Microwave Oven
Buying Guide

Photo of a woman opening the door of her microwave oven.
Microwave Oven Buying Guide

The Best Microwave Oven for Your Kitchen

Whether you love to cook, rush to pull dinner together, or live on reheated coffee and frozen pizza, a microwave has become a kitchen essential. Defrosting and reheating are common uses, but some of our tested microwaves don’t do either very well.

At Consumer Reports we buy every microwave we test. Our Ratings include midsized and large countertop microwaves, over-the-range microwaves, and a few built-in models that sleekly integrate into their surroundings.

Our tests found big differences in overall performance. To test heating we warm up mashed potatoes, and we use frozen ground beef to test defrosting. We also test speed of heating, noise, and ease of use. We measure usable capacity too—manufacturers often include space you can’t use. And we test how well the over-the-range models vent.

1

What to Consider

Budget
Countertop microwaves usually cost less than the other types, and midsized models start around $70. Over-the-range microwaves, or OTRs, can be had for under $200, but most we tested are $400 and up. Models designed only to be built into cabinetry or a wall begin at $400, but kits are available for some countertop models that give you a built-in for less.

Space and Location
Think about where the microwave works best for you and available space. Countertop models obviously eat up counter space. For example, the top-rated midsize model  is 22 inches wide and 17 inches deep. The best large microwave we tested is 24 inches wide and 20 inches deep. You’ll want to factor in height as well. Dimensions can be found on the model page for each microwave.

Type
Countertop models are the most popular. Over-the-range models are just that, they’re installed over the range. The built-in category includes models designed only to be built in, surrounded by cabinetry or built into the wall. Microwave drawers fall in this group and can be placed under the countertop or below a wall oven. And then there are some countertop models that can be converted to built-ins with a kit.

2

Which Type is Right for You?

Depending on your kitchen, you can choose from countertop, over-the-range, and built-in microwaves. Note that the size of the unit doesn't always translate to usable cooking space. Our research shows that usable capacity for tested microwaves is about 50 percent of what manufacturers claim. We measure the amount of space you can actually use. More watts typically mean more cooking power, but differences of 100 watts or so don't matter much. Watts are noted in the Features & Specs tab in our microwave Ratings. Prices, usable capacity, and watts presented below are based on our tested models.

Photo of a countertop microwave oven.

Countertop

Price and easy installation are appealing. Just plug into an ordinary outlet—one dedicated to the microwave or it might trip the circuit breaker. These microwaves eat up counter space, so zero in on usable capacity in our Ratings. Also note the microwave’s dimensions, choosing the largest capacity for the available space. A stainless finish is common, and a convection feature is becoming available on more models.

Price
$70 to $500 for midsized
$105 to $650 for large

Usable Capacity
Most (80%) tested models in this category have usable capacity about 50-60% of what manufacturers claim.

0.5 to 0.8 cubic feet for midsized
0.6 to 1.5 cubic feet for large

Watts
800 to 1,200 for midsized
900 to 1,250 for large

Countertop microwave Ratings
Photo of an over-the-range microwave oven.

Over-the-Range

Known as OTRs, these models free up counter space. But while they can be vented to the outside, don’t expect an OTR to vent as well as a range hood. Installation might require an electrician.

Price
$170 to $1,300

Usable Capacity
Most (85%) tested OTR models have usable capacity about 40-50% of what manufacturers claim.

0.7 to 1.4 cubic feet

Watts
850 to 1200

Over-the-range microwave Ratings
Photo of a built-in microwave oven.

Built-In

This category includes models designed only to be built in, surrounded by cabinetry or built into a wall. Microwave drawers, for example, can be placed under the countertop, removing them from sight lines, and glide out for easy access, or can be installed below a wall oven. The look is sleek and integrated. Some countertop microwaves can be built in with a kit (we note that on its model page). Information below is for models designed only to be built in, not for countertop models with optional built-in kits.

Price
$350 to $1500

Usable Capacity
We haven't yet tested enough built-ins to determine percentage of usable capacity compared to manufacturers claims.

0.9 to 1.1

Watts
700 to 1,100

3

Features to Focus on

As the price goes up, so do the number of features. One we find invaluable is the sensor, which measures the steam food emits and turns off the microwave at exactly the point when cooking is done. Here are other features to consider.  

4

Brands That Matter

Frigidaire microwaves, which are made by Electrolux, offer products in the countertop, built-in, and over-the-range categories. Frigidaire models are sold for $80 to $450 at retailers nationwide.
General Electric is one of the major brands in the category, and offers countertop and over-the-range (OTR) models.The ovens can be found in all big-box retailers and independent appliance dealers nationally. GE countertop models range in price from $70 to $300, and OTR models from $250 to $1,000.
This brand, sold at Sears, offers a wide range of countertop and over-the-range (OTR) microwave ovens, with prices ranging from $70 to $350 for countertops, and $250 to $800 for OTR models.
LG offers both countertop and over-the-range (OTR) microwaves. The prices range from $150 to $300 for countertops, and $300 to $800 for OTR models. They are sold at Home Depot, Sears, and large regional and independent appliance dealers nationally.
This brand offers a small choice of countertop models, but a wider range in over-the-range (OTR) versions. Prices range from $100 to $600, and products are sold at such big box stores as Home Depot, Lowe's, and independent appliance retailers nationally.
This manufacturer offers a wide range of countertop (only) products in the U.S. market, ranging from mid-level to high-end. A number of Panasonic countertop models can be converted to built-in with a kit you can purchase. Models range in price from $100 to $800 and are widely available.
Samsung offers products in both countertop and over-the-range categories. The products range from basic to fully featured and are widely available nationally at all major retailers. Prices range from $150 to $600.
Sharp manufacturers both countertop and over-the-range (OTR) models. They are sold through such retailers as Target, Best Buy, Lowe's, Sears, and Wal-Mart. Price range $70 to $800. Sharp also manufacturers built-in microwave drawers that cost approximately $900 to $1,500.
Whirlpool offers basic to multi-featured countertop and over-the-range models. The ovens are sold at most major retailers and cost $300 to $800.
Check out these other brands in our ratings: Amana, Bosch, Electrolux, Haier, Hotpoint, KitchenAid, Magic Chef