The Best Countertop Microwave for Your Family, According to Kitchen Pros

Need to upgrade your microwave? Our Test Kitchen tested the most popular models to find the best countertop microwave options for your kitchen.

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Test kitchen preferred the best microwavesTaste of Home

You rely on your microwave. It’s a must for zapping leftovers, defrosting frozen items, melting butter and so much more. Microwaves are a necessity in most kitchens. But we also know that it can be hard to find a good one—you know, one that has the right popcorn button, one that doesn’t leave cold spots in your food.

But those finer points aren’t always captured on the specs on the side of the box. You’ll never know if the microwave has a chime that’s too loud or presets that are just right for your cooking style. That’s why our Test Kitchen snagged the most popular countertop microwave brands to test side by side. We wanted to know which were best for home kitchens (and our Test Kitchen, too!).

How Our Test Kitchen Found the Best Countertop Microwaves

To test countertop microwaves, our Test Kitchen devised a series of tests. Our cooks wanted to see how the ovens did melting chocolate, reheating soup, boiling water, steaming broccoli, popping popcorn and making a few microwave recipes. Our crew also kept these criteria in mind:

  • Size: How large was the microwave? Does it take up a lot of valuable counter space? Is the interior large enough for a dinner plate? What about a small casserole dish?
  • Noise: Is the microwave noisy while heating?
  • Ease of operation: Is the microwave easy and intuitive to use?
  • Heating: Does the microwave evenly heat food?
  • Appearance: Is the microwave sleek? Stylish? Is it something you don’t mind having on the counter?
  • Additional features: Does the microwave offer any new or noteworthy features? Are they easy to use? Are they helpful?

Our Test Kitchen-Preferred Countertop Microwaves

Best Family-Sized Microwave: LG NeoChef Countertop Microwave

NeoChef 1.5 cu. ft. Countertop Microwave in Stainless SteelVia

When you’ve got a family, no one wants to wait on individual plates of leftovers to reheat. You need a larger microwave, like the LG NeoChef microwave. This microwave easily accommodated a 13×9 pan and other large dishes. It does have a larger footprint, but our Test Kitchen thinks the great performance justifies that.

But beyond the size, this microwave performed well in our tests. The popcorn button left only a few unpopped kernels. Butter and chocolate melted well and the soup heated up without cold spots or scalding tongues. The intuitive controls and neat sensor cooking setting made this ‘wave a breeze to use the second we unboxed it.

One thing to note: This microwave plays a little tune when it’s done cooking. To some, this is a nice change from beeping, but we know it might drive other folks crazy!

  • Size: 1.5 cubic feet
  • Wattage: 1,250
  • Additional features: Sensor cooking, anti-bacterial coating
  • Price: $188

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Best Small-Scale Microwave: Breville the Smooth Wave Microwave

Breville® the Smooth Wave™ Microwave Oven in Stainless SteelVia

If it’s just you or you and a partner at home, you don’t need a giant microwave to heat up mountains of leftovers. Instead, a more compact model is more suitable. Our Test Kitchen’s favorite smaller microwave came from Breville. The Smooth Wave microwave has a streamlined but almost retro appearance—perfect for vintage kitchen-lovers. You can’t fit a 13×9 pan inside, but dinner plates and 9×9 casserole dishes fit just fine.

This microwave also performed well in our tests. It left no hot or cold spots while reheating soup or melting butter. This is a big deal! You know how unpleasant it is to reheat yesterday’s leftovers only to find that there’s an ice-cold spot right in the center. This model was also quiet (so you can heat up your leftover pizza for a midnight snack without waking the whole house).

The only feature that left something to be desired: the popcorn button. Our bags were only about 75% popped when the microwave dinged. But the “A Bit More” function (adding 30 seconds of time) helps here.

  • Size: 1.2 cubic feet
  • Wattage: 1,250
  • Additional features: 15 presets, LED display
  • Price: $349

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Best Presets: Panasonic Microwave with Inverter and Genius Sensor Technology

Panasonic NN-SD78LS Countertop Microwave oven with Cyclonic Wave Inverter, Genius Sensor, 1250W of Cooking Power, 1.6 cft, Stainless Steel/SilverVia

There are two types of microwave users: Those that type in the precise time specified on the package and those that punch a preset button and call it a day. If you’re more of the latter, you want this Panasonic microwave.

Our Test Kitchen team found that the buttons on this microwave performed perfectly. The popcorn button popped the most kernels (without burning the bag) every single time we tested. And the sensor cooking to reheat leftovers and soup worked shockingly well. Nothing was left cold or heated to scorching temperatures. The Genius Sensor here definitely deserves its name.

  • Size: 1.6 cubic feet
  • Wattage: 1,250
  • Additional features: 20 preset options, dial selector
  • Price: $270

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All the Bells and Whistles: GE Cafe Countertop Convection Microwave

1.5 cu. ft. Smart Countertop Convection Microwave Oven in Stainless Steel with Sensor CookingVia

If you’re looking for a microwave that’s more than just a microwave, try the GE Cafe Countertop Convection Microwave Oven. This multi-function appliance serves as a microwave, toaster oven and convection oven. So while this appliance has a larger footprint than its competitors, it can end up saving you space by replacing other gadgets.

This microwave is definitely for folks that love technology. The GE Cafe line connects to your smartphone so you can control it with an app or your voice. And if you’re big on microwave meals or sides, you’re going to love this: You can scan a product barcode and the microwave will heat it to the exact specifications. Pretty neat! Another feature our Test Kitchen loved was the alarm that alerted you to hot plates. It’s a nice safe guard to remind you not to grab a sizzling hot plate.

But what about the basics? Well, the GE Cafe microwave cooked evenly. Our Microwaved Parmesan Chicken turned out exactly how our Test Kitchen pros wanted, broccoli steamed up perfectly and the butter was softened without any hard spots.

  • Size: 1.5 cubic feet
  • Wattage: 1,000
  • Additional features: Voice commands, smartphone compatibility, convection option, sensor cooking
  • Price: $719

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What to Make in Your Microwave

We know that your microwave is the go-to when it comes to reheating leftovers, but you can also put it to good use making recipes from start to end. Mug cakes come to mind! But you can also use a microwave to whip up dinner in a hurry. Also check out how to clean a microwave in under ten minutes with everyday household items.

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Note: This blind taste test was performed by our staffers and was not part of a sponsorship. All opinions shared are our own, and have not been influenced by advertisers.

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.