The 5 best microwaves for your kitchen or dorm room

The interior of a Panasonic microwave
Farima Ferguson/Insider

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In the late 1940s, the first microwaves stood more than 5 feet tall, weighed about 750 pounds, and cost thousands of dollars. Thankfully, microwaves have since come a long way — they now fit on your countertop and many households use them every day to reheat or cook food. 

A good microwave should heat your food safely, quickly, and evenly. We put five popular microwaves through a series of tests, starting with the industry standard marshmallow test to evaluate hot and cold spots. Then, we used the microwaves to reheat beverages and frozen foods, and tested each model's presets. During each test, we evaluated how easy the appliances were to use and how well they cooked. You can read more about our methodology here. Learn more about how Insider Reviews tests and researches kitchen products.

In addition to our research and testing, we spoke with Bob Schiffmann, a microwave heating expert and president of the International Microwave Power Institute, as well as Jared Lodico, a postdoctoral researcher in physics at UCLA, to better understand how microwaves work and what to look for when shopping for a microwave

The best microwaves you can buy in 2022

Best microwave overall: Panasonic NN-SN65KB Microwave Oven, $209.95 on Amazon
The Panasonic NN-SN65KB Microwave Oven packs 1,200 watts of power to cook food quickly and evenly. It's compact, yet has a spacious interior, and comes with helpful preset buttons for easy cooking.

Best microwave on a budget: Commercial Chef Countertop Microwave, $75.25 on Amazon
The Commercial Chef Microwave is bare-bones, but super simple to use. It's moderately powerful, well-priced, and compact enough for small kitchens.

Best convection microwave: Toshiba Microwave Oven EC042A5C-SS, $214.99 on Amazon
If you're looking for a microwave that does it all, the 1,000-watt Toshiba Microwave Oven with Convection, cooks, reheats, bakes, and even roasts food quickly and thoroughly.

Best large capacity microwave: Panasonic NN-SD975S Microwave, $369.95 on Amazon
The Panasonic NN-SD975S Microwave, which can also be installed as a built-in, is large enough to fit two plates at a time and features an easy-to-use dial to heat and cook your food.

Best smart microwave: GE Smart Microwave with Scan-to-Cook, $119 on Best Buy
GE's Smart Microwave Oven is Alexa- and Google Assistant-enabled, so you can cook your food using voice commands or from your smartphone.

Best microwave overall

Panasonic NN-SN65KB Microwave Oven on a counter
Farima Ferguson/Insider

The Panasonic NN-SN65KB Microwave Oven packs 1,200 watts of power to cook food quickly and evenly. It's compact, yet has a spacious interior, and comes with helpful preset buttons for easy cooking.  

Pros: Five useful preset buttons, 1,200 watts of cooking power (more than most microwaves), includes a child-safety lock button

Cons: Visible fingerprint smudges, the light inside is too dim to check food while it's cooking, it's loud, Frozen Foods feature doesn't cook accurately, doesn't have Express Cook buttons

At 1,200 watts, the Panasonic NN-SN65KB Microwave Oven cooks food fast and heats remarkably evenly. During the marshmallow test, all expanded evenly, and at the end of two minutes, there was only a bit of burning in the very center of the marshmallows.

If you're using this microwave to reheat leftovers, the Sensor Reheat feature works well. Once cooking, it detects the humidity level of the food inside and starts counting down the cooking time. I also tried the more niche preset buttons like Popcorn and Coffee/Milk preset, and both worked better than the presets on other microwaves I tested.

That said, I was less impressed with the Frozen Food preset — the microwave overestimated the amount of time needed to cook frozen mac and cheese. A few other minor downsides: the light inside the microwave is dim, so it's hard to monitor the food while it's cooking, and fingerprints are highly visible on the control panel. However, this is overall a great microwave that balances power and size with easy-to-use features.

Read our full review of the Panasonic NN-SN65KB Microwave Oven here.

Best microwave on a budget

The Commercial Chef microwave sitting on a counter.
Farima Ferguson/Insider

The Commercial Chef Microwave is bare-bones, but super simple to use. It's moderately powerful, well-priced, and compact enough for small kitchens.  

Pros: Simple to use, compact, quieter than most models, heats evenly

Cons: Doesn't have a clock, can only set cook time by the minute, not very powerful (only 600 watts), too small for large dishes or plates over 10 inches in diameter

Editor's note: Commercial Chef has an updated model of this microwave with digital controls, at a lower price point. We're currently looking into testing it.

At less than 18 inches long and 11 inches deep, The Commercial Chef Microwave is compact and well-sized for small kitchens or dorm rooms. In many ways, it resembles an old-school toaster oven, and even "dings" when cooking is complete. The controls consist of two rotary knobs: one for power level and one for cook time. Unfortunately, you can't set specific seconds if you're zapping something quick, and there are no preset buttons.

That said, if simplicity is what you're after, this model is easy and intuitive to use, and heats relatively evenly. When I did the marshmallow test, I noticed a few unevenly browned areas, but overall no major hot or cold spots. 

At just 600 watts, it's a little underpowered. I used the package instructions to cook frozen mac and cheese. After the recommended four minutes, it was warm throughout but not hot. You'll likely have to add a minute or two to any package instructions when cooking in this microwave. Still, if you want a no-frills microwave that takes up minimal space, this is a great option.

Best convection microwave

Toshiba Microwave Oven with Convection on a countertop
Farima Ferguson/Insider
$214.99 from Amazon
Originally $235.99Save 9%

If you're looking for a microwave that does it all, the 1,000-watt Toshiba Microwave Oven with Convection, cooks, reheats, bakes, and even roasts food quickly and thoroughly. 

Pros: Quiet, many quick-touch preset cooking buttons, a multi-functional appliance that can bake and roast, includes a child-safety lock

Cons: Heavy and bulky, convection feature heats up kitchen quickly

You can condense the number of kitchen appliances you have with the multi-functional Toshiba Microwave Oven with Convection. Not only is it a traditional microwave, but it also bakes, roasts, and toasts. It's also the only microwave we tested that has an Express Cook feature, which allows you to start the microwave by pressing numbers one through six on the number pad.

At 1,000 watts, the Toshiba microwave oven is powerful, and this was evident during the marshmallow test. The center marshmallows burned after two minutes, and there was a lot of moisture buildup on the tray underneath the parchment paper. Aside from the burning in the middle, I didn't notice any hot or cold spots. It also cooked frozen mac and cheese thoroughly.

To test out the convection oven, I warmed up frozen French fries, which typically come out soggy in a regular microwave. The heating options were confusing, so I had to refer to the cooking chart in the manual to see what level to use. The fries turned out just as crispy as they do in my air fryer, but it took twice as long and the setting were more complicated. I don't recommend using the convection setting for toasting bread. The results were uneven, and the bread was paler and flabbier than from a regular toaster.

Overall, this microwave heated well, the buttons are easy to use and smudge-proof, and the microwave beeps loud and clear. The only major downside is you will need plenty of countertop space to accommodate this large oven, and at nearly 50 pounds, it isn't easy to move.

Best large capacity microwave

The Panasonic NN-SD975S Microwave Oven on a countertop
Farima Ferguson/Insider

The Panasonic NN-SD975S Microwave, which can also be installed as a built-in, is large enough to fit two plates at a time and features an easy-to-use dial to heat and cook your food.

Pros: Quiet, powerful 1,250 watts, the dial is easy to use, comes with useful preset buttons, includes a child-safety lock, can be installed as a built-in microwave 

Cons: You can't see the food well while it's cooking, dial only goes up in 10-second increments

With a 16.5-inch turntable, the Panasonic NN-SD975S Microwave Oven is ideal if you're cooking for a family. At 1,250 watts, it's the most powerful microwave we tested. You'll likely need to decrease cooking time by a minute or two from any package instructions. However, it did heat evenly. It produced the best results of any microwave during the marshmallow tests — no hot or cold spots, even in the center.

One dial controls the cooking time and only adjusts in 10-second increments; a minor inconvenience, but it otherwise operates smoothly and easily. The dial is also used to input weight for food you're defrosting. You can program three stages of cooking, and the display screen will let you know where you are in the cooking process. If you're using the multi-stage cooking feature, you can use the Keep Warm setting as your final stage.

While it's a powerful microwave with lots of helpful features, it's extremely large and bulky, so best suited for large kitchens or households that will take advantage of its larger capacity. This microwave can also be built into a cabinet or other static feature in your kitchen, though I left it on my countertop for easier testing.

Best smart microwave

GE Smart Microwave Oven on a countertop
Farima Ferguson/Insider
$119.00 from Best Buy
Originally $159.99Save 26%

GE's Smart Microwave Oven is Alexa- and Google Assistant-enabled, so you can cook your food using voice commands or from your smartphone.

Pros: Features smart technology and scan-to-cook technology at a reasonable price, heats food quickly, spacious yet compact enough to fit in a small kitchen

Cons: Doesn't cook food as evenly as other microwaves we tested, doesn't come with a trim kit to mount over the stove or underneath cabinets, the voice commands are finicky.

The defining feature of the sleek and compact GE Smart Microwave Oven is its smart connectivity. You can control the settings and check the status of your food from your smartphone or by using voice commands with a virtual assistant. With my Google Home Mini, I was able to use voice commands to start/stop, pause/resume, set the microwave for a specific amount of time, add time (but I couldn't subtract), and ask how much time is left.

At 900 watts, this microwave isn't the most powerful, but it heats up pretty quickly. I cooked marshmallows in the microwave for two minutes and I noticed some hot spots — the outer edges and center cooked more quickly than the rest of the marshmallows. This model also features a scan-to-cook function where you can scan the barcode on a package of food using your smartphone, and the cook time and settings automatically display. All you have to do is press or say "start." 

Frankly, most people don't need a smart microwave. However, the hands-free technology makes cooking easier when you're multitasking, and it's more sanitary since you are reducing how much you touch the microwave. Other smart microwaves on the market can be upwards of $300, so for the price and reliability, this is a great microwave. 

Read our full review of the GE Smart Microwave Oven here.

Our microwave testing methodology

Several plates of microwaved marshmallows as part of testing for the best microwave.
We used an industry-standard test called the "marshmallow test" to identify hot spots in the microwaves.
Farima Ferguson/Insider

In addition to speaking with Bob Schiffmann, a microwave heating expert and president of the International Microwave Power Institute, and Jared Lodico, a postdoctoral researcher in physics at UCLA, I put all the microwaves through a standard set of tests, evaluating how well they cooked food, how easy they were to use, and any special features or extra buttons. Here's how I tested microwaves: 

Marshmallow test: The first test I performed with every microwave was the marshmallow test, an industry-standard way to check your microwave for hot and cold spots. To conduct this test, I cut parchment paper to the size of each microwave's glass tray and completely covered it with mini marshmallows. I cooked the marshmallows in the microwave for two minutes on high. The marshmallows that expanded first revealed the microwave's hot spots, while marshmallows that still appeared raw showed the cold spots. Cold spots are potentially dangerous because they can mean your food is undercooked and possibly unsafe to eat in those areas. A good microwave produces even cooking across the entire surface — no burnt or uncooked marshmallows.

Frozen meal test: I also cooked frozen mac and cheese in each microwave, using the same brand and cook time. I checked for evenness and burnt or cold spots.

Ease of use: I looked at how easy and intuitive the microwaves were to use, and how much space they occupied on my counter. I also evaluated how much noise they made during cooking and how loud and persistent their alarms and beeps were. 

Presets and additional functions: Where applicable, I used and tested each model's preset buttons according to the manufacturer's instructions. This included Popcorn, Reheat, Sensor Cook, and Keep Warm buttons. I evaluated how well these settings performed their intended function and how easy they were to use.

Here's how our top microwaves compare, at a glance

 WattsPresetsChild Lock
Panasonic NN-SN65KB1,200Sensor Cook Reheat, Coffee/Milk, Turbo Defrost by the pound or kilogram, Popcorn, and Frozen FoodsYes
Commercial Chef 600NoneYes
Toshiba Convection1,000Popcorn, Sensor Cook, Sensor Reheat, Auto Defrost, Favorites, and Time Defrost; also has bake, roast, and toast functionalityYes
Panasonic NN-SD975S1,250Popcorn (three levels), Coffee/Milk, Inverter Turbo Defrost, Keep Warm, Sensor Cook, Sensor ReheatYes
GE Smart 900Dinner Plate, Pizza, Defrost (by weight and time), Reheat, Potato, Popcorn, Beverage, Vegetables, an Add 30 Seconds quick buttonYes

How microwaves work

An open microwave on a countertop as part of testing for the best microwaves.
Farima Ferguson/Insider

While microwaves may seem mystifying to some, at their most basic, they're not much different than stoves, ovens, or grills in that they use energy to cook food. "Generally speaking, the process of putting energy into something is pretty much how we heat and cook all food, it just depends on how we do it (such as on the stove, in the sun, or with a microwave)," said Lodico. 

The difference is that microwaves generate energy in the form of electrical and magnetic rays. "Microwaves generate 'microwaves,' which is a form of electromagnetic radiation," Lodico said. "This electric field transfers energy to the food as the waves pass through it." The energy transfer causes water molecules in the food to vibrate, producing heat that cooks the food practically from the inside out. Because of this, foods that are high in water content, like potatoes or other fresh vegetables, cook much faster in the microwave than they do in other appliances, like the stove.

What to look for in a microwave

A microwave display reading "lock" to denote the child lock is engaged.
Farima Ferguson/Insider

We consulted experts on what to look for when purchasing a microwave. Here are the major qualities you should consider:

Power: How much power you'll need depends on what you primarily use the microwave for. If your household is only using the microwave to reheat food, then you can look for a cheaper model with less wattage, said Schiffmann. "Around an 800-watt oven works [for reheating]" If you want a microwave that actually cooks your food rather than simply reheating it, expect to spend a little more for a quality oven with more than 1,000 watts of power. 

Presets and additional functions: Consider how and when you typically use preset functions. Many consumers primarily operate a microwave with the number pad or Express Cook buttons. However, present functions are helpful if you're someone who does a lot of cooking or defrosting. If you want a microwave that replaces a toaster oven, opt for a model with convection settings, but keep in mind that this functionality often comes at a higher price and the technology can be hit or miss. 

Price: Schiffmann said you should expect to spend between $100 and $150 on a good 800 to 1,000-watt microwave, and a bit more as wattage increases. You'll also pay more for extra features, like convection settings or lots of presets. You don't have to break the bank, but Schiffman cautions about considering microwaves under $100. "Anything cheaper will most likely break down and be unstable," he said. You're better off investing in a machine that costs a little more but will last longer. 

Safety features: If you have young children, you will want to purchase a microwave with a child-safety lock feature. "Many toddlers can get injured when reaching in the microwave, but many manufacturers have a digital lock now where you put in a combination of numbers to lock and unlock the microwave," Schiffmann said. Note that this feature prevents the microwave oven from operating; it does not lock the microwave door. 

Over-the-range versus countertop microwaves

There are three types of microwaves: countertop, over-the-range, and built-in models. We only tested countertop microwaves for this guide. In general, microwave types are not interchangeable; an over-the-range microwave cannot be used on a countertop and vice versa because of their different ventilation systems. However, certain countertop models come with trim kits that allow them to be fitted as built-ins.

Built-in microwaves don't need to be elevated for ventilation, but can be tucked into cabinets or under countertops to save space.

Over-the-range microwaves are built into the wall above a cooktop with open space between the range and the microwave bottom. They offer more counter space, increase airflow, and often include underside lighting to illuminate your cooktop. Most models come with two venting options — you can install a ventilation duct to release air outside or the exhaust fan will clean the air and recirculate it into your kitchen. If your kitchen has poor airflow, the second option can help prevent smoke and cooking odors from filling up the room.

Microwave FAQs

French fries sit on a wire rack inside of a microwave oven.
Farima Ferguson/Insider

Does standing near a microwave put me at risk for radiation exposure?

According to experts, it is a myth that standing too close to the microwave while it's operating can expose you to radiation. "Microwaves are very safe — as long as they aren't damaged," Lodico said. "The metal housing and mesh screen on the door act as a shield from the radiation that is generated inside. As the radiation approaches the wall of the microwave it induces a current and magnetic field that cancels out the incoming wave."

While there was once some concern about operating a microwave if you have a pacemaker, the FDA says this is no longer an issue with modern pacemakers, though individuals with pacemakers should always check with their doctor first. 

Why are there holes in my microwave door?

According to experts, these small holes are another safeguard against radiation, canceling out incoming electromagnetic waves just like the metal housing in the microwave does. Lodico said holes are only a concern if they're very large, which these intentional holes are not. "In fact, the holes on the door are actually 10 times smaller than what they theoretically need to be. But, it makes sense to make them smaller in case the door is damaged in some way," Lodico said. "Rule of thumb: If there is a hole in your microwave greater than three millimeters in diameter, it's time to get a new microwave."

Should you defrost meat in the microwave?

If you forgot to put the frozen meat for dinner in the refrigerator to thaw out, the defrost feature on a microwave can come to the rescue. Defrosting sets your microwave's power between 30% to 50% so it thaws your food without cooking it.

Although it's recommended to safely thaw meat in the refrigerator, you can use your microwave's defrost button to thaw meat in a pinch as long as you cook it immediately after you thaw it. According to the FDA, microwaves may heat food unevenly which could result in harmful bacteria growth if the food isn't cooked immediately after defrosting.

While we know from the marshmallow test that many microwaves have natural hot and cold spots, defrosting presents an additional challenge for microwaves because the waves don't penetrate or heat frozen foods as effectively as thawed foods. "So there is a dilemma: once the meat starts to defrost somewhere, it will continue heating there. But the frozen parts will heat up more slowly, leading to non-uniform temperatures," said Schiffmann. "I break up the defrosted ground beef with a fork since it has usually softened, then I continue the defrost cycle for another minute or two, breaking up any softened, but completely melted parts."

Schiffmann also said it's important when cooking or defrosting food in the microwave to keep an eye on food temperature. "When cooking your food, measure several places with a food thermometer to avoid undercooking or underheating," he said. According to the FDA, a safe final cooking temperature for poultry and ground beef is around 165 degrees while roasts and steaks are safe around 145 degrees.

What foods should I cook in my microwave oven?

"Microwave ovens are really poachers or steamers, so those foods that fit that profile do well," said Schiffmann. "They're great for cooking fish, vegetables, and chicken, but don't expect dry foods to crisp or brown." Any food with high water content does well in the microwave, like potatoes or fresh vegetables, and you can also use them as a shortcut when making boiled foods. For example, you can put dry pasta in a bowl of water and microwave for the cooking time on the pasta package. The pasta will cook perfectly and you don't even have to wait for the water to boil. 

Check out our other small appliance buying guides

four blenders in a row as part of testing for the best blender
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Disclosure: Written and researched by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our partners. We may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at

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