Best Microwave Oven: Top Choice & Complete Guide 2024

Whether you use yours for popcorn, a plate of nachos, or just to reheat that cup of coffee you forgot about from half an hour ago (that said, don’t do this!), a microwave is pretty darn handy. But like many small appliances, there’s no shortage of models to choose from, and microwave prices can vary widely. How do you even begin to figure out which microwave is best?

Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. We tested 21 microwave ovens, putting each through a series of tests to assess how efficiently they heat a variety of ingredients and meals (because there’s a time and a place for frozen mac and cheese). We also tested each microwave to see if they could gently melt chocolate, and—of course—make popcorn without burning it to bits. A few clear winners emerged, so grab some (perfectly popped) popcorn and let’s get things heated.

The Best Microwave

Toshiba EM131A5C-BS Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor

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The Toshiba EM131A5C-BS Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor makes cooking fast, convenient and effortless. It features a large 1.1 cubic foot capacity to accommodate family-sized portions. The 720-watt power level delivers quick reheating and cooking times. A smart sensor automatically adjusts power and timing for foods like popcorn, pizza and beverages. An easy to read LED display and sensor touch buttons provide quick control. There are 6 pre-programmed quick cook settings for common microwave meals. For versatile cooking, it also includes a memory feature to store your favorite recipes. Its compact, countertop-friendly design fits almost any kitchen. The durable construction and10 power levels complete this affordable cooking workhorse.

  • Large 1.1 cu ft capacity fits multiple plates
  • Smart sensor for ease and accuracy
  • Quick reheating with 720 watts of power
  • Compact size saves counter space
  • Affordable price point

Cons:

  • Basic features without advanced presets
  • Small interior limits large dishes
  • No grill/convection functions for versatility
  • Plastic exterior won’t last as long as stainless steel

The Panasonic Oven with Cyclonic Wave Inverter Technology uses innovative cyclonic convection technology for fast, even cooking. Powered by Panasonic’s Inverter technology, a powerful yet energy efficient circulator fan swirls air within the cavity to envelop foods in uniform heat from all sides. This allows for simultaneous top and bottom baking for up to 30% faster results compared to conventional ovens. The large capacity interior comfortably fits a 12-inch pizza or a 13 by 9 inch baking dish. Easy-to-use control dials and multiple cooking functions like bake, broil and proof make it easy to prepare a variety of dishes. Its stainless steel interior is durable and easy to clean.

Pros:

  • Cyclonic convection for fast, uniform cooking
  • Energy efficient Inverter technology
  • Large capacity accommodates various dishes
  • Multi-functional cooking options
  • Stainless steel interior is durable and easy to clean

Cons:

  • Higher initial cost than conventional ovens
  • Learning curve for advanced features
  • Smaller interior than some larger high-end ranges
  • May be too large/powerful for some small kitchens

The Best Microwave

Toshiba EM131A5C-BS Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor

What we liked: This Toshiba microwave is easy to use and got the same overall score as the Panasonic microwave. Plus, it costs less than half as much. We were impressed by how well it cooked popcorn (there were almost no pieces left!), and we liked how the oven’s heat sensor helped make sure everything cooked evenly. The Toshiba is best for very simple kitchen tasks, but it did a great job of cooking cold foods.

What we didn’t like: It was hard for this microwave to melt chocolate chips. We did test each oven at 50% power, though, so we think it would have worked better here at a higher wattage.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 17.1 x 20.5 x 12.8 inches
  • Weight: 34.5 pounds
  • Capacity: 1.2 cubic feet
  • Warranty: 1 year

The Best Splurge Microwave

Panasonic Oven with Cyclonic Wave Inverter Technology

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 19.44 x 23.88 x 14 inches
  • Weight: 36.8 pounds
  • Capacity: 2.2 cubic feet
  • Warranty: 1 year

What We Learned

To begin, how do microwaves work?

You can learn more about how microwaves work here, but in a nutshell, they’re an oven type that uses a magnetron to make electromagnetic waves. Inside the oven, those tiny waves move quickly, bounce off the metal walls, and then hit the food inside.

Was the wattage important?

Do not worry too much about power. Some microwaves can go a little lower or higher than 600 watts, but most of them work between 600 and 1000 watts. The typical full-power wattage today is 1000. We did notice that cooking went faster when the power was higher. For example, almost none of the microwaves we tried were good at melting chocolate. This tells us that 50% power is probably not enough for this job. But that’s easy to fix; just turn up the power.

It wasn’t fun to use presets.

To be honest, presets—those are the buttons for frozen foods or popcorn—aren’t very interesting. They’re just a quick way to change the power and cook time, and you can choose 700 watts and two minutes on your own. We discovered that microwaves that had settings for everything (Popcorn! Pizza! Cream of mushroom soup! Okay, we joked about the last one) were actually hard to use and took away from what should be a pretty simple tool. You know, sometimes you just want to heat up a bowl of soup?

It did matter what size it was,

One thing we didn’t like about the Panasonic Microwave Oven with Cyclonic Wave Inverter Technology was how big it was. It’s almost 24 inches wide and 14 inches high. There is no real difference between big and small microwaves when it comes to cooking food. However, big microwaves take up more table room and are harder to keep clean. On the other hand, a microwave that’s too small will make you angry as soon as you see that your favorite dinner plate won’t fit. Different families will have different size preferences, so keep sizes in mind as you look for your Goldilocks microwave.

What You Should Look for in a Microwave Oven

A good microwave should be simple to use and cook food quickly and (most of the time) evenly. But keep in mind that because of how these ovens work (remember those zip-zappy electromagnetic waves?), if you put a frozen chicken pot pie in the microwave, the edges will heat up faster than the middle. That’s just how it is.

FAQs

Is a microwave oven?

Yes, it is! We go into more detail about what microwave ovens are here, but the main thing to know is that they are ovens and that electromagnetic waves heat your food.

How should I clean my microwave?

Microwaves can get dirty sometimes, with things like soup splatters, coffee sloshes, and strange sticky marks. It’s best to clean up spills and splatters as soon as they happen to keep them clean and avoid bad smells. This will also help your device last longer. Most of the time, a wet cloth will do, but if you need extra help, an all-purpose cooking spray will quickly remove the grease. The inside plate of your microwave can be taken out and washed by hand in the sink with hot water and dish soap.

How do I find out how many watts my microwave has?

You can start by looking at the box or owner’s instructions. If you don’t have either of those, there should be a sign somewhere (most likely on the inside of the door) that says “wattage.” You can also look up the make and type of your microwave on Google to find out more.

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