Small Microwaves are an essential part of most households and you probably won’t realise how much you use it until you really buy it. In short, it’s most people’s go-to option for reheating drinks and various meals and can be a real life saver if you’re in a rush.
While you can survive without a microwave in your kitchen if you need to, the ease and practicality of one in both the home and office setting has made it pretty much indispensable.
If your old and “trusty” microwave has finally packed it in, or if you’ve recently moved into your own apartment, you’ll find the need to invest in a new kitchen appliances. And while this might seem like a simple enough task, there’s actually a lot to consider when it comes to buying the best small microwave, including power, settings, size and aesthetics.
We’ve rounded up some useful advice and some current recommendations for models on the market to make your next best small microwave purchase simpler.
What type of microwave do I need?
There are three main types of microwave you need to know about. Most small microwaves are made for the countertop, while others are either built-in to your units or over-the-range . If you’re looking for an affordable option, you’ll most likely need a countertop unit which won’t require any additional installation.
Alternatively, built-in and over-the-range models usually need a professional installer and are likely to cost more. The obvious benefit here is that they free up counter space and improve the aesthetics of your kitchen.
What size of microwave do I need?
If your counter area is limited you might not want to give up too much counter top space to your microwave. In these situations you can prioritise buying a smaller model that’s just big enough to fit your medium sized dishes inside. The internal space of a microwave can vary from around 0.5 cubic feet to a little over 2 cubic feet.
If you only need to heat up single meals on your plates, then you can probably get away with a smaller microwave, but if you prefer heating up your leftovers in you larger items of cookware, then you’ll obviously need to look for a microwave with a larger internal space.
Additionally, you’ll need to factor in the external dimensions of your unit. Some microwaves extend out quite far at the back of the unit and make it hard to fit on some shallow countertop units. Try measuring your kitchen space first and check what kind of width, depth, and height you can handle.
The final thing you’ll need to check is whether there is a power outlet near to where you want to place the microwave. If there’s not, you may have think about moving its location or coming up with a cabling solution.
Small microwave features
Like with many kitchen appliances, the difference between a model at the top and bottom of the price range is usually the amount of features that are offered. Obviously quality, reliability and performance are important too, but if you’re simply looking for a unit to heat your leftovers in, you can pick up a relatively cheap microwave for not much.
However, if you need your microwave to do some serious multitasking for you (and who would blame you), then you’ll need to pay slightly more for the features you want. We’ve outlined some of the main features to look for below:
- Pre-programmed cooking options
Depending on what you’re heating up or defrosting, your microwave will have a special button dedicated to handling this task. All you need to do is press the necessary button and it will do the rest, by adjusting the heat and time.
- Sensor cooking
Microwaves with sensor cooking functionality can cook food based on the humidity levels inside. It does this by measuring the moisture released from your food – very smart!
- Program options
Some microwaves offer additional program options to give you full control over the way you heat your food, using various power outputs and heating cycles.
- Quick heat / time saving features
Each brand of microwave will probably come with its own version of ‘quick heating’. Whether you want to give your meals or drinks a quick 1,2,5 or 10 minute blast, you’ll be able to do this with a single touch, depending on the manufacturer and brand.
- Viewing window
Almost all compact microwaves come with a viewing window where you can see your food or drink items heating, but some are clearer and larger than others. This will vary depending on the material used to build your unit as well as its overall size.
For some people, the way you operate the microwave with your hands is one of the most important features. For instance, are there smart dials that let you adjust your time and power with precision? Or do you have to use a touch screen to type in power outputs and food weights? The best microwaves won’t require you to refer to the instruction manual too often.
A bright interior light together with a large transparent viewing window make it easier for you to check your food as it cooks. Many cheap microwave models have poor visibility through the door requiring you to open it regularly while you are using it.
Check that there aren’t any gaps or crevices inside or outside the microwave that could trap food and grease and make it hard to clean. Also, don’t choose aesthetics over practicality – steel may look great but it’s much harder to keep clean.
- Multi-stage programming
This setting allows you to perform a sequence of functions, such as defrost, cook and then leave to stand.
All microwaves beep or ping during or at the end of operation. Some also keep on beeping at intervals until you tell them not to or you open the door of the microwave. Additionally, microwaves also have a cooking fan that can continue a few minutes after it has finished heating.
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Our recommended Best Compact Microwaves In 2023
1. Toshiba EM925A5A-BS Microwave Oven
This model from Toshiba offers everything you need from a small, powerful microwave as well as some intuitive features that make it a pleasure to use. These include simple one-touch start options and sound on/off features. We also love the power saving mode that lets you reduce the amount of electricity used when operating it.
- Black stainless steel for a polished finish
- Once Touch Start feature
- 900 Watt output
- Internal LED screen that lets you check on your items
- Smart power saving mode
2. Samsung MG14H3020CM Countertop Grill Microwave Oven
The Samsung MG14H3020CM is a big, powerful unit that comes with plenty of features. Within its stylish mirror-like façade, this model can automatically detect whether you need to reheat, defrost or cook based on what you have placed inside it. It also offers 1.4 cubic feet space inside and a 14.2-inch glass turntable that lets you place almost any dish from your cupboards inside without a second thought.
- 950 Watt output
- 4 cubic feet space
- Ceramic enamel inside the unit
- Eco Mode which reduces energy usage when not in operation
- Smart auto-detection cooking options
The internal spaciousness of this unit comes at a price with the model weighing about 41.9 lbs, reducing its portability. Also, because of the mirror finish used externally, you won’t be able to see inside.
3. Panasonic NN-SD372S Countertop Microwave Oven
This stainless steel microwave from Panasonic claims to spread heat evenly within the unit using its Inverter Technology that aims to reduce the temperature differentiation between different areas of the microwave – something that might appeal to you if you’re particular about your food being consistently heated all the way through to precision.
- 950 Watt output
- Strong and sturdy design
- Easy to use and tactile buttons
- Panasonic’s signature Inverter Technology
At 0.8 cubic feet, this unit is small enough to fit on most countertops and doesn’t sacrifice quality and power
4. Oster OGH6901 0.9 Cubic Feet 900-Watt Countertop Digital Microwave Oven
The Oster OGH6901 is a 900-watt microwave that comes with a beautiful brushed stainless design and offers a decent range of features and program options for almost any need, including quick cook options, sensor cooking and an LED display. You can also cook meals with a two-stage cooking function that lets you apply two different temperatures at different stages of your meal preparation process.
- Premium looking finish
- A Two-Stage Cooking System
- Sensor cooking options
5. Bella 700-Watt Compact Microwave Oven
This is one of the best small microwave ovens on this list if you’re looking to reduce the space you take up on your countertop. With a 0.7 cubic feet capacity, you’ll still be able to get your standard plates and bowls inside, but probably not your large cookware dishes.
- 700 Watt ouput
- Custom memory feature
- Multi-stage cooking options
- LED display
- 6 one-touch cooking functions
The sacrifice you make for getting a smaller microwave here is paid with lower power output, meaning it might be harder for certain cooking or heating functions.
The list above is by no means exhaustive. Using this guide as a place to start, do your research before you buy your next compact microwave. You won’t be able to judge the best small countertop microwaves just by looking at the price and power output alone. If you read online user reviews, you may discover that certain models leave the edges of your poultry frazzled when defrosting, for example. Other models might be too small to fit your favourite crockery inside.