We carefully looked at over 55 different products, then bought the 6 best microwaves on the market in 2020 to compare head-to-head. We exhaustively compared heating performance, making dozens and dozens of Hot Pockets, frozen burritos, prepackaged dinners, and pot pies, along with a plethora of popcorn. We reheated leftovers of all types and objectively compared how fast each appliance by comparing the temperature change of a fixed amount of water, as well as evaluating the preset heating functions and the overall ease of use. Check out our comprehensive review below to find out which machine came out on top, which is the best budget option, and which is the most convenient to use.
The Best Microwave Ovens of 2020
Best Overall Microwave
If you are searching for a top-tier microwave, then we would readily recommend the Panasonic NN-SD745S. This appliance thoroughly impressed us in the heating tests, evenly reheating a plate of leftovers and delivering some of the best results in our Hot Pocket test that we have seen to date. It displayed no hot or cold spots in our heat map test, evenly melting chocolate across its entire plate, and we found the preset heating functions to work quite well. It has ample internal lighting and doesn't slide around on your counter, all while heating up food decently fast.
We weren't the biggest fans of the interface, finding the dial and lack of quick buttons to be a little less intuitive compared to other models and what we are typically used to but this shouldn't be a huge issue once you get used to it. This product also only delivered a so-so performance at defrosting a block of ground meat but overall we think it is still one of the best products you can get if you want the best of the best.
Read review: Panasonic NN-SD745S
Best Value Option
If you are searching for a solid microwave that won't break the bank, then the Toshiba EM925A5A is a great option. This appliance is one of the most user-friendly and easy to use microwaves that we have tested, offering tons of presets and quick buttons. It did well in most of our heating tests, particularly impressing us with its practically perfect performance in our chicken pot pie test and how uniformly it melted the chocolate in our heat map test.
This product did heat up the water a bit slower than other products and wasn't our favorite when it came to defrosting. It didn't fully defrost a frozen muffin when using the defrost by weight function and struggled with the one pound block of frozen meat. The bottom was partially cooked while the ends were still frozen. However, it's a good all-around appliance if you are shopping on a limited budget and our favorite value pick.Read review: Toshiba EM925A5A
Why You Should Trust Us?
Our testing team of Austin Palmer and David Wise has extensive experience with kitchen appliances, having tested close to 250. ranging from juicers, food choppers, food processors, blenders, citrus juicers, ice cream makers, water filters, testing kitchen appliances, both Austin and David have become frozen food connoisseurs, having consumed far more Hot Pockets and frozen burritos than anyone should.
We conducted extensive head-to-head tests and had a group of judges provide input on quality of the heated food. We compared how quickly each product can heat something by measuring the temperature increase in a controlled volume of water. Finally, we used the products in our office and personal kitchens over several months to see how they performed over a longer period of time, updating the review accordingly.
Related: How We Tested Microwave Ovens
Analysis and Test Results
The testing process was split into four metrics — Heating, Defrosting, Ease of Use, and Speed — with over 15 different tests spread among the metrics.
Related: Buying Advice for Microwave Ovens
If you are shopping on a limited budget, then Toshiba EM925A5A is our top recommendation. It did decently well across the majority of our tests and costs considerably less than the top-tier models, like the Panasonic NN-SD745S.
Heating food with little to no effort is the main reason to buy a microwave. Period. Whether you are heating leftovers from last night's dinner or zapping a Hot Pocket for a quick lunch, you want a microwave that is going to quickly and evenly heat your food to the desired temperature. This metric is so important that it comprises 40 percent of the total score — a model that does poorly in this metric we would definitely caution against buying.
We heated identical frozen burritos, trays of lasagna, and Hot Pockets then used an array of cooking thermometers to evaluate how uniform the food was heated. We also reheated a typical plate of leftovers, simulating a Thanksgiving dinner, as well as chicken pot pies. Finally, we generated a heat map with a plate of melted chocolate to look for any inconsistencies or dead spots.
The Panasonic NN-SD745S claimed the top spot in this metric, earning an 8 out of 10. It did a great job at heating our sample Thanksgiving dinner, with the green beans just a tiny bit warmer than the other food items. It also did a great job at heating the pot pie, easily heating it to the necessary temperature of 165°F, and having less than 10°F of temperature variation between different zones. Where this model truly excelled was our frozen pocket sandwich test and our heat map test. We heated up a Hot Pocket brand sandwich using the "Frozen Pocket Sandwich" setting and then measured the internal temperature with an array of kitchen thermometers.
The SD745S had the smallest temperature variation, with less than 2°F of difference. This model also had a very uniform chocolate heat map.
However, this Panasonic model fell a little flat on our frozen burrito and frozen lasagna test, failing to heat the burrito to 160°F and leaving both the lasagna and burrito with wide temperature variations.
The LG LCS1112ST, the Toshiba EM925A5A, and the Panasonic NN-SU696S all earned a 6 out of 10 for their slightly above average performances. While these models received the same overall scores for their heating performance, they performed wildly different in the individual tests.
The Panasonic NN-SU696S did the best of the group with the leftovers plate but still quite a bit of temperature variation, with a few of the chicken tenders close to 40°F warmer than the mashed potatoes. The Toshiba performed similarly to the NN-SU696S, except that there was a bit more temperature variation, to the point where some of the potatoes began to border on crispy.
The LG did a less than stellar job with the plate of leftovers, failing to evenly heat the same type of food, with large temperature discrepancies present even between different chicken tenders. When it came to heating up the pot pie, the LG and the Toshiba
almost matched the performance of the Panasonic NN-SD745S, but had slightly more temperature variation. The NN-SU696S did a bit worse but we thought it still produced an acceptable result.
The Toshiba didn't really impress with the Hot Pocket, having an average temperature difference of about 6.5°F across different areas after heating but still did better than average compared to the entire group. The LG and the Panasonic NN-SU696S were close to average, exhibiting 10-15°F of temperature variation.
The LG did best with the chocolate heat map, matching the performance of the Panasonic NN-SD745S. The Toshiba came next, but there were a few spots that were slightly warmer and almost approaching burning.
The Panasonic NN-SU696S did a little worse, leaving a nickel-sized cooler spot in the exact middle.The LG and the Panasonic NN-SU696S both did well at heating up a frozen burrito, averaging 8-12°F of temperature differences between left, right, and center of the burrito.
The Toshiba was a little worse, failing to achieve the minimum temperature and having a sizeable temperature difference between the left and right halves.
The LG and the Panasonic NN-SU6969S both passed the frozen lasagna test, heating the lasagna past the required 160°F. The LG had about 7°F of difference, while the Panasonic NN-SU696S had about 9°F, with all regions exceeding 160°F. The Toshiba did horribly, with the middle of the lasagna only reaching a lukewarm 70°F.
The Samsung MG14H3020CM earned a 5 out of 10 for its overall average heating performance. This model actually did very well at heating up the plate of leftovers, almost as well as the Panasonic NN-SD745S. It did much worse at heating up the pot pie, failing to heat the pie evenly, with some areas over 190°F and others below the required temperature of 165°F. This Samsung did an average job heating a frozen pocket sandwich (Hot Pocket) and frozen lasagna. However, it did badly in our frozen burrito test and heat map test. The burrito had a ton of temperature variation. The heat map showed a clear bullseye pattern, with the center and the outer ring remaining solid with the middle ring melting.
Finishing out the bottom of the group in our heating test, the Breville Quick Touch earned a 4 out of 10. It had tons of temperature variation across most of our tests.
Ease of Use
This metric made up 30 percent of the total score. We evaluated the preset settings, whether or not quick buttons worked well, the quality of the interior lighting and timer, as well as whether the appliance would slide around on the counter when the door was opened or closed or when a button was pressed. For the preset effectiveness, we made a bag of popcorn and baked a potato in each model, precisely following the manufacturer's directions.
The Toshiba led the group, meriting an 8 out of 10. We liked the quick buttons it has, with the number keys 1-6 automatically starting the microwave and putting that amount of time on the clock. It also has a "+30" button for when your food needs just a little bit longer. It did well when using the "Potato" preset with a few spots that were a little on the firm side, but did even better with the popcorn, burning none of it at all. It's pretty easy to see your food while it is being heated with a solid amount of light and the keypad layout is decently intuitive and easy to use, though the "0" key is in a bit of an odd spot.
Following the Toshiba, the Breville earned the next highest score in terms of ease of use, meriting a 7 out of 10. It has an exceptionally bright light inside and will turn it on when the door is opened. The Breville has a "+30" button but lacked the quick buttons. These models were both very solid on the counter, with the Breville refusing to budge when the keypad was used or the door opened.
The Breville did decently well in our preset test, doing a good job at making popcorn and baking a potato using the presets. The Breville left behind a decent number of kernels, but we found it to make the best tasting popcorn out of the entire group.
Next, the LG and the Panasonic NN-SD745S received a 6 out of 10. These models all have some sort of light inside that will turn on when the food is being heated. We liked the interface on the LG, finding that that dial on the Panasonic NN-SD745S was a little irritating to use. The Panasonic NN-SD745S wouldn't slide on the counter when opening or closing the door or using the keypad, but the LG would slide about a quarter of an inch every time we opened or closed the door.
The Panasonic NN-SD745S did the best out of this group in our preset effectiveness test, heating popcorn close to perfection using the preconfigured setting and only leaving about 27 leftover kernels. It did alright at baking a potato using its preset but left the center a little harder than we would have liked.
The preset effectiveness on the LG was just slightly behind the Panasonic NN-SD745S. The LG left more popcorn kernels behind than the Panasonic NN-SD745S and created popcorn that didn't taste quite as nice. However, the LG overcooked the potato on the bottom and on the left side, lacking a notification to stop and flip the potato like other models.
Rounding out the back of the pack for ease of use, the Samsung MG14H3020CM and the Panasonic NN-SU696S earned a 5 and a 4 out of 10 respectively. You can see inside the Panasonic NN-SU696S while it's running, but there is no light when the door is opened. This Samsung has a light, but it's really hard to see the food inside with its mirrored exterior.
Neither of these models could be used as a kitchen timer, and both had an alright keypad. The Panasonic NN-SU696S would slide a little bit when the door was opened and closed, but the Samsung MG14H3020CM was solid as a rock on the counter. These both had a "+30 Seconds" button, but it would not automatically start heating and neither had any one-touch quick buttons.
The Samsung MG14H3020CM left behind a larger number of kernels compared to the Panasonic NN-SU696S, but none of them were burnt tasting. The Panasonic did an average job at baking a potato, significantly better than the Samsung MG14H3020CM which left the center completely raw.
Defrosting made up 20% of the overall score for these products and was a much smaller group of tests than heating. We rated these products on how effectively they could defrost a 1 lb roll of ground turkey — if the microwave could satisfactorily defrost a muffin. In addition, we looked at what type defrosting options are available, such as defrosting by time or by weight.
The Panasonic NN-SU696S earned a 6 out of 10 for its defrosting capabilities. It did well at defrosting the roll of ground turkey, but not amazing. There were some almost cooked parts, while other sections were still somewhat frozen. The Panasonic NN-SU696S did do much better at defrosting the frozen muffin, heating everything except the very bottom of the muffin.
Next were the LG LCS1112ST and the Panasonic NN-SD745S, both meriting a 5 out of 10 for their defrosting abilities. The LG did better than the Panasonic NN-SD745S at defrosting the roll of ground turkey, but not as well as the Panasonic NN-SU696S. There were a few warm parts in the LG's roll of ground turkey, compared to the completely cooked sections in the NN-SD745S's. However, the NN-SD745S did one of the best jobs of the entire group at defrosting a frozen muffin, evenly heating it throughout and just lightly melting the chocolate chips. The LG did almost as well, but the top portion was just a little bit cooler than the rest of the muffin, dropping its score. The LG has a quick defrost and a weight defrost, while the Panasonic NN-SD745S only has a defrost by weight.
The remainder of the models — the Toshiba, the Breville, and the Samsung MG14H3020CM all scored below average at defrosting, earning a 4 out of 10. The Toshiba and the Breville did the worst of the bunch at defrosting the roll of ground turkey, leaving the bulk of it too frozen to easily break apart. The Samsung did a little better, but not by much.
These models all did roughly the same at defrosting a frozen muffin, with the Samsung MG14H3020CM doing slightly better than the Toshiba and the Breville. These models all had defrost by weight functions and only the Samsung lacked a quick defrost function by time.
These appliances are all about conveniently and quickly heating up food, and our final metric focuses on the latter. We heated up a set amount of water in a beaker in each model for 30 seconds and compared the temperature rise between to determine scores. This metric made up 10% of the overall score.
The Panasonic NN-SU696S earned the top score of 7 out of 10 in this metric. This model boosted the temperature of 250 mL of water about 37°F in 30 seconds. Next , the Panasonic NN-SD745S earned a 6 out of 10 for increasing the water temperature by 35°F.
Following these, the LG did about average, meriting a 5 out of 10. It elevated the water by 33°F. The Toshiba and theBreville both boosted the temperature of the water by about 32°F after the 30 seconds — enough to earn both appliances a 4 out of 10 for their somewhat lackluster showing, though they did beat the Samsung model. The MG14H3020CM earned a 3 out of 10 for boosting the water 28°F.
We sincerely hope that you have found this review to be both helpful and informative and has made it a little easier to find the perfect new microwave that matches both your needs and budgets.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer