What Size of Countertop Microwave Should You Get – Beginners Guide

Last Updated on August 13, 2021


Annabelle Watson

Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.

What Size of Countertop Microwave Should You Get – Beginners Guide

The countertop microwave is the perfect appliance for small apartments, dorm rooms and the kitchen that doesn’t have a built-in microwave. You may also find that a countertop microwave is a handy option for your camper or RV. So what should you look for in a countertop microwave? Which ones are too big, which ones are too small? 

How do you know which countertop microwave is the best one for your space and needs? We’ve looked at lots of microwaves, and considered this question. Countertop microwaves are about as diverse in size and shape as under-counter and built-in options, so if you’ve not bought a microwave before, this can be confusing.

To help the beginner who is just starting out, and needs to buy a microwave, we’ve put together some helpful advice on how to pick the right size microwave for your space.

1. Common Sizes

Compact – These microwaves are less than1 cubic foot in capacity. You’ll find that these tiny microwaves don’t hold much. They will handle a small plate, a cup of coffee or a small microwave dinner. They are perfect for reheating foods, and are ideal for college dorm rooms.
Mid-Size – These microwaves are between 1 and 1.5 cubic feet in capacity. The slightly larger size makes these perfect for heating up a full-size plate of food or defrosting a container of soup. Mid-size microwaves give you reasonable capacity with a smaller footprint. For small kitchens this is the perfect microwave size.
Full-Size – The name says it all with this microwave. Between 1.5 and 2 cubic feet, the full-size microwave is the most versatile when it comes to capacity. You can heat bigger dishes and this is a perfect size microwave for a family. However, these are larger, and take up a bit of space on your counter. This is a good option for a larger size kitchen.
Large – This is the biggest option on the market. Large microwaves are any that have a capacity of 2.0 cubic feet or more. If you use the microwave to cook full meals and you do this frequently, even if you have a small kitchen, you probably want to consider a large microwave.

2. How To Pick the Right Size?

Kitchen Space – This is really the most important factor for most of us when we are shopping for the right countertop microwave. If you have limited space, you probably aren’t going to want to go out and buy a huge microwave. For small apartments or even dorm rooms, you’ll want to consider compact or midsize microwaves. These will fit the space, and do a good job, but won’t overwhelm your kitchen.
Frequency of Use – How often you are using your microwave can play an important role in which size you select. Even if you have a tiny kitchen, if you are cooking most of your meals in the microwave, or if you like to cook larger dishes in the microwave, you may want to consider a larger capacity countertop microwave. Yes, they may take up more space, but if you use your microwave a lot, it may be worth the lost space.
Number of People – This might be another big consideration for you when it comes to buying the right countertop microwave. If you have a larger family or if it will be used by more than two people, you will want a larger capacity microwave.  These larger capacity microwaves, in some cases are big enough to cook a chicken or a full size casserole. Do keep in mind however, they take up a good amount of counter space.

3. Other Considerations


To be fair, size is really important when you are shopping for a countertop microwave, but there are other factors that you may want to consider when your microwaving food. We’ve given you some things that you will want to look for as you are shopping.

Price – Size and price usually go together. However, there are some countertop microwaves with more options that can be pricey. In general compact microwaves shouldn’t cost you more than $100 for a good quality option. Large microwaves can be upward of $500 for a high-end option.
Color – When it comes to color, you have three basic options. Black, white or stainless steel. Our recommendation is to select the color that best matches the other appliances in your kitchen. We did find that there are some microwaves that come in funky colors like blue, yellow, green and red. These are fun options, and in general they are smaller in size so they make a fun alternative for dorm rooms or break rooms.
Preset Programs – If there are things you really like to cook in your microwave, do look for preset programs that will make cooking your favorite foods as simple as a push of a button. Some popular preset programs that you’ll find include: popcorn, baked potatoes, defrost, frozen pizza, and vegetables.
Ease of Use – A microwave shouldn’t require an engineering degree to use. If you find that you are working really hard to figure out your microwave, it wasn’t the right pick for you.
Unique Extras – Today, microwaves come with some cool extra features. These extra features may make the price higher, but they can be fun to use. Look for microwaves that are wi-fi enabled and can be operated with a phone app. Or, there are apps that are able to link to your smart speaker, and can be voice operated.

So there you have our recommendations for buying your first microwave. Countertop microwaves are a great way to enjoy the convenience of a microwave, without the effort necessary to install a microwave. They are great additions to small kitchens or dorm rooms, and are a reasonably priced option for any kitchen.