Of all the handy kitchen tools we often take for granted, the countertop microwave is chief among them. It’s the appliance we constantly turn to when we need results quickly and consistently, a mid-day and middle-of-the-night ally that’s free of all pretense. And whether you’re warming up a morning cup of coffee that’s gone cold or dethawing some last-minute leftovers, it’s important that your countertop microwave is fuss-free and, ideally, looks sharp at the same time.
If you’re in the market for a new kitchen BFF, below are our picks for the best countertop microwaves that hit the middle of the Venn Diagram on good looks and the latest reliable, high-tech features.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Panasonic NN-SD78LS
With a sleek design that fits seamlessly in any kitchen layout and a generous amount of interior room large enough to fit a 9x13 baking dish, the Panasonic NN-SD78LS is a winning combination of good looks and top-notch technology that nods to both aesthetic sensibilities and ease of use. This countertop microwave has plenty of forward-thinking tools—from 20 preset automatic cooking options and one-touch reheating to a “Turbo Defrost” thawing capacity—using a 1,250-watt patented Cyclonic Inverter, which ensures that food is cooked evenly and heated through with worry-free, consistent results. The Panasonic NN-SD78LS also keeps food warm for up to 30 minutes, ensuring that meals are on your timeline and not the ding of the microwave.
Best Budget: Black & Decker Digital
Priced at right around $100, the Black & Decker Digital microwave is a wallet-friendly choice that packs plenty of desirable features into a compact 0.9 cubic foot appliance. With 10 power levels up to 900 watts, an easy-to-read LED display, and 30-second express cooking, this microwave has top-tier functionality with a small footprint. Defrost by time or by weight, or use the six automatic cooking presets to pop perfectly fluffy popcorn and heat pizza with just the touch of a button. The removable glass turntable makes cleanup a breeze, while the built-in child safety lock means you can take your eyes off of the microwave knowing tiny hands won’t accidentally interrupt cooking times.
Best Quiet: Breville BMO650SIL1BUC1
Tired of a countertop microwave that’s constantly banging shut and beeping while you’re removing food? The team at Breville was, too. That’s why they created the 0.9 cubic foot Breville BMO650SIL1BUC1 microwave that looks charming among your countertop cookbooks, but has a soft close door that’s 80 percent quieter than the average microwave. With a knob function that allows a timer to be set without any extra dings or clicks and a “mute” feature that complements its discreet nature, this countertop microwave is a quiet-but-mighty workhorse. Best of all, midnight snack lovers can use the lower-power “reheat” setting to evenly warm up leftovers without risk of drying out (or waking up the whole house).
Best “Retro”: Galanz GLCMKA07BKR-07
If you’re in search of a microwave with vintage style and modern convenience, keep the Galanz GLCMKA07BKR-07 top on your list. This conveniently-sized 0.7 cubic foot countertop microwave can easily fit in dorm rooms or studio apartments and comes in a wide variety of funky colors like “bebop blue” and “surf green.” (Galanz also offers matching refrigerators, if you’re itching to go full retro.) With 700 watts of power, six heating levels, and an ultra-clear LED display, you’ll show off all the charm of yesteryear with today’s latest technology, like a removable 9.7-inch glass turntable with 360-degree rotation for even heating and easy cleanup.
Best Energy-Saving: Toshiba EM131A5C-SS
We’re all looking for more ways to go green in the kitchen, and with the Toshiba EM131A5C-SS, your countertop microwave can serve as an eco-friendly addition. At 1.2 cubic feet utilizing 1,100 watts with 10 power settings, this Toshiba can minimize its “standby” power by 50 percent when the “ECO” mode is turned on, reducing your carbon footprint and your energy bill. A built-in “smart” sensor constantly detects the microwave’s interior humidity levels during cooking to precisely cook potatoes and reheat rice. This microwave also has a unique “soften and melt” function to gently soften butter or melt chocolate.
Best Voice Control: AmazonBasics Microwave
Best Voice Control
If your quality of life has improved dramatically since welcoming voice recognition tools into your home, AmazonBasics’ voice controlled microwave with Alexa compatibility will help further streamline your cooking processes and day-to-day life. Clocking in on the smaller side of countertop microwaves at 0.7 cubic feet (think: perfect for a 3-ounce bag of popcorn) with 10 power levels, this $75 product doesn’t arrive with an Echo device included, but setup with your current voice-activated system couldn’t be easier. Simply plug in the microwave, connect via the internet to the Alexa app, and tell the device to start microwaving. There are even voice-controlled quick cook presets built in, and don’t worry, plenty of safeguards in check. (You’re not going to accidentally tell your microwave to heat for 50 hours!)
Features to Keep in Mind
“I'd recommend selecting a microwave that's around 1,000 watts with 10 power levels,” says Steph Chen, founder of Anyday, a microwave cookware company. “We actually wrote a whole blog post about the importance of your microwave's power levels, why it's worth getting familiar with them, and how to change them. Certain foods like grains, eggs, and even sometimes fish are better cooked at a lower power level—just like how it's sometimes better to cook at low heat on the stove or at a low temp in the oven.”
Our suggested microwaves range from a more compact 700-watt model all the way up to 1,250 watts, depending on your power needs.
Consider how you’ll typically use your microwave before deciding on size. Compact microwaves are in the 0.7 cubic foot to 0.9 cubic foot range, and while they take up less counter space, their cooking interiors are also (you guessed it!) smaller. This is fine if you’re cooking meals for a couple or small family in a kitchen with limited counter space, but probably not if you entertain the extended family on a regular basis. Large countertop microwaves (those in the 1.2 cubic foot category) take up more kitchen real estate but have a greater capacity for regular hosts or large cooking jobs.
Ask the Experts
Q: Can a countertop microwave be placed in a cabinet?
Maybe, but you must ensure that the shelf it’s sitting on is strong enough to support it, all wires are properly secured and—most importantly—there’s at the very least 1-inch of space and ventilation on all sides of the countertop microwave. Never make the sides of the microwave flush with the interior walls of the cabinet (this risks overheating) and read specific manufacturer’s instructions for more details and guidance.
Q: How should I cook with my microwave?
“Microwaves are fast! This may seem obvious, but they often cook even faster than people realize. This is due to the fact that microwaves cook the food itself as opposed to heating up the air around the food and waiting for the heat to penetrate like an oven,” says Chen. “When cooking a recipe or ingredient for the first time, it's also best to start with less time than you think, since you can always add more.”
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