Top 10 Best Countertop Microwaves of 2020

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Best Countertop Microwaves 2020: Questions & Answers

What are the best uses of a countertop microwave?

You may believe that a microwave is limited to just reheating leftovers, but the reality is you can do a lot with the kinds of countertop microwaves out there. Lower-wattage microwaves do best when they are reserved for reheating, while more powerful ones can cook desserts, potatoes, bacon, fish, and more. Some countertop microwaves are even including extras like grill racks so you can get crispier foods with grill marks.

How much power should a microwave have?

When looking for a freestanding microwave, consider your needs. If you intend to use the microwave for basic reheating jobs like beverages, you would be fine with a lower-wattage microwave around 700 watts. You will need more power if you plan on cooking anything and/or using the microwave frequently during the day. A 1000-watt microwave can bake a potato in 4 minutes, while one with 1250 shaves off a full minute. There are microwaves with even higher wattages, but they are intended for commercial spaces like coffee shops and restaurants.

How much interior space do they provide?

Microwaves are measured in cubic feet, and represent the microwave’s size on the counter. A smaller microwave will be .8-.9 cubic feet, while a family-sized microwave can be 1.2-cubic feet or larger. To get a clearer idea of what size dishes will fit in the microwave, look at the turntable. This is the glass “plate” inside the microwave that rotates, so any container of food placed on it gets heated evenly. A smaller turntable is about 10-inches, while larger ones are about 15 inches or more.

What cooking modes and functions do microwaves have?

Cooking modes allow you to forgo experimenting with cycle time and temperature. You just push the button that matches your food item or heating need, and the microwave does the rest. Cooking modes can include “beverage”, “popcorn”, “pizza”, and other common dishes that you reheat or cook easily. Other common and useful functions include “add time”, which allows you to quickly add on time to a heating cycle, “cook by weight”, and “soften.” More cooking modes means more versatility, this is important if you use your microwave a lot.

Do power levels matter?

If you want to have more control over your microwave, and heat or cook foods more precisely, power levels are very important. Without a good selection of power levels, you’ll probably be limited to just “low” or “high”, which are very vague descriptors and don’t usually result in well-cooked food. Many microwaves have 6-10 power levels that come in percentages, so you get better results when cooking foods that require more middle-range power.

How heavy are freestanding microwaves?

Countertop microwaves are one of the heavier kitchen appliances you can get. A lightweight microwave will weigh 25 pounds or so, while larger ones weigh 35 or even 40 pounds. If you move frequently or are planning a move in the near future, you will want to factor in the weight along with its interior size, since lightweight microwaves tend to be smaller, though not always.

What are good construction material for these appliances?

Most quality microwaves have stainless steel faces, because it is a durable material and easy to wipe clean. The interior is also important, because cheap ones might use plastic that can wrap or peel over time. Ceramic, stainless steel, or chrome are excellent metals for the inside of a microwave due to the fact they do not warp and they help distribute heat evenly.

What is the differences between an inverter microwave and a regular one?

Microwave technology has greatly improved over the years. One of those advances includes inverter technology, this is when the power comes from inverters instead of coils. This is especially useful when you select different power levels, because while traditional versions average out to a percentage (i.e. 50% on a traditional microwave means the microwave works at 100% and turns off and on), inverter microwaves actually only use the power level percentage you selected all the way through the cycle. Cyclonic inverter tech takes the technology a step further and replaces the traditional linear heating with circular heating, so the energy is evenly-distributed.

Can a microwave “sense” how long to heat something?

Many machines are now equipped with smart features that allow them to sense things like humidity and steam levels, and adjust the cooking time accordingly. For example, if a food item starts steaming, the microwave knows to reduce the cooking time you originally selected. This helps prevent food burning or overheating.

Do microwaves defrost frozen foods?

Defrosting is notoriously tricky, but the technology has gotten much better. Instead of dealing with a cooked outside and frozen inside, the defrost setting on most microwaves is able to use more consistent and low-power energy to thaw foods. Instead of zapping a frozen item with too much heat, the microwave is able to more gradually prepare food. Features like “Defrost by Weight” and “Time Defrost” help with better defrosting. When you select how long you want to defrost something, or the weight of the food, the microwave adjusts to the proper power level. If something is really frozen, be careful about entering a time that’s too short, because then you will run into the problem of too much power.

Can I program a freestanding microwave?

If you have a favorite setting for a specific food, many machines will let you save it under “My Favorites” or another similar name. This way, you don’t have to remember the time cycle and/or power level you choose, because the microwave remembers for you. This makes cooking and reheating very convenient and fast for when you’re in a hurry.

What’s the price range on countertop microwaves?

Pricing is largely dictated by size and technology. Microwaves under 1-cubic feet can be fairly affordable and cost under or around $100, but as soon as you start adding cubic feet and technology like inverter heating, the price rises quickly. Certain brands are also automatically more expensive, like Samsung, Cuisinart, and Panasonic. You could expect a large, technologically-advanced countertop microwave to cost you $200-$400. Wattage doesn’t seem to play a big part in the pricing as you might think, because even small appliances (under 1-cubic foot) can have 1000 watts.

Key Considerations

Wattage power

Microwaves come in various power levels. A lower range can start at 700 watts, which is considered much less than is “light” for a commercial business. For home house, even 700 watts is on the low side. When you get higher to 1000 watts, you’re getting a microwave intended for use less than 50 times a day, and you could bake a potato in about 4 minutes. A microwave with 1250 watts could bake a potato in 3 minutes. For use at home, the main advantage of a high-watt microwave is speed. You wouldn’t be using a microwave dozens of time a day (most likely), but it would be able to handle that kind of output. Low-watt microwaves sometimes burn out when you use them for long periods of time (5+ minutes) within a short time period, and you have to wait for them to “wake up.” Sometimes, they’re ruined, and you have to buy a completely new one.

Cubic feet capacity

Microwave size is measured in cubic feet and gives you a good idea about what size dishes and bowls will fit. Cubic feet is the length of the microwave, multiplied by the height and width. Smaller microwaves can be .8 or .9 cubic feet, while the larger ones start a 1-1 ½ cubic feet. The turntable within the microwave also determines what style of container you can use in the unit. If you are heating up larger dishes (like those for lasagna and casseroles), you need an oven over 1-cubic foot. If you just use your microwave for smaller containers like mugs and Tupperwares, you could get one as small as .5 cubic feet.

Good-sized turntable

The turntable is the glass “plate” that the container you want to heat up sits on. It rotates, ensuring that the food is evenly heated. Bigger microwaves have bigger turntables, so you can fit larger containers inside it without the edges of the container blocking the turntable from rotation. A large turntable can be 15-16 inches, while smaller ones can be 10 ½ inches or less. Turntables (when made of glass) can be washed in the dishwasher, so cleaning is easy.

Digital display

The digital display on your microwave should be clearly-labeled. Newer technology like blue LED lights make it easy to see what you’re selecting, especially when it is darker in the room. Typical display features include a clock, timer, and additional time elements like “quick cook” or “add time.” Some microwaves have a lot of features on the display, which might be confusing. Think about what you really need in a microwave and if all the fancy settings and features are unnecessary for you. However, if you want to do a lot of cooking with your microwave, all those options will make it a lot easier.

Power levels

One of the options on the digital display will be power levels. Traditionally, microwaves just had “high” and “low” power levels, and some of the most basic microwaves are still limited to just these two. It is becoming more common to include more options. Some have as many as 10 power levels, so you can be extremely precise about the level of power you are using on your reheats. You don’t have to deal with dried-out food or low wait times. In addition to more power levels, you can expect to see settings like “keep warm” and “auto cook” on more microwaves. The “keep warm” function offers very low microwave power so you can keep dishes like soup, stew, and desserts in the microwave a half hour after cooking, and they’ll stay at a consistent, warm temperature. Auto-cook settings give the microwave the power to decide how to cook a dish, and with technological advances like sensor cooking which literally “senses” humidity levels and adjusts accordingly, microwaves are getting very good at cooking/reheating correctly.

Cooking modes

With a variety of cooking modes, you can quickly select options like “frozen dinner,” “beverage,” “popcorn,” “pizza,” and more for hands-off convenience. You don’t have to know how long to reheat a dish, or at which power level – the microwave does the thinking for you. More specialized cooking modes can include “cook by weight,” “defrost by weight,” and even a melt-soften button (common with inverter microwaves). This delicate cooking mode lets you melt or soften foods like ice cream, butter, and other similar foods without burning them.


Microwaves have stainless steel faces and are built to be durable as well as stylish. Additional construction can include a silver wrap finish or brushed stainless steel. Some microwaves have begun using ceramic enamel for the interior of the microwave. It is easy to clean and more resistant to scratches than stainless steel.


A lightweight microwave is about 25 pounds. The lighter microwaves are also usually smaller and more compact, so they take up less space on the counter and you don’t have as large of an interior for big dishes. however. Heavier-duty microwaves can weigh between 30-40 pounds, so choose a spot on the counter for the unit and stick with it. You don’t want to have to be moving a 40-pound microwave around a lot.

Key Features of Professional & Commercial Countertop Microwaves

Inverter technology

One of the newest and best technologies in microwaves has been inverter technology. This is patented by Panasonic and exclusive to Panasonic and GE, and delivers superior microwave energy to food. This results in no overcooking or burning, so you get juicier foods every time. The secret is the use of inverters instead of transformers or magnetic coils to provide the power. On most microwaves, choosing 50% power actually means the microwave cooks on 100% and turns off/on during the cycle so the average is 50%. With inverter tech, it actually uses only 50% of its power for the whole cooking cycle.


With defrosting settings, you can get frozen food ready for cooking. Defrost has been getting better over the years, so you do not have to deal with cooked edges and hard, raw interiors. Panasonic microwaves have Turbo Defrost, which is an advanced thaw system that uses consistent and reliable inverter tech to thaw effectively. Time Defrost is another common setting that automatically sets the defrosting power on the microwave when you enter a time.

Memory feature

When you come across the perfect time and power for a dish, many microwaves allow you to save that setting for next time. This is extremely convenient and allows you to use one-touch for all of your favorite dishes. The memory feature has different names depending on the brand, like “My Favorite” and others.

Multipurpose cooking

Microwaves can do so much more than just “microwave.” Gone are the days where all you could do with a microwave was reheat leftovers. You can bake desserts, cook raw food all the way through, and more. Some more advanced microwaves even offer grilling elements, so you can make sandwiches, bacon, and fish that need to be crispy to be at their best. Grill racks help give you that unmistakable grilled look.

Convenient cleaning

Cleaning a microwave can be a hassle. You have to get at weird angles to get every greasy spot inside. Some microwaves are making this process easier with a coated, round cavity interior. LG has this EasyClean design so you clean every inch very easily, and don’t need to use harsh chemicals because the interior is smooth and wipes clean. Dishwasher-safe turntables are also very convenient, and stainless steel faces are easily cleaned with a rag.

Top Brands


The Kenmore brand (full name Kenmore Appliances) is owned by Sears. They have been around since 1927 and are manufactured by companies like GE, Panasonic, and LG. The first product released under the Kenmore name was a dishwasher in 1927, followed by appliances like vacuum cleaners, water heaters, toasters, and microwaves. They have a wide range of microwaves in terms of power and size, and feature one-button presets and programmable memory.


Panasonic is on the forefront of technology innovations. Whether it is audio equipment like speakers or home appliances like microwaves, Panasonic is always doing something new. The first Panasonic microwave was released for home use in 1966. Since then, they have begun creating cyclonic inverter microwaves. Rather than the linear heating that traditional microwaves employ, cyclonic inverter technology releases microwave energy in a circular, 3-D pattern. It prevents overheating and ensures more even, thorough heating. Panasonic microwaves can be pretty pricey.


GE is one of the world’s biggest global brands. Founded by Thomas Edison, GE has been making huge strides in technology for both the civilian population and organizations like NASA. Their first microwave, an over-the-range unit, was released in 1978. It was followed by the first microwave to fit under a kitchen wall cabinet in 1984.

Hamilton Beach

Hamilton Beach makes versatile, convenient home appliances like juicers, food mixers, coffee makers, and microwaves. Hamilton Beach was founded in 1910 by two engineers who began producing juicers, floor polishers, and more with the universal motor one of them had created. The company went global in 1995. You can get Hamilton Beach microwaves as small as .7 cubic feet or larger ones at 1+ cubic feet, and they sell quite a few convection countertop ovens and toaster ovens. As with many Hamilton Beach products, their countertop microwaves are affordable and good for people who want a basic microwave.

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