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5 great countertop microwaves that make cooking simpler

These microwave stand out from the rest

Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

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Microwaves are one of those kitchen appliances many of us take for granted. You probably don't realize how often you use it until you no longer have one. Whether it's re-heating, defrosting, cooking, warming, or even baking, microwaves are pretty versatile devices that we turn to whenever we're in a pinch.

When choosing a suitable microwave to meet your needs, there are several things to consider. Does it reheat food well and, most importantly, evenly? Does it fit within your kitchen décor? Will it be powerful enough to accomplish what you need? And what other features does it include?

Our colleagues in the U.S. put a variety of mid-priced countertop microwaves to the test in their labs. They compared the features, pricing, user ratings, and other aspects of each model to discover which were worth buying.

From basic models that are good enough for heating up TV dinners to step-up microwaves that can actually cook as well as reheat, here are their findings.

1. The Perfect Balance: Cuisinart CMW-100

Cuisinart CMW-100
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The Cuisinart CMW-100 is our favourite countertop microwave for most people.

The Cuisinart CMW-100 has pretty much everything you'd want and need in a top-notch countertop microwave, along with a design that stands out among a sea of average-looking small appliances. Finished in a sleek stainless steel and black finish with a pull handle, which our reviewer finds more convenient than standard touchpad push buttons, it comes in either brushed chrome or stainless steel finish and weighs about 33.5 lbs. Place food atop the included 12-inch glass turntable to cook.

It features 1,000 watts of power, a one-cubic-foot capacity, and a bright interior light – all features that will suit most families or individuals looking for a versatile microwave that can get the job done.

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The CMW-100 has lots of cook options, including 25 pre-programmed settings and 10 power levels, as well as eight presets for some of the most common foods to cook in a microwave, like bacon, rice, and baked potatoes. It even has serving size options and two-stage cooking operation to ensure even cooking, and a pair of defrost functions. We tried this microwave for one of the most popular items to make in a microwave – popcorn! It excelled in the test, popping every kernel evenly without any burnt ones that had to be tossed.

Nothing is perfect, of course, and there are a few things we didn't like about the CMW-100. The control panel can be challenging to see if you're trying to reheat something in the dark, like milk for a 3 a.m. baby feeding or a midnight snack. When we tested this microwave with frozen dinners, it didn't heat it as evenly as we would have liked, with a few parts of the meal left colder than others, even though we heated it for the recommended time on the box. Thus, it didn't heat food as quickly as some of the other microwaves we tested.

However, despite these minor annoyances, this microwave is impressive and stood out among all those we tested for its stylish look, perfect size for any kitchen, and overall reliability and excellent performance.

Get the Cuisinart CMW-100 from Amazon Canada for $281.71

2. Great for Cooking: Breville BMO734XL

Breville BMO734XL
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The Breville BMO734XL is our best upgrade pick for countertop microwaves.

If you plan to use the microwave as a cooking device, especially as a primary one (if you live in a small apartment or rent a room or dorm, for example, where there's no space for a full-sized stove), this one is a solid option. It's pricey and larger than other microwaves (about 35 lbs.), thus taking up more countertop space. The self-locating turntable easily slides into place. But it is a great option for upgrading an older model, especially if you have a large kitchen or plan on using it as your primary cooking device. This was the only microwave of the lot that genuinely feels like it was built to last.

Finished in a beautiful silver all stainless-steel with both dials and buttons for operation, it offered near-flawless performance in our tests. With 1,100 watts of power and an ample 1.2 cubic foot capacity that is large enough for cooking an entire meal, it has 10 power levels and adjustable power from 10 percent up to 100 percent by simply twisting the dial. There's also a Sensor IQ Reheat and Cook function that will automatically adjust the cook time based on the food inside. Another cool feature is A Bit More, which you can press if your touch test indicates that the food could use a bit more heating.

The bright interior light makes it easy to keep an eye on the cook as it is working its magic and the LCD panel, even in the dark at night. However, the LCD panel is a bit complicated to use, largely due to the many features and customized cooking modes. Chances are, you'll get the hang of it after a quick learning curve, though.

It offered consistent heating performance and warmed up a frozen meal perfectly in the time specified on the box. However, it did leave some popcorn kernels burned and un-popped, unlike the Cuisinart model.

As noted, the BMO734XL has many presets and customizable cooking modes, with the most overall features of the microwaves we tested, further solidifying its position as a versatile small kitchen appliance for cooking, not just reheating and defrosting food. It also has handy features like a child lock and beep level adjustment, which is great if you want to avoid waking light sleepers in the middle of the night when you have a hankering for a pizza roll!

Yes, this microwave is bigger, more expensive, and has more features than the others on this list. But if you have space in your kitchen and the budget to accommodate it, or if this will be the only cooking device you use in a small apartment, it might be worth shelling out the extra dough.

Get the Breville BMO734XL from Breville Canada for $369.99

3. Great Value: Magic Chef 1.1 Cubic-Foot Countertop Microwave

Magic Chef Microwave
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The Magic Chef 1.1 Cubic-Foot Countertop Microwave is our favourite affordable countertop microwave.

We agree with one online review we came across that describes this microwave as being "built like a tank." It totally is. It's just under 36 lbs. and comes finished in either shiny black, white, or stainless steel. But there's nothing in particular that stands out about the look. It has a push-button door and digital touch buttons, and the control panel is kind of retro in design. But it gets the job done, and that's what matters. It comes with a turntable and roller guide.

Most importantly, this microwave passed all of our food tests with flying colours. And it's also one of the few microwaves we tested in this price range that offers multi-stage cooking. It includes 10 power levels and eight one-touch cooking programs for the most common items. You can also defrost by either time or weight and even make use of the express cooking function and memory function when you're in a rush.

It offers 1,000 watts of power and a 1.1 cubic-foot interior and is large and powerful enough to handle most tasks and reheat dinner for an entire small family. As far as affordability and reliability go, this one meets the criteria.

Get the Magic Chef 1.1 Cubic-Foot Countertop Microwave from Amazon Canada for $248.14

4. Smart & Sensible: Toshiba EM131A5C-BS

Toshiba EM131A5C-BS
Credit: Toshiba

The Toshiba EM131A5C-BS is a good microwave that doesn't stand out from the crowd

While we had high hopes for this microwave based on its affordable price, other reviews, and specs, and it did work well, there wasn't anything special about it that might it stand out among the rest.

It's larger and heavier than most other models on this list, requiring additional countertop space. Finished in black stainless steel, it includes a large digital display, an easy-to-read control panel, and a glass turntable.

Despite nothing ground-breaking about this microwave, there wasn't anything terrible about it either. It boasts 1,100 watts of power and the largest interior capacity (1.2 cubic feet) of all the microwaves we tested. It has advanced features like 10 power settings, sensor cooking, multi-stage cooking, and various presets, like a one-touch popcorn and two defrost settings, including an auto defrost option for one pound of food, like a package of ground beef for Taco Tuesday.

This microwave worked well heating pork and popping popcorn, but it struggled to heat tomato sauce evenly and sufficiently in the time given.

That said, this microwave is easy to use. It also operates quietly, which is an appreciated plus, especially if you do a lot of late-night or early morning reheating or cooking that could disturb others in the household who are deep in slumber. The EM131A5C-BS even has a secret option to mute the sound: hold down the number "8" for 3-5 seconds and the buzzer will switch off. Neat!

Sure, this small appliance heats some things much more slowly than many of the other models we reviewed. But if you are a multi-tasker who isn't typically in a rush, those extra seconds might be negligible.

Get the Toshiba EM131A5C-BS from Amazon Canada for $230.92

5. Panasonic NN-SN686S

Panasonic NN-SN686S
Credit: Panasonic

The Panasonic NN-SN686S offers good performance and features.

This microwave comes in a variety of finishes to match different kitchen décor. But it also looks kind of old-fashioned, so if you have a newly updated modern kitchen, it might not fit with the design. Made of aluminum with a stainless finish, it does at least have a touchscreen that gives it touch a modern flare.

The most powerful and largest interior microwave of the bunch, this Panasonic has 1,200 watts of power and is 1.2 cubic feet in size. Despite the ample interior, it's one of the lightest microwaves we tested at just 25.5 lbs.

This countertop microwave has 14 preset cooking programs along with microwave inverter technology for consistent cooking power. Meanwhile, Advanced Inverter Turbo Defrost helps speed up defrosting time. An automatic sensor will adjust cook or reheat time-based on each dish.

It performed adequately in most of our tests. There was nothing that stood out, though.

Bottom line: for a somewhat old-fashioned-style kitchen appliance from which you'll get pretty basic performance, this microwave might fit the bill.

Get the Panasonic NN-SN686S from Amazon Canada for $342.67

Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.

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