When you’re in a hurry and want to zap a cup of coffee or a plate of pasta, you expect a microwave to work quickly and heat your food thoroughly. Our tests find that not all microwaves can achieve that feat, but the best do it handily.
Microwaves are available in two types—over-the-range (OTR) and countertop. We test both. “Countertop microwaves are the biggest part of the market by far,” says Claudette Ennis, CR’s analyst for microwaves and other small appliances. “We focus our testing on models that are 1 cubic foot or larger, which are the biggest sellers.”
In the lab, we assess how fast and how evenly microwaves heat. The speed score in our microwave ratings is based on how fast a microwave heats 1 liter of room-temperature water. For evenness, we heat a bowl of cold mashed potatoes for 10 minutes, then take temperature readings in 20 different locations. We test the auto-defrost function by defrosting ground beef, and we judge how quietly a microwave operates and how easy it is to use without consulting the manual (because most people don’t).
We also factor in predicted reliability and owner satisfaction, based on our members’ experiences with 57,712 OTR microwaves and 49,866 countertop microwaves purchased new between 2009 and 2019.
Here, grouped by type and listed alphabetically, are the best microwaves of 2020, based on our latest tests. Countertop models include small, midsized, and large microwaves.
For more information on the types, see our microwave buying guide and full ratings and recommendations.
AmazonBasics Works with Alexa S9N29R
CR’s take: Small countertop microwaves tend not to perform as well as larger models in CR’s tests because typically they’re underpowered. This new small model from AmazonBasics is no exception, although it’s at the top of the pack of small microwaves. Where it excels is at defrosting, earning an Excellent rating on that test. And it’s very quiet. But speed of heating earns a Poor rating, and heating evenness is only so-so. This microwave works with Alexa, so you can use voice controls to turn it on and set the time. But you need an Echo device to take advantage of this feature. We do not have enough data on AmazonBasics microwaves to rate them for predicted reliability or owner satisfaction.
GE Profile JES2251SJ
CR’s take: The large GE Profile JES2251SJ[SS] is a good choice if you do more than reheat coffee in your microwave. It aces our heating evenness test, earning an Excellent rating. Speed of heating is also top-notch, and it’s impressive at defrosting. The controls are a cinch to use, and this microwave works relatively quietly. Like most large microwaves, it comes equipped with a sensor so that you don’t have to guess when your food is done. GE countertop microwaves get average ratings for reliability and satisfaction.
LG NeoChef LMC1275SB
CR’s take: You can’t beat the midsized LG NeoChef LMC1275SB for performance, especially at this price. It aces our tests for speed of heating, heating evenness, and defrosting evenness—everything you want from a high-performing microwave. In addition, it’s quiet, earning a Very Good rating on our noise test, and easy to use. And the brand earns a Very Good rating for reliability. Its only drawback? Like many microwaves of this size and at this price, this model lacks a sensor, so you’ll have to gauge for yourself whether your food is hot enough.
Panasonic Genius Prestige NN-SD681S
CR’s take: Panasonic countertop microwaves earn an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction from our members—one of only two brands to do so—and the midsized Panasonic Genius Prestige NN-SD681S is also a champ in our lab tests. It earns a Very Good rating on our heating evenness test, and speed of heating and defrosting evenness are even better. The controls are a cinch to understand, so you won’t be thumbing through the manual, and this model comes equipped with a sensor—not all models this size do. It’s a bit noisy, though.
CR’s take: In addition to its cooking prowess, the large Panasonic NN-SE785S comes from one of only two brands that earn an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction from our members. Heating evenness and speed of heating are superb, and it defrosts very well, too, earning a Very Good rating. The controls are self-explanatory, and this machine operates relatively quietly. It’s another model that comes equipped with a sensor, which takes the guesswork out of cooking.
CR’s take: The snazzy Café CVM721M2NS5 has a recessed handle and hidden digital controls that run along the bottom of the microwave. When you tap on the glass touch screen, the options for time and cooking modes pop into view. In addition to looking good, it cooks well, earning an Excellent rating in our heating evenness test. It’s also first-rate at defrosting, and it operates quietly. A sensor prevents you from overheating your food. According to our member survey, Café earns middling scores for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction.
GE Profile PVM9005SJSS
CR’s take: This GE PVM9005SJSS is a good choice for a busy household. It earns an Excellent rating in our heating evenness test, in which we reheat a dish of cold mashed potatoes. Speed of heating is also top-notch, and this microwave operates quietly. Our testers found the GE easy to program, and it vents well, something not all OTRs can accomplish. GE ranks in the middle of the pack for predicted reliability, according to our member survey.
CR’s take: If you’re not a planner and you tend to take something out of the freezer to make for dinner when you get home from work, the KitchenAid KMHS120ESS is a good bet. It earns an Excellent rating on our defrosting test, in which we defrost a pound of ground chuck. It also aces the heating evenness test and is very quiet. It has a cooking sensor and comes with a rack, in case you want to cook two dishes at once. KitchenAid OTRs earn average scores for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction.
CR’s take: A top performer from Whirlpool, the WMH53521H earns an Excellent rating in our heating evenness test, meaning a dish of cold mashed potatoes had few or no cold spots after microwaving. It has a cooking sensor that helps estimate how much time and power you’ll need for each dish, and it fits a 9x15-inch dish, so you can cook a casserole. This microwave is very easy to use, and our testers noted that it has no discernible flaws. Whirlpool is one of the most reliable OTR microwave brands in our latest reliability survey.
CR’s take: The stainless Whirlpool WMH75021HZ earns a rating of Excellent for defrosting evenness, though other models are more capable when it comes to venting and how fast they can heat food. It’s very quiet, and our testers found it easy to use without consulting the manual. It fits a 9x15-inch baking dish, and a sensor automatically adjusts cooking time. Whirlpool is one of the most reliable OTR microwave brands in our latest reliability survey.
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