Amana AMC2166AS countertop microwave review:

'Good enough' isn't quite good enough

After popcorn, potatoes, and pizza, we decided to break with alliteration and try cooking frozen entrees. We started with the gold standard -- macaroni and cheese -- and again, wanted to put the microwave's presets to work. In the Amana's case, the frozen entree preset will let you choose between cooking a 10-ounce entree at a reduced power level for 9 minutes, or cooking a 20 oz. entree at a reduced power level for 17 minutes. Ten ounces was close enough to the macaroni we were using, so I gave it a spin. Sure enough, the dish came out hot and tasty -- a 9 out of 10, by frozen dinner standards. Still, I'm not sure that it's worth the extra 4 minutes when cooking frozen macaroni at full power for 5 minutes will likely get you an 8 out of 10. And, to be fair, it's pretty hard for a microwave to mess up mac and cheese -- the results we got from the Panasonic and the Whirlpool models that we tested were both equally successful. The Sharp's presets left the macaroni a little cold in the middle, but when following the box instructions, it did fine as well.

The Amana consistently cooked a perfectly decent tub of frozen lasagna. Katie Pilkington/CNET

With macaroni out of the way, we decided to try something a little thicker, and more notoriously difficult for a microwave to nail. Lasagna seemed like the perfect choice, and a good test for the Amana's claims about cooking things evenly. We tested both individual-size servings (again, I used the 10 ounce preset) and large-size servings (at around 19 ounces, these merited the 20 ounce preset). For the most part, I was happy with the Amana's results. Each serving was thoroughly cooked, with no cold spots in the center. There was always that satisfying ring of tomatoey burnt cheese around the rim. As for the cheese in the middle, it was typically a little bit overcooked, and not as thick and stretchy as I'd like, but still perfectly tasty. It was certainly a better set of results than we got from the Sharp, which tended to leave the lasagna lukewarm throughout, or the Panasonic, where the sensor cooking mode seemed intent on undercooking, as well.

Next, it was time to move on to defrosting, with frozen chicken drumsticks as our guinea pigs of choice. The Amana has two defrosting options. The first is a manual timed defrost mode, where the microwave will run at 30 percent power for as long as you tell it to. The second is a weight defrost mode, where you'll enter the food's weight and let the microwave calculate the time for you. Weight defrost mode has three variations -- tap the weight defrost button once for meat, beef, lamb, or pork, tap it twice for poultry, or tap it three times for fish or steak.

The Amana didn't defrost quite as gently as some of the other microwaves we tested. Ry Crist/CNET

Tapping twice for poultry, I set out to see how uniformly the Amana would defrost my drumstick in comparison with the other models we tested. Ideally, it would thaw the thing enough for it to be cooked without actually starting to cook it, and the Amana passed this test -- barely. The bottom of the drumstick warmed up to over 100 degrees F, likely thanks to the warmth from the glass dish beneath it. It didn't quite begin to cook, but it was close. Furthermore, for anything other than immediate, out-of-the-microwave and into-the-oven cooking, you'd have to be concerned with bacterial growth at that temperature. The lesson here might be that when you're using a high-wattage microwave like the AMC2166AS for defrosting, you'll want to add an extra layer or two of paper towel between the frozen food and the dish, and you'll also probably want to err on the side of under-defrosting.

We also tested out some foods you might not normally associate with microwaves. Inverter microwaves, which can maintain consistent power levels throughout cooking, claim to cook delicate foods like fish and eggs better than other microwaves, and we used the Amana as one of our "other microwaves," since it lacks inverter technology. We started off with a simple recipe for a 3-minute microwaved omelet, and the result, while edible, was a bit dry and more overcooked than what came out of the other microwaves, particularly the Panasonic and the Sharp, which both produced pleasingly fluffy and tasty little omelets. I reasoned that with an omelet, the Amana's 1,200 watts were overkill compared with the Sharp's 900, so I tried decreasing the power level. Still, I was left with inferior eggs. For delicate foods like these, a low-wattage microwave might actually be the better buy, although in fairness, the Panasonic actually has more watts than the Amana does, with 1,250 -- though it also boasts inverter tech.

Yep, we ate all of it. For science. Katie Pilkington/CNET

Our final test was a bit of a callback to our round of high-end toaster oven reviews. Since the Sharp comes with a microwave-safe metal grilling rack and a dedicated grill mode, we decided to see how all of the microwaves handled hamburgers cooked fresh, from raw meat. The results were actually rather astounding. With the exception of the Sharp, where the rack accessory allowed the grease to drip away to a pan sitting below, the burgers all came out looking particularly unpleasant, and none of us was terribly excited to take a test bite of any of them.

But then we did, and to our great surprise...they tasted pretty good. We liked the Sharp's burgers the best, but only by a little, as all of them tasted juicy and flavorful, with textures that weren't nearly as off-putting as the pictures would have you imagine. Dumbfounded, all of us soon went back for second and third bites. We actually liked these burgers better than the burgers we broiled during our toaster oven tests -- and it wasn't close.

Unless you've never used a microwave before, using the AMC2166AS should be a largely familiar experience. You'll put the food in, close the door, punch the desired time in, and press Start. You can press Start again to add 30 seconds of cooking time, or you can press Cancel to stop the cooking process early. Oh, and there's also that Cooking Complete Reminder, so the machine will beep when the cooking process is finished. Can't stress that enough.

Another familiar part of the AMC2166AS is that, like most microwaves, it isn't without its flaws. I was irked that the potato preset only let me select the number of potatoes, rather than the total ounces. An especially large potato would probably come out undercooked in the center, while the runt of the bunch would be prone to overcooking. Additionally, it's a microwave with a very dim window, so if you're the kind of chef who likes to eyeball it when it comes to doneness, you're likely going to need to pause the cooking process and open the door to get a good look at your dish, rather than simply observing through the window.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Maintenance with the AMC2166AS is largely what you'd expect from a microwave. If your Hot Pocket explodes, you're going to need to clean it up. A wet paper towel should do the trick, although for truly difficult splotches, you might want to run a cup of boiling water for a few minutes first, so that the steam can loosen things up a bit. If your microwave develops an odor, you can add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to that boiling water to help freshen things up, as well.

Amana advises its users not to run sensor cooking cycles unless the microwave has been plugged in for at least 3 minutes. For sensor cooking to work properly, you'll want to be sure that the interior of the microwave and the exterior of the food container are both totally dry.

Service and support
The AMC2166AS comes with your standard limited one-year warranty. In the event of any difficulty with your microwave, Amana offers troubleshooting tips in the AMC2166AS owner's manual, as well as over-the-phone assistance by calling toll free at 800-843-0304. You'll also be able to register your microwave online at Amana's site, where additional FAQ support is available.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Amana AMC2166AS is a clear step up from most cheap-end microwaves, but only a minor one. The microwave in my kitchen is a rather banged-up second-hand Emerson that's been with me through three moves now, and my experience testing the Amana hasn't left me the least bit tempted to upgrade. Instead, I'd want a machine with more bells and whistles, and frankly, one that does a much better job looking the part of an upgrade. Even if you have a very specific need for a microwave with both high wattage and a large capacity, I'm not sure that I would recommend the Amana, as there are other microwaves available with even higher wattages and capacities up over 2 cubic feet, and there's a good chance that those microwaves will come with more features and functionality than the AMC2166AS.

None of this is to say that the AMC2166AS is a bad microwave, or even a mediocre one -- it actually performed quite respectably in our tests. If I found one marked down significantly, maybe down to $140 or lower, I'd definitely think about snatching it up. But if you're going to spend over $200 on an upgrade, as Amana suggests you do for for the AMC2166AS, I think you'll find a better option elsewhere. For starters, I'd recommend looking into the Panasonic NN-SD997S -- with more watts, more capacity, more features, and a better design than the Amana, I think it's the more justifiable purchase for the price.

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