We love microwaves for their convenience, versatility, and relatively low price-point. Plus today’s countertop microwaves can do so much more than warming up leftovers, heating frozen meals, and making popcorn. Try steaming veggies, like spaghetti squash and potatoes, crisping bacon, and even making poached eggs — and you’ll get delicious results much faster than from a stove top or oven. So it’s no surprise that 96 percent of U.S. households own a microwave and over two-thirds of those prefer countertop microwaves.
Unlike built-in or over-the-range microwaves, countertop microwaves do not require any special installation and can easily be moved. Even if you have a small kitchen with limited counter space, there are plenty of great compact options. Also, they are generally more affordable — most of the countertop microwaves we’ve evaluated over the past decade were under $300 and many of our best microwaves in 2020 are under $100.
Over the years, the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Kitchen Appliances and Technology Lab has researched and evaluated hundreds of microwaves to find top performing models from brands we trust. To test countertop microwaves, we evaluate how well they melt cheese, “bake” potatoes, reheat both a mac and cheese casserole and a dinner plate of meatloaf with sides, defrost a pound of frozen ground beef, and pop popcorn. We also consider ease of use when it comes to the control panel, positioning the turntable, opening and closing the door, and cleaning. Here are our top picks for the best countertop microwaves you can buy in 2020, including a combination of ones we tested, tried out at home, and recommend based on specially unique features and top reviews:
- Best Overall Countertop Microwave: Toshiba Microwave Oven
- Best Value Countertop Microwave: Hamilton Beach Digital Microwave Oven
- Best Smart Countertop Microwave: AmazonBasics Microwave
- Best Compact Countertop Microwave: Black + Decker Digital Microwave Oven
- Quietest Countertop Microwave: Breville the Compact Wave Soft Close Microwave
- Fastest Countertop Microwave: Panasonic Microwave Oven
- Best Large Capacity Countertop Microwave: GE Profile Microwave
We put together a complete guide to help you shop for your next microwave.
Features of a good countertop microwave
There may be lots of choices for countertop microwaves that could fit your space and style, but these are the essential features to look for:
- Turntablesrotate your food to make sure it heats evenly. Without one, you’d have to stop the cooking cycle midway just to turn your plate around. Some models go side to side. Removable ones are easier to clean.
- The add 30 seconds button may seem trivial, but it makes a huge difference — it allows you to quickly start or add more time without having to press a series of buttons.
- Preset functions are standard these days especially for defrosting (based on either weight or quantity), reheating, and popcorn. More isn’t always better and they tend to be pricier, so look for ones that have what you need.
- Smart sensorsadjust the time and power level for you by automatically measuring the heat in your food. It takes the guesswork out figuring out how much longer to heat your food for.
- Wattagetells you how powerful the microwave is. If you are reheating individual portions of food, defrosting small quantities of vegetables, and making popcorn, a 700 to 900 watt microwave may be sufficient. Otherwise, you’d want at least 1,000 watts of power. Most packaged frozen meal heating instructions are based on a 1,100 watt microwave. Anything lower would simply take longer to heat through.
- Size(noted as cubic feet) matters — you can’t fit an 11-inch dinner plate in our favorite compact countertop microwave pick and if your kitchen is tight on space our top choice for large families may not make sense.
Are microwaves safe to use?
If you’ve ever been told not to stare into the microwave while it’s cooking, the concern is likely due to radiation leaking. You don’t have to worry and here is why: The microwave makes a form of electromagnetic radiation called microwaves that shakes the water molecules in the food, causing them to heat up. Unlike other forms of harmful radiation, like X-rays, these microwaves aren’t powerful enough to cause damage to cells, but can potentially burn you the same way they heat food. The FDA regulates microwaves, making sure that radiation does not escape. It is completely sealed and that mesh layer inside the door blocks the waves from getting out. Always follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions and you’ll be good to go!
1BEST OVERALL COUNTERTOP MICROWAVE
We previously recommended a smaller version of this countertop microwave and still stand by it. This 1.2 cubic feet Toshiba has the perfect combination of price, size, and power. It has all the necessary features and more: presets for popcorn, pizza, and veggies, a child safety lock, one-touch express buttons for one to six minutes, and an add 30 seconds button. You can also adjust the power level from one to ten to a maximum of 1,100 watts, the ideal power output for the widest range of uses. Also, the higher the wattage, the faster the cooking time. The soften/melt preset for chocolate, butter, and cheese runs on a lower power setting to prevent it from burning or getting too hot.
We love the handle bar, instead of the push button, to open the door, which is more ergonomic. It features a mute button (hold the 8 down for five seconds) to turn off beeps and alerts when the cooking time ends. A smart sensor feature takes the guesswork out of reheating food — it measures the humidity in the food and adjusts the time and power level automatically. Some reviewers miss not having the beep that reminds you that food was left in the microwave. It is available in a stylish stainless steel or black stainless steel finish.
Dimensions: 20.5 x 17.1 x 12.8 inches
Wattage: 1,100 watts
Size: 1.2 cubic feet
- Ideal combination of price, size, useful features, and power level.
- No alerts that heated food was left in the microwave.
2BEST VALUE COUNTERTOP MICROWAVE
Digital Microwave Oven
This Hamilton Beach microwave may be low-priced, but it doesn’t equate to poor performance. It has a power output of 1,000 watts, usually found in models at a higher price point. It comes with all-important features: an add 30 seconds button, a child safety lock, six cooking presets for potato, popcorn, pizza, beverage (one push for every four ounces – so useful for reheating coffee!), frozen dinner, and reheat, and one-touch express buttons for one to six minutes. We love the kitchen timer that can work simultaneously with the cook cycle. It can also be mounted onto the wall, although it doesn’t have a venting system like most over-the-range microwaves. Some reviewers have reported that it makes a loud whooshing noise, but it doesn’t affect how well food heats.
Dimensions: 21.2 x 16.1 x 11.8 inches
Wattage: 1,000 watts
Size: 1.1 cubic feet
- Option to mount it on the wall.
- Motor can be loud when heating food.
3BEST SMART COUNTERTOP MICROWAVE
For years, there wasn’t much innovation in microwave technology — that is until Amazon introduced its own AmazonBasics microwave that allows you to use simple voice commands to prompt it to heat your food. The microwave alone is about $60, an inexpensive option, but it has to be connected to an Alexa-enabled device, like an Echo or Echo Dot that ranges from $40 to $80 in order to use the voice-activated functions. A child lock prevents the microwave from operating either manually or by voice. We love that it remains locked even when unplugged and plugged back in.
The manual microwave functions will work without Alexa just like any other microwave, but the features on the control panel are limited. It has a timer, a power level button, an add 30 seconds button, and three presets for popcorn, timed defrost, and weight defrost. Through voice commands, you can access more smart features like say “defrost eight ounces of ground beef” or “reheat one cup of coffee.” Amazon continues to add new presets.
Keep in mind that this is a compact microwave with a 700-watt power output, which is on the lower end and means it will take longer to heat food. A 10-inch dinner plate fits, but nothing larger.
Dimensions: 14.1 x 17.3 x 10.1 inches
Wattage: 700 watts
Size: 0.7 cubic feet
- Functions can be voice-activated.
- Plates larger than 10 inches won’t fit.
- Features on standalone microwave (without connecting to an Alexa-enabled device) are limited.
4BEST COMPACT COUNTERTOP MICROWAVE
Digital Microwave Oven
BLACK + DECKERamazon.com
If you have limited counter space or simply need a microwave for reheating or cooking small amounts of food, this compact Black + Decker microwave is a great choice. The 10-inch turntable can fit up to a small dinner plate or low profile mug, but nothing bigger. As a reference point, the interior dimensions are about 12 x 13 x 8 inches.
It not only features presets for popcorn, potato, frozen vegetables, and more, it allows you to program up to three functions you most use. Some of the key functions on the control panel are black lettering over a grey background, which can make it difficult to see in dim lighting.
Dimensions: 19.1 x 14.8 x 11.5 inches
Wattage: 900 watts
Size: 0.9 cubic feet
- It is sleek and stylish.
- Control panel may be difficult to read.
5QUIETEST COUNTERTOP MICROWAVE
Compact Wave Soft Close Microwave
We love the thoughtful construction of Breville appliances (like this microwave that is also an air-fryer and a convection oven) — this quiet and attractive microwave is no different. A mute button turns off all beeps and the soft-close door claims to be 80 percent quieter than most microwaves in the market. We no longer remind our kids to shut the door to the microwave gently — even when slammed, it automatically catches and closes quietly. The control panel is large and the slightly raised buttons are easy to press. Instead of a numeric keypad, you get an ergonomic dial that feels like it clicks as it toggles through minutes and seconds quickly.
It features pre-programmed buttons for defrost, reheat, popcorn, beverage, and a food menu that houses the presets for “baked” potatoes, reheating pizza, and defrosting frozen vegetables — they are coded, so it may take a few tries to remember which code goes with which function. Reviewers love that food heats consistently and evenly.
Dimensions: 19.1 x 16.4 x 11.5 inches
Wattage: 900 watts
Size: 0.9 cubic feet
- Heats food consistently and evenly.
- Control panel is easy to use.
- It is expensive.
6FASTEST COUNTERTOP MICROWAVE
Two factors make this Panasonic microwave fast: it has 1,250 watts of heating power, one of the highest we tested, and a built-in inverter that helps heat food more quickly and evenly. Typically, microwaves mimic low heat by turning the power on and off repeatedly, which can result in uneven cooking. It also takes longer. Inverters help deliver power continuously without the stop and go. In our tests, microwaves with inverters did a good job reheating food evenly and excelled at baking potatoes, but couldn’t defrost ground beef as well as regular microwaves. It also has a smart sensor that detects the amount of steam released by the food and adjusts both power level and cooking time for the best outcome.
It’s loaded with features like a quick 30, a more and a less button to adjust cook times by 10-second increments, a quick-minute timer, delay start feature, and a child safety lock. We love the keep warm feature that runs for up to 30 minutes after a cook cycle ends — it can be added in the beginning of the cook cycle! The sensor cook button has an impressive 14 presets from oatmeal to fish fillets, but hold onto your owner’s manual because those are a lot of codes to remember.
It is available in black, stainless steel, and white.
Dimensions: 21.8 x 19.1 x 12 inches
Wattage: 1,250 watts
Size: 1.6 cubic feet
- Reheats food evenly.
- Can add or reduce cook times by ten second increments.
- Not the best at defrosting ground beef.
7BEST LARGE CAPACITY COUNTERTOP MICROWAVE
This GE Profile microwave has long been one of our favorites since we first tested it about a decade ago. With a capacity of 2.2 cubic feet, this microwave boasts a smooth easy-to-clean control panel and a large interior, making it a great model for big families. You can heat an entire 9 by 13-inch casserole dish or a large 14-inch pizza on the 16-inch turntable and still have plenty of room to spare.
In our tests, it cooked food evenly without cold spots and delivered perfectly steamed broccoli using its sensors. These smart sensors can adjust the cook time after it measures the amount of steam released by the food. This model also has an inverter that helps heat food more quickly and evenly.
Dimensions: 20 x 24 x 14 inches
Wattage: 1,200 watts
Size: 2.2 cubic feet
- Can hold a casserole large enough to feed a group.
- Heats food consistently and evenly.
- Takes up a lot of counter space.