While microwave drawers and built-in microwaves look so enticing, their prices are no joke. With this, it is no question why most households are opting for countertop microwaves. Not only they don’t need a special installation process, but they can also be extremely affordable! And with the right choices, you can find a unit that will give you the true value of each dollar you would be spending. So, what countertop microwaves should you get?
Well, there is really no perfect model to get as each of our needs varies from one another. Also, do not forget that there are types of countertop microwaves and their purposes are also different from one another. The most basic of those types is the solo microwave. This is what most of us have at our homes and it just performs the basic functions of a microwave. Then, there’s a grill microwave that comes with an additional grilling element which means you can use it for thick slices of meat. Lastly, you have the convection microwaves which allow you to heat, grill, and bake. It is possible such units come with additional heating elements and a fan that helps in properly distributing the heat in all areas inside the microwave. One example is the Toshiba ML-EC42P(BS) that can offer up to 425°F. Also, it is a good all-rounder due to the good number of its preset menus!
On the other hand, there are new models now that come with better power supply systems. This led to the birth of inverter microwaves. While the conventional power supply of most microwave models can still perform well, inverter microwaves have better performance since their power supply is consistent and this translates to a consistent temperature, as well. With this, the unit can cook faster and more efficiently.
With all these things, choosing the right countertop microwave can be challenging. To guide you, we conducted our yearly review of the best countertop microwaves together with our SolidSmack Household Appliance and Tool Research Team. Below, we will discuss their best features and some of their flaws. We also included some insights about their actual performance during our test. To know more about them and the best deals they have to offer on Amazon now, here they are:
1. Toshiba ML-EC42P(BS) Multifunctional Microwave
1.5 cu. ft.
The Toshiba ML-EC42P(BS) costs a little higher than the other models we compared it with, but you can be sure that you’ll get more than what you will be paying for. It is a “multifunctional” model. It might sound a bit of a gimmick but you can really enjoy multiple functions just in this one appliance.
It is a convection-type microwave unit that can work as an air fryer and a secondary oven. With this, you can defrost, bake, roast, and cook almost all kinds of food items in your kitchen. Even better, it has a good number of controls which can make everything almost instant and automatic for you.
When we received our unit, we were amazed at the automatic functions of the unit. It has an air fry function with 10 auto menus, a convection function with 4 auto bake menus and 4 auto roast menus, and a sensor function with 13 auto menus! With this, you always have a lot of options whatever you are preparing. Its Smart Humidity Sensor feature is particularly a big help in ensuring you that the common food items you are putting in will come out great. It also doesn’t miss staple features in microwaves such as the warm hold function and express-cook buttons (1-6 minutes).
When we tested it, we tried its air fryer function, it really worked like a solo air fryer unit. But what really caught our attention was its efficiency as a convection oven when we used it for cookies. We preheated it and it notified us with a beep sound. Once the food item had been placed, we set the temperature and hit start. And the result was really pleasing. Golden-brown color with a crunchy exterior and chewy interior, as if we used an actual oven. When we used it for a thin cut of steak, it really turned out great (though we had to frequently check it since steak may be cooked faster in this setting). However, keep in mind that the max temperature for the convection function is just 425°F. If you are just going to use it for light purposes, nonetheless, this should be enough.
2. Panasonic NN-SD975S Inverter Microwave
2.2 cu. ft.
We have to admit that when we first saw Panasonic NN-SD975S, we weren’t pleased with its look. This is true, especially with the appearance of the controls and not to mention that some of the buttons are too small. But what brought this on our list? Features and capacity. Those are the things that matter to us.
While it can’t beat others in terms of aesthetics, it has an astounding set of features and capabilities that you can’t resist. First is its 2.2 cu. ft. capacity. When we placed it next to Toshiba ML-EC42P(BS), its body is undeniably smaller at 19.44 x 23.88 x 14 inches. Yet, we were truly pleased with how spacious its interior is which will give you a 16.5” turntable diameter. With this, you get more space that you can use in heating up your foods.
On the other hand, while the teeny tiny buttons are really not the most attractive part of the package, using them is not a problem. As a matter of fact, the entire system is very intuitive. They are properly labeled and we personally find the dial very helpful in setting up the time, weight, and sensor menu. This makes the work for you much easier and faster. Further, you can select from its 10 power levels and 20 auto-cook options so it basically has everything you need.
Nonetheless, the things mentioned above are not the main highlight of this bad boy. It’s in the internal system and power supply. Unlike other models, it comes with an inverter system. In regular microwaves without an inverter system, the AC current increases and decreases to continuously produce the heat the unit needs. To explain it better, when you set the microwave to produce 50% power, it will go from 100% power then down to 0%. This gives you the “50%” power. This pulse cycle continues until the food gets cooked. There is nothing wrong with it as it is the normal setup in ordinary microwave models. However, it also means inconsistent heat and temperature which can affect the heating process of the food.
On the other side of the coin, inverter microwaves produce the same amount of voltage from start to end so you can expect a consistent performance. Even better, it means your food will be cooked faster. We noticed it when we tried frozen meals and desserts. In our case in using Marie Callender's, we weren’t even able to mix the dishes which was basically suggested. Ideally, they should be heated for 4 minutes, mixed, and then reheated for another 3 minutes. But just after the first process, we realized that every dish was already properly cooked!
3. Toshiba EM131A5C-BS Solo Microwave
1.2 cu. ft.
There is nothing so special about Toshiba EM131A5C-BS. It doesn’t have a flamboyant feature that will set it apart from others, yet it is one of the best sellers in the market. It is utterly simple and perhaps, it is its major strength that puts it here.
The EM131A5C-BS is a solo model from Toshiba. Yet, it doesn’t lack the important settings and modes you need for a countertop microwave. First of them are the pre-programmed menus. It is not as many as what other models are offering but as we said, it is a very simple (or should we say basic?) model. Nonetheless, when we tried it, we fell in love with how great its sensors were in adjusting the time and heat level we needed in cooking a wide variety of food items.
The defrost functions are also phenomenal. Besides the “1lb Defrost” button, you also have the option for the “Custom Defrost.” When we tried defrosting a pound of ground pork that was utterly frozen, the result was very pleasing. The pork was thawed perfectly and from a solid ice-like state, it turned into something your hands could literally crush. Nonetheless, we didn’t find any cooked bits after the process! Sweet!
We also really love the controls that are touch-sensitive. There is a beeping sound that will confirm your actions and we must say that it is pretty loud. This could probably annoy some users but the good news about it is that you can deactivate its sound! Just hold the #8 button to turn the beeper off and on depending on your preference. The Soften/Melt button also makes it very handy for folks who frequently have to deal with frozen butter in the kitchen. The Start/+30 Sec button is also very helpful and we found it useful in making fast adjustments in the food items we are cooking during the test!
Further, it is just the right size, making it a good companion for college students who need a reliable microwave in their dorms. With the body dimensions of 20.5 x 17.1 x 12.8 inches, it won’t consume too much space on the counter. It also provides a turntable with a diameter of 12.4 inches in total, so it could just fit 9 to 11-inch pizza but that’s not bad at all. After all, it is just a small countertop microwave so it should be enough for most of your needs.
4. Sharp ZSMC2242DS Solo Microwave
2.2 cu. ft.
If you are after the size of the microwave, Sharp ZSMC2242DS might be the perfect choice for you. It has a 2.2 cu. ft. capacity and a 16-inch removable glass turntable. With this, you can basically nuke everything from a whole family pizza to multiple mugs of beverage all at once. Nonetheless, its size isn’t the only thing to praise about it: the controls are one of a kind and this is what charmed our team.
Compared to others, it has controls specifically designated for various kinds of meat that need to be defrosted. There are buttons labeled as Meat, Poultry, and even Seafood! Sweet! Even better, the Melt/Soften button also gives you the choice to be more particular in what you are melting. You can choose from 4 choices that we labeled with numbers: Butter (1), Chocolate (2), Ice Cream (3), and Cheese (4). Literally, it’s like a unit that is built to specifically shine in defrosting and melting things. Just really awesome. When we tried it for various items, we were overwhelmed at the spacious area where you can do all kinds of defrosting and as for the performance, it didn’t disappoint. Its Poultry button for defrosting a whole chicken delivered great results! When we observed all parts of the skin, no part was cooked; instead, it was fully and perfectly thawed!
Of course, there are also pre-programmed options for sensor cooking which gives you a total of 6 choices. On the other hand, it doesn’t lack the options that will give you more freedom such as the Time Defrost, Time Cook, and 10 power levels. There’s also the +30 Sec button that is very handy!
5. Samsung MG11H2020CT Grill Microwave
1.1 cu. ft.
For those who need extra power in preparing meat, there is nothing better than getting a grill microwave. Samsung has a good entry in the form of MG11H2020CT.
This unit comes with, that’s right, a grilling function. You can easily access this mode using the button on the panel that is clearly named. Once activated, the grilling element will be activated which can handle thick slices of meat. Even better, there is a Combi button that will help you optimize the grilling capabilities of the unit. Also, the package we received came with a wire rack and a ceramic plate! With this, it is truly an equipped unit and a complete package that you can use right out of the box. When we used it for a steak, the heat managed to penetrate the entirety of the 1 ½” thickness of the meat, giving us a fully cooked dish. Also, its 12.4” turntable was large enough for the food items in our test to fit in.
On the other hand, its microwave function and controls are just as impressive as its grilling capabilities. It has multiple cooking presets for the most common food items and auto-defrost. It also has designated buttons for adding extra 30 seconds to the cooking time, sound activation/deactivation, and Eco Mode.
Best Countertop Microwaves - Buyer's Guide
Always first consider the type of countertop microwave you want to have, especially if you have special reasons for buying one. For instance, if you want a model that can grill, go and get a grill microwave. For those who want the same function but also need something that can bake, a convection-type microwave. However, keep in mind that this means they cost higher than the solo microwave which is the most basic type.
It is always great to have a microwave with a huge capacity. However, this means an extra footprint on your counter. Nonetheless, this is not always the case. There are units that can provide a huge capacity despite having the same body dimensions as other models. For instance, the Panasonic NN-SD975S has a 2.2 cu. ft. capacity and a 16.5” turntable diameter. On the other hand, the Toshiba ML-EC42P(BS) has overall body dimensions of 21.8 x 21.5 x 13 inches which is almost the same as the dimensions of the one mentioned before. However, it only offers a 13.6’’ turntable.
We would personally suggest always choosing an inverter unit. As mentioned above, such a countertop microwave will offer better performance due to a consistent power supply and temperature. This will help you to get better results and cook faster.
While having too many buttons and functions in a microwave unit might look intimidating, it can actually benefit you as a user as it means you have a wider set of controls to choose from. For instance, it will be better if the microwave has multiple options for defrosting meat. One good example is the Sharp ZSMC2242DS has designated buttons for defrosting different kinds of meat (meat, poultry, and seafood) and melting various items (butter, chocolate, ice cream, and cheese).
Best Countertop Microwaves - FAQs
Yes, you can use a convection microwave to bake. Nonetheless, not all bread and pastries can be baked in convection microwaves due to the limitations in their controls.
The basic rule is to always give the microwave a 3” space or clearance from all its sides.
For smaller units like countertop microwaves, it is not always necessary to have a separate circuit. Nonetheless, it is always better to check the power requirement of the unit before plugging it into any outlet. However, for bigger models like built-in models, there is always a need for one.