimek. “Avoid metal, foil and certain plastics that could melt or release harmful chemicals. If it doesn’t say ‘microwave safe,’ it’s not.” It’s important to follow these rules as surfaces that reflect microwaves, like metals, can cause the interior to overheat and may lead to fires or small explosions.

What is the typical lifespan of a microwave?

A well-cared-for microwave can last eight to 10 years, even with regular use. Check the owner’s manual for specific maintenance advice for your model, but frequent cleanings and proper usage should be enough to keep your appliance working for years.

What wattage microwave should I get?

Higher wattage allows your microwave to apply greater amounts of microwaves to your food in less time, but this isn’t always the best way to heat your food, especially if you’re looking for consistent, even heating. Therefore, I’d recommend looking at the microwave’s other features instead of only its wattage, such as whether it uses inverter or sensor technology. Generally, if the power is between 900W and 1200W, you will have sufficient heating, but smaller units can run on less.

Related article:

AP Buyline’s content is created independently of The Associated Press newsroom. Our evaluations and opinions are not influenced by our advertising relationships, but we might earn commissions from our partners’ links in this content. Learn more about our policies and terms here.