We looked for small microwaves around 0.5 cubic foot and midrange models between 0.9 and 1.6 cubic foot. Unless you really need a turntable big enough to spin a 13-by-9-inch casserole dish or two small plates, we found that models over 1.6 cubic foot had too big a footprint for most spaces. Most people use microwaves for reheating leftovers, so there’s no reason to have an oven cavity that’s large enough to fit a 20-pound turkey. That said, you’ll want to measure the diameter of your dinner plates before getting a microwave to be sure they’ll fit.
When looking at midsize models, we only considered microwaves with a minimum of 900 to 1,000 watts. Good Housekeeping and RepairClinic.com both reported that midsize microwaves with cooking power lower than 1,000 watts are significantly slower and cook much less evenly. However, just because a microwave has the highest wattage on the market does not necessarily mean that it will cook the fastest or the most evenly; these qualities depend to a great degree on how efficiently the microwave is programmed and how the microwaves themselves are delivered. A smaller machine, by contrast, can potentially get away with somewhat less power; the small GE microwave (at 0.7 cubic foot less than half the size of most of the midsize models we tested) runs at 700 watts and heated very evenly in our tests. Bottom line? Numbers count less than real-world results.
We wanted to find microwaves that could cook a variety of foods, including frozen meals, popcorn, and whole potatoes, quickly and evenly. Some models have functions that cook food using preprogrammed time and power level settings. Others use built-in sensors that automatically adjust the cooking time based on the amount of steam emanating from the food. But regardless of the technology used, none of the microwaves we tested were perfect. Some microwaves had a more accurate baked-potato setting, while others were better at defrosting ground beef. We’d recommend choosing a microwave that excels at cooking the food you plan to prepare most often.
The most shocking revelation in all of our research was the fact that among the hundreds of microwaves for sale today, many have completely identical hardware. Like, exactly the same—except for slightly different keypads and brand-name badges. This is because most of the microwaves in the world are produced by only a handful of manufacturers. But we also learned that even if the housing looks exactly the same, the way the models are programmed can still make a big difference in performance between seemingly identical microwaves.
Microwave heating can be deliberately uneven by design. Some microwavable packages (notably pies) may include materials that contain ceramic or aluminium flakes, which are designed to absorb microwaves and heat up, which aids in baking or crust preparation by depositing more energy shallowly in these areas. Such ceramic patches affixed to cardboard are positioned next to the food, and are typically smokey blue or gray in colour, usually making them easily identifiable; the cardboard sleeves included with Hot Pockets, which have a silver surface on the inside, are a good example of such packaging. Microwavable cardboard packaging may also contain overhead ceramic patches which function in the same way. The technical term for such a microwave-absorbing patch is a susceptor.[43]
In the 1960s,[specify] Litton bought Studebaker's Franklin Manufacturing assets, which had been manufacturing magnetrons and building and selling microwave ovens similar to the Radarange. Litton then developed a new configuration of the microwave: the short, wide shape that is now common. The magnetron feed was also unique. This resulted in an oven that could survive a no-load condition: an empty microwave oven where there is nothing to absorb the microwaves. The new oven was shown at a trade show in Chicago,[citation needed] and helped begin a rapid growth of the market for home microwave ovens. Sales volume of 40,000 units for the U.S. industry in 1970 grew to one million by 1975. Market penetration was faster in Japan, due to a re-engineered magnetron allowing for less expensive units. Several other companies joined in the market, and for a time most systems were built by defense contractors, who were most familiar with the magnetron. Litton was particularly well known in the restaurant business.
This microwave’s voice-control integration with the Amazon Echo is a big selling point among reviewers. Hundreds of people mention Alexa in their reviews, and commenters use it in some unique ways: “It’s great and has some unexpected uses besides the coolness factor. For example, sometimes I’ll reheat a cup of coffee while working at home and forget about it. The Echo alarm in my room lets me know the microwave is done. If I forget about it, I can just say, ‘Alexa, reheat for one minute,’ and it goes. Verbal confirmation from the Echo is a great feature.” Another reviewer shares, “Surprisingly, the voice command is more fluid to use even than using the buttons we all are so used to.”
If your primary concern is cooking speed, you need a microwave with higher wattage. The unit has to be large enough for your family's needs but not too large to fit in your kitchen. It is desirable to have quick keys, multi-stage cooking, and true variable power. Easy cleaning is a must because, at some point, you will need to wipe up after a cooking job.
When shopping for the right model, consider the size, price, and type (countertop or over-the-range), depending on your kitchen space. Over-the-range microwaves are usually mounted over your stovetop, and they have a light and ventilation underneath. Depending on the model, you can also have the countertop or over-the-range microwave built into your kitchen setup. The options are limitless, fam.
The GE JES1656SRSS used to be our main pick, but has been discontinued. Its replacement, the new GE JES1657SMSS, did well in our tests overall. However, we found that at 1.6 cubic foot, it’s too big for most things you’re ever likely to cook or reheat in a microwave. That said, this model would be a good option for anyone wanting a unit large enough to fit a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Like most microwaves we tested, it didn’t defrost meat well, and it lacks a control to silence the beeping.

When shopping for a new countertop microwave, make sure to look for a microwave with adjustable heat settings: while most microwave tasks are performed on “high,” lower power levels are usually built-in to defrost frozen foods or tackle delicate tasks like softening butter or melting chocolate (one of our favorite uses: it’s quicker and less likely to scorch if you look away for a second).
Microwaves come with a slew of cooking functions, but Franke told us, “There are so many features on microwave ovens and people just don’t use them. And I’ll admit that I use the minute-plus feature on mine more than anything else.” Though other cooking functions may not get used frequently, we still put them through their paces on the models we tested.
You may be a bit limited in your choice of OTR microwaves because you’ll need a model that fits snugly above your stove. Most people also want an appliance that matches their range. And, unfortunately, OTR microwaves are more complicated to install, especially if you haven’t had one before. In these instances, you may need to hire an electrician, which can drive up the overall cost of your new microwave. 
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.
Microwave ovens heat food without getting hot themselves. Taking a pot off a stove, unless it is an induction cooktop, leaves a potentially dangerous heating element or trivet that will stay hot for some time. Likewise, when taking a casserole out of a conventional oven, one's arms are exposed to the very hot walls of the oven. A microwave oven does not pose this problem.
Microwave ovens don’t actually deliver heat to a food item the way a conventional oven does (via heated air); they work by using microwave energy to cause the water and other simple molecules in food to rapidly vibrate, which generates internal friction at the molecular level, heating the food from within. That’s why microwave ovens can heat things so quickly, and why they’re so good at steaming vegetables in their own juices—they don’t rely on the slow and uneven process of transferring heat energy from the air, the way a conventional oven does. But the microwaves aren’t delivered evenly, the way heated air in a conventional oven is. That’s why microwave trays rotate: so that, ideally, every section of the food item gets equal treatment. But the world doesn’t operate on ideals, and neither do microwave ovens. Almost inevitably, you’ll get hotter spots near the center of the oven, which may or may not matter depending on the size of the thing you’re microwaving.
It’s a good idea to clean your microwave regularly, even if you clean up spills or splatters here and there. To clean the inside, heat a microwave-safe bowl filled with water and a tablespoon of vinegar (white or apple cider will work) for several minutes. You want the inside to get steamy without the bowl of water to boiling over. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes before opening the door. Then, wipe the inside clean with a paper towel or use an abrasive sponge for any stuck-on food. Remove the turntable and either wash it by hand or in the dishwasher. Use an all-purpose cleaner for the exterior, but spray onto a paper towel or sponge first—not directly onto the microwave—to avoid it getting into the venting system. You should also avoid using bleach in your microwave.
Countertop microwaves are some of the most popular models, and there are many options to choose from. They are quick and easy to install—just plug them in—and you can move them around as needed, making them a top choice for renters. The main downside of countertop microwaves is that they take up valuable counter space, which can be frustrating if you have a small kitchen. 

The most shocking revelation in all of our research was the fact that among the hundreds of microwaves for sale today, many have completely identical hardware. Like, exactly the same—except for slightly different keypads and brand-name badges. This is because most of the microwaves in the world are produced by only a handful of manufacturers. But we also learned that even if the housing looks exactly the same, the way the models are programmed can still make a big difference in performance between seemingly identical microwaves.
Panasonic uses a supposedly superior power-regulating mechanism called an inverter, which can deliver continuous heating at varying strengths—50 percent power, for example, means continuous delivery at 50 percent of the unit’s max. Most other manufacturers use a cheaper and more common technology, a transformer, which means that it delivers 50 percent power by cycling between periods of full power and zero power. Panasonic’s inverter technology is supposed to cook more evenly, but Franke told us, “I’ve never found that [an inverter] necessarily means the oven performs better.” The Panasonic models we tested cooked potatoes and frozen meals well, but they overcooked the edges of frozen ground beef using the defrost mode. In the end, we don’t think paying more specifically for inverter technology is worth it.
Microwave doors generally come with either push-to-open buttons or handles, and they open either to the right or to the left. We’re fans of the door handle version, which allows you greater control and is easier on the long-term fate of the door. However, when it comes to direction make sure you note if you need a right-opening microwave to fit your kitchen’s layout.
Direct microwave exposure is not generally possible, as microwaves emitted by the source in a microwave oven are confined in the oven by the material out of which the oven is constructed. Furthermore, ovens are equipped with redundant safety interlocks, which remove power from the magnetron if the door is opened. This safety mechanism is required by United States federal regulations.[60] Tests have shown confinement of the microwaves in commercially available ovens to be so nearly universal as to make routine testing unnecessary.[61] According to the United States Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, a U.S. Federal Standard limits the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven throughout its lifetime to 5 milliwatts of microwave radiation per square centimeter at approximately 5 cm (2 in) from the surface of the oven.[62] This is far below the exposure level currently considered to be harmful to human health.[63]
Countertop microwaves are some of the most popular models, and there are many options to choose from. They are quick and easy to install—just plug them in—and you can move them around as needed, making them a top choice for renters. The main downside of countertop microwaves is that they take up valuable counter space, which can be frustrating if you have a small kitchen. 
In 1947, Raytheon built the "Radarange", the first commercially available microwave oven.[13] It was almost 1.8 metres (5 ft 11 in) tall, weighed 340 kilograms (750 lb) and cost about US$5,000 ($56,000 in 2018 dollars) each. It consumed 3 kilowatts, about three times as much as today's microwave ovens, and was water-cooled. The name was the winning entry in an employee contest.[14] An early Radarange was installed (and remains) in the galley of the nuclear-powered passenger/cargo ship NS Savannah. An early commercial model introduced in 1954 consumed 1.6 kilowatts and sold for US$2,000 to US$3,000 ($19,000 to $28,000 in 2018 dollars). Raytheon licensed its technology to the Tappan Stove company of Mansfield, Ohio in 1952.[15] They tried to market a large 220 volt wall unit as a home microwave oven in 1955 for a price of US$1,295 ($12,000 in 2018 dollars), but it did not sell well.
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