We Tested the Best Microwaves — These Are Our Top Picks

The Panasonic Microwave Oven is one of our favorites; read on for the rest.

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Best Microwaves
FOOD AND WINE / RUSSELL KILGORE

Modern microwaves are culinary workhorses that can save time, energy, and space on your stovetop or in your oven. Steaming vegetables in the microwave is not only faster and easier than boiling them, but it also preserves nutrients that otherwise leach into boiling water. Making potato salad? You can microwave the potatoes rather than boiling them. Poaching eggs? Skip boiling a pot of water, and do it in the microwave. Forgot to take something out of the freezer? Gently defrost it in the microwave in a fraction of the time. Chef David Chang even titled his most recent cookbook Cooking at Home: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Recipes (And Love My Microwave), which includes a chapter titled: "Things I Love to Microwave (I Will Chuck Almost Anything In A Microwave)." A serious endorsement!

To determine which microwave is right for you, consider how you'll use it in your daily routine. To simply reheat your coffee or leftovers, a basic microwave will suit your needs. For defrosting and gentle heat, inverter technology delivers unparalleled and even cooking on even the most delicate foods. If you want an all-in-one device that can stand in for a toaster oven or air fryer, there are models that include radiant heating elements and convection fans to bake, broil, or even grill.

Beyond that, we want a microwave that is easy to use. No one wants to break out the user's manual just to figure out how to defrost a lasagna. The controls should be clear, intuitive, and responsive. Presets for frequent tasks like "Add 30 seconds" or "Keep Warm'' are valuable, as are large, responsive buttons and dials. If childproofing is a priority, consider a model with a child lock. Overall, we recommend the Panasonic Microwave Oven with Cyclonic Wave Inverter Technology, which is powerful enough to boil water in two minutes, but gentle enough to temper chocolate. Our testers also noted that it heats frozen macaroni and cheese "ridiculously evenly." Keep reading to discover our other best microwave picks.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Panasonic Microwave Oven with Cyclonic Wave Inverter Technology

The Best Microwaves
Courtesy of Amazon

Pros: The inverter technology excelled at defrosting and gentle heating.

Cons: The somewhat drab exterior isn't the most appealing.

In a world where more and more microwaves can bake, air fry, and grill, our top microwave pick did one thing exceptionally well: microwave. At full power, it heated food more quickly than any other model, and at lower power levels, it avoided the classic microwave pitfall of overcooked edges with a cold center. The latter is attributable to Panasonic's "Cyclonic Wave Inverter," an inverter circuit that delivers a constant stream of power at the desired level for the entire cooking time, evenly heating the food all the way through. Inverted wave microwaves, in addition to offering superior cooking, are also more energy-efficient.

The Panasonic also has a full range of sensor cooking presets and standard feature buttons like Popcorn, Quick 30, and Coffee/Milk. The popcorn feature has three presets, depending on the weight of the kernels you need to pop (1.5, 2.75, and 3.5 ounces), but in our tests there wasn't a setting that matched our supermarket bagged popcorn. On the lower setting, there were many leftover kernels, while on the high setting the popcorn burned. At 1250 watts, this powerful microwave boiled water more quickly than any other model in our tests, but it can easily burn delicate foods like sugary marshmallows if not closely monitored. This 2.2-cubic-foot model is also a giant, which could be a pro or a con, depending on your needs and the size of your kitchen. Sure, it can accommodate a full-sized turkey, but if you're mostly zapping smaller items, at its price may be overkill.

Price at time of publish: $370

  • Power: 1250 watts
  • Capacity: 2.2 cubic feet
  • Types of Heat: Microwave, Inverted Wave Microwaves
Best Microwaves
FOOD AND WINE / RUSSELL KILGORE

Best Value: Toshiba EM131A5C-BS Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor

The Best Microwaves
Courtesy of Amazon

Pros: This is a no-frills microwave that delivers on the basics while outperforming more expensive models in several of our tests. It also shows minimal fingerprints on the exterior.
Cons: Despite being more powerful than other competitors we tested, this microwave performs more slowly on lower power levels.

The Toshiba performed well across most of our tests but stumbled a bit when it came to evenly heating frozen macaroni and cheese. For basic microwave tasks, this microwave is a great value, popping fluffy popcorn with minimal leftover kernels. It also didn't seem to have any pronounced hot and cold spots in our marshmallow tests.

This microwave also has a range of sensor cooking presets. The microwave prompts you to enter the weight and type of food and uses a small internal computer to calculate the settings. These sensors work by detecting the heat and humidity levels in the microwave to gauge how hot the food is, then automatically adjust, depending on the intended result, whether that be steaming vegetables, cooking rice, or melting butter. Having to break out a scale might seem like an annoying extra step, but if you want to avoid the risk of overcooking and don't want to check on your food at regular intervals for doneness, it's a foolproof tool.

Price at time of publish: $150

  • Power: 1100 watts
  • Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet
  • Types of Heat: Microwave only
Best Microwaves
FOOD AND WINE / RUSSELL KILGORE

Best Compact: Farberware Countertop Compact Microwave

The Best Microwaves
Courtesy of Amazon

Pros: This is a petite microwave with a roomy oven chamber relative to its overall size.
Cons: It's significantly louder than other models we tested.

Despite showing pronounced hot and cold spots in the marshmallow trial, this Farberware microwave heated food very evenly, coming in second to the much more expensive and sophisticated Panasonic unit we tested. Our testers also liked its Goldilocks size, saying it's "not too big or too small." In popcorn tests, it left less than 1/8 of a cup of kernels unpopped, and it includes both time- and weight-based defrost settings. One simple feature that surprised us was the range of one- to six-minute "Express Cook" settings in addition to the quick 30-seconds button. If you cook the same foods often, there is a memory function that allows you to customize and save your favorite cook settings for one-touch operation. There is also a helpful child lock feature.

While the Farberware was smaller than other models we tested, it was also louder: The door opening and closing and the sound of the microwave running were noticeably noisy. Design-wise, the exterior construction is also a bit flimsy. While it's listed as "stainless steel," it's actually a thin stainless veneer over another material. It also smudges easily on the exterior.

Price at time of publish: $127

  • Power: 1000 watts
  • Capacity: 1.1 cubic feet
  • Types of Heat: Microwave only

Related: We Tested the Best 4-Slice Toasters — and These Are Our Favorites

Best Microwaves
FOOD AND WINE / RUSSELL KILGORE

Best Convection: Cuisinart CMW-200 Convection Microwave Oven with Grill

The Best Microwaves
Courtesy of Amazon

Pros: This microwave has a roomy interior capacity for larger amounts of food.

Cons: Testers did not find the interface intuitive and noted that the exterior smudged easily.

The technology for conventional baking and grilling in microwaves has been around since the early 2000s, but only in the last few years have component prices come down enough for widespread application in consumer-grade microwaves. Conventional microwaves use microwave radiation to cause water molecules in food to vibrate, creating friction and therefore heat. Microwaves with baking functionality also include high-power quartz halogen bulbs, which use infrared radiation to brown surfaces as in a conventional oven, as well as powerful fans to quickly move air around the chamber for convection and air frying.

In our tests, the Cuisinart performed especially well for making popcorn, leaving very few unpopped kernels. For its size, the interior capacity is excellent, but it lost points for taking up a good bit of counter space due to the extruding fan on the back. From there, the results were adequate if not remarkable, except that it showed a conspicuous hot spot, with a one-inch burn in the middle, while the entire perimeter remained unmelted. Testers did not find the interface intuitive and noted that the exterior smudged easily and that the interior was difficult to clean.

Price at time of publish: $300

  • Power: 1000 watts
  • Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet
  • Types of Heat: Microwave, Inverted Wave Microwaves, Radiant Heat (Grill), Radiant Convection (Cake/Roast/Pizza)
Best Microwaves
FOOD AND WINE / RUSSELL KILGORE

Best with Air Fryer: Galanz GT 4-in-1 Toast Wave

The Best Microwaves
Courtesy of Amazon

Pros: This is a multi-functional microwave with a "love it or hate it" bold aesthetic.

Cons: This microwave is the less powerful at full power, only heating water to 182ºF.

This microwave looks like something from an episode of The Jetsons, which, depending on your perspective, could be delightfully retro-futuristic or just plain outdated. Though the exterior looks like it could be from another era, the interior technology is decidedly modern. With a broad range of features like Pizza, Toast, and AirFry, the Galanz is poised to render your toaster oven obsolete. While the marshmallow test showed obvious hot spots, the macaroni and cheese was thoroughly heated, and the popcorn popped beautifully.

Price at time of publish: $400

  • Power: 1000 watts
  • Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet
  • Types of Heat: Microwave, Inverted Wave Microwaves, Radiant Heat (Bake/Toast/Bagel/Broil), Radiant Convection (AirFry/Convection)
Best Microwaves
FOOD AND WINE / RUSSELL KILGORE

Conclusion

We wanted to evaluate each microwave's ability to heat food quickly and evenly, as well as vet its ability to perform standard tasks like making popcorn and defrosting frozen food. Where the microwaves demonstrated their value was in their power (tested by boiling water) and their uniformity (how evenly they heated frozen macaroni and cheese). Our top pick, the Panasonic Microwave Oven with Cyclonic Wave Inverter Technology, excelled in both of those tasks. Unless saving space is a concern, we think it would be a solid addition to any home kitchen.

Factors to Consider

Style

There are two main types of microwaves: built-in and countertop. Built-in models come in traditional and drawer-style. They are not interchangeable, so if you have a space in your cabinetry designed for a built-in microwave, be sure to purchase a unit that's designed for that. Countertop microwaves need more airspace around them and should not be put inside a cubby or cabinet.

Size

The optimal size for your microwave can be determined by both your available counter space or cubby and how you use your microwave. If you limit your nuking to reheating coffee, making popcorn, and the occasional bowl of soup, you do not need an enormous machine. If you use it for defrosting roasts, cooking meals for your family, or other larger projects, you might want a bigger machine.

Design

Microwaves come in all sorts of models. There are retro-looking versions that blend modern function with mid-century colors and styles, and super techy versions that look like they were built for a space station kitchen. We always recommend you begin with function before form, but once you determine the essential functions you want in your microwave, then pick the model that speaks to you.

Performance

Some microwaves have functions beyond just microwaving, like toasting, air frying, and convection cooking. And power levels vary wildly among brands. Generally, the more streamlined the functionality, the better the performance. So, if you do not need specialty functions, look instead for units that might just microwave more efficiently. More power isn't always essential, so if you like to use the microwave for more delicate items like melting chocolate or cooking eggs, you might want a slightly less powerful machine.

Ease of Use

This is paramount for any new small appliance, but especially for a microwave, which is the appliance that is most likely to be used without supervision by children or houseguests. And who has time to take a four-credit course in their new microwave? Recipe developer and tester Jasmine Smith says, "I honestly look for simple microwaves with the least amount of functions. I don't typically trust the other settings, only because every microwave button works differently. I am scarred, too, since I used the popcorn button once, and it burned the kernels!" Instead, she leans into manual settings. "I like to use the power levels, especially when cooking delicate items like eggs or chocolate. And the 'add 30 Seconds' button to add additional time without stopping the microwave."

The Tests

Our testers first tried boiling water from room temperature with each of the microwaves. The Panasonic performed the best, bringing the water to a full boil in two minutes. The Toshiba, Farberware, and Cuisinart came in within a couple of degrees of each other (all between 203 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit), while the Galanz came in last place (182 degrees Fahrenheit).

Microwave heat is generated by sending microwaves through the cavity, bouncing off the walls and into the food, causing water molecules in the food to vibrate, thus creating friction and therefore heat. But because the waves undulate, they hit the food variably. The function of the turntable is precisely to keep the food moving and offset the unevenness so that the waves hit all parts of the food. To gauge hot spots, we needed to keep the food stationery, so our testers removed the internal turntable. They then put an eight-inch round of parchment paper in a 9-inch glass pie dish, covered the bottom of the pie dish evenly with a single layer of miniature marshmallows, and microwaved them for two minutes on high. They looked for any spots of burning, noting how intense or even the spotting was.

Test 3: Frozen Mac ' n' cheese

While the marshmallow test measured hot and cold spots within the microwave cavity, the frozen food test gauged how evenly each microwave could heat food itself. We cooked a single-serving frozen mac 'n' cheese dinner as instructed on the package directions. We measured and recorded the temperature in the center and each of the corners in the dish around the dish at the halfway point and then again at the end, reducing the power level to 50% for the second half. That was where the inverter technology really shined.

Test 4: Melting Chocolate

Tempering chocolate on the stove is a time-consuming task that requires steadily mixing chocolate in a double-boiler over a pot of boiling water to melt it gently. If you step away, it can switch from a pile of semi-solid chocolate to a scorched, seized mess in a matter of seconds. Using the microwave is a popular workaround used by home cooks and professional pastry chefs alike. Testers placed eight ounces of chocolate wafers in a medium glass bowl and microwaved for 30 seconds on 50% power, and then removed and stirred four times. At the end of the test, they took notes on the consistency, looking for lumps, scorching, and seizing.

Test 5: Popcorn

Almost all modern microwaves have a preset for making popcorn, so we conducted our popcorn test in accordance with the manufacturers' instructions.

What Didn't Make The List

Strong Contenders

  • Breville Compact Wave Soft Close Countertop Microwave (View at Amazon, $250)
  • Magic Chef 1.1 Microwave (View at Amazon, $150)
  • SMETA Microwave Countertop (View at Amazon, $129)

Results Still Simmering

  • Breville Combi Wave 3-in-1 (View at Amazon, $495)
  • Galanz GLCMKA07BER-07 Retro Microwave Oven (View at Amazon, $89)
  • Panasonic HomeChef 4-in-1 Microwave Oven (View at Amazon, $530)
  • Toshiba EM925A5A-BS Microwave (View at Amazon, $147)

Low Performers

  • COMFEE CM-M091AGN Retro Microwave (View at Amazon, $135)
  • Black+Decker EM720CB7 Digital Microwave Oven (View at Amazon, $108)
  • Commercial Chef Countertop Microwave Oven (View at Amazon, $74)
  • Magic Chef Retro Countertop Microwave (View at Amazon, $143)
  • Midea Equipment 1025F0A Commercial Microwave Oven (View at Amazon, $265)
  • Nostalgia RMO4AQ Retro Large Countertop Microwave (View at Amazon, $130)

Pro Panel Q&A

We spoke with Chef Joshua Lanning, a veteran chef who has held positions at KDB Group, Sean Paul LLC, and SingleThread Farm, about microwaves.

Which materials are safe to go into the microwave, and which are not?

Microwaves require some care and thought before you use them when it comes to safety. "Styrofoam and soft plastics are a big no-no unless you want Styrofoam melted into your butter chicken leftovers. I would never use stoneware in a microwave. Tiny air bubbles and gaps in the clay structure may expand and shatter the plate or bowl. That is the same reason some glass that isn't rated as microwave-safe shouldn't be used. Typically, all glass is good. But the glass and ceramic that aren't labeled microwave-safe most likely have air bubbles in them that could expand with high heat and shatter.

"We all grew up being told not to use metal in the microwave, but with some understanding of how microwaves work and bounce off of metal, you actually can use calculated metal in a microwave in some specific cases. The microwaveable cookware brand Anyday, for example, uses bowls with microwave-safe stainless steel on the lid." But if you aren't sure, always err on the side of caution, and never use metal in a microwave.

What is the typical lifespan of a microwave? How often does it need to be replaced?

"Let me put it this way: I've never seen a broken microwave." He says, which is impressive, considering the constant use a restaurant microwave receives. "They seem to be indestructible." Typically, microwaves can need replacing if damaged through user error, if they get wet, or if a power surge fries the electronics. Many manufacturers sell replacement parts if, for example, you break the turntable plate. But it seems that many people replace microwaves because they want a different size, or better features, not because their old ones ceased to perform.

Our Expertise

Liz Mundle is a writer, editor, and chef in New York City with over a decade of experience in kitchens and magazines. Her writing has appeared in Food & Wine, Saveur, and Domino, among others. She is opening Circus Provisions, a specialty grocery store in Brooklyn, later this year.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles