Background: Parathyroidectomy is a definitive treatment for primary hyperparathyroidism. Patients contemplating this intervention will benefit from knowledge regarding the expected outcomes and potential risks of the currently available surgical options. Purpose: To appraise and summarize the available evidence regarding benefits and harms of minimally invasive parathyroidectomy (MIP) and bilateral neck exploration (BNE). Data sources: A comprehensive search of multiple databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Scopus) from each database’s inception to September 2014 was performed. Study selection: Eligible studies evaluated patients with primary hyperparathyroidism undergoing MIP or BNE. Data extraction: Reviewers working independently and in duplicate extracted data and assessed the risk of bias. Data synthesis: We identified 82 observational studies and 6 randomized trials at moderate risk of bias. Most of them reported outcomes after MIP (n = 71). Using random-effects models to pool results across studies, the cure rate was 98 % (95 % CI 97–98 %, I2 = 10 %) with BNE and 97 % (95 % CI 96–98 %, I2 = 86 %) with MIP. Hypocalcemia occurred in 14 % (95 % CI 10–17 % I2 = 93 %) of the BNE cases and in 2.3 % (95 % CI 1.6–3.1 %, I2 = 87 %) with MIP (P < 0.001). There was a statistically significant lower risk of laryngeal nerve injury with MIP (0.3 %) than with BNE (0.9 %), but similar risk of infection (0.5 vs. 0.5 %) and mortality (0.1 vs. 0.5 %). Limitations: The available evidence, mostly observational, is at moderate risk of bias, and limited by indirect comparisons and inconsistency for some outcomes (cure rate, hypocalcemia). Conclusion: MIP and BNE are both effective surgical techniques for the treatment of primary hyperparathyroidism. The safety profile of MIP appears superior to BNE (lower rate of hypocalcemia and recurrent laryngeal nerve injury).