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.
Nearly 100 five-star reviews praise the Panasonic’s “huge” size. “This is a must for our family,” writes one commenter. “It’s VERY spacious inside — bigger than my built-in — big platters fit inside,” shares another. The wide appliance is even large enough for reheating casseroles, and several reviewers note that it’s big enough to fit a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. One reviewer finds it “cooks much faster and more thoroughly than other microwaves.” “Makes a huge difference in the quality of cooking!” raves another. This comes as no surprise to those already loyal to brand’s line of microwaves, like this reviewer, who raved, “This replaced our previous Panasonic that was almost 15 years old before it died. In our experience, Panasonic makes reliable microwave ovens.”
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.
We stuck to countertop microwaves in this guide because they're widely available and affordable, and don’t require any special installation. If you’re in the process of remodeling your kitchen, you might be looking for an over-the-range (OTR) microwave based on the dimensions that will fit the existing slot above your range. OTR microwaves feature a vent fan underneath the cooking chamber, with the option to send the air to a duct or recirculate it through a filter, depending on your kitchen’s configuration. While OTR models are an excellent way for homeowners to save counter space, they’re more expensive than most countertop models and must fit specific space constraints. We plan to review OTR microwaves in the near future.
In 1947, Raytheon built the "Radarange", the first commercially available microwave oven. 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. 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. 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.
It’s a rare compact model that comes equipped with 10 power levels, but this AmazonBasics model offers them. It also has Alexa voice control, which feels almost too futuristic for a microwave. You save on space without giving up much of anything with this model, which we call a solid win! This 0.7 cubic ft microwave is awesome and worth the counter space. The control panel is easy to use and laid out well.
The GE JES2051SNSS was one of the best models we tested at defrosting frozen meat. But at 19.25 by 13.63 by 23.88 inches, we felt it was just too large for most kitchens. Our own experience and user feedback taught us that a smaller microwave is preferable. However, we think this is an excellent choice for someone who has ample counter space and prefers a larger microwave.
Aside from the 10 power levels that this microwave offers, the most impressive feature of the Breville Quick Touch is the Sensor IQ function that automatically adjusts the cooking time for your food — meaning your microwave automatically measures the humidity that's being released from the food you’re reheating or heating, and calculates the cook time.
Thanks to its compact form, retro appearance, and efficient functionality, the Daewoo Retro Microwave is our top pick for heating up food in a dorm room. Available in three colors—turquoise, red, and white—the microwave features a digital control pad that lets you choose your function and set power levels, while a retro-inspired turn knob is used to set cook time. Its 10-inch turntable is large enough for most single servings, and its 700-watt power should be sufficient for heating up leftover pizza and ramen. It also powers down in between uses, saving you money on your energy bill. There's no timer or clock display, however. A few customers noted issues with button functionality over time, but most people find this microwave more than suitable for everyday needs.
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.
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).
The second problem is due to food composition and geometry, and must be addressed by the cook, by arranging the food so that it absorbs energy evenly, and periodically testing and shielding any parts of the food that overheat. In some materials with low thermal conductivity, where dielectric constant increases with temperature, microwave heating can cause localized thermal runaway. Under certain conditions, glass can exhibit thermal runaway in a microwave to the point of melting.
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.
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.
Born and raised in Paris, the land of unapologetic butter, Francois has spent the last 20 years shaping the American culinary world behind the scenes. He was a buyer at Williams-Sonoma, built the Food Network online store, managed product assortments for Rachael Ray's site, started two meal delivery businesses and runs a successful baking blog. When he's not baking a cake or eating his way through Europe, Francois enjoys sharing cooking skills with cooks of all levels. Rules he lives by: "Use real butter" and "Nothing beats a sharp knife."
You’ve probably heard of a convection oven, but did you know that there are convection microwaves, too? These specialty appliances use the same technology as their oven counterparts: A fan blows and circulates hot air into the microwave, helping to cook food faster and more evenly. Convection microwaves can also brown or crisp food, similar to a traditional oven.
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.
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Next, we tried defrosting a 1-pound portion of frozen ground beef in each microwave, using the automatic defrost setting on the models that had this feature. Some units gave prompts to flip the meat, which we did. When the time was up, we broke apart each block of meat with a fork to see if it was completely defrosted. None of the microwaves were particularly great at this task. Every model at least slightly cooked the edges of the ground beef we attempted to defrost. (Best practice is to slowly thaw meat in the fridge, or relatively quickly under cold running water.)
The exploitation of high-frequency radio waves for heating substances was made possible by the development of vacuum tube radio transmitters around 1920. By 1930 the application of short waves to heat human tissue had developed into the medical therapy of diathermy. At the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, Westinghouse demonstrated the cooking of foods between two metal plates attached to a 10 kW, 60 MHz shortwave transmitter. The Westinghouse team, led by I. F. Mouromtseff, found that foods like steaks and potatoes could be cooked in minutes.