What every best Microwaves has:
- A handy selection of presets.
- Cooking sensors.
- A turntable on/off button.
Installing a countertop microwave is as simple as setting it on a counter, shelf or microwave stand and plugging it in. If you're really 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.
If you need a countertop microwave for a larger family, look no further than the GE JES2051SNSS (Est. $180). 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 more-typical 1,000 watt microwave. Still, that power translates into faster 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.
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 about $10 by instead opting for the black or white finish.
Another good, albeit larger, choice in this category is the 2.2 cubic-foot Panasonic NN-SD945S (Est. $210). It's a top choice at both ConsumerReports.org and at Techlicious.com. It almost took our top spot, in fact, but its size (experts agree that most people simply don't need this large of a microwave) and it relative lack of owner reviews (just a handful), keep it at runner up status for now.
Still, there's a lot to like here if you need a big, fully featured microwave. Josh Kirschner at Techlicious.com praises its inverter technology, which, he says, "transforms your microwave from an oversized reheating device into a functional cooking tool." ConsumerReports.org gives it a score of Excellent for defrosting, but just Good for heating evenness. Still it's their top pick among large microwave ovens (and the highest scoring model overall, as well), so they didn't seem to think that was much of a drawback.
Although there are only a few user reviews, the ones we spotted were very positive. Owners praise its powerful 1,250-watt performance and accurate sensors. It's also reported as very easy to use, although not quite as simple as a microwave with more one-button presets. In this case, you choose the sensor cooking function, then choose what you're cooking from the menu. Still, in testing at Techlicious.com, the sensor functioned flawlessly on all but the smallest quantities of food.
A large family, or a person who likes to cook for a crowd for any reason may use the heck out of a large microwave, but, in fact, most people don't need or want that kind of behemoth taking up space in their kitchen. If you need a generously-sized microwave, but don't need a 2.0-or-larger cubic-foot capacity, we suggest you take a look at the GE JES1656SRSS (Est. $120). It's the top pick at TheSweethome.com, where testers Tim Heffernan and Jessie Kissinger put it through its paces and find that, "Its cooking performance is excellent and dead simple." They go on to note that the sensors perform very well across a variety of tasks, even better than more expensive microwaves. It's also so easy to use, they add, that you'll probably never need to consult a user's manual.
That's a true story, owners agree, giving this GE very high ratings in hundreds of reviews at various retail sites. It also has an impressive number of presets for a fairly inexpensive microwave, including instant cook buttons for 1 to 6 minutes -- a feature everyone loves. And users also agree that the sensors are dead-on for the other one-button settings that include potato, popcorn, vegetable and beverage.
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 buy a model that takes up much space. Reviewers say the 0.7 cubic-foot GE JES1072SHSS (Est. $95) is perfect for small spaces. It fits a dinner-sized plate very well, they add. It has a surprisingly wide range of presets for such a small microwave, including 30 second and 1 to 6 minute one-touch buttons, as well as presets for popcorn, beverage and potato. Although it lacks a sensor, users say it works well without it. At 700 watts, the GE JES1072SHSS isn't the most powerful microwave oven, but it does a great job with the basics.