The most effective microwave – The New York Instances
Our goal is to recommend countertop microwaves of any of the most popular sizes and with the most useful controls and cooking functions, and preferably of reasonable performance and reliability.
There are currently more than 100 microwaves available. However, since many are copies of each other, we narrowed our test group down to 21 models of many different sizes and prices, and tested 18 of them before the coronavirus pandemic closed our office.
Depending on the cookware and counter or shelf space, you should get the size you want.
We initially focused on medium-sized microwaves as these seem to be bestsellers at most retailers. They have enough capacity (1.1 to 1.4 cubic feet) to easily fit on a regular 12-inch plate or 9-inch baking dish with handles, but they have a small enough footprint (about 2 square feet) that that they can accommodate on most countertops. They usually claim to have around 1,000 watts of cooking power, which the packaged food cooking instructions are calibrated for so you don’t have to mess around with cooking times too much.
We also took a close look at some compact microwaves that are 0.7 cubic feet in capacity. They have a physical footprint that is about 25 percent smaller than a medium-sized model, but they still have room for most plates. Compact microwaves are popular with people who have a small kitchen or live in a dormitory, and also with people who don’t want to spend a lot on a microwave. The downside is that they only have 700 watts of cooking power, and we’ve found that you typically need to cook around 30 percent longer to heat food as thoroughly as you would with a larger, more powerful microwave.
Larger models are also widely available – as tall as 2.2 cubic feet, twice the size of a compact model, and plenty of room for a 13 “by 9” baking dish with handles. Most people don’t need a machine this big, and as such, most brands don’t use their nicest designs or coolest features on these extra-large monsters. However, these microwaves typically use the same core components as medium-sized models and operate similarly. (Larger models tend to have higher advertised wattages, although they often use the same power supply. We’re not sure why this is, but it might have something to do with the fungible nature of the wattage rating in microwaves.) We don’t Many of these models cannot be tested until the coronavirus pandemic closes the office. But where relevant, we’ve linked some large and oversized versions of some of our medium-sized picks.
Control and design
Because most microwaves function very similarly, we place more emphasis on the control and design of a microwave, especially these four features:
Express keys: We agreed that the most important, indispensable feature of any microwave is the add 30 seconds button. For some people, this is the only button they ever use. Almost every microwave has one, but some don’t, and we didn’t seriously consider these models. Buttons that automatically start longer cooking cycles, usually from 1 to 6 minutes, are also common and popular. We preferred models that started their express cycles with a single press, rather than those that extended the timer and then waited for us to press start.
In addition to the important “Add 30 Seconds” button, this GE model also has express cooking buttons that automatically start longer cooking cycles.
Door handle: Handles are easier to clean than snap fasteners (which can get stuck in the gaps around the edges), and they’re not as prone to blocking or breaking over time. So we preferred handles when we could find them. (We still recommend some snap button designs for those who prefer.)
Mute option: This was a key feature of our main picks – some of us die-hard midnight snacks were exposed to the wrath of roommates, who were jolted awake by the piercing beeps at the end of a microwave cycle. Unfortunately and surprisingly, this is an unusual feature, and not all of our picks have it.
Sensor warming: It’s far from a must, but warming up the sensor is a handy shortcut that just leaves you guessing your leftovers. The sensor measures the humidity. When your food starts to steam, the microwave knows it’s warm enough to eat. In our experience, sensor functions usually exceed the ideal eating temperature, but if you grab a fork and sit down it should be bearable. A sensor cooking option (for cooking vegetables, baking potatoes, or reheating frozen appetizers) is also common, and some have sensor defrost settings, although we didn’t pay much attention to either option.
A child lock, a turntable memory (which puts the tray back in its original position so your cup handle is in the right place) and an eco mode (which turns the display off when not in use) can also come in handy. But they are standard on most microwaves and did not affect our selection. You can also set the power level with almost all microwaves. Some of our readers have strong feelings about how timers and interior lighting should work, but they weren’t a factor in our selection.
There’s nothing wrong with food-specific presets or defrost modes, and if you find them useful, that’s great. However, we wouldn’t recommend choosing a new microwave based on its preferences. They don’t make the microwave do anything special – they’re just shortcuts for preprogrammed time and power level settings, and these programs vary from model to model so they may not work quite as you expect them to. You can enter your ideal cooking times and power levels manually at any time.
Cooking performance did not play a major role in the selection. We found that any (non-defective) microwave was perfect for warming drinks and leftover food, cooking frozen meals, or popping popcorn bags. The strongest and most consistent microwaves are not much better for these general tasks, and they do not make microwave dishes taste better. For most people, any ordinary microwave will heat stuff just fine. However, we paid more attention to the performance of our upgrade choices. This is a better choice for people who want or need faster, more even heating and are willing to pay extra for it.
In our tests, we found that most models had a predictable heating pattern (hot spot in the center, cool inner ring, warm outer ring) that wasn’t perfect, but was suitable for most common microwave tasks. Some more expensive models heat more evenly over the platter, which can be useful for cooking larger trays.
We also found that the heating rate is essentially the same as the stated power. In our two minute test, all 1,000 watt models raised the temperature of a soup bowl by a similar amount, and each of the compact 700 watt models raised it noticeably less, while a 1,200 watt model raised it noticeably more. Your individual results can vary for a number of reasons, although most people are just learning to tailor their cooking times to suit their particular oven.
Some brands sell models with a supposedly superior power control mechanism called an inverter that changes the way the power level settings work. Basically, inverter microwaves can provide continuous cooking when set to lower power levels, as opposed to normal transformer-driven microwaves that alternate between periods of full power and zero power. Inverter microwave manufacturers claim the technology helps maintain flavor and nutrients, making them better for delicate tasks like defrosting meat. After some tests and discussions with experts, we are not convinced that inverters are very effective in microwaves. One inverter model we tried defrosted meat as badly as any other microwave, and its food still tasted like a microwave. It’s okay for a microwave to have an inverter (our upgrade pick has one), but don’t expect that to change much.
Convection cooking is available in some of the more expensive microwaves, but these combination ovens are quirky niche appliances that most people don’t need. We’ll cover them later in this guide.
Reliability and durability
We cannot promise that we will recommend a reliable, long-lasting product. We are sorry.
After looking at user reviews, reliability data (there’s not a lot of it) and class action lawsuits, and talking to some experts, we’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t rely on a countertop microwave to last longer than a handful Years before a crucial part breaks and becomes unusable. According to one publication, the average life of a microwave has dropped from 10 or 15 years in the 1990s to six to eight years today. It’s not uncommon for them to break down even sooner. “Manufacturing really sucks,” said Schiffmann, the microwave expert who has been in the industry for 50 years. (Professor Aaron Slepkov told us that his students do “terrible things” with microwaves in their plasma experiments, but have found that they are harder to destroy than you might think.)
Since one company (Midea) assembles most of the microwaves, all of the brands they supply are likely to be similarly reliable. If you’ve had bad experiences with a Sharp, chances are you’ve also had bad experiences with a Toshiba, certain GE and Panasonic models, and many others.
There is no sign that other manufacturers’ microwaves are better. Average user ratings for Panasonic and LG ovens are the same or even slightly lower than for Midea models. Galanz and Samsung models have lower ratings and more reliability complaints than the others.
More expensive models like a Breville or GE profile could be more durable. We need to do more research on this. But what we know so far makes us pretty skeptical that spending more on a microwave today will ever prove to be better long-term value. Schiffmann said even if you spend hundreds on an oven, “it is not a guarantee it will get much better” than the cheap, ordinary models. The high-end ovens have higher quality mechanical parts like the door lock and turntable motor, and likely tighter quality control so there may be fewer duds working out of the factory. However, it is unclear whether the electronic components and craftsmanship at the core of the microwave – power supply, wiring, magnetron – differ from those of the cheap models or are subject to the higher quality standards.
Additionally, most brands are hit or miss when it comes to meeting their guarantees. Repairs are possible, but it’s usually cheaper just to buy a new, low-end oven.
(While microwaves are not designed to last, they are generally safer than other types of cooking utensils. So when we say they are not reliable, it does not mean that they are dangerous to own.)