The latest models offer new features and controls and promise better results.
Published Sept. 7, 2022.
The best microwave ovens are easy to use and work reliably without overheating food. Our favorite, Breville The Compact Wave Soft Close Microwave, won top marks for its excellent cooking results, supersimple controls, user-friendly design details, and brushed finish that didn’t show fingerprints. For a model with extra features, we also recommend the Sharp 1.4 cu. ft. 1000W Stainless Steel Smart Carousel Countertop Microwave Oven, which was almost as easy to use and offered sensor cooking, a feature that helped simplify settings and gave us dependable results. It can also be operated by voice using Alexa.
Microwave ovens have a solid place in our kitchens today. Sure, they’re great for reheating leftovers, but increasingly we’ve been calling for them in recipes to take over jobs that they can do easier and faster than traditional methods, including frying shallots; blooming spices; removing excess moisture from raw mushrooms or eggplant; par-cooking potatoes or squash before grilling; cooking polenta; helping shuck and/or steam corn on the cob; drying herbs; toasting nuts, bread crumbs, coconut, and seeds; and melting butter and chocolate. And with microwave mug cake recipes going viral and new microwave cookware on the market that can be used to make everything from chicken wings to pasta Alfredo, we’re starting to change the way we think about these ovens, exploring their potential usefulness well beyond “zapping” a tepid mug of coffee.
While microwave ovens can be installed, freestanding countertop microwaves remain the top sellers. Prices can range upwards of $1,000, but we focused on more affordable versions, buying countertop models priced from about $77 to nearly $250 and then putting them through a series of core tests. We also assessed extra features to see if they were worth seeking out. Our goal was to find the best performers that would also be easy to use and maintain.
Microwave ovens are powered by a vacuum tube called a magnetron that uses electric current and magnets to generate electromagnetic waves called microwaves. The waves can pass right through glass, paper, plastic, and similar materials—but they’re absorbed by food. They make the food’s water molecules (and to a lesser extent, the fat molecules) vibrate, which produces heat that cooks the food.
Microwaves don’t penetrate very deeply; they only reach the outer layer of the item you are cooking. The rest of the food warms by conduction as the heat spreads inward from the hot surface. Microwave ovens typically cycle power on and off as they work. (You’ll hear a fan whirring continuously, wh...
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.
Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.