Microwaves are used more often than range ovens to prepare some part of the meal, and that means we're doing more reheating and less baking and broiling, says Harry Balzer, author of the "Eating Patterns in America" report. Countertop microwaves outsell over-the-range models nearly 2 to 1, but each type has its advantages. Here's a look at some of the top scorers from Consumer Reports' microwave tests and tips from our testers.
CR tip. A microwave eats up counter space—about 3 square feet—so look at the usable capacity column in our Ratings before deciding on a midsized or large microwave. Some of the large models have the same or only slightly more usable space than the midsized. And keep in mind that midsized and large ovens are typically rated at 850 to 1,200 watts; compact ovens, at about 600 to 800 watts. More watts typically mean more cooking power, but differences of 100 watts or so don't matter much.
Recommended countertop microwaves
For evenly heating food and defrosting, the midsized Sharp R-323TKC, $140, delivered. It was among the fastest to heat water and was relatively quiet, for a microwave. It has the same usable space as the other two recommended midsized models in our microwave oven tests and its sensor measures emitted steam to determine when the food is done. Most microwaves we test have this feature and it helps prevent over- or undercooking. But the Sharp lacks a child lock and isn't available in a stainless finish.
The $150 Kenmore 72123 , a CR Best Buy, does come in stainless, has a child lock, and is even quieter, but wasn't as fast at heating water. For more capacity, the Whirlpool Gold GT4175SP[B] is $280 and one of the best large models tested. It's available in stainless and has a sensor, but doesn't have a child lock. For the largest capacity of the recommended models, take a look at the Panasonic Inverter NN-H965BF, $180. But note that it's relatively noisy.
CR tip. An over-the-range microwave frees up counter space and can be vented to the
inside or outside, but doesn't vent nearly as well as a range hood. Note that usable
capacity is less than most large countertop models.
Recommended over-the-range microwaves
The top-rated Panasonic Genius Prestige NN-SD297[SR], $430, was the best at venting but it's noisier than the other recommended models. It has a sensor and a wire rack that lets you cook two foods at once. It's available in stainless, but there's no child lock. The Samsung SMH1816S, $320, has the most usable capacity of the top models.
A microwave has to keep food moving for uniform heating. Most have a turntable that rotates the food, although some have a rectangular tray that slides from side to side. A platter that's too large to rotate might fit on a sliding tray. Compare dozens of microwaves by checking our Ratings. In addition to test performance and price, we note added features such as convection and grilling, which haven't consistently provided the results you'd get with a range or grill.