The 30-Second Review
After speaking to engineers and microwave experts, we discovered that the internal construction of microwaves is nearly all the same. The best is going to come down to some smaller details, like high wattage and easy-to-use features. We tested nine ourselves and found two that are well-rated by consumers, will reliably outlast your goldfish, and are intuitive enough for early-morning coffee making.
For Every Kitchen
A familiar design at an affordable price. This $120 microwave oven aced every test we threw at it and boasts 1,000 watts for speedy cooking. We loved its easy interface and intuitive programming. The Sharp’s traditional interface will also fit unassumingly into any kitchen.
High-tech meets highly intuitive in this $250 microwave oven. The Quick Touch offers tons of customizable presets for everything from defrosting butter to reheating pizza and supplements them by making adjustments easy. With thoughtful extras like a volume adjust button and a programmable “favorite” button, the Breville Quick Touch is an advanced appliance.
The Best Microwave
Microwaves are tools of convenience: They should be quick, easy to operate and last a couple of years. When looking for the best, we wanted microwaves that optimize convenience, allowing you to push a button and walk away without worry. We found two machines that gave us fully popped bags of popcorn, and frozen foods that come out looking more like freshly cooked meals than the usual soggy leftovers. The only thing left for you to do is decide whether you want something traditional and no-frills, or a microwave that’s a little more futuristic but offers more cooking options.
The $120 Sharp Carousel repeatedly impressed us with its results, making it a great fit for any kitchen. It’s a pretty unassuming machine — a dozen presets and the standard 10-digit number pad — but in our tests, this microwave held its own against the more expensive models. The Sharp left fewer than 10 popcorn kernels unpopped, accurately steamed a potato, and baked an edible frozen lasagna — feats that expensive Samsung and LG models couldn’t match. Best of all, the Sharp managed these feats with its express-cook keys and presets, and we found them to be more accurate than the presets on any other microwave we tested.
The $250 Breville Quick Touch earned our admiration with its variety of preset options (everything from chocolate to leftover pizza) and a moisture sensor that auto cooks things based on steam and temperature. The design is a little more high-tech than the Sharp, with a dial instead of the standard keypad, but those buttons and dials work together to create a surprisingly smooth and seamless experience. Typically, the more dials and options a microwave had, the more complicated it was to use. But the Breville has large and intuitive LCD screen that lays out all your options, simultaneously. Programming felt like browsing through a smartphone app, meaning we didn’t have to wait for words to slowly creep across a tiny square display. That said, the Quick Touch doesn’t look like an ordinary microwave, and its advanced technology is reflected by a space-age design. This is a great microwave for power users who want complete control over their cooking — those often frustrated with overcooked chocolate and constantly sticking their finger in to test for cold spaghetti. But it could be overkill for the average user looking for a familiar design.
How We Found The Best Microwave
We looked at microwaves as convenience machines — a way to simplify and speed up your cooking. Most microwave users seem to agree: A study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that 68% of microwave owners kept their nuking sessions under three minutes. Because the idea behind microwaves is that they’re a simple way to cook food, we expected the machines themselves to be simple too. We set out looking for machines that could cook our food quickly and evenly, with enough durability to last several years. But we found ourselves wading into a sea of microwaves, without any significant way to distinguish them.
To help us sort through so many machines, we talked to some of the most authoritative sources on microwaves. We spoke with Ray Boxman, an engineering professor and member of the International Microwave Power Institute (it’s a real thing).We also talked to Bob Schiffmann, President of the International Microwave Power Institute for 18 years, who has worked with microwaves since the 1960s and consulted for frozen food companies — he even has a lab full of microwaves at home. We sought their guidance on how microwaves work, how they vary, and what matters most when purchasing a microwave.
We learned two things right off the bat:
Our experts immediately corrected our thinking on two important matters. We learned that we wouldn’t be cutting microwaves based on internal designs or their ability to cook evenly.
Nearly all microwaves are the same inside.
Most microwave ovens are made by the same two companies in China, meaning their internals are relatively the same. Most are repackaged by different brands with varied buttons and quick key features. So our reliable brands theory was immediately out the door. Brands like Samsung or LG for example, will purchase several models from the same manufacturer — a 1.2 cubic feet (internal size) microwave with 600 watts and a 2.0 cubic feet with 1,000 watts and a moisture sensor, for example — and then add their own keypads and door designs. While a 600-watt Samsung may look totally different from a 600-watt LG, they’re likely the exact same on the inside.
Sixty million of the 80 million microwave ovens produced annually are manufactured by just two companies (Midea and Galanz), both located in Shunde, China. Thus, for the most part, the difference between brands is purely cosmetic (color, shape of the window, etc.). What’s “under the hood” is apt to be identical among similar models sold under various brand names.
Even heating is actually determined by the food.
Microwaves work by increasing energy in water molecules, so foods with more water in them (broccoli) will heat much quicker. If the water content is lower, you’ll want to use lower power to avoid uneven cooking. As Bob Schiffmann explained, “It’s the food that is influencing the evenness. Particularly in frozen foods…ice is very transparent to microwaves. Because as soon as the ice melts it becomes wildly absorbing. When it starts melting it will start to heat like crazy, while the rest isn’t heating as fast.” So if you’re microwaving frozen lasagna, the sauce that has melted faster will begin to cook quicker, but the meat could still be frozen in the middle. Spreading out dense foods and microwaving meals in separate parts can help achieve a more evenly cooked meal.
When considering what makes the best microwave, we prioritized cooking speed, reliability, and ease of use.
Armed with our expert’s information, we focused in on what a good microwave should do but not all of them can do: Cook things quickly, last for a few years, and minimize the effort you put in.
Higher wattage makes for a quicker microwave.
Where are the cheap microwaves?Most microwaves about $50 and under, didn’t meet our 800-watt requirement. If you’re looking for a truly budget option you’ll sacrifice performance significantly.
Fast cooking was our top priority — if a microwave can’t prepare a meal speedily, it isn’t the best. Boxman told us microwaves cook fast “because the microwave energy penetrates into the food, in contrast to conventional heating, which only delivers heat to the surface of the food, and a lot of time is needed for the heat to diffuse inward.” Exactly how quickly the machine cooks is a matter of wattage. Most microwave models range from 600 to 1,200 watts. How much does wattage matter? Heating a cup of cold water to boil would take about one minute and 30 seconds in a 1,200-watt microwave, but four minutes in a 600-watt microwave. Our research and experts informed us microwaves around 800–1,000 watts were ideal, and we found the highest rated tended to feature this benchmark too. So we looked for microwaves with wattages above 800, and found 52 microwaves that met this standard.
We scoured user reviews to make sure our picks were reliable machines.
Our experts agreed: The amount you pay for your microwave will directly correlate to the lifetime and reliability of the appliance. However, they weren’t able to point to a price that would guarantee reliability.
There is no magic formula for reliability except good engineering, and every consumer manufacturer is faced with the tradeoff between reliability and cost.
Bob Schiffmann told us that cheaper microwaves use cheaper components and end up costing more to fix than they’re worth. But what “cheap” components should you avoid? Our experts couldn’t point us to specific design elements, so took things into our own hands, looking for the price point that separated the cheap machines from the well-made ones.
To us, reliability problems are deal breakers: Microwaves that don’t turn on or don’t cook food at all, machines whose buttons won’t respond, and ovens that fall apart. Looking at user reviews online, we found that these problems correlated closely with one-star reviews, meaning that microwaves with a high percentage of one-star reviews didn’t meet our standards for reliability.
The next step was to determine at what price reliability went out the door. We crunched some numbers and found that microwaves under $100 had more than 10%-32% of their ratings as 1-star. Conversely, microwaves priced $100 or more had 1-star ratings around just 1%-5%. Those numbers suggest that the risk of buying an unreliable microwave doubles (at a minimum) once you go below that $100 mark, so we cut anything under that price. While we can’t guarantee anything over $100 will be great, we’re certain anything under $100 will run a large risk of failing within a year.
That left us with 32 microwaves to curate from.
Because the guts of most microwaves are the same, we brought in different brands to see who could best package them.
Our remaining microwaves were a diverse bunch — some had handles on the doors, while others used buttons to open; some were tiny, dorm-sized appliances, and others were large machines that would crowd even the most spacious countertop. Because we knew internal construction was similar for all these models, we wanted to discover how all these different brands were designing their microwaves, and how those differences affect the experience of using them. We didn’t want to cringe every time we had to slam a door to shut it, or squint to read the display. So we made sure we had a mix of those major features: touchpad versus dial; door handle versus button; different sizes, capacities, keypads and presets.
Having already established standards for quick cooking and reliability, we knew any of these 32 microwaves would be able to accomplish the basic task of cooking your food. But the best microwave needs to be able to cook food well, with minimal programming hassle. That meant a final purchasing decision comes down to those smaller details. So we curated a mix of well-rated microwaves from a variety of brands, ensuring that we had an assortment of features to test. How many buttons would it take just to reheat forgotten tea? Is a moisture sensor worth its programing trouble? Does the microwave have an obnoxiously loud beeping that will rat out your midnight snacking? And how big do you need a microwave to be?
We considered popularity when narrowing things down, opting for a product with 1,150 reviews, over 20 reviews. We cut out duplicates — microwaves that were the same model but just different sizes, or that looked nearly identical across brands like these two from Danby and GE. We also left out microwaves that were trying a bit too hard to look high tech, like this mirrored Samsung that would make it impossible to know when your oatmeal was overboiling. That left us with nine microwaves that met our standards and represented a variety of designs, sizes, and brands.
- Breville Quick Touch
- GE 2.0 Countertop
- LG 0.9 NeoChef Countertop
- LG 2.0 Countertop
- Magic Chef 1.6 Countertop
- Samsung 1.1 Countertop
- Samsung 1.4 Countertop
- Sharp Carousel 1.1 Countertop
- Sharp Carousel 1.6 Countertop
We put them to the test; prioritizing convenience and usability.
We kept our cooking tests simple, sticking to quick microwavable classics.
We cooked popcorn with presets: The ultimate sign of convenience for a movie night snack is a reliable popcorn preset. So we tested whether we could simply hit “popcorn” without worrying about burning or undercooking. We collected the amount of kernels left behind with each pack and noticed some models, like the Sharp Carousel 1.1, had fewer than 25 unpopped kernels, while the LG NeoChef left nearly half the bag unpopped… and burned the rest of it. The LG 2.0 produced just a few kernels, but that was because it scorched the whole bag and the popcorn was dissolving to ash in our testers mouths. We favored microwaves whose presets were reliable enough to produce well-popped popcorn and few kernels without torching our snack.
We feasted on frozen lasagna: It’s typical to watch over your food as it rotates in the microwave, watching for overflow or burbling burn warnings, but the best microwave shouldn’t need a babysitter. What’s the point of microwave instructions if you can’t follow them at all? We followed Stouffer’s frozen lasagna directions to the T: 4 minutes with the film on and then 5½ minutes on 50% power. Lasagnas from the Magic Chef and Samsung 1.1 microwaves were so overcooked, their toasty edges had developed dried out canyons. The Breville Quick Touch excelled here, with nicely melted cheese and no overdone bubbles on the pasta. We valued microwave ovens that could produce an edible frozen meal without on-the-fly improvisation of cook times and power levels.
We reheated beverages to an ideal 160-185 degrees: We left cups of tea out to cool to room temperature, simulating busy mornings when you need a midday reheat. The National Center for Biotechnology Information recommends warm beverages be reheated to 160 to 185 degrees fahrenheit. We reheated each 8 oz. cup of tea from its room temperature of 72 degree for one minute (the average time for beverage presets). The Samsung 1.4 sent our peppermint tea to a scorching 200 degrees, and the paper cup we had it in started to smoke along its edges. Leaving this unattended to nuke for very long could have been dangerous. The GE 2.0 barely hit lukewarm, and even after a generous extra 10 seconds, it was only 150 degrees. The Sharp Carousel and Breville Quick Touch both hit safely warm temps at 175 and 160 degrees.
And we learned baked potatoes are best saved for conventional ovens: All our microwaves had potato presets, and so we tested out how well they could satisfy our baked potato cravings. We stabbed some steam-venting holes in each 12.5 oz. potato and then hit the preset. Some quick research told us a potato is perfectly baked when it reaches 210 degrees, and each of the microwaves we tested managed to produce a potato with that exact temperature when we finished. But there were still plenty of differences in the methods and the results. After prompting us to select our size of potato, the Sharp microwave informed us it would be cooking our potato for 8 minutes. This was a rare feat of accuracy and produced a completely edible potato (despite some gummy toasted edges). The Samsung 1.4, however, swirled its LCD dotted sensor around without a clear indication of how long it was cooking the potato. When we split open the “finished” potato, there was a visible line between what was cooked and what was still undone. The microwave sensed it had heated to potato to 210 degrees, but failed to do so evenly.
Finally, we cut a couple of microwaves for usability quirks: The LG NeoChef chimed a tune every time it finished cooking our food — we weren’t charmed. The Samsung 1.1 had an oven-like latch that opened from top-down, and was way too much work just to microwave something (“microwave” is a separately designated button). It boasts grilling and convection functions, but couldn’t even master its most basic microwaving purpose.
We prioritized visibility, and 30 second short cuts too. Favorites like the Breville Quick Touch made programming enjoyable, and had on-the-go power and time dials that made it so easy to customize every meal. With all this time spent microwaving a few favorites rose to make life easier and meals more convenient.
Our Picks for the Best Microwave
For Every Kitchen
Sharp CarouselDon’t be fooled by the simple design: This microwave wowed us with its consistent cooking.
The 1,000-watt Sharp Carousel 1.1 (SMC1132CS) boasts reliable performance and intuitive function that managed to outperform microwaves twice its price. It’s also standard in visual design too, and will blend into any kitchen more seamlessly than the futuristic Breville. If you’re just looking for a traditional microwave that won’t disappoint, this Sharp is our recommendation.
We were impressed by how few popcorn kernels it left unpopped (around 10) when we used its popcorn preset. It beat out even the Breville here, which left closer to 20 kernels. The Sharp also hit the temperature sweet spot of 175 degrees on its beverage preset. With presets that will accurately heat your food, there’s no need to sprint across your kitchen to stop something from burning or have to continuously add 30 seconds because the popcorn is still popping when the time is up. This aligns with Sharp’s no-nonsense style when using those traditional keypad presets. Rather than displaying a mysterious pattern of dancing dashes when you hit a preset, like the G.E. does, the Sharp tells you exactly how long your food is cooking.
For example, when we cooked potatoes some of the microwaves with moisture sensors would cook for as long as five minutes with just their “sensing dots,” no time indication. If you’re trying to follow a recipe or keep an eye out for overheating, this makes it difficult to keep track of time. And because the Sharp allowed us to enter an exact weight setting for our potato, it was just as accurate as microwaves that used moisture sensor technology to assess appropriate cook time.
If we had to nitpick, the button to add an additional 30 seconds is placed above the numbers with the presets rather than its traditional spot next to (or embedded in) the “Start” button. This quirk wasn’t a deal breaker, but ti’s something that would take getting used to and a problem you wouldn’t have with the Breville (which combines its start and 30-second button). Reviewers sometimes complained that there wasn’t a 30-second button on the Sharp, having missed its counterintuitive placement.
But the Carousel was also one of the most reliable microwaves, according to reviews. Only 0.8% of its 140 reviews were rated 1 star, and typical complaints were about the lack of an internal light when the door is opened — certainly not ideal, but not the biggest dealbreaker. But Sharp Carousel user consistently praised its easy operation and conservative size, both of which we saw borne out in testing.
The Sharp’s 1.1 cubic feet internal capacity struck a nice balance between conserving space and still fitting our food. (The Breville is just a bit bigger at 1.2.) In contrast, the 0.9 cubic feet LG NeoChef was simply too small, and our popcorn bag stopped rotating as it hit the roof. On the other end of the scale sat the 2.0 GE, so monstrous we could fit a Thanksgiving turkey in there. But the countertop space taken up by the GE felt excessive — we couldn’t imagine microwaving any meals that would need that much space.
For only $120, this Sharp Carousel microwave will exceed your standard nuking needs and optimize convenience with its reliable presets.
If you’re looking to be awed by an appliance, the 1,100 watt Breville Quick Touch (BMO734XL) features an interactive LCD screen that makes even the most complicated multi-step cooking simple.
We’ll be the first to acknowledge that the Breville is different, both in appearance and functionality. It more closely resembles The Jetson’s Rosie than it does a microwave, with its square angles, large handle, and rounded buttons. There’s no keypad, and you’ll have to twist a dial to program anything over 30 seconds. But after some initial acquainting, we found those differences made programming simple. We weren’t completely ignoring presets and extra keys like we all do on our ordinary microwaves, instead we found ourselves able to specify exactly what we wanted done — without having to consult the user’s manual.
The Breville produced the most enticing frozen lasagna, with a nice blend of melted cheese and soft pasta. That was an impressive feat after the Samgsung 1.1 dehydrated the cheese and the GE microwave produced something that looked like lasagna soup. The Breville makes accurate cooking easy with its dial. You can adjust the power level and time dials as things are cooking. Because microwave heat conducts from the outside in, you’ll get rubbery edges if you don’t lower to power to allow the heat to seap in further. But with the Breville, there’s no need to hit four or five buttons in a specific order just to cook something at a lower power: When the thinner lasagna sauce is boiling over, you can turn down the power to let the heat penetrate the pasta. This microwave was an instant crowd favorite in our office: Testers were also using it to reheat their lunchtime leftovers. With its automatic “Sensor Reheat” button, we noticed it left no cold spots in the middle of our meal.
Performance aside, simply using this microwave was an enjoyable experience. The buttons and dials have a satisfyingly crisp click to them, similar to punching letters on a typewriter. The Breville also features some extra convenience with a designated noise level button, for one-push incognito mode, and button labled “A Bit More” that adds 20 seconds to the cook time.
Typically, ornate LCD screens and dials made programming more complicated than necessary. But the Breville is so intuitive that it makes complicated programming accessible and simple to customize every meal. The options are clearly laid out and you can select the size, weight, and nature of the food you’re cooking. There’s even a reheat option for pizza. Alternatively, you can leave it up to the Breville’s sensor that detects moisture and temperature to accurately reheat. When we tried this in our testing of beverages and with our own lunches, it was rarely wrong.
The only catch? It’s a little expensive at $250. Amazon reviews also warn that the words printed on the buttons can wear off after years of use… but we actually liked the implication that this microwave will last long enough for some surface-level wear.
Did You Know?
Microwaves probably aren’t poisoning your food. Microwave radiation is simply microwaves that cause water molecules to vibrate, those vibrate molecules produce the heat that cooks food, not the microwaves themselves. The FDA assures that, “The microwave energy is changed to heat as it is absorbed by food, and does not make food ‘radioactive’ or ‘contaminated.’” They go one to elaborate about how, “Microwave cooking does not reduce the nutritional value of foods any more than conventional cooking. In fact, foods cooked in a microwave oven may keep more of their vitamins and minerals, because microwave ovens can cook more quickly and without adding waste.”
Some surprising things you can use your microwave for:
Looking for ways to utilize your microwave more? Here are a few unexpected challenges that microwaves can conquer:
- Peel peaches: Place a peach in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with warm water. Microwave it for about 1 min and then let stand for 5-10 min. When it’s finished, drain and easily peel away the fuzzy outer layer with a knife.
- Decrystallize honey: Simply uncover the honey jar (unless its a plastic jar then place in microwave safe dish) and heat on 50% power for 30 sec- 1min.
- Ripen an avocado: For a last minute guac or when there’s no ripe avocados at the market, you can use your microwave to save snack time. Place the unripe avocado on a paper towel and prick the skin a few times, then defrost for 2 min. Turn the avocado over and repeat for 30-60 seconds.
The Best Microwave: Summed Up