If your countertops are a little tight on space or you want to save some money, this slightly smaller version of our favorite Toshiba works well and has most of the same great features.
The Toshiba Toshiba EM131A5C is usually the most affordable microwave that has a full stainless (or black stainless) front finish, rather than the typical glossy black plastic with partial stainless trim. This model also has a door handle, which we found easier to open and easier to clean than the button-style release on most cheap microwaves. Best of all, you can mute the microwave—a rare feature that lets you stealthily reheat midnight snacks without waking up the rest of the house. Like most microwaves, the Toshiba also has a number of express-cooking options, and it heats food quickly and pretty evenly.
If you’re a little short on counter space or you want to save a few bucks, you could also consider the Toshiba ML2-EM25PAE. It has most of the same features as the EM131A5C, but it’s a bit smaller and doesn’t have a sensor for auto-heating modes.
Don’t count on these Toshiba microwaves to work better or last any longer than other microwaves you’ll find for a similar price. There’s a ton of evidence that they’re essentially the same microwaves as most models sold by GE, Whirlpool, Sharp, Amazon, Magic Chef, Black+Decker—the list goes on.
Most countertop microwaves are made in the same factory from the same core components—including the Toshiba we like, as well as this cheaper model. Get whatever fits your space and your budget.
If our other picks are sold out or are a little too expensive for your tastes, you can choose from tons of other cheap microwaves and still get the same cooking performance and expected reliability. The look and the controls are all slightly different, but they’re clones at the core. Magic Chef, Black+Decker, and Insignia are among the cheapest and easiest-to-find brands. GE, Whirlpool, and Sharp are essentially identical too (though they usually cost more, because the brand names were meaningful a couple decades ago). Pick whatever looks good to you, in whichever size fits your countertop and cookware.
This is the only countertop microwave we tested that clearly outperformed the mass of cheaper models, and it’s not too expensive, either. Otherwise, the features and controls are pretty similar.
Okay, not all microwaves are carbon copies of one another. Panasonic still makes some of its own ovens, and the models with inverters are really good, including the midsize Panasonic NN-SN67HS. In our testing, it heated faster and more evenly than every other microwave. We aren’t convinced that the Panasonics will last any longer than the mass of cheap Midea clones, and if you’re just making popcorn and reheating leftovers, you might not notice the superior performance anyway. The core microwave comes in most of the common sizes, from compact to extra-large, and in a few different finishes and control styles.