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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

The Best (Bargain) Countertop Microwaves



Reheat leftovers and bake potatoes in a countertop microwave oven, without spending a fortune!
Reheat leftovers and bake potatoes in a countertop microwave oven, without spending a fortune!

The microwave oven, which faced so much skepticism upon introduction to the mass market, is now a mainstay of kitchens across America. Invented shortly after the Second World War II by a man named Perry Spencer, this device uses microwave radiation to heat and cook foods. Though many microwaves are built right into the kitchen, this article will look solely at the traditional countertop versions.

When I wanted to upgrade my microwave, my budget was $150.

I know you want to know your options. Look no further, because The Kitchen Professor is here to help!

Here are the microwaves that I think are the best in the lower price range.

Insignia NS-7CM6-BK Compact Microwave

If saving money is your main goal, check out the Insignia compact microwave. It’s only 0.7 cubic feet, so snacks and small meals are probably the best you can hope to fit inside. For its price class, you can’t expect everything. What it does have is eleven different power settings, six quick touch options, and a child safety lock. This will keep young ones safe if you need to keep the microwave in reach of young children.

See the Insignia Compact Microwave at Amazon

At 700-watts, it isn’t the most powerful on the market, but the time and weight defrost settings should always get you the desired result. This would be a great microwave for a dorm room or small apartment.

Cuisinart Microwave Oven CMW-100

Cuisinart CMW-100 1-Cubic-Foot Stainless Steel Microwave Oven

The Cuisinart is a great option but will cost pretty much every last cent of your budget. It’s easy-to-use, saving you hours of poring over the small print in the manual. There are a number of preprogrammed cooking options that work well. I particularly liked the popcorn button which gave great results. The microwave works well on the defrosting mode and certainly provides a solid, even heating. It did not fare quite so well when reheating a dinner plate.

See the Cuisinart CMW-100 Stainless Steel Microwave Oven at Amazon

The microwave has a stainless steel finish which looks great and has an elegant feel to it. However, it can also make life more difficult in regards to cleaning.

For those of us who like to sneak downstairs and make a little nighttime meal, you will be pleased to know that the microwave is surprisingly quiet when in operation. Just be careful for the pips at the end, although any experienced late night user knows to stop it at 1 second to miss the beeps!

Kenmore Microwave Oven

Kenmore 70923 0.9 cu. ft Small Compact 900 Watts Countertop Microwave with 10 Power Settings, 12 Heating Presets, Removable Turntable ADA Compliant, Stainless Steel

If you want an economical microwave that will add a bit of your color to your kitchen, consider the red microwave oven from Kenmore. It’s 0.9 cubic feet in size and is a very reliable machine. This medium-size microwave has plenty of heating power.

See the Kenmore Red Microwave Countertop Oven at Amazon

The only issue you may experience with this microwave is that it can be a little noisy during operation. Sometimes there’s a slight tinny sound, but this shouldn’t be enough to put you off.

Need something to stick those leftovers in? Check out the best containers for freezing leftovers.

A good microwave gets your food from fridge to plate in minutes.
A good microwave gets your food from fridge to plate in minutes.

Panasonic NN-SN686S 1.2 Cubic Foot Microwave

Panasonic Microwave Oven NN-SN686S Stainless Steel Countertop/Built-In with Inverter Technology and Genius Sensor, 1.2 Cubic Foot, 1200W

My favorite is probably the Panasonic NN-SN686S. This model is on the smaller side for a mid-range microwave, but it will suffice for almost all your needs. The benefit is that it takes up less valuable space in your kitchen.

This 1200-watt microwave has a number of settings between full-power and no-power. (You will find that a lot of budget microwaves simply oscillate between high-power and low-power rather than consistently cooking at mid-power.) If you’re environmentally-conscious, you’ll be happy to know it complies with the latest DOE Energy Conservation Standards.

See the Panasonic NN-SN686S Countertop/Built-In Microwave with Inverter Technology, at Amazon

The controls on some microwaves can make it feel like you are manning a space mission to Mars. Luckily this microwave is very simple to use and has a few useful presets, such as “keep warm,” “sensor reheat,” and the all-important “popcorn.”

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I know if a dish, bowl, container, etc. is microwave safe?

On the bottom of a lot of plates, thermos or any container actually, you may read in small letters “do not microwave” or it may say “microwave safe.” That is a way you know if you can heat it in the microwave. But it is true that not all Tupperware, plates etc have those little letters for you to know if they are safe or not for microwave use, so here’s a little trick I found that has worked for me.

Put the dish you want to test inside the microwave with a glass full of water beside it and microwave for 1 minute on high. When the timer is done, if the water becomes hot and the dish remains cool then the dish is microwave safe. If the dish is hot you shouldn’t use it on a microwave. Be careful to test this for only 1 minute because if you add more time the water may start to boil and you could burn yourself.

I already own an electric oven. What’s the difference with a microwave oven and which one is better?

I have both appliances in my kitchen and let me tell you that even though sometimes they are called the same, I’ve learned that you use them for very different reasons. A microwave uses microwave radiation to heat food, an oven has a heating element which heats the air inside, which then heats the food. Usually, people use microwaves for reheating food like leftovers, and ovens for baking, broiling and toasting. But actually, a microwave can do much more than just reheat.

For example, I use my microwave for boiling and steaming, for defrosting and obviously for popcorn! But I also need my oven for baking or dry heating because microwaves hold in a lot of steam and you can’t roast a chicken or make cookies in a microwave, you’ll need an oven for that. So to finally answer your question, I don’t think one is better than the other. For me, both are equally necessary in a kitchen and I love having them both.

I’ve never had a microwave of my own, but every time I see the one at work I’m so disgusted with how dirty it is. I want my own microwave, but I need to know how to clean it correctly.

I had the same fear. I love how easy a microwave works but I panicked over the fact that it would get all greasy and full of leftovers, so I did a little research and mine is always nice and clean. First I recommend that you unplug your microwave before you start cleaning it to avoid any risk of shocks. For most spills that occur inside your microwave, I recommend just using a soapy damp cloth or sponge and the best thing you can do is to clean it right after the spill occurs. If you let the food accumulate, then it will be harder to remove. If you plan or need to do a more thorough clean, then you can get special products for microwave cleaning, like MicroBryte, or just mix a bit of baking soda and water and use that on your sponge to clean it.

Sometimes I’ve noticed that some of the food stains inside the microwave are very hard to remove. Any recommendations?

Fill a glass of water and put it inside the microwave, the heat it on full power for up to 3 minutes. This will help the food soften because of the steam and heat. Let it stand for 3 to 5 more minutes inside the microwave because the water should have become really hot and you can hurt yourself removing it. After that, you can use your usual sponge or cloth to clean everything.

What are some of the functions that microwaves have?

Well, that will depend specifically on the microwave you choose, but most of them have a defrost option and some of them can even defrost by weight or by time, depending on what you need. There is a keep warm feature, a button to make popcorn or to cook potatoes, frozen veggies or just to heat up a dinner plate. Some microwaves have a memory function for a specific time or they can have a button that automatically sets it to 30 seconds or 1 minute. If you have small children, some microwaves come with a child lock option so buttons won’t work while the microwave is in use. As I said, not all microwaves have the same options and you need to do some research on the specific one you want to get based on your needs.

Get your dream kitchen on a budget!

If you enjoyed this post, head on over here for my reviews of the best microwaves for senior citizens.

The Kitchen Professor is your one-stop-shop for tons of recommendations for great kitchen gear that won’t break the bank.

Here’s a round-up of dementia friendly microwaves.

Having a great kitchen doesn’t have to cost a lot. It’s all about how you use it.

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: Bryce Heitman

Bryce is not a real professor, but he's real nerdy in the kitchen. He's been barbecuing, chopping, and generally blazing food for many decades. He thinks there's definitely a better spatula or utensil out there that hasn't been invented yet.

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