This is why we never put together a testing-based roundup of microwaves here at Reviewed—until now. We realized that many shoppers still want to know how evenly a microwave will reheat their food, how well it will fit into their kitchen, and what to expect from the features before they buy, all without having to research wattage and other specs on their own. So, we did the hard work for you and put the best mid-priced countertop microwaves to the test.
After testing a dozen microwaves in our labs and comparing features, prices, user ratings, and more, we found the highly-rated Cuisinart CMW-100 Microwave Oven(available at Amazon for $179.95) is the best for most people, balancing size, wattage, and features.
Ultimately, you should pick the countertop microwave with the wattage you need, the control panel that makes the most sense to you, and in the size that fits. But if you don’t know where to start, our recommendations are here to help.
Here are the best countertop microwaves we tested, ranked in order:
Magic Chef MCM990ST 900W Countertop Oven with Stainless Steel Front
Black+Decker EM925AB9 Digital Microwave Oven
Toshiba EM131A5C Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor
Panasonic NN-SN65KB Compact Microwave Oven
Panasonic NN-SN686S Countertop Microwave
Amazon Basics Microwave
In a sea of average, same-looking microwaves, the Cuisinart CMW-100 stands out from the rest. This 1000W, 1-cubic-foot unit hit almost every mark in testing and perfectly balances power, size, and features, making it the best countertop microwave for most people.
The first thing you’ll notice about this mid-sized microwave is its sleek stainless steel-and-black exterior and pull handle, which is convenient to use and more elegant than the standard push button. It also has a bright interior light, so you won’t be fumbling around to see your food. Although not overloaded with features, this Cuisinart has multi-stage cooking and a number of extra presets including bacon, rice, and baked potatoes. It excelled in our popcorn test, popping kernels evenly as can be without burning.
This microwave isn’t absolutely perfect. The control panel can be difficult to see in dim lighting, and the frozen dinner test left a few parts of the meal colder than we’d like after heating for the recommended time on the box. However, we still think the Cuisinart is much more impressive and distinct than almost every other microwave we’ve tested—and it would make a worthy addition to your kitchen counter.
In our initial research, an online reviewer wrote this mid-sized microwave from Magic Chef is “built like a tank,” and we can’t find any evidence to the contrary. The Magic Chef passed all our food tests with flying colors, and it's one of the few microwaves at this low price point that also offers multi-stage cooking.
While it's a pretty typical microwave, with a shiny exterior and almost retro-looking control panel, it gets the job done. With 1000 watts and a size of 1.1 cubic feet, it's enough power and space to handle most microwave tasks, except perhaps cooking an entire chicken. With 10 power levels and essential presets, this model, which is available in black, white, and stainless steel finishes, has everything you need.
People don’t really think much about their microwaves, beyond their ability to heat up food or beverages in a timely fashion. However, there are a number of neat and useful features built into each microwave. To try to get a grip on how well a given microwave can actually do its job, I subjected each microwave to a battery of food tests, including:
Water test: To get a sense for the raw power available in each product, we warmed up three cups of water for two minutes on the microwave’s maximum power setting, and then measured the temperature of the water. Typically, more powerful microwaves will result in hotter water temperatures.
Tomato sauce test: Most expensive microwaves, such as those that have multi-stage cooking abilities (i.e. the ones that have inverter technology built-in), actually have different power levels so that you can adjust the level at which your food is nuked. To see if there is actually a difference in the microwave’s power levels, we heated up a cup of tomato sauce in a ceramic dish for 30 seconds on level 2, 30 seconds on level 6, and 30 seconds on level 10, measuring the temperature in between each stage of heating. If the levels actually correspond to different levels of heating, then the rate of temperature change between the three stages should be distinctly different.
Popcorn test: One of the most obvious use cases for a microwave is popping popcorn. As a lover of popcorn, I was definitely excited to have a guilt-free reason to pop lots of popcorn. Using the popcorn setting on each microwave, we popped a normal-sized bag of popcorn. Once the microwave stopped, we looked at the popcorn to see if either the bag or the popcorn was burnt, as well as recorded the number of unpopped kernels. The best microwaves can pop your popcorn without burning it and leave only a few kernels unpopped.
Hungry-Man test: If you don’t have the time or effort to spend cooking or assembling a meal kit, a frozen dinner is a tried-and-true way to get food on the table as quickly as possible. To see how well a microwave could heat up a frozen dinner, we followed the microwave directions on the back of the Hungry-Man Boneless Fried Chicken dinner box. When it was done cooking, we looked at each of the four dinner components (two breaded chicken patties, mashed potatoes, corn, and a brownie) to see if they were evenly and/or thoroughly cooked. If the mashed potatoes came lukewarm while everything else was steaming hot, we docked points from that microwave.
Pork roast test: Reheating leftovers is another common reason to use a microwave. After thoroughly cooking four small boneless pork loins, we cut them up into smaller slices and let them cool in the fridge overnight. The next day, we put four palm-size pork loin slices on a small plate, covered them with a paper towel, and used the setting on the product that was most appropriate for reheating approximately 8 oz. of meat. Once the microwave finished reheating the meat, we touched each piece of pork to determine if it was hot enough to eat.
A good microwave should not only be able to pass these food tests, but it should also make the user experience as easy and forgettable as possible. When assessing each microwave, we looked for common pain points such as non-responsive buttons, confusing or dimly-lit control panels and buttons, loud humming noises, or anything that would prevent the microwave from being easy to clean with a wet paper towel. Our favorite microwaves are both effective and user-friendly.
How Much Should I Spend on a Microwave?
A microwave can cost you anywhere from $20 to $2,000, which suggests an equally wide range of performance and quality. But as it turns out, very expensive models aren’t inherently better than the ones that go for around $100, because most microwaves are made by a handful of manufacturers and the core technology is all the same.
If you’re drawn to super high-end design, covet a ton of crazy features, or want a unit that’s built into your cabinetry, you will need to spend at least a couple hundred dollars on a microwave. But if you’re just looking for a countertop unit that will heat and defrost evenly and has some useful bonus functions, we suggest choosing a unit that will cost you between $100 and $200. The rest of your small appliance budget can be spent on a nice multi-cooker, air fryer, or fancy pizza oven.
What Size and Wattage is Right for Me?
The two key microwave specifications are interior size, measured in cubic feet, and wattage. When you’re shopping for a new unit, you’re guaranteed to see these specs listed before anything else. Of course, external dimensions also matter so you know if the microwave will actually fit in your kitchen, but you’ll need to go digging for those details in the product description.
Microwave sizes generally range from 0.5 to just over 2 cubic feet. We find that most models over 1.5 cubic feet are needlessly big—unless you plan to cook turkey dinners in your microwave, or reheat entire casserole dishes, you won’t need that much space. If you have a large dish to reheat, the oven will almost always give you better results, anyway.
Compact microwaves (between 0.5 and 0.9 cubic feet) can suit smaller kitchens, dorms, and anywhere you need to conserve counter space, but may be too small to cook or reheat all types of food. Ultimately, buy whatever size suits your needs, and make sure to compare the exterior dimensions to your actual space before you invest, but remember that bigger isn’t always better.
Wattage is usually related but not directly proportional to size—you can expect large microwaves to also have higher wattages. People often believe that the higher the wattage, the better the microwave is, but we’ve found that isn’t always the case. Even though we recommend a baseline of 900-1000 watts for mid-sized microwaves, there are compact microwaves in this roundup with just 700 watts each that heat evenly. A microwave can be overpowered, meaning the high wattage can quickly overcook food.
Generally, the higher the wattage, the faster your microwave cooks. So if you’re only using your unit for basic tasks or don’t care about lightning speeds, don’t be afraid of lower wattages. Choose the microwave that balances size and wattage to suit your needs.
Which Presets Matter?
Most microwaves have a full panel of preset options for different modes and types of food. But what does pressing those buttons actually do? And which presets matter?
All microwaves operate on the same basic principle: A magnetron generates microwaves, which excite the water molecules in food and cause them to heat up. So, pressing a button only controls the on and off interval of the magnetron.
When you set a time, your microwave heats up your food at full power for the time you enter on the keypad. But when you press a button like Defrost, Popcorn, or Potato, most microwaves simply alternate between 0 and 100 percent power for a predetermined period of time that can vary from model to model. Find a microwave that includes the presets you use most often, but don’t stress about finding one that has them all—they’re not critical.
One preset that we actually find rather useful is the sensor cook option. Sensor controls on your microwave generally adjust the cook time based on the amount of steam the food gives off, while newer and more expensive models use even more precise technology to determine when food is done cooking. If you want to take the guesswork out of microwaving something, consider a unit with a sensor cook option.
Other Countertop Microwaves We Tested
The Toshiba EM45P Countertop Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor is the next-best performing microwave after our badge winners, but save for its size, it’s very similar to the rest of the mid-ranking units in this roundup. With 1200W and a 1.6-cubic-foot interior, it’s by far the largest unit we tested, which keeps it from being suitable for all kitchens.
This unit excelled in the popcorn and frozen dinner tests, although it couldn’t heat tomato sauce to a suitable temperature in the recommended time. It offers multi-stage cooking, sensor cooking, and a few presets, making it straightforward and easy to use—although the panel isn’t always easy to see in the dark. We would describe its aesthetics as functional, rather than beautiful. Ultimately, this is a fine unit considering its size and price.
The smaller Toshiba EM925A5A Microwave Oven performed similarly to its larger Toshiba counterparts in testing. The 900W, 0.9-cubic-foot microwave was better at heating tomato sauce than the EM45P, and was solid in popping popcorn and heating frozen dinners. It also seemed quieter when in use than many microwaves we tested.
This is a fine, basic microwave at a very affordable price, but it’s too small for more substantial cooking.
We were excited to test the Panasonic NN-SD975S after a bunch of Reviewed readers asked us about microwaves with cyclonic wave inverter technology. This Panasonic-patented technology means the microwave heats foods using radio waves that cover three directions—up/down, left/right, front/back—rather than radio waves that just cover two—left/right and up/down.
Its meant to increase the likelihood of evenly heating, and more consistent microwaving performance while heating multiple things in quick succession, like several bags of popcorn.
However, our food tests didn't prove any real differences in successfully heating our food than with models that rely on single inverter technology.
This all stainless-steel microwave is a beauty though, and it's one of the best-looking appliances to come into the Reviewed labs. It includes three stages of multi-stage cooking and has more sensor cooking options than other microwaves we've tested. However, this microwave is meant for the precision cooker, rather than your average user who just wants to quickly heat up leftovers, make a cup of tea, or pop some popcorn.
Its control panel includes actual buttons you press (as opposed to typical non-responsive touch buttons) and a very responsive dial that rotates smoothly. The dial replaces the typical numeric keypad, so if you haven't used it before, it may take a moment to get used to it.
At 2.2 cubic feet and 1250 watts, this is also one of the bigger microwaves we've tested. If you're heating up large leftovers for a big family, this will be great. Just be aware you'll need to reserve more countertop real estate for it.
The Panasonic NN-SN651B Countertop Microwave is a 1200W, 1.2-cubic-foot unit with a push button and old-fashioned panel. Although it’s incredibly easy to use and excelled at the popcorn test, it was only adequate in the pork or frozen dinner tests. It also has multi-stage cooking and some basic presets.
We think this Panasonic is too big and too aesthetically unappealing for most kitchens, but it’ll get the job done.
The Magic Chef MCM990ST Countertop Oven has a stainless steel front, but its looks are still on the dated side. It’s a 900W, 0.9-cubic-foot unit like Toshiba EM925A5A, and it performed similarly, popping popcorn well and adequately heating frozen dinners and tomato sauce.
This is a fine, basic microwave at a very affordable price, but it’s too small for more substantial cooking.
The Black and Decker EM925AB9 Digital Microwave Oven is very similar to the Magic Chef MCM990ST, but with a more modern exterior and more features. It’s a 900W, 0.9-cubic-foot unit with a child lock, multi-stage cooking, and a variety of presets. It performed well in every test except for the tomato sauce test.
The Toshiba EM131A5C Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor was our top pick for affordable microwaves before testing based on reviews and specs—but after testing, we’ve found it to be quite average. The 1100W, 1.2-cubic-foot unit is mid-powered and aesthetically pleasing, with sensor cooking, multi-stage cooking, and a variety of presets.
This Toshiba excelled in the pork and popcorn tests, but it really struggled to heat tomato sauce in the time given. It’s easy to use and quieter than other units we tested. Ultimately, this is a very standard microwave.
The Panasonic NN-SN65KB Compact Microwave Oven is more expensive than most units in this roundup. The 1200W, 1.2-cubic-foot microwave is on the larger side, odd considering it’s “compact” name, with a variety of exterior finish options to choose from. It performed adequately in all our tests, only really excelling with popcorn. It also offers sensor cooking.
For the price, we don’t think this is the right choice for most people—but it’s a thoroughly fine option.
The Panasonic NN-SN686S Countertop Microwave seems identical, at first, to the NN-SN65KB. It’s also 1200W with a 1.2-cubic-foot interior and a variety of finishes. However, it’s more old-fashioned looking, and it has fewer presets. It also performed adequately in most tests.
Neither of these Panasonic models are worth writing home about, but we think the NN-SN65KB is stronger than the NN-SN686S.
This popular compact microwave from Amazon Basics has one feature that sets it apart from every other one we tested—it’s a smart device designed to be used with Alexa. But of all the microwaves we tested, this tiny little unit is the only one we vehemently do not recommend.
This 700W, 0.7-cubic-foot microwave is both too small and too weak to perform many basic tasks. It’s almost too small for a standard bag of popcorn, and in testing, it struggled to pop the popcorn and heat a frozen dinner. It’s also the cheapest unit we tested, and we can see why.
Sure, the Alexa command aspect is a unique bonus feature that allows the microwave’s display panel to stay uncluttered, because you can select from dozens of preset options using just your voice. On the other hand, it’s another thing that can break, and it isn’t that useful. If you have to physically walk over to your microwave to put food in and take food out, what’s the hassle of just pressing a button to start it?
Julia is the Senior Scientist at Reviewed, which means that she oversees (and continually updates) the testing of products in Reviewed's core categories such as televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, and more. She also determines the testing methods and standards for Reviewed's "The Best Right Now" articles.
Cassidy covered all things cooking as the kitchen editor for Reviewed from 2018 to 2020. An experimental home chef with a healthy distrust of recipes, Cassidy lives by the "Ratatouille" philosophy that, with a few techniques and key tools, anyone can cook. She's produced in-depth reviews and guides on everything from meal kits to stand mixers and the right way to cook an egg.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.