Sharp R-820JS Convection Grill Microwave Oven review:

Not as sharp as we had hoped

Frozen lasagna in the microwave is notorious for coming out overdone on the outside and underdone in the middle. Also, in order to be truly safe for consumption, Stouffer's recommends that you cook the lasagna to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Each time we used the frozen dinner preset, the lasagna's internal temperature was below 100 degrees and was, in some places, still frozen.

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The macaroni and cheese fared no better, yielding temperatures around the outside of the dish of between 170 and 190 degrees, but temperatures in the center of only 70 to 100 degrees, representing yet another preset failure.

When prepared according to the instructions on the box, the Sharp cooked both the lasagna and the macaroni to a safe temperature, and the dishes looked and tasted as expected.

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The next big test came with omelets. Up to that point, the Sharp had performed so far below our other microwaves that I expected utter failure with eggs. For our omelets, we melted a tablespoon of butter, cooled it, then whisked in two eggs and 2 tablespoons of milk. With the Sharp, I cooked the eggs in a covered glass dish at 100 percent power for 1 minute, stirred, and then cooked for an additional 3 minutes.

The result was a fluffy omelet that was consistently well-cooked throughout, nearly perfect for a microwave. It was the best of the bunch, in fact. As the prior tests were designed to assess the quality of the presets and not so much the core microwave function, I was encouraged. Certainly, the presets had been a failure thus far, but that didn't necessarily mean that this was a bad microwave.

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The Sharp is a lower-wattage microwave than the others, emitting 900 watts, compared with the 1,250-watt Panasonic and 1,200-watt Whirlpool and Amana. Higher wattage means faster cooking, but manufacturers claim that it also means more even cooking. There are applications, however, where lower power is better, as with eggs, where foods are more delicate. In terms of reheating, for instance, higher wattage did not seem to be an asset.

We reheated slices of takeout pepperoni pizza using the pizza presets. The Sharp's reheat preset shone here. The pizza was good, as good as the Amana's pizza and better than the Panasonic's and Whirlpool's. The cheese was melted appropriately, and the crust wasn't soggy or spongy. It wasn't as good as fresh pizza, certainly, but if you're not a cold-pizza lover like me, this preset works well.

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Getting into more-specific functions, Sharp claims that this microwave makes excellent burgers, thanks to its grill rack. The other microwaves cooked burgers in 4 minutes or less. The Sharp required 19 minutes because of its lower-power grill function. I expected results similar to our toaster oven burgers, aka the experience that nearly drove some of us to vegetarianism and convinced those vegetarians among us never to look back.

Much to our surprise, the burgers from all of our microwaves were good and many were better than a lot of fast-food burgers. The Sharp's was the most evenly cooked and juicy, and we voted it the best, though not by a wide swath. The take-away? You can, in fact, make a good burger in a microwave, grill rack or no.

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As a final function test, we defrosted chicken legs. One chicken leg weighed too little to use the autodefrost preset, so we had to manually defrost. In every case, the middle, near the bone, was still frozen or nearly frozen while the outsides were defrosted and the parts in contact with the glass container had begun to cook. This was disappointing, though not much different from results with our other microwaves, all of which performed inconsistently in this test.

Microwave defrosting seems to be more art than science, as it's inconsistent and can't defrost your food completely throughout without some parts beginning to cook. And let's not forget that people tend to appreciate microwave defrosting not so much for its performance as for its convenience. For delicate foods, it's best to defrost for an appropriate time in your refrigerator to ensure even thawing without accidental cooking.

While we had all of that defrosted chicken on our hands, I decided to try the Sharp's grill functions again and placed 1 pound of the chicken legs on the rack. Under the preset for grilling "chicken pieces" (vague and a bit gross-sounding), the microwave automatically set the timer for 17 minutes and 15 seconds. The result was "OK" chicken. It was a little rubbery, but not dry. Some of the skin was crisp, some was not. You may be intrigued by this technology but, then again, in 17 minutes, you could have better chicken legs from a traditional grill.

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As I said in the beginning, the Sharp performed well about half the time. The Sharp's popcorn, potato, and frozen entree presets were terrible failures, while the pizza and grill presets worked as well as we expected. In the case of the burgers and omelets, the Sharp was a top performer. With the exception of pizza, the Sharp was either the top performer or the worst performer, an inconsistency that doesn't instill a lot of confidence.

On top of this inconsistency, the Sharp's $289.99 sticker price makes it the second most expensive microwave we tested in this group. In a perfect world this would be, consistently, the second-best performer. Sadly, we don't live in that place.

On the one hand, the grilling and convection functions are an added bonus to the traditional microwave. When they work, they're appreciated. But I can't see using this microwave in a way that would justify them, at least not very often. If you plan to use your microwave as a replacement appliance for all other appliances (I'm looking at you, dorm-dwellers), you might give the Sharp R-820JS some consideration. You'll have to set your own timers more often than not and not rely on presets, but you also won't have to go to the dining hall every time you have a hankering for a decent burger.

For the rest of us, the Sharp R-820JS' smaller capacity and inconsistent presets diminish its value. While it's not the most expensive microwave in the category, at $290 you should demand better functionality than from a $60 alternative. It's also troubling that for $10 more you can get the Panasonic NN-SD997S, and for $10 less you can get the Whirlpool WMC50522AS, both of which are larger units with more consistent performance records.

In short, the Sharp simply doesn't offer enough bang for your buck. Then again, with the exception of larger capacity, none of the models we tested in this set really distinguished itself from a basic $60 unit.

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