The Best Microwaves
How We Found the Best Microwaves
2 experts interviewed
9 microwaves tested
2 top picks
The Best Microwaves
We spoke to engineers and microwave experts, only to discover that the internal construction of all microwaves is nearly the same. The best are separated by their smaller details, like high wattage and easy-to-use features. We tested nine ourselves and found two that are well-rated by consumers, reliably long-lasting, and intuitive to operate.
How We Chose the Best Microwaves
Out of a field of adequate appliances, we looked for the few that had a combination of crucial, next-level characteristics.
Fast cooking was our top priority — if a microwave can’t prepare a meal speedily, it isn’t the best. Ray Boxman, Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Tel Aviv University, told us microwaves cook fast “because the microwave energy penetrates into the food, in contrast to conventional heating, which only delivers heat to the surface of the food, and a lot of time is needed for the heat to diffuse inward.”
Exactly how quickly the machine cooks is a matter of wattage, and most microwave models range from 600 to 1,200 watts. How much does wattage matter? Quite a lot, it turns out: Heating a cup of cold water to boil would take about one minute and 30 seconds in a 1,200-watt microwave, but four minutes in a 600-watt microwave.
Our research and experts informed us that microwaves around 800–1,000 watts were ideal. Users agree: The highest-rated microwaves tend to fall in that range, too.
Reliability problems are deal breakers. Microwaves that don’t turn on or don’t cook food at all, machines with buttons that won’t respond, and ovens that fall apart don’t make sense to own.
According to our experts, reliability directly correlates with price.
“There is no magic formula for reliability except good engineering, and every consumer manufacturer is faced with the tradeoff between reliability and cost."
We talked to Bob Schiffmann, President of the International Microwave Power Institute for 18 years, who has worked with microwaves since the 1960s and consulted for frozen food companies. He told us that cheaper microwaves use cheaper components and end up costing more to fix than they’re worth. By digging through reviews and crunching some numbers, we found that the risk of buying an unreliable microwave doubles (at a minimum) once you go below that $100 mark. We didn’t consider anything under that price.
The best microwaves have a few characteristics that make them simple to operate:
Effective shortcuts: A 30-second shortcut button is a must, and presets should be reliable. For example, the “Popcorn” setting should produce a well-popped snack: few kernels, no charring.
Visibility: Its window should allow you to check in on your food’s progress without pausing cooking.
No babysitting required: You should be able to pop a frozen meal into the microwave and get an edible product by following on-package instructions — without on-the-fly improvisation of cook times and power levels.
No annoying dealbreakers: Little things like a prolonged “your-meal-is-done” chime or a tough-to-open door can turn a convenience into a hassle.
The 2 Best Microwaves
Why we chose it
Typically, the more dials and options a microwave has, the more complicated it is to use. But not so with the Breville. It has large and intuitive LCD screen that lays out all your options simultaneously.
Programming felt like browsing through a smartphone app, meaning we didn’t have to wait for words to slowly creep across a tiny square display.
There’s no keypad, and you’ll have to twist a dial to program anything over 30 seconds. After some initial acquainting, we found those differences made programming simple. We weren’t completely ignoring presets and extra keys like we all do on our ordinary microwaves, instead we found ourselves able to specify exactly what we wanted done — without having to consult the user’s manual.
Accurate, customizable cooking
The Breville’s accuracy and customizability were unmatched in testing. Because microwave heat conducts from the outside in, you’ll usually get rubbery edges if you don’t lower power to allow the heat to seep in further. But with the Breville, if something starts boiling over, you can use its power level and time dials in the midst of cooking and let the heat penetrate.
The Breville also makes it simple to customize based on the size, weight, and nature of the food you’re cooking. There’s even a reheat option for pizza. Alternatively, you can leave it up to the Breville’s sensor to detect moisture and temperature and accurately reheat. When we tried this in our testing of beverages and with our own lunches, it was surprisingly accurate.
Enjoyable to use
Performance aside, simply using this microwave is a lot of fun. The buttons and dials have a satisfyingly crisp click to them, similar to punching letters on a typewriter. The Breville also features some extra convenience with a designated noise level button for one-push incognito mode, and a button labeled “A Bit More” that adds 20 seconds to the cook time.
Points to consider
This is a great microwave for power users who want complete control over their cooking — those often frustrated with overcooked leftovers or constantly sticking their finger in to check for cold spots. We didn’t mind spending a little extra time learning the features and extras we came to value, but it could be overkill for the average user looking for a familiar design.
The Quick Touch is a little expensive at $250. Amazon reviews also warn that the words printed on the buttons can wear off after years of use … but we actually liked the implication that this microwave will last long enough for some surface-level wear. If you’re going to pay more for an appliance it should be long-lasting and awe you with its usability and features — the Quick Touch did that for us.
Guide to Microwaves
How to find the right microwave for you
Don’t dwell on what’s inside
You won’t find much variation in how a microwave heats things up. Their innards are all, basically, the same.
"Sixty million of the 80 million microwave ovens produced annually are manufactured by just two companies (Midea and Galanz) … in Shunde, China. Thus, for the most part, the difference between brands is purely cosmetic."
Consider your space
Size and appearance will play a role in your decision to buy any appliance. We preferred microwaves with capacities that hovered just above one cubic foot. If you know that the dishes you use to store leftovers need more room, keep that in mind. For appearance, take into account the finish and “look” of any appliances already in your kitchen.
Expect to spend at least $100
Most microwaves under $50 didn’t meet our 800-watt requirement, meaning they aren’t powerful enough to heat your food quickly. If you’re looking for a true budget option, you’ll sacrifice performance significantly.
How does a microwave work?
According to the FDA, microwaves inside the oven are produced by an electron tube called a magnetron. Those waves then bounce around inside, off of the oven’s reflective surfaces. Microwave radiation is simply microwaves that cause water molecules to vibrate. Those vibrating molecules, not the microwaves themselves, produce the heat that cooks food.
Is microwaved food bad for you?
The FDA assures that, “The microwave energy is changed to heat as it is absorbed by food, and does not make food ‘radioactive’ or ‘contaminated’ … Microwave cooking does not reduce the nutritional value of foods any more than conventional cooking. In fact, foods cooked in a microwave oven may keep more of their vitamins and minerals, because microwave ovens can cook more quickly and without adding waste.”
Why do some foods cook evenly in the microwave, while others don’t?
From one of our experts:
"It’s the food that is influencing the evenness. Particularly in frozen foods … ice is very transparent to microwaves. When it starts melting, it will start to heat like crazy while the rest isn’t heating as fast."
So how do I get my food to cook more evenly in the microwave?
Microwaves work by increasing energy in water molecules, so foods with more water in them (broccoli) will heat much quicker. If the water content is lower, you’ll want to use lower power to avoid uneven cooking. Spreading out dense foods and microwaving meals in separate parts can help achieve a more evenly cooked meal.
What else can I use my microwave for, besides heating up food?
A few other, unexpected challenges that microwaves can conquer:
- Peeling peaches: Place a peach in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with warm water. Microwave it for about 1 min and then let stand for 5-10 min. Drain, then peel.
- Decrystallizing honey: Uncover the honey jar (if it’s glass) and heat on 50% power for 30 sec-1 min.
- Ripening an avocado: Place the unripe avocado on a paper towel and prick the skin a few times, then defrost for 2 min. Turn the avocado over and repeat for 30-60 seconds.