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- Panasonic’s NN-SN651B Microwave is our choice for the best all-around microwave for most kitchens. It’s a simple design, a standard size, and it cooks evenly enough to accommodate most dishes.
Since their inception in the 1940s, microwave ovens have come a long way from the absurdly expensive, six-foot-tall, 750-pound behemoths of WWII-era technology they once were.
When hunting for a microwave, consider what you’ll be using it for and where it will live, and then decide on how many functions you’ll need. While cheap microwaves sort of work, they usually have less wattage and don’t distribute heat in the same way that a high-wattage convection microwave oven does.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you shop.
- Wattage and size: Most microwaves pack anywhere from 600 to 1200 watts in power. Larger, more expensive machines cook faster, while smaller, less expensive options will still get hot enough to heat most things. However, they probably won’t cook as evenly. Size and wattage usually go hand in hand, but size is its own consideration based on where your microwave will fit.
- Location: Countertop microwaves are designed to take up precious counter space, but when that’s all you have to give up, it’s your best and only option. Over-the-range models fit over your stove and take the place of a range hood. If you have space, they’re great, but they’re also usually more expensive. Built-in microwaves can be tucked into a cabinet, but they’re probably best for large kitchens where drawer and cabinet space is not at a premium.
- Convection and inverter: Convection microwave ovens blows air into the microwave so that heat is distributed more evenly, making them the most consistent and reliable option. However, they’re usually more expensive. Microwaves with inverters can run at partial power while maintaining an even temperature, while other microwaves just pulse on and off, allowing the temperature to vary. Like convection ovens, inverter microwaves are a little more expensive but worth the extra money if you tend to cook in your microwave a lot or draw butter or chocolate regularly enough.
- Presets and controls: Good Housekeeping suggests finding a microwave with a whole host of presets, but those can often be faulty, and add confusion to the interface. I’ve often opened the microwave after using a preset and found either half-frozen mush or worse still, utter devastation. It’s often in your best interest to choose your own time and power settings. We recommend going with short intervals so you don’t overheat your food.
Options trading Here are our top picks for the best microwave:
- Best microwave overall: Panasonic Countertop Microwave Oven NN-SN651B
- Best over-the-range microwave: Whirlpool 1.9-cubic-foot Over-the-Range Microwave
- Best built-in microwave: Panasonic Countertop Microwave NN-SD945S
- Best budget microwave: Westinghouse 0.6-cubic-foot Counter Top Rotary Microwave
- Best budget convection microwave: Toshiba Countertop Microwave EC042A5C-SS
Prices and links are current as of 2/24/20.
Options trading The best microwave overall
The Panasonic NN-SN651B microwave is powerful but simple, and it looks sleek enough to suit most kitchens.
The Panasonic NN-SN651B is a high-powered, full-sized, inverter microwave with almost every capability one could ask for, including different power settings that allow you to do things like draw butter, defrost foods, or cook low and slow.
It performs the same functions more expensive microwaves do without the extra bells and whistles, save for internal heat sensors to ensure even cooking throughout.
I’ve had an earlier version of this microwave for the better part of a decade, at least, and have yet to come across a single issue. While I don’t use the microwave all that often, others in the household rely almost exclusively upon it.
Online reviews are generally positive, but customer service seems to be an occasional issue, and there were a few customers who complained that their microwave gave out after a short time, which seems to be a recent trend. Digital Trends’ research suggests that microwaves should have no trouble going for a decade strong.
Pros: Powerful, well-priced
Cons: The warranty and associated customer service may be lacking
Options trading The best over-the-range microwave
Whirlpool’s 1.9-cubic-foot Convection Over-the-Range Microwave is easy to install, has a sensor that adjusts cooking time and power based on the weight of your dish, and comes with a powerful blower to whisk steam and smoke from your kitchen.
Over-the-range microwaves are more permanent installations than countertop models, and they’re also taking the place of a range hood so we think they’re worth spending a little more money. The Whirlpool convection model is an 1100-watt (1600-watt convection) machine that borders on industrial quality. It includes a four-speed, 400-cubic-foot-per-minute (cfm) blower that should handle even the heaviest of steams and smokes.
Whirlpool’s Over-the-Range Convection Microwave is equipped for “scan-to-cook” technology so that you can scan a food item’s barcode with your phone and send its cooking instructions directly to your microwave. It also offers steam control and sensor cooking to prevent overcooking. The convection rack is a nice, unique touch that lets you heat multiple items at once, and the large 14-inch turntable should accommodate almost any dish you’d use in the microwave.
Because this is a convection oven, you can easily get away with cooking most dishes in the microwave, even if your aim is to brown or crisp your cuisine.
Whirlpool also has a “SteamClean” technology that steams and loosens particles so all you have to do is give a quick wipe with the sponge — a much easier cleaning job than with other microwaves. While you can do this simply enough by microwaving a bowl of water and wiping the microwave clean, it’s more convenient to save yourself the step.
Pros: Optional convection rack, steam cleaning, sleek design with backlit controls that only turn on when in use
Cons: Expensive, automatic fan can be annoying, may have WiFi connectivity issues
Options trading The best built-in microwave
Panasonic’s NN-SD945S Microwave is powerful and comes in two sizes so you should be able to match the model to whatever cabinet or counter space you have to fill.
With 1250 watts, this Panasonic is the most powerful microwave on our list, and it’s among the more powerful microwaves on the market. Panasonic’s patented Inverter technology allows you to steam, braise, and poach, but it also performs more traditional microwave functions. That is to say yes, of course, it will still pop your corn.
Along with 10 power levels, there are 19 preset options that let you easily cook everything from oatmeal to pasta, and many things in between with the simple touch of a button.
Regardless of the size you require, the Panasonic NN-SD945S has more space on the inside than most microwaves, thanks to the inverter, which kicks out more power than a machine of this size usually would. Its 15-inch turntable tray will accommodate large plates, too. And, if you want to deck out your microwave in fancy trim, Panasonic offers kits on Amazon.
We did come across a few online customer reviews that mention the door latch or hinges failing, but those are common problems associated with the demise of many microwaves.
Pros: Exceptionally even cooking, decent price, inverter tech, many presets
Cons: Louder than some other microwaves
Options trading The best budget microwave
The Westinghouse 0.6-cubic-foot Counter Top Rotary Microwave is small enough to store away, and analog so you don’t have to worry about cheap electronics.
The Westinghouse 0.6-cubic-foot Counter Top Rotary Microwave is a no-frills option for those who are either on a budget or just don’t want to be bothered with an excessively complex set of electronic buttons they may well never use.
The Westinghouse has little more than two simple dials, so there are fewer potential parts to break. Ultimately, 900 watts and 0.9 cubic feet don’t make this the most powerful or the biggest microwave you can buy, but it is powerful enough for everyday cooking tasks, and 0.9 cubic feet is just enough space to cook medium-sized dishes. This is the ideal microwave for someone on a budget with precious little kitchen space to spare or someone traveling in a camper or RV.
Best Products likes Westinghouse’s small microwaves and praises their adjustable power levels, as does TechGearLab. According to online customer reviews, many senior citizens are appreciative of the large analog dials (as am I, personally).
On the other hand, if you must have an electronic interface, Toshiba’s EM925A5A-SS is another tremendously popular budget option. Or, if you prefer your affordable microwave to have a vintage look, the ultra-micro Daewoo Retro is a bona fide throwback to the golden age of electromagnetic radiation (especially in turquoise).
Pros: Affordable, fool-proof, small, dials instead of electronic buttons
Cons: May be too small for some and not enough presets for others
Options trading The best budget convection microwave
The Toshiba EC042A5C-SS is a convection oven without the hefty price tag of other microwaves.
If you’re not going to invest in a microwave with an inverter, but you still want something that’s suitable for more than just cooking Cup of Noodles or reheating coffee, then consider a convection oven, which will also even out the heat and keep the edges and center of your dish from burning.
The Toshiba EC042A5C-SS isn’t exactly cheap, by any means, but we don’t think it’s completely out of the question if you’re looking for a good microwave that can handle heating most foods. Like with most things, the less you spend on a microwave up front, the sooner you’ll end up having to replace it anyhow.
More to that point, there are more than enough online reviews about microwaves shorting out and bursting into flames than even we have time to read, and that’s enough to scare us into spending a little more for some peace of mind in the kitchen.
With all of its enthusiastic customer reviews and the great price tag, which is about half the going rate for comparable Panasonic and GE microwaves, we’re convinced Toshiba is the way to go for a convection oven.
Pros: Affordable, positive reviews citing positive customer service experiences
Cons: Might not get quite as hot as other convection microwave ovens
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