Best Microwaves of 2020 [Review] - Our Top 7 Picks
It’s hard to imagine modern life without a microwave. The technology has been around for a long time, still, not all microwave ovens are created equal. Today, there are more than 400 microwave models sold under dozens of different brands names. Furthermore, marketing jargon makes it difficult to choose among a vast array of options. The good news is modern microwaves are packed with nifty features. Picture this: an Alexa-enabled microwave that monitors how many bags of popcorn you’ve cooked and automatically orders more from Amazon!
In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about microwave ovens - from choosing the right style and design, to understanding Watts to sensors, and even installation pitfalls to lookout for. We’ll also share our 7 best microwave picks for 2020.
What Are the Types of Microwaves?
There are 4 types of microwaves on the market today: Counterop, over-the-range, built-in, and drawer.
Just like the name suggests, countertop microwaves are designed to be placed on the counter. This is the simplest and most popular type of microwave on the market. You can find really good countertop microwaves at a variety of sizes and affordable price points.
The one disadvantage of countertop microwave ovens is that they take up precious counter space. To work around this, some countertop models now come with trim kits that make it possible to install them in cabinets for a built-in look that frees up your countertop surface.
Check out the specifications document of your microwave to find a suitable trim kit. Trim kits usually come in 2 standard sizes; 27-inches or 30-inches in width. We like the GE PEM31SFSS for the flexibility
Most countertop micorwaves offer another unique solution to free up counter space via a hang-kit. You can simply attach a microwave under a cabinet using the kit that is included in the packaging of your microwave.
Microwave drawers offer excellent space management, blend with your kitchen design, and are easy to reach/clean. They are installed under the counter, alongside your regular cabinet drawers. You can even install them in a kitchen island. With the push of a button, you can open up the oven and place your food on the tray inside. Microwave drawers are installed at a lower level, therefore they work particularly well in households with children, elderly folks, or others with accessibility requirements. All the necessary features, functions, and buttons are easy to reach.
We covered microwave drawers in our definitive article which also includes a comprehensive review of best models. Also, our exclusive video has great visuals to help you research. Sharp holds the patent on drawer micowaves. Other brands outsource their manufacturing to Sharp. Yet, most brands use their own design, quality criteria, and materials. As an example, the Sharp SMD2470ASY is a good model to start with your research.
Over-the-range microwaves are predominantly 30-inches wide and designed to fit directly above your stove. They serve dual functions, both as an exhaust fan (or commonly referred as a ventilation hood) as well as a fully featured microwave. This design saves you space in your kitchen and also provides high quality lights focused on the cooking surface.
Recently, Haier, the parent company of GE, and XO, a niche manufacturer from our very own New Jersey, started making 24-inch wide over the range microwaves for smaller urban kitchens. You can check them out at HMV1472bhs and XOOTR24BS.
Over the range microwaves are slightly more expensive than countertop microwaves but come with lots of power and features. As an example, we reviewed the budget friendly GE JVM3160RFSS in detail on the next section.
You may want to opt for a professional installation as it gets tricky to secure the microwave to the adjacent cabinets. Make sure that you read the manufacturers' recommendation for the acceptable distance from the cooking surface to the bottom of the microwayve in order to prevent a fire hazard. Important to note: The fire safety distance varies depending on your type of cooktop, for instance whether it is electric vs. gas.
Almost all over the range microwaves recirculate air in their exhaust venting system to trap grease and eliminate odors. However, some may have an outside venting option. Before investing in a microwave check to see if you have outside venting and if your duct is horizontal or vertical. This way you can shop for an appropriate over the range microwave model.
A Word About Filters on Over the Range Microwaves:
Most of us completely forget about grease filters when using our over the range microwaves. These simple mesh filters do a great job in trapping grease so it does not spread around the kitchen. Almost all grease filters can be cleaned under running water. Most models are even dishwasher-safe. Keep in mind to clean your grease filter every three months.
Charcoal filters, on the other hand, sit on top of the grease filters. They are not visible from the outside and help eliminate odors. Again, most of us are not even aware that these filters are part of our microwave oven. If you want to reduce the cooking smell in your house, we recommend that you replace charcoal filters every 6 to 12 months, depending on how much you cook.
Apart from countertop models that can fit in cabinets, manufacturers also make truly built microwaves that you can install flush inset with your cabinets. These microwaves cannot be placed on a counter. Their design tend to be visually pleasing and match other cabinet-mounted appliances for continuity of the looks.
Truly built-in microwaves typically have drop down doors (left-hinge swing doors are also becoming more common among this type) that make their placement versatile. Their sizes are mostly 24 or 30-inches with a few manufacturers still making 27-inch wide models.
Wall oven microwave combinations, are another type of built-in microwave, commonly referred as combo ovens. This oven type incorporates traditional convection oven functions within a microwave appliance to give you an all-in-one versatility. Having the microwave off the counter helps reduce clutter, and most often these combo microwaves are loaded with useful features.
What’s the Difference Between Speed Ovens and Microwaves?
We get asked this a lot. Speed ovens combine regular convection oven capabilities with that of a microwave oven. They have the fit and finish of a standard wall oven. One benefit of a speed oven is its fast preheat time. In addition, a speed oven gives you flexibility in cooking in that it can do everything from baking to grilling. Manufacturers such as GE take speed-cooking to an even higher level, making use of their Advantium technology to hit faster cooking levels.
How to Choose the Best Microwave?
As with other household appliances, there are several important factors to consider when choosing a new microwave oven.
Determine Microwave Type
In the section above we introduced you to different types of microwaves that are available on the market today. The first step when choosing a new microwave is to determine if you want a counterop, built-in, over-the-range, or drawer microwave.
Microwaves come in various sizes, so you can choose the perfect fit for your kitchen cabinets or countertop area. Depending on your cooking needs, you may require a model with a larger interior. You may ask - what is the average interior size of a microwave. In general a microwave with less than 0.9 cu. ft. of interior volume is considered small. An average microwave is about 1.1. cu. ft. Large microwaves have 2.0 cu. ft. or larger footprint.
Once you have settled on the type and size of a microwave, you may come across different marketing jargon about products that claim to have fancy features such as inverter technology, convection, and so forth. Since these words are not part of the average consumer's daily vocabulary, we want to explain them in plain English. Also, as manufacturers are in a race to outperform eachother, we expect to see more and more microwaves to include multiple technologies from the list below.
Most microwaves fall into this category. They are great for reheating or defrosting food. They are also a fantastic way to make a quick side dish, meal, or snack. For instance, fold a couple of pieces of bacon into a paper towel and pop the microwave for 1 - 2 minutes per slice, and voila! Delicious breakfast. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are also easy to cook in the microwave, too. Just poke a few holes in the skin with a fork, put in the microwave for about 5 minutes, and you’ll wind up with a steamy ‘baked’ potato.
Technically speaking, all standard microwaves depend on a part called a Magnetron to generate "microwaves" from electricity. The Magnetron also blasts these microwaves into the cavity. These activities combined are how a microwave generates heat and cooks the food.
What is a Convection Microwave?
A convection microwave is much more versatile than a standard microwave. In addition to simple tasks like reheating, defrosting, making microwave-ready meals, and melting things like chocolate and butter, they also act like a second oven.
So what does convection mean?
In addition to standard microwave technlogy, these dual-purpose appliances come with an extra built-in heating element, as well as a fan that helps circulate the heat around the inside of the unit. When used in convection mode, the unit acts like a traditional oven. This means you can bake, roast, crisp, and cook as you would in a full-size oven.
Want to roast a crispy golden chicken? Check. Cook a pizza with a golden brown crust? Yep. Bake some moist, delicous cookies? You got it. You can also bake cakes and casseroles in convection mode, then switch back to microwave mode to pop your after-dinner popcorn.
These combination standard/convection ovens are particularly great for small spaces, like studio apartments and campers that can’t fit both a regular oven and a microwave. When in 'convection only' mode, metal cookware, like rotisserie pans and cookie sheets can be used. Convection microwave ovens also come with really helpful features like 'auto convect', for precise roasting. You can also preheat and switch between modes from your smart phone.
Below is a table to describe the differences between stadard conventional microwaves and convection microwaves:
Do I need a grill in my microwave?
Some of the more modern microwaves come with a broil element on the top. Using the grill rack accessory you can perfectly position your food to start grilling. These microwaves can act as a standard microwave, grill, or in combination mode you can speed up your cooking. Unlike convection microwaves, they do not have a fan to distribute heat evenly around the inside of the unit, so they are not ideal for baking.
Creating a crispy pizza or reheating a slice for perfection is the claim to fame for a grill microwave. However, you can cook chops, sausages, steaks, hamburgers, bacon, and thin fish in these microwaves, too. Your children will enjoy toasts or grilled cheese sandwiches made in this unit.
If you are on the go a lot, a grill microwave is great for your needs. Dishes done in under 15 minutes, with a one-step process from freezer to table are a good reason to choose a grill microwave. In this category we like Samsung MG11H2020CT and MG14H3020CM.
Are there Microwaves with Steam Technology?
The answer is yes and no. Many of us love the capabilities of a steam oven. They offer healtier cooking, save time preheating, and help food retain a fresh taste, even when you reheat it. Manufacturers want us to belive that microwaves with steam technology are as amazing as full fledged steam ovens, at a fraction of a cost. In reality, the microwaves with steam technology such as the Whirlpool WMH53521HZ simply come with advanced sensors that are able to detect boiling point of the liquids and start a countdown for steam or simmer. This way you can follow a recipe depending on what you are cooking.
We do not recommend steam microwaves at this time as they do not add an incredible value.
What is an Inverter Microwave?
Inverter microwaves were patented by Panasonic (formerly known as Matsushita Company) in 2005. Inverter microwaves have 3 major advantages over regular microwave technology:
- Gentle, even, and smooth cooking/defrosting
- Shorter cooking time
- Larger oven cavity
Traditional microwaves pulsate the power levels in the interest of not burning the food. Inverter microwaves, on the other hand, consistently apply the microwave energy. As a vivid example, you can melt butter evenly and gently in an inverter microwave, whereas a traditional microwave might drill a hole on it. If you are tired of food splashing all over the inside of your microwave, an inverter microwave might be a good fit for you. In addition, you can defrost or reheat food evenly which is a challenging balancing act in a standard microwave. All in all, eliminating a cold center and overcooked edges while defrosting is the biggest advantage of this technology.
The inverter has a much smaller power supply. A standard power supply weighs about 11.6 lb's in comparison to 1.2 lb's of an inverter. This translates into 29% more space in the same box size, a great win for us home chefs.
Currently, Panasonic makes most inverter microwaves and licenses the technology to Toshiba and to the LG NeoChef series.
What's the Best Cooking Power Watts in a Microwave?
Cooking power measured in Watts is an important factor to consider when choosing a microwave. Most microwave ovens have a cooking power range of 500 to 1,500 Watts. Cooking power also determines the speed of cooking. The higher the wattage of the microwave oven, the faster it cooks the food. If you are in the market for a new microwave, we recommend that you target 800 to 1,000 Watts. Depending on the cooking needs and features that you are most interested in, you can use this as your baseline. Also, keep in mind most microwaves allow you to dial the cooking power up or down on an as needed basis.
The final, and perhaps most fun part to consider when picking a microwave oven for your kitchen are the feature set. Here are some features and functions that we think are important to look at:
Sensor cooking is super helpful as it allows your microwave to apply the correct level of cooking power based on the dish and cooking mode. Sensor cooking takes the guesswork out, as it adjusts the wattage and duration automatically for you. Models with the sensor reheat option are fully capable of estimating the amount of time required to defrost or reheat your food. A sensor cooking option also enables you to set the unit to a specific temperature, which can help with things like not over-cooking vegetables.
Pre-programmed keys add a fantastic level of convenience, and make using your microwave incredibly easy so you can turn your attention elsewhere. Case in point, most modern microwaves have the popcorn button, which has been pre-set to offer the ideal cooking heat/time for the perfect, steamy bag of popcorn. The express cook button, with options for meat, veggies, casseroles, and more, also offers a quick shortcut for preparing a delicious meal without the risk of overcooking. Another example is the extra 30 seconds button, which allows you to cook at full power if you want an extra heat kick.
Easy to Clean Interior
When serving dinner we are usually in a rush and don't have the time to wipe clean the interior of our microwave. Therefore, cleaning an icky microwave becomes a chore. Most modern microwaves come with an easy to clean ceramic enamel finish. Stainless steel with an antimicrobial coating is also becoming a popluar and preferred type of interior. It only takes a moist sponge and a few passes to make your microwave shine again.
Pitfalls to Avoid When Replacing an Old Microwave
A good microwave can last as long as eight or ten years. When the time to replace it does finally arrive, there are a few common pitfalls to look out for.
Using a Microwave Over a Pro-Style Range
Professional ranges have high powered burners. They are styled after commercial kitchens, with more emphasis placed on performance. This means installing a regular over the range microwave above the pro range might burn the microwave. Currently, there are only 2 exceptions on the market. Viking VMOH330SS and Thermador MU30WSU are the only two microwaves that are qualified to be placed above a high-power gas range.
Replacing a Slim Over the Range Microwave with a Tall One
To fit the different shape and size and prevent the oven from sticking out, you would have to drill into the kitchen tiles. In addition to altering the kitchen’s natural look, this also means extra installation work.
Replacing a Tall Over the Range Microwave with a Slim One
If you are selecting a slim over-the-range microwave as a replacement for a tall one, there will be a little leftover hanging space after installation, which will expose the wall. This has the potential to diminish the seamless design of your kitchen.
Changing Built-in Microwave with a Trim
In most cases, especially if you did not get the exact same size or model as the old unit, you may end up having to change the trim as well. This means a bit of extra installation.
You can easily avoid these pitfalls by taking a careful measurement of the old microwave oven and space it resides in before heading to the showroom to purchase the replacement. This will enable you to find the perfect size and shape to fit the open space.
Best Microwave Ovens 2020
Now, let’s look at our list of the best microwave ovens of 2020. In our review, we considered wattage, size, features, design, and price.
1) Best Overall: GE Profile PEM31SFSS
The GE PEM31SFSS microwave oven is our all around top pick due to its versatilty. You can use it as a countop micorowave, hang it from under a cabinet to free up space, or build it in using a 27 or 30-inch trim kit. GE makes this microwave in different colors.
This model has a 1.1 cu-ft capacity which is ideal for a family of 4. 800 Watts is adequate power for normal use. In addition to the size and the wattage, the PEM31SFSS also has sensor cooking controls, and a control lockout function to prevent accidental activation.
2) Best Over-the-Range Microwave: GE JVM3160RFSS
The GE JVM3160RFSS also sits comfortably at the top of our list of over-the-range microwave ovens. It has a generous 1.6 cu-ft capacity and a 1,000 Watt cooking power. This makes it great for a large family. The JVM3160RFSS comes with a charcoal filter to eliminate odors in addition to the regular grease filter.
Other features of the JVM3160RFSS include the convenient cooking controls and pre-programmed keys, auto/time defrost functions, turntable on/off control (just like the PEM31SFSS), and a robust two-speed, 300-CFM venting system for removing steam, smoke, and odor.
3) Best Match for Pro Stove: Viking VMOH330SS
Pro stoves emit too much heat for regular over the range microwaves to handle. Viking VMOH330SS is one of the few exceptions to this. The heatshield at the bottom of this microwave will not melt as long you have placed it 36-inches above the cooking surface (make sure to read the specifications document prior to installation).
Its ventilation system has 3 power levels and provides 450 CFM suction (usually over the range microwaves come with 300 CFM ventilation). Recirculation mode is the default ventilation, but you can do outside venting from the top or horizontally.
This Viking 30-inch over-the-range microwave is large at 1.1 cu-ft capacity. Ten power levels at 1,100 Watts can handle any work that you can throw at it including sensor cooking.
4) Best 24-inch Over the Range Microwave: Haier HMV1472BHS
Haier, the parent company of GE, is the first manufacturer that invested in a compact over-the-range microwave. Up until it debut a year ago, smaller apartments with 24-inch stoves that to endure the "cheap looking", ineffective, space-grabbing vent hoods. Thanks to Haier, you can now free up your counter space even in a small apartment.
The 24” Haier HMV1472BHS has a 1.4 cu-ft capacity that affords you just as much cooking space as a traditional microwave oven.
As an over the range microwave, the HMV1472BHS makes night cooking fun, effectively lighting up the range cooking surface with its LED lights. The HMV1472BHS also has sensor cooking, ten power levels, a 1000 Watts cooking power, a charcoal filter, and a 300-CFM venting system.
5) Best Slim Microwave and Hood: Whirlpool WML75011HZ
The Whirlpool WML75011HZ is the only low profile microwave on the market. It is designed to fit in the space of a standard 30-inch ventilation. Ideal for spaces where a regular over the range microwave hangs too low above a cooking surface. This Whirlpool slim microwave will have a safe distance from the cooktop, will give your ventilation, lights, as well as cooking power.
The WML75011HZ has the same dimensions as its cousin the Whirlpool WML55011HS yet it comes with upgraded features such as:
- fingerprint resistant stainless steel
- sensor cooking for convenience
- a non-stick, easy to clean interior
- LED cooktop lights
6) Best Microwave Drawer: Sharp SMD2470ASY
As the pioneer of microwave drawers, Sharp has a larger range of microwave drawers than any other brand. These drawer models all spot a 1,000 Watts cooking power, auto-open function which uses a button or a wave to open, and stainless steel or black stainless color option. One of their newer models, the 24-inch SMD2489ES has wifi connectivity – a feature that is rare in microwaves.
Our top Sharp microwave drawer pick is the 24-inch SMD2470ASY with a 1.2 cu-ft capacity and a 1,000 Watts cooking power. The low-profile design of the SMD2470ASY allows it to match a wide range of kitchen designs. You might wonder if your coffee would spill due to the opening action of the microwave drawer. Do not worry, Sharp engineered a smooth speed which prevents spills.
7) Best Grill Microwave: Samsung MG11H2020CT
The Samsung MG11H2020CT targets a special niche within the microwave market. It is the only credible brand that makes a microwave with a built-in grill. The MG11H2020CT has all the features of a traditional microwave and then some. The grill is great to reheat your pizza, make a grilled cheese sandwidtch, and toast bread. At a budget friendly price point you cannot pass this microwave in a Samsung kitchen.
Microwaves add so much cooking convenience that it’s hard to even picture a modern home without one. With so many models, features, and functions to choose from, you’ll have no trouble finding one that seamlessly blends into your kitchen design, cooking habits, and lifestyle.
We hope you found this overview of microwaves, and our top picks helpful. As always, we’re here for you. Give us a call, or schedule an appointment to meet with one of our appliance experts to get individual help choosing the best microwave for your home.
How to clean a microwave?
One of the best ways to clean the microwave is by using water and orange, lemon, or lime. Squeeze the juices from either of the fruits into a microwave-safe bowl, add water, and heat in the oven until it steams. Turn off the microwave, take out the bowl, and wipe the interior of the microwave clean with a sponge.
When was the microwave invented?
The microwave oven was invented accidentally in 1946 by Percy Spender.
Why do some microwaves have racks? Do I need it?
The racks double the cooking surface inside the oven, allowing you to cook or reheat two or more foods at the same time. You are not required to use them. You simply opt for the turntable.
How Does a Microwave Oven Work?
Each microwave oven has a high-frequency tube called the magnetron, which converts electrical energy into electromagnetic waves known as microwaves. These microwaves are then distributed evenly within the interior of the microwave oven, and as they are reflected back from the metal walls of the oven, they hit the food from all sides.
When these microwaves hit the food, they cause the moisture molecules within the food to oscillate at a rate of 2.5 billion times per second. This oscillation generates friction between the molecules, which in turn generates heat, effectively cooking or defrosting the food.
This method of cooking allows the food to retain its moisture, so you don’t typically need to add additional water or cooking oil. It also helps to retain vitamins and nutrients, while at the same time minimizing the impact on food color and texture.
Microwave ovens are regulated by the FDA and are completely safe to use - when used properly, of course. For instance, metal containers reflect microwaves, and this may generate dangerous sparks, so be sure to stick to non-metal cookware only. Also, pressure can build up inside of sealed containers causing them to explode inside the microwave. To prevent this, be sure to take the top off of all sealed jars, baby bottles, Tupperware, and other containers and wrappings. It’s also helpful to place a plate cover over anything you cook in the microwave. This helps to keep heat and moisture in, as well as to minimize clean up effort.