When microwave ovens were first introduced into the consumer marketplace, they were a novelty – and they were large and expensive.
An oven that can cook or heat things up in seconds rather than half-an-hour or more? Amazing – as long as you were willing to pay more than a thousand dollars for a huge microwave that seemingly took up a quarter of the kitchen and did little more than turn on and off.
Today, of course, it would be hard to find many homes, apartments or college dorms without a microwave. You can pick one up at almost any drugstore for $25, and it will do a lot more than those rudimentary ovens. If you want to spend more than a thousand dollars, naturally, you still can; those models will be built-in ones, though, and will do everything but walk the dog and empty the garbage.
Please find our detailed analysis, buying guide and test results of all the best countertop microwave ovens after the summary table.
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GE JES2051SNSS Stainless Steel Countertop Microwave
This is one of the biggest and best microwaves on our list, so you’ll need a pretty sizeable counter to accommodate it. But the JES2051SNSS will give you a ton of inside cooking space and more power than most ordinary microwave ovens.
1000 watts is pretty much the standard for countertop units. This GE unit boasts 1200 watts, so it’s faster and may cook, reheat or defrost food in less time than you’re accustomed to.
The oven is also a full 2.0 cubic feet with a 16-inch turntable, so it can fit more food than you might expect to cram into a microwave; heating up a full-sized 9 x 13 casserole or even defrosting a small turkey won’t be an issue.
The combination of power and size makes for a very effective appliance – although you’ll need to have a spare two feet of width and 20 inches of depth on your countertop for this very large “countertop” appliance.
Those who rely on a microwave oven to do their thinking for them will love this GE unit. There are ten power levels available, along with a defrost function and six single-button presets: fish/chicken, vegetables, potatoes, popcorn, beverages and reheat.
We tend to be lazy at times, so we particularly like the one-touch buttons for “express cooking,” allowing you to just hit one button for one minute, two minutes, and up to six minutes of cooking. A number of competitive models offer a selection that automatically adds 30 seconds to the preset cooking time, but this is one of the few that lets you keep hitting the button so you can add 60 seconds, 90 seconds or more all at once.
OK, so the JES2051SNSS is big and full-featured. More importantly, it is accurate and cooks food exactly the way you want it to. When you choose potato or popcorn, for example, the final result is just about perfect, thanks to sensors which accurately judge the amount of time needed for each function.
No microwave, no matter how “smart” it is, can be a complete substitute for oven baking without personal supervision. This GE comes darned close, though.
Some of the little details are nice, too. You can turn down (or off) the beeping when food is done, the pre-programming options for timed cooking are terrific, and you can use the countdown timer for other tasks around the kitchen even when the microwave is on.
Bear in mind that you simply aren’t going to find a countertop microwave that will last forever; in our disposable world, these ovens are built to last only a few years no matter how well they’re manufactured.
If you have the space for it the GE JES2051SNSS is your best bet for those few years, for a reasonable price. It’s available in stainless steel, black or white.
Facts and figures for the GE JES2051SNSS Stainless Steel Countertop Microwave:
Panasonic NN-SD681S Stainless Countertop/Built-in Microwave
The Groom+Style review team debated for a long time before putting the GE at #1 and the Panasonic at #2 on our best countertop microwave top 5 list, because the Panasonic has an awful lot going for it.
What swayed us was the fact that we don’t want to go through a huge learning curve in order to operate a microwave oven, and the NN-SD681S’s innovative features are far from intuitive.
This unit also puts out 1200 watts of power, although it’s much smaller at 1.2 cubic feet – a plus for those with less-spacious kitchens (it’s only 20 inches wide and 16 inches deep) but a negative for those who want lots of room in the oven cavity.
Other than its size, what makes the Panasonic much different than the GE is the former’s use of “inverter” technology, which relies on consistent delivery of microwave energy (which cooks the food) rather than the usual high-and-low energy pulses. There’s also “inverter turbo defrost” which uses a sequence of energy levels to defrost foods more quickly.
Do they work? Sort of. The inverter turbo defrost does work more quickly, but there isn’t a noticeable difference between inverter and standard microwave technology for most foods. Experts say that’s because the technique isn’t advanced enough to be used effectively in a microwave.
Our bigger issue is with the controls on the Panasonic. You don’t simply punch in cooking time (or hit a button, as you can for common time increments on the GE). There’s a wheel which sometimes controls time, sometimes controls power – but there are also buttons that control power.
Do you want to use “sensor cook,” “inverter cook/power level” or “inverter melt & soften?” What’s the difference between “quick min” and “more/less?” There are specific functions for all of them, but we don’t want to memorize a user’s manual or keep it on the counter, and then have to figure out the buttons and dials in order to heat up some leftovers.
Note: If you want to use it as a built-in over the range microwave, an installation kit is available for an additional fee.
The NN-SD681S does an extremely nice job of microwave cooking and defrosting, and you may find it a cool addition to your kitchen if you’re looking for a smaller unit. To us, it just a touch too much work, which is why it comes it at #2 instead of #1.
More details on the Panasonic NN-SD681S Stainless Countertop/Built-in Microwave:
RCA RMW1414 Stainless Steel Microwave
This is probably the countertop microwave you expect to see in a kitchen: no fancy functions, complicated controls or novel cooking methods; the RCA RMW1414 just cooks well and cost is very reasonable.
The design of this appliance (and let’s be clear, the color is stainless steel but the material is primarily chrome) makes it look smaller than it really is, so plan on needing a little more space than you would for the Panasonic.
The inside size of this microwave is generous at 1.4 cubic feet (although the turntable is smaller than Groom+Style think it should be), and it provides the standard 1000 watts of power.
There are six presets (potato, popcorn, pizza, beverage, frozen dinner and reheat), as well as “cook by weight” and “defrost by weight” functions – all options you’d want on a good microwave oven. The only one missing is an “add time” button.
The RCA operates like a traditional microwave, and it cooks like a very good one. Popcorn, potatoes, reheated food all come out done well, and it heats food evenly. The only possible issue you may find is that the presets are all “guesswork” (not unusual for microwaves), so don’t be surprised if you have to keep cooking after the oven tells you that your food is done.
This is a very solid countertop microwave oven for the price. If you use your microwave for the things that most people do, what more could you need?
Looking deeper at the RCA RMW1414 Stainless Steel Microwave:
Samsung MC11H6033CT Countertop Convection Microwave
Groom+Style promised to include one microwave oven with convection cooking capabilities on this list, and here it is.
The MC11H6033CT is more expensive than a traditional microwave – and the most expensive model on our top 5 list. But the added functionality makes this unit a good addition to a dedicated home cook’s kitchen.
Let’s first talk about the microwave. It’s 1000 watts with a 1.1 cubic foot interior, more than enough for most people’s daily needs.
The only dedicated microwave presets are for popcorn, reheating and defrosting, and if you don’t rely on the built-in sensor you have to set cooking time with a dial instead of buttons. But the design is intuitive (unlike the Panasonic we reviewed earlier) and easy to figure out. Bottom line: the microwave works very well.
The intriguing feature is the convection oven feature of this Samsung, which goes up to 400°. It bakes, browns, crisps and basically adds a new dimension to microwaved food – and works fairly well as a pure convection oven, although we’d recommend buying a dedicated convection unit if that’s your main reason for choosing the MC11H6033CT.
Roasts and biscuits come out fine, but not quite as good as in a “real” convection oven. There’s also a grilling element, plus a “slim fry” option which lets you use convection technology to fry without oil, which is a cool idea but takes forever.
The convection, microwave+convection or microwave+grill functions are what put the extra value into this model; no other microwave is going to give you pizza that’s crispy on the bottom.
As with the Panasonic, there’s a learning curve associated with getting full use out of the Samsung convection/ microwave – but the time spent is worth it, in this case.
The MC11H6033CT isn’t perfect, but it’s a notch above a good microwave if you’ll actually use the convection features. (One oddity; the door opens down like an oven, and not out like a normal microwave.)
Digging deeper on the Samsung MC11H6033CT Countertop Convection Microwave: