By far the most popular option in microwaves, the countertop microwave does just that: It sits on your counter. Of course, it can also sit on a shelf or microwave stand, but it's made to sit. Because of that, it takes up valuable real estate. Many countertop microwaves can become built-ins using an optional trim kit, and some can be hung underneath your cabinets using a hanging kit. If you're squeezed for space, you may want to consider an over-the-range or drawer microwave, which we discuss in-depth in our section on built-in microwaves elsewhere in this report. If you think a microwave with a convection feature would be a useful addition to your kitchen, see our discussion of the best convection microwaves.
No countertop microwave oven receives more recommendations from reviewers than the GE JES2051SNSS (Est. $280). At 2.0 cubic feet, this is one of the largest microwaves available; users say it can accommodate a 9- by 13-inch casserole or defrost a whole turkey. At 1,200 watts it's powerful too, and many owners say they had to learn to reduce the amount of cooking time when they upgraded to the JES2051SNSS from a 1,000 watt microwave. Still, that power translates into speed, and users say it takes no time at all to reheat food, heat beverages or boil water.
Professional testers and user reviewers agree that the sensor on the JES2051SNSS works very well, doing a precise job of cooking a variety of foods. This means you can use the various presets, which include popcorn, vegetable, potatoes and beverages, with absolute confidence that the food will cook perfectly. It also has the standard assortment of other one-touch operations, such as 30 second and 1 through 6 minute instant on. It's very simple to use, they say; extremely straightforward.
We saw a few durability complaints about the GE JES2051SNSS, but not enough that they should scare anyone off. The one big issue with this microwave is its size: It's big inside and out -- be sure you measure your counter space carefully. The GE JES2051SNSS comes in stainless steel, but you can save a few dollars by opting for versions in white (GE JES2051DNWW) or black (GE JES2051DNBB).
If you're looking for a larger countertop microwave that can be used as a built-in with an optional trim kit, the 2.0 cubic foot LG LCRT2010ST (Est. $200) gets fairly good reviews. The trim kit (MK2030F (Est. $150)) is pricey, but many reviewers say that Sears or GE trim kits work just fine and cost quite a bit less. Owners say the LCRT2010ST cooks evenly, looks great and is very easy to use. One feature they love is the curved interior compartment, which eliminates hard-to-clean corners. However, this microwave oven provokes more durability complaints than the GE JES2051SNSS. Owners also complain that dealing with LG's warranty service is a huge hassle.
A large family, or a person who likes to cook for a crowd for any reason may use the heck out of a 2.0 cubic foot microwave, but, in fact, most people don't need or want that kind of behemoth taking up space in their kitchen. A more typical size is about 1.2 to 1.7 cubic feet, and in that size class the Panasonic NN-SD681S Genius Prestige (Est. $190) shines. This 1.2 cubic foot, 1,200 watt microwave oven features inverter technology, which enables it to run at a low, steady power level rather than cycling between full power and no power. The result is more even cooking and defrosting, and reviewers say it works very well. Instead of a keypad, the NN-SD681S has several buttons and a pop-out dial for setting the time; some users find these controls very intuitive, while others have trouble getting used to them. Most reviewers find the sensor settings accurate, and they like the microwave's bright blue display and sleek stainless finish. Their most common gripe is that the interior light doesn't come on when the microwave is opened. An optional trim kit (the NN-TK621SS (Est. $170)) allows this countertop microwave to function as a built-in, but nearly doubles the price of the appliance.
If you only use a microwave for cooking the occasional frozen dinner, reheating leftovers or boiling a mug of water, you don't need to spend much or take up much space. Reviewers say the Kenmore 0.9 cu. ft. Countertop Microwave 73092 (Est. $80) is perfect for small spaces. It fits a dinner-sized plate very well, they add. It has all the standard presets -- popcorn, potato, pizza, vegetable and beverage, as well as a memory feature that allows you to save customized cooking operations. Owners say that last feature is a bit complicated and probably not necessary, but others like it. At 900 watts, the Kenmore 73092 isn't the most powerful microwave oven, but users say it does the job. Most say this Kenmore microwave is an attractive unit; it comes in black or stainless steel, and it gets good reviews for durability.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Best Reviewed Microwave Ovens: There's a microwave in virtually every home in America. Here are the top choices for any kitchen and lifestyle.
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.