A great microwave can make food preparation a breeze
A microwave oven can be a major time saver in the kitchen. It can defrost a pound of meat for dinner in minutes, or cook a side dish of rice or potatoes while the oven is busy. It's also handy for reheating leftovers, steaming fresh veggies and of course, making popcorn. Some new microwaves even double as convection ovens, so they can bake and brown like a real oven -- although the editors of ConsumerReports.org say the results they give aren't quite as good as a dedicated convection oven. For a better convection oven option, see our reports on wall ovens, ranges and toaster ovens.
There are two main types of microwave ovens: countertop microwaves and over the range microwaves. A third option, built-in microwaves, is less common.
Countertop microwaves are the most popular type. They're also the least expensive. It's possible to pick one up for $100 or less, but the best-rated models tend to cost between $150 and $250. Countertop microwave ovens also offer the widest range of sizes, from under 1 cubic foot to 2 cubic feet or more. Installation is simple: just plug the microwave oven into a standard household outlet. On the downside, a countertop microwave can take up quite a bit of counter space, which may be a precious commodity in a small kitchen.
An over the range microwave doesn't hog counter space. This type of microwave oven is installed under the upper cabinets above a cooktop or range, leaving your countertops free. These models are also known as microhoods because they double as range hoods, using built-in fans to exhaust heat and smoke from the range. However, experts caution that they don't do this job as well as a fume hood that extends over the full range top. See our report on range hoods for the best exhaust fan options.
Microhoods are more complicated to install than countertop microwaves because they require a dedicated electrical outlet and an outside vent. While experienced do-it-yourselfers can install their own over the range microwaves, others should enlist the help of a professional. We found prices for over the counter microwave ovens ranging from just under $200 to over $1,000, but many inexpensive models are among the best performers.
Built-in microwaves are set in amidst the kitchen cabinetry, typically sitting flush with the bottoms of other cabinets. This allows you to keep the space above the range free for a full-size range hood while still leaving your countertops clear. However, these models are much more expensive than other microwave ovens -- they typically cost between $350 and $1,000 -- and usually require professional installation. We did not find any recommendations for built-in microwaves in reviews, so we have not made any recommendation. A couple of models are included in professional tests, but their performance is not impressive. There are also few reviews for built-ins on retail sites. Moreover, a thread on the Appliances Forum at GardenWeb.com, a collection of discussion forums on home and garden issues, suggests that built-in microwaves are a waste of money. Several contributors say that a built-in can't do anything a countertop or over the range microwave can't.
As an alternative, some users at Appliances Forum propose installing a countertop microwave on a shelf, perhaps in the pantry, or inside a hinged cabinet. That way, it will have the same space-saving benefits as a built-in without the high price tag. Several other users mention the use of built-in trim kits, which can give a standard countertop microwave the look of a built-in microwave. In this report, we note which of the countertop microwaves we cover are available with an optional trim kit. However, adding one of these kits can double the cost of the microwave.
ConsumerSearch editors compared reviews for dozens of countertop and over the range microwaves. We looked at both professional tests and owner-written reviews to identify the best picks in each category. Our top-rated microwave ovens offer the best combination of performance, features, ease of use and reliability.