6 Best Microwaves, According to Food Network Kitchen

Whether it’s used to reheat leftovers, steam veggies, or cook, a microwave oven is indispensable.

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June 22, 2022

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By Sharon Franke for the Food Network Kitchen

A microwave oven is a kitchen essential, regardless of how you like to cook. It simplifies prep work like melting chocolate, softening cream cheese and toasting almonds. And, if used properly, it can also cook vegetables and fish perfectly and much more quickly than other methods, "bake" a lasagna without drying it out and turn out an apple crisp with a browned and crunchy topping. Did we also mention that it’s the fastest way to warm up a bowl of chowder or yesterday’s stew? Basically, these small gadgets can make a huge impact on your cooking. Before shopping, it’s a good idea to identify how you cook so you can choose a model that fits your needs. We’ve rounded up the best microwaves and how to pick the right one for you. Here are some things to consider first.

This article has been reviewed since its original publish date for accuracy, pricing and availability. We stand by our list of top microwave picks.

What type of microwave oven do you need?

As the name insinuates, countertop models sit on your countertop and don't require any installation. The only thing you have to do is make sure you have enough space for the model you choose and that there’s an electrical outlet to plug it into. Over-the-range units (which are also known as OTRs, built-ins or microwave hoods) are installed above your range, freeing up countertop space. They also provide a vent to draw in smoke and odors, but they don’t work as well as a hood that exhausts to the outside. These require professional installation, and it’s not a bad idea to call someone in to measure the space before you put your money down. You’ll also want to consider if anyone in your family, including children, will have a hard time reaching a higher-up appliance before purchasing.

What’s the wattage?

Microwaves are rated by the number of watts that they put out. Wattage can vary from 500 to 1500. As a general rule, the larger the oven, the higher the wattage and the faster the cooking time. However, the size and shape of the cavity can also affect cooking time. We recommend that if you plan to do more than reheat, you buy an oven with at least 800-1200 watts.

How big is it?

Microwave oven capacity is listed as the cubic feet of the cavity, but that number doesn’t give you a realistic estimate of usable space. Virtually all microwaves have turntables, and it’s more important to measure the turntable to determine how big a dish the oven will be able to hold while rotating. If you have a favorite microwavable baking dish, either measure it from handle end to handle end or bring it to the store and test it out. For most people, .8 to 1.2 cubic feet is sufficient.

Does it have useful extras?

Express Keys just might be the feature you find yourself using the most. On some ovens, there’s a one-minute or 30-second pad. On others, when you press a numbered key the oven starts automatically (pressing 1 means it runs for a minute, press 3 and it runs for 3 minutes, etc.).

Sensors cook or defrost settings work by measuring the moisture given off during heating and then calculate the cooking time. Rather than cooking for a predetermined amount of time, they adjust the time to the actual food so they give very precise results.

Preprogrammed keys have preset power levels and times for functions like popping popcorn, cooking vegetables and melting butter. Although most microwaves will have a popcorn button, the other options will vary from model to model. These programs always cook for the same amount of time regardless of the actual food. If your veggies are particularly tender or tough, they may come out slightly over or under cooked.

Convection cooking or grilling is available on many ovens. This capability adds considerably to the cost, but they can come in handy, especially around the holidays when you need extra oven space.

How We Picked

To select our best microwaves, we relied on our experience using them both in the test kitchen for prep and recipe development and in our own homes to feed our families. We checked professional review sites to see what they recommended and also looked at star ratings and comments from customers.

In addition to considering whether they cook evenly, we considered their speed and capacity and what special features they offered. Our picks contain a selection of microwaves of various types and sizes to make sure there’s a great choice for every type of cook.

Best for Dorm Rooms: Cuisinart Microwave Oven

$129.95
Amazon

Considering dorm rooms aren’t exactly spacious, the most important thing to consider in selecting a model to send off to college is size. The .7 cu. ft. Cuisinart is one of the smallest microwaves on the marketplace which makes it a perfect choice for a crowded shared living space. Plus this model is super easy to program. By touching the one to six number pads your student will get a corresponding number of minutes of cooking time. So if they know a quesadilla heats in a minute or ramen noodles take exactly three, all they have to do is touch one pad to instantly start cooking. For further convenience, this little zapper has buttons for popcorn and pizza, those go-to snacks when they’re cramming for exams.

Buy It

Best for Dorm Rooms: Cuisinart CMW-70 Stainless Steel Microwave Oven

$129.95
Amazon

Considering dorm rooms aren’t exactly spacious, the most important thing to consider in selecting a model to send off to college is size. The .7 cu. ft. Cuisinart is one of the smallest microwaves on the marketplace which makes it a perfect choice for a crowded shared living space. Plus this model is super easy to program. By touching the one to six number pads your student will get a corresponding number of minutes of cooking time. So if they know a quesadilla heats in a minute or ramen noodles take exactly 3, all they have to do is touch one pad to instantly start cooking. For further convenience, this little zapper has buttons for popcorn and pizza, those go-to snacks when they’re cramming for exams.

Buy It

Best Over-the-Range Microwave Oven: GE Profile Over-the-Range Sensor Microwave Oven

$398.00
The Home Depot

Want to give your kitchen an instant upgrade? This sleek stainless-steel model will not only look good, it will expand your cooking capabilities and help ventilate your kitchen. It has 1000 watts of cooking power and a 14-inch turntable. If that’s not large enough to rotate your favorite lasagna dish or your turkey platter, you can set the turntable not to spin as the oven heats.

To give you better visibility on your cooktop or serve as a night light for a midnight snack run, this oven has LED lighting. The interior is coated with a nonstick finish that works with a steam setting to make it easy to wipe off splashes and spatters. A charcoal filter in the vent helps reduce odors, and there’s even a light to tell you when to replace it. We know you’ll probably use the 30 second key most often but take advantage of the sensors for cooking, popcorn, heating beverages and reheating to get great results without trial and error.

Buy It

Best Compact Microwave Oven: GE Capacity Smart Countertop Microwave Oven with Scan-To-Cook Technology

$144.99
Best Buy

This is a darn good microwave if you have a small kitchen and primarily use it for quick reheats, steaming veggies or cooking frozen dinners. It’s nice looking but not too large, has 900 watts of cooking power and a 10 1/2-inch turntable.

Unique among microwaves, this oven lets you scan the bar code on the back of packaged foods like Stouffer’s lasagna and Hot Pockets on an app on your phone, which sends the cooking directions to the oven. At this point, not every item you buy will be in the app’s database and you may not find it any more convenient to pull out and navigate on your phone than use the oven controls. But, if you like to be ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, you may enjoy this feature. You can also give the oven it’s marching orders with Alexa.

There are pads for heating a dinner plate, popcorn, "baking" a potato and other simple functions you’re likely to do in an oven this size. Express buttons let you press a number and cook for a corresponding number of minutes with one touch. An unusual thing about this GE that everyone will find helpful, is a pop-up reminder to place food in the oven if you accidentally press start when the oven’s empty.

Buy It

Best Microwave Oven Air Fryer: Galanz 3-in-1 SpeedWave Microwave

$249.99
Amazon

We know countertop space is at a premium in almost every kitchen, and a microwave oven takes up a good deal of that precious real estate. So, what to do if you also want an air fryer? This multitasking product solves your problem. It has the functionality of both a microwave and an air fryer as well as of a convection oven. There is a setting that uses the microwave and convection heat simultaneously to cook quickly while also giving some browning and crisping. Best of all, reviewers rave that it gives top notch performance in all modes.

Buy It

Best Smart Microwave: Sharp Smart Carousel Countertop Microwave

$179.99
Walmart

If Alexa is command center in your home, add operating this microwave to the list of chores she can do for you. Once you hook the oven up to WiFi, you can give it over 30 voice orders, so you don’t have to think about what time and power level to use or get messy fingerprints on the touchpads. Another great benefit: Once the Sharp’s connected, it will automatically set the clock to the correct time. With a turntable with an 11.2-inch diameter an 1100 watts of cooking power, this microwave is big enough for a dinner plate or a casserole and will heat evenly. Prefer not to use Alexa? You’ll still find it easy to use thanks to one touch buttons for vegetables, potatoes, pizza, popcorn, and reheating. Using the popcorn pad and Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn, you’re guaranteed lots of big fluffy kernels.

Buy It

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