Best Microwaves of 2021

Countertop and over-the-range models that top CR's tests

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Hand turning microwave dial
A Consumer Reports engineer evaluates a microwave's controls during an ease-of-use test.
Photo: Stephen Yang

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 have found that not all microwaves can achieve that feat, but the best do it handily.

We test both over-the-range (OTR) and countertop microwaves. Countertop microwaves are the biggest part of the market by far. And we focus our testing on models that are 1 cubic foot or larger, which are the biggest sellers, according to our in-house analysts.

In the microwave lab, we assess how fast and how evenly they 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 locations. 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 scores for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction based on our members’ experiences with 76,837 OTR microwaves and 70,033 countertop models purchased new between 2010 and 2020.

Here, grouped by type and listed alphabetically, are the best microwaves of 2021 based on our latest tests. For more information on the types, see our microwave buying guide and comprehensive microwave ratings.

CR’s take: Small countertop microwaves tend not to perform as well as larger models in CR’s tests because they’re typically underpowered. This small model from Amazon Basics is no exception, though 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. (You need an Echo device to take advantage of this feature.) In our member survey, Amazon Basics earned a Very Good rating for predicted reliability and a Fair for owner satisfaction.

CR’s take: The midsized General GEW1000E is superb at heating food evenly, earning an Excellent rating on that test. Speed of heating is also impressive, and this microwave runs quietly. All the controls are intuitive, so you don’t need to consult the manual. The main drawback of the General is that it lacks a defrosting function, so if that’s one of the reasons you need a microwave, look elsewhere. There wasn’t enough data in our member survey to give General microwaves a reliability score.

CR’s take: For the price, you can’t go wrong with the midsized Panasonic NN-SN67HS. Speed of heating and defrosting evenness are both superb—the model notches Excellent ratings on both those tests. It evenly heats a dish of cold mashed potatoes, and our testers find it easy to operate without reading the manual. (We assess that, because most people don’t check the instructions.) It’s a bit noisy when running on high, but typically you run your microwave in such short bursts that it might not bother you. In our member survey, Panasonic countertop microwaves earned an average rating of Good for predicted reliability and an Excellent for owner satisfaction.

CR’s take: In addition to its cooking prowess, the large Panasonic NN-SE785S comes from one of only two brands that earned 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 well-priced Panasonic NN-SN946W has a lot going for it. This large microwave aces three of our tough tests: speed of heating, heating evenness, and defrosting evenness. It runs quietly, earning a Very Good score on our noise test, and our testers find little need to consult the manual to learn how to operate it. This model is equipped with a sensor that shuts off the oven once the food is hot enough.

CR’s take: The snazzy Café CVM721M2NS5 has a recessed handle and hidden digital controls that run along the bottom. 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.

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 it operates quietly. Our testers find the GE easy to program, and it vents well, something not all OTRs can accomplish.

CR’s take: If 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.

CR’s take: The LG LMV2031ST is a good choice if you use your microwave to cook and not just for reheating and defrosting. It fits a 9x15-inch baking dish and has a wire rack, allowing you to cook two dishes at once. It’s equipped with a sensor that turns the microwave off to keep you from overheating your food. This model earns Very Good ratings for speed of heating and heating evenness, and it vents well, although—like most OTRs—not as well as a dedicated range hood. LG received average marks for predicted reliability and a Very Good rating for 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 has 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 note that it has no discernible flaws.


Mary H.J. Farrell

Knowing that I wanted to be a journalist from a young age, I decided to spiff up my byline by adding the middle initials "H.J." A veteran of online and print journalism, I've worked at People, MSNBC, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and an online Consumer Reports wannabe. But the real thing is so much better. Follow me on Twitter.