A good microwave is the fairy godmother of cooking.
At the touch of a button, they produce magic: perfectly cooked meals, plates of thoroughly reheated leftovers, sublime clouds of fluffy popcorn, a way to make that forgotten mug of coffee drinkable again… And waiting time is so negligible that most days you won’t even finish a YouTube video before the beeper chimes.
If you’re shopping for a new microwave, honestly, you’re in for a treat. Modern microwaves are basically all about competing for top spot in the “cooks beautifully with no effort whatsoever” division. Design trends are leaning towards clean and minimalist, with a simple, square appeal that fits right into the décor of most kitchens.
In this article, we’re embarking on a hunt for the best countertop microwave by reviewing six outstanding models. We’ll consider aspects like the settings they offer, the convenience of the control panel, and the aesthetic, and do an analysis of what it’s like to use each model.
We Went Looking for the Best Countertop Microwave
This microwave is furnished with every setting you could possibly need… and some you probably don’t, but would love using anyway.
It’s huge – at 2.2 cubic feet, you could fit in your largest dishes, or a couple of smaller ones side by side. I highly appreciate this, as the cramped size of microwave ovens when you compare them to their traditional counterparts is my pet microwave peeve. At 1250 watts, the Panasonic NN-SD975S has power to match its size. And it boasts some unique technology: the Cyclonic Wave Inverter. The inverter causes the microwave to release waves in a steady stream instead of radiating them in pulses, and circulates the waves with superb efficiency. Having the inverter tech puts this Panasonic a big step ahead of normal microwaves. It cooks fast and thoroughly; no more hard or raw patches in your dishes.
The Cyclonic Wave Inverter has another highly convenient application: the defrost capability. It defrosts thawed goods perfectly, all the way through. In fact, this microwave is the queen of defrost, because it has a defrost sensor, too. No more timing your frozen fare in the microwave – it figures it out for you.
This incredible microwave offers 20 sensor menu options. That’s right, folks, 20. These do not include the dedicated popcorn option, which has three settings of its own… it can cook this favorite snack exactly how you like it. The sensor-operated reheat function is highly accurate, and heats meals with superb thoroughness thanks to the aforementioned Cyclonic Wave Tech. The 10 power levels seem almost redundant. It can also keep your dishes warm while you’re waiting to serve them.
Aesthetically, it’s simple and sleek with a brushed stainless-steel finish. The control panel is easy to navigate, with a digital clock face, a dial and 9 buttons for settings. The panel text is somewhat small, but still comfortable to read.
Although this microwave is clearly the boss of even, fast cooking and defrosting, it has some downsides. For a start, it’s quite pricey – the second most expensive machine on this list. And the dial and raised buttons mean that cleaning up will take some extra time and patience. If you’re prepared to fork out a generous sum for your new microwave, though, it’s totally worth it… considering how much time and effort this oven’s many convenient functions will save you.
| Cyclonic Wave Inverter heats, cooks and defrosts evenly and fast|
It’s enormous at 2.2 cubic feet
The sensor cooking menu has 20 items
It has a popcorn button with 3 settings
It’s powerful at 1250 watts
Raised buttons and a dial make for less convenient cleanup
The Sharp ZSMC0912BS is a bargain that has everything you need in a basic microwave, including reliability. It’s the second least expensive microwave on this list, so don’t expect any bells and whistles, but you get simple, consistent functionality at an absolute steal of a price.
This machine has a bunch of settings that are convenient for daily operation. It has an “auto defrost” setting, so you just need to punch in the weight of your frozen goods and the microwave will calculate the time needed to thaw. It has settings for automatically cooking popcorn and beverages, and reheating.
Surprisingly, the Sharp ZSMC0912BS looks pretty good too. It’s not flashy, but the design is clean and minimalist, in glossy brushed stainless steel with black accents. The touchpad is smooth which makes cleanup quick and straightforward, and the clear text and button layout is conveniently easy to navigate.
At 0.9 cubic feet it’s quite small; the smallest on this list, just above the Whirlpool. It can fit a bunch of mugs or a large plate of food just fine, as well as smaller dishes and microwave pots. It powers up at 900, making it the second least powerful microwave on this list, but it’s still powerful enough to cook fast and thoroughly. At that price, it’s a good buy that offers loads of basic functionality.
Smooth, simple touchpad is easy to use and clean
| Not a lot of settings|
No sensor cooking
Let’s start with the aesthetics, because in this department, the Nostalgia takes the prize. This particular model is a deep shiny red, reminiscent of Monroe’s pout in the 50’s. It also comes in soft aqua, milky ivory and dapper faded black. Accents in glistening chrome and retro typeface compliment the retro shapes of the window and digital display.
It’s a modestly sized microwave at 0.9 cubic feet. It fits an ordinary dinner plate or medium sized cooking dishes. It’s 800 watts, the second least powerful microwave here, but is still robust enough for fast and thorough cooking. It has twelve pre-programmed cooking options which include settings for pizza, popcorn, veg and potatoes. The control panel is beautifully simple. It has a large digital time display and a handy dial for toggling through settings.
The charming Nostalgia RMO4RR costs profoundly less than you’d expect. In fact, together with the Toshiba, it’s the least expensive model on this list. You do sacrifice some size and power for the visual design, though, as it doesn’t match the Toshiba in these departments. It also has no sensors. The raised dial and buttons make cleanup more complicated than it would be if the control panel was smooth.
However, if you’ve fallen in love with the retro look or are prettifying your kitchen, this microwave is a beautiful bargain, and still highly functional.
| Unusual, retro aesthetic|
Handy dial for choosing settings
| Not as large or powerful as the Toshiba in the same price range|
Raised dial and buttons make for less convenient cleanup
This microwave is the priciest model on this list… and it’s easy to see why.
Firstly, it has a grill. Yes, you heard that right. Your sumptuous dishes are lifted on a rack to right up under the grill element. Ready to turn an inviting, crispy golden-brown. What’s extra special about Panasonic’s FlashXPress broiler is that it cooks while it grills, so you don’t have to cook your food before switching settings to brown it. This microwave offers impeccable convenience and mouth-watering deliciousness, combined.
Like the other Panasonic on this list, the NN-GN68KS boasts Inverter technology. A continuous stream of waves cooks your dishes fast and evenly. It also has sensor technology. This model has 18 sensor options, less than the first Panasonic here. It offers a menu of ten dishes, plus reheat and defrost settings. The sensors cook, thaw and reheat to perfection, which is incredibly convenient. The NN-GN68KS has a turbo feature for defrost, which speeds up the process. This is especially handy when you’ve started dinner late or are defrosting a pre-cooked meal when you’re famished. There’s also that dedicated popcorn button with three settings of its own, and a setting that keeps food warm while you wait to serve.
At 1.1 cubic feet it’s a modest size. For the dollars I’d have to fork out, I would prefer a little more real estate. Aesthetically, it’s pleasing: attractively square and clean, with a shiny brushed stainless steel finish and black accents. Sadly, the control panel leaves possibly the least practical one on this list: the twenty identical buttons are somewhat confusing, and the small lettering doesn’t help. The fact that the buttons are raised also means cleanup is time-consuming when food gets on the control panel.
If you enjoy the speed and convenience of a microwave but miss the oven-feel of crispy crusts and browned toppings – and you have the cash to fork out – you’ll love this model. You’ll definitely love the thoroughness and precision of its sensors and inverter tech.
| Automatic grill|
Inverter tech cooks, heats and defrosts fast and evenly
Lots of sensor options
Turbo defrost thaws food fast
Raised buttons make cleanup time-consuming
This microwave is tiny at 0.5 cubic feet. If you have a crowded, pea-sized kitchen, or want to install a microwave in your motor home or caravan, this is your baby. It can fit a plate, a handful of mugs or a small dish.
The thing that’s so unique about this model is its shape. It has a face the size of a large napkin, but it’s deep, with a rounded back. You can squeeze it into a corner and free up space on your countertop. It’s only 750 watts, the least powerful machine on this list, but as there won’t be much in it at any given time, this is plenty.
Compared to many of the other models on this list, the Whirlpool offers only basic settings. It has buttons for popcorn, reheating and defrosting, and ten power levels for cooking and melting. Importantly though, it works well: it’s reliable and well-designed. The control panel is profoundly simple and easy to navigate, and it’s smooth, so cleanup is easy. Aesthetically, there are also no bells and whistles… if fact, it looks a bit like a square TV set from the 90’s.
Because this machine is so small, I expected it to be inexpensive. However, it’s on the middle of this list’s price range: it costs more than the Nostalgia, Sharp or Toshiba. If you need a reliable, space-saving microwave, though, the convenience is worth the price.
| Ideal space-saving model with small size and rounded back|
Straightforward control panel that’s easy to clean
| More expensive than I expected|
No fancy features
This little gem offers stunning functionality at a steal of a price. Together with the Nostalgia it’s the least expensive model on this list. And yet, it’s high-performance and wonderfully convenient.
Firstly, it has sensors, which is rare at this price. There are five menu options for sensor cooking: potato, rice, veg, frozen pizza and frozen entrees. It also has a sensor-timed reheat function. It’s the only machine on this list to have a soften/melt option, and a kitchen timer that you can use for all your kitchen activities. The control panel is smooth, and amazingly easy to navigate. You can mute the beeper when there’s someone in the household who doesn’t want to be disturbed by high-pitched microwave noises. It’s fast at 1100 watts, and you can choose the power level with ten power settings.
The only aspect of the Toshiba EM131A5C-BS that could be less than ideal for some is the modest space. At 1.2 cubic feet it’s mid-size and can fit in a bunch of mugs, a large plate or medium-sized dishes. For large families, or people who regularly use their microwave when entertaining, it’s cramped. However, the size is honestly roomy enough for most. Overall, it’s a bargain that offers impressive functionality and convenience.
| Excellent price|
Still has sensors
Has a melt/soften setting
Has a kitchen timer
Can be muted
Simple, smooth control panel
|Size isn’t ideal for large families or those who entertain often|
What to Consider When Browsing Countertop Microwaves
If you’re shopping for a microwave, you have a jaw-dropping array of options to pick from. In fact, it can get confusing. Here’s how to pick the model that’s perfect for you.
Figure Out How You’ll Use Your Microwave
Will you use it when entertaining? Cook generous meals for a large family? Bake crusty patisserie, brown roasts and caramelize veg?
Or will you simply be reheating cups of coffee, defrosting frozen meals, and occasionally cooking a packet of popcorn or a jacket potato?
If you’re only going to use your microwave for the basics, there’s no reason to fork out a lavish sum on an enormous model that has all the bells and whistles.
Get to Know the Features that are Available
Modern microwaves can be kind of confusing. Here’s a run-down of the basic features, and what to look out for.
The higher the wattage, the higher the cooking power. Generally, a wattage lower than 700 cooks poorly.
The ideal microwave control panel should be simple to navigate, and clearly marked in type that’s large and easy to read. It takes more time and effort to clean around raised buttons than a smooth face, and dirt can get stuck in narrow grooves.
Size and Shape
Most microwaves are between 0.7 and 2.2 cubic feet. Sizes of 1.6 cubic feet and above work well for families and people who love hosting. Anything smaller is ideal for little kitchens, those who won’t use their microwaves for anything other than reheating plates and cups, or office spaces. Shapes vary too, so if you’re considering a machine that’s an unusual shape, be sure to plan where you’ll put it before you make the purchase.
There are an enormous variety, and they can be bewildering. Basic settings fall into two categories: preprogrammed cooking, where you tell the microwave what food you’d like to cook and press “start” – it calculates cooking time based on average cooking time for that dish – and programmable cooking, where you can select the appropriate power level and timing.
If your machine has sensors, it can tell when to switch of by measuring the humidity emanating from your food. This turns out perfectly cooked, heated and defrosted dishes, with minimal effort from you.
Some microwaves circulate hot air as well as emitting waves. These are amazing for baking cookies and pastries, and for browning dishes like macaroni and cheese or cottage pie. You can also roast meat and veg in these ovens.
While many microwaves are purely functional looking, there are a ton of models on the market where extra resources have been put into visual design. The sleek, futuristic aesthetic is popular, as are classic, minimal designs. And you get some gorgeous vintage designs that draw inspiration from models circulating in the 50’s and 60’s and will fit right into a room with an old-fashioned look and feel.
The models we’ve reviewed here vary widely in size, price and use. But they’re all high-quality ovens with loads of functionality. If you’ve determined what you need from your microwave and pick something from this list to match, you’ll definitely end up a happy buyer.