GE JES2051SNSS
GE JES2051SNSS

Best countertop microwave

Offering powerful performance in an attractive package, the 2.0 cubic foot GE JES2051SNSS offers a nice array of one-button presets, an accurate sensor and a roomy interior. This is a top choice for anyone, but particularly for families that use their microwave a lot. This workhorse would also be a great addition to an office break room, especially since it gets good reviews for long-term durability. This version is the stainless-steel finish, but it's also available in black or white.
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Panasonic NN-SD681S Genius Prestige
Panasonic NN-SD681S Genius Prestige

Mid-sized countertop microwave

Inverter technology thrills users of the Panasonic NN-SD681S Genius Prestige. They say it performs very well in a variety of true cooking tasks, not just the traditional "heat and eat" functions of most microwaves. This 1.2 cubic foot model will fit perfectly in most kitchens, and, at 1,200 watts, it offers plenty of power. An optional trim kit means it can become a built in.

Kenmore 0.9 cu. ft. Countertop Microwave 73092
Kenmore 0.9 cu. ft. Countertop Microwave 73092

Small countertop microwave

The Kenmore 73092 0.9 cu. ft. Countertop Microwave gets some of the best reviews we've seen for any small microwave. It's perfect for a dorm room, apartment, or if you just don't have a lot of counter space. With 900 watts of power, it's a great choice if your primary use is reheating leftovers, heating up water or other small jobs. Reviewers say it fits a dinner-sized plate very nicely.

Sharp R-820JS Double Grill Convection Countertop Microwave
Sharp R-820JS Double Grill Convection Countertop Microwave

Best convection countertop microwave

The 900 watt Sharp R-820JS Double Grill Convection Countertop Microwave gets raves from reviewers for the versatility it offers. The convection features add, grilling, roasting, baking and more -- all with the right level of crisping and browning -- to the repertoire of standard microwave tasks. At 0.9 cubic feet, it's particularly popular with apartment-dwellers, RV enthusiasts, and boaters, but even those with larger, traditional kitchens users say it's a top performer either as a microwave or convection oven.
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GE Profile PVM9179SFSS Over-the-Range Microwave
GE Profile PVM9179SFSS Over-the-Range Microwave

Best over-the-range microwave

The GE Profile PVM9179SFSS will be a great addition to your kitchen, say reviewers. Its 1.7 cubic feet is roomy enough for all but the largest dishes, and at 1,000 watts, it's got plenty of power. A convection feature makes it even more versatile. The trim kit will run you an extra $150 to $200, but owners say it's easy to install and the result looks like a custom built-in.
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Sharp KB-6524PS 24-Inch Microwave Drawer Oven
Sharp KB-6524PS 24-Inch Microwave Drawer Oven

Microwave drawer

Drawer-style microwaves are pricey, rarely reviewed by experts, and often draw mixed user feedback, especially when it comes to durability, but models such as Sharp KB-6524PS 24-Inch Microwave Drawer Oven offer compelling aesthetics that can trump all of that in the eyes of some users. The KB-6524PS installs under the counter and pulls out, just like a drawer. This adds versatility, as it can be installed anywhere in the kitchen without taking up valuable counter space. Some parents like that they can have their microwave located low enough for young cooks to reach easily.

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See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

A microwave oven is a kitchen essential

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 microwaves even double as convection ovens, so they can bake and brown like a traditional oven.

Size is an important consideration with any microwave. It needs to fit in the available space you have for it; either on a countertop or into a specific area where it will be built in. Some microwaves even have an optional kit to suspend them under a cabinet. However, you also need to consider capacity. If you have a big family or make a lot of large dishes in the microwave (think a 9- by 13-inch pan of lasagna), you need at least 2.2 cubic feet. If you need a big microwave, but don't have the counter space and can't build it in, you may be able to fit a microwave stand in your kitchen area to hold it. That will also provide extra shelving. However, most people only need a microwave of about 1.2 to 1.7 cubic feet, plenty large enough for most dishes. For small spaces, there are a lot of good choices in the 0.9 cubic foot range.

Power is also important. Experts say the best microwaves have at least 1,000 watts of power. And, in fact, cooking instructions for frozen foods are often based upon 1,000 watts. Many microwaves have more power -- 1,1,00 or 1,200 watts. If you're upgrading from a less powerful microwave, reviewers say, you need to be careful not to overcook foods until you get used to it. Once you have those considerations out of the way, there are a few basic categories of microwave ovens to choose from.

Types of microwaves

Countertop microwaves are the most common. As the name implies, they sit on a counter or microwave stand. The best countertop microwaves usually cost between $150 and $300, depending upon the size and features. Countertop microwave ovens offer the widest range of sizes, from under 1 cubic foot to 2 cubic feet or more. Even the cheapest of these come with a good array of features: Instant cook buttons for 30 seconds to 5 or 6 minutes, popcorn and potato presets, and auto-defrost and reheat. More expensive models have high-end sensors that can perfectly, and quickly, cook a potato or thaw a hunk of meat without cooking any part of it. Installation is simple: just plug the microwave oven into a standard household outlet. Some countertop microwaves can be built-in as well, using an optional trim kit, or even hung underneath a cabinet using a hanging kit.

Convection microwaves are growing in popularity. Convection microwave ovens used to be fairly rare, and quite expensive. Nowadays, they're more common and, while they still cost more than a microwave without a convection feature, the price difference isn't that steep -- $50 to $100 at the most. A convection features allows you to use a microwave like a small oven -- you can roast and bake. The best microwave/convection oven combination browns well, bakes evenly, and puts a nice crust on burgers or roasts. While a lot of people say convection is unnecessary in a microwave, or that it's something they use rarely, plenty of cooks love having it because they don't have to use their big oven for a small job, and they have an extra cooking appliance available for parties and holidays.

A built-in microwave means many things. The word "built-in" is tossed rather freely around the microwave world to denote any type of microwave that doesn't sit on your counter. Over-the-range microwaves are in the built-in category, as are any countertop microwaves that can be built in, either as a custom set-up or over an oven or range using an optional trim kit. Drawer microwaves are installed lower in the kitchen, below the countertop, and they open like a drawer. They're often installed in kitchen islands or underneath wall ovens. Professional reviews are hard to find, however, and user reviews are limited and somewhat mixed -- especially when it comes to durability.

A microwave can't do it all

Although microwaves are becoming increasingly versatile and many come with cookbooks that feature a wide array of dishes you can cook in them, they aren't the best appliance for cooking everything. Even a microwave with a convection feature will not be as effective as a dedicated convection oven for baked goods, and its capacity will be smaller. For better options for baking and roasting, see our reports on wall ovens, ranges and toaster ovens.

If you do opt for a drawer microwave or for a custom built-in microwave anywhere in your kitchen but over the range, you may want to upgrade your kitchen exhaust and air flow, as well; if so, see our report on range hoods.

Finding the best microwaves

Narrowing down the selections to find the best microwave oven can be a challenge simply because there are so many of them. With hundreds of models over dozens of brands, you can look at quite a few professional reviews and not see the same microwave oven twice. However, when analyzing professional tests at places like ConsumerReports.org, CNET, TheSweetHome.com and Reviewed.com, some consensus starts to emerge -- especially across brands, or lines within brands (GE's Profile series being an excellent example). Matching those results and recommendations to long-term, real-world experiences posted at user-review sites such as HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com and BestBuy.com helped us narrow the focus to a few top microwaves. The result of that research is our recommendations for the microwave ovens with the best combination of performance, features, ease of use and reliability.

Elsewhere in this Report:

Best Countertop Microwaves: Countertop microwaves are the most popular type because they come in all sizes and price ranges. These standouts have the best features, are top performers and get good marks for durability.

Best Convection Microwaves: Convection microwaves are highly versatile kitchen appliances -- they microwave, roast and bake. These microwaves with a convention option will thrill any cook.

Best Built-In Microwaves: A built-in microwave is any microwave oven that can be built in somewhere in the kitchen using a trim kit or custom set up. These are the best over-the-range and drawer-style microwaves.

Buying Guide: Do you know what you really need in a microwave? Don't suffer from buyer's remorse, we answer the questions you have about shopping for a microwave.

Our Sources: These are the expert and user reviews we used to find the best microwaves. They are ranked in order of their expertise and helpfulness.

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