How We Tested Microwave Ovens

By:
David Wise and Austin Palmer

Last Updated:
Monday
October 16, 2017

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We bought the top 10 microwaves currently available and put the through the wringer to see which model came out on top. We split our testing process into four different metrics, with a handful of tests in each metric. This article gives exact details on our testing process.

Check out our comprehensive microwave review to see the actual results and which models came out on top.

Evaluating how evenly the Westinghouse heated up a serving of pre-made lasagna.
Evaluating how evenly the Westinghouse heated up a serving of pre-made lasagna.

Heating


This is the most important aspect of these products, and this set of tests comprised 40% of the overall score for the review. We conducted six different tests for this metric — eating a lot of frozen food in the process.

Perfectly heating a frozen burrito proved an impossible task for many models.
Perfectly heating a frozen burrito proved an impossible task for many models.
The first test was a frozen burrito. We made an identical burrito in each appliance, following the package directions. We used an array of cooking thermometers to check if the burrito hit the required temperature of 160°F, as well as the difference in temperature between the left, right, and center portions of the burrito. We also tasted each section of each burrito — an arduous task — to see if the differences were easily discernible without a thermometer.

Next, we did an identical test with an individual serving of frozen lasagna, though this time the array used more thermometers to better evaluate for evenness and doneness.

We then moved on to our leftovers test. We took an identical plate of food — mashed potatoes, green beans, and chicken tenders — and reheated it in each microwave using each machine's reheat settings and functions. The average temperature of each type of food compared to the others. For example, we noted if the green beans were much hotter than the mashed potatoes, or vice-versa.

This model did a great job at evenly heating the plate of leftovers.
This model did a great job at evenly heating the plate of leftovers.

Next, we made a chicken pot pie in each microwave, following a similar procedure to the frozen burrito. We checked to make sure the frozen pot pie hit an internal temperature of 165°F and used a different circular array to hold the thermometers more accurately. We also noted if the crust was crispy or soggy after heating.

This model did the worst job of the group in our chicken pot pie test.
This model did the worst job of the group in our chicken pot pie test.

We did a similar test with a frozen pocket sandwich (a Hot Pocket, if you have no idea what I'm talking about). We followed the directions, basing the time off the wattage of each model. However, we did use the "Frozen Pocket Sandwich" setting, if the model had that. We reverted back to the linear thermometer holder, and compared the temperature in the left, right, and center regions.

Our final heating test was a heat map of each microwave using frozen chocolate. We melted chocolate and spread it evenly on a piece of parchment paper trimmed to match the turntable in each machine. After it cooled, we zapped each plate and looked for cool spots that didn't melt or burnt spots.

The Samsung MG14H3020CM did a terrible job in our heat map test  producing a very clear bullseye pattern  alternating between solid and melted rings.
The Samsung MG14H3020CM did a terrible job in our heat map test, producing a very clear bullseye pattern, alternating between solid and melted rings.

Ease of Use


For this set of tests, we looked at how easy it was to use the microwave — including the effectiveness of the preset food heating functions. We also looked at what quick buttons were on each machine, the quality of lighting and the keypad, whether or not you could use it as a kitchen timer, and if it would slide around on the counter.

Two different tests were done to test the preset effectiveness: popcorn and baking a potato. We made a bag of popcorn in each model using the "Popcorn" button, entering the closest weight that matched the bag we were using.

We used the popcorn button to test the effectiveness of the preset functions on each model.
We used the popcorn button to test the effectiveness of the preset functions on each model.

We evaluated based on the taste of the popcorn, as judged by our expert panel, and how many kernels remained unpopped.

The NN-SU696S left behind an average number of unpopped kernels.
The NN-SU696S left behind an average number of unpopped kernels.

For the baked potato test, we weighed each potato and followed the manufacturer's directions for each machine, using the weight setting that most closely matched the weight of the actual potato. We evaluated the finished product by comparing the spread of temperatures between the left, right, and center areas of the potato, as well as by evaluating doneness when the potato was cut in half — seeing if it was edible, or still raw in cooler parts.

While this model did evenly heat the potato  it was still a little undercooked.
While this model did evenly heat the potato, it was still a little undercooked.

Then, we looked at the quick buttons for each model. We awarded points if there was a "+30 Seconds" button, and more if it would automatically start the microwave. We also gave more points if there were one-touch buttons — pressing "2" automatically put two minutes on the machine and started it. When it came to evaluating lighting, we looked at if there was a light that would turn on when you would open the door and whether or not you could easily see inside the microwave while the food was being heated.

The Breville had the best non-keypad interface of the group.
The Breville had the best non-keypad interface of the group.

Next, we evaluated the keypad on each model, particularly looking for intuitiveness for awarding points and frustration and confusion for docking them.

This model had one of the more traditional looking interfaces.
This model had one of the more traditional looking interfaces.

Finally, we docked points for microwaves that would slide around on the counter when the door was opened or closed, or the keypad hit.

Defrosting


Defrosting isn't quite as important as simply heating food up, with most people using it much less frequently. This metric made up 20% of the overall score, and only comprised of three tests.

The first test was defrosting a 1 lb roll of ground turkey, using the "Defrost" setting and entering the correct weight. We flipped the roll if the microwave notified us to flip it during defrosting. We then scraped off all the defrosted meat and weighed the remaining frozen section, noting if we could break it apart or if it needed to go back in the microwave.

We weighed the roll of frozen turkey before  scraped off all of the completely defrosted meat from heating  then weighed the remnants to compare performance.
We weighed the roll of frozen turkey before, scraped off all of the completely defrosted meat from heating, then weighed the remnants to compare performance.

Next, we took a frozen chocolate chip muffin and defrosted it by weight in each model, using the food setting that most closely matched. We rated the outside evenness and inside evenness of each muffin, looking for cool spots and just barely melted chocolate chips.

The top of the muffin tended to be slightly cooler than the rest.
The top of the muffin tended to be slightly cooler than the rest.

The final thing we evaluated were the defrost option available on each machine — basically if the microwave had a speed defrost by time in addition to a defrost by weight.

Speed


This final test was evaluating how speedy the microwaves were. We heated up a beaker of water with the same amount in each microwave for a constant time, and determined scores by the temperature rise caused by each microwave.

The Sharp did an alright job in our Speed test  earning a 5 out of 10.
The Sharp did an alright job in our Speed test, earning a 5 out of 10.

Conclusion


Interested in how different models stacked up? Take a look at our complete Microwave Review, or take a read through our Buying Advice article for more background on microwaves in general, or other buying tips.

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