Microwave ovens are perhaps the most sophisticated piece of technology you'll find in an average kitchen, yet they get next to no respect. They're seen as a culinary shortcut, and they carry a connotation of compromise, the sense that the meal you're making will be more convenient than it will be delicious. Cooking with a microwave feels a bit like using a cheat code. You might successfully make dinner, but you're not going to feel especially proud of yourself.
Today's microwaves are trying to change that perception, offering higher wattage, bigger capacities, fancy new cooking features, and the promise of making more-satisfying meals. We set out to determine which ones are truly worthy of your respect, and I started with the Amana AMC2166AS, a large-capacity, high-wattage countertop microwave oven designed for more-powerful cooking.
With 1,200 watts, the Amana has plenty of microwave muscle, and claims to cook food faster and more evenly than other machines. I found that this was at least partly true -- the Amana will cook foods like popcorn, frozen dinners, and vegetables slightly faster than other machines, even faster than some other high-wattage microwaves, like the
The real problem with the Amana is that it just doesn't have as many features as we'd like to see in a machine that retails for $219. You can save your own custom presets, and if you're cooking frozen vegetables or reheating a dinner plate, its built-in moisture sensors will automatically calculate the cooking time for you. Those are both nice to have, but they don't add up to enough bang for the buck. This is especially true when you start comparing the Amana with other countertop machines in the $200-plus price range that offer convection cooking, inverter technology, or other expansive features that make microwave cooking a bit more interesting. With its high wattage, it performed decently in our testing, but still, I say if you're looking to upgrade your microwave, you can do better.
Design and features
The first thing you'll notice about this microwave is that, at 22 inches wide, 20 inches deep, and 13 inches high, it's big, so you'll definitely want to break out the measuring tape before purchasing to make sure it'll fit in your kitchen. Not surprisingly, it's also quite heavy, with almost 40 pounds of sheer bulk. That's me holding it in the picture above, and believe me, I was more than happy to set the thing down after Colin, our photographer, snapped the shot.
The supposed upside to having a microwave with such heft is that you've got more capacity to play with, and in Amana's case, the AMC2166AS boasts a cooking chamber that measures 1.6 cubic feet. This is a solid number for people looking for a high-capacity microwave, although we've seen models like the
As far as the Amana's looks are concerned, there's nothing flashy or terribly unique about it, so if you're seeking a microwave that makes a statement, seek elsewhere. The brushed stainless steel adds a slight high-end touch, although this is somewhat diluted by the current oversaturation of microwaves with stainless-steel finishes. Add in the fact that the absolutely ordinary clock display looks the same as it likely would have 10 years ago, and it becomes clear that Amana isn't exactly trying to reinvent the microwave here. A more-specifically modern design touch here or there would have gone a long way toward making this microwave feel more like the $219 machine that it is, and less like the $99 machine that it looks like.
The AMC2166AS doesn't do very much to set itself apart from other microwaves with its features, either. When the price of a countertop microwave creeps up above $200, you'll often find that it comes with convection cooking, inverter technology, or some other high-end, showcase feature. Not so with the Amana. In essence, it's a very standard microwave, albeit a large-sized one that cooks at a very high wattage. This puts Amana in the tricky position of justifying the AMC2166AS as a worthy upgrade from machines that you can get for half the cost, or even less. If you take a look at the product page on Amana's site, you can see the company stretching -- the "key features" of the AMC2166AS include its rotating turntable, the fact that it has buttons, and its "Cooking Complete Reminder," which is just another way of saying that it beeps when it's finished cooking your food.
That said, the AMC2166AS definitely has some features to be proud of. Every microwave has a popcorn preset, but Amana honestly blew me away with how well its machine performs (more on that in just a bit). I also appreciated that I was able to easily program up to three "favorites" -- basically just my own custom-defined presets -- into the microwave. These would be especially helpful for oft-used recipes that require lengthy cook times and/or specific power settings. With the AMC2166AS, you can just key those settings in once and save them as a favorite, and from then on, you'll be able to cook with those specific settings at the touch of a button. By the way, the ability to save your own presets isn't mentioned anywhere on the Amana Web site. I guess it just needed more room to talk about the fact that the turntable turns.
Additionally, the AMC2166AS is equipped with moisture sensors that come into play when you're using the fresh veggies, frozen veggies, or dinner plate presets. These sensors will detect moisture as it evaporates out of the food you're heating up, and then use that information to calculate when to stop cooking. This means that you won't even need to think about how long to cook the dish for -- the microwave will take care of that for you.
We saw these kinds of sensors in the Panasonic and Whirlpool microwaves that we tested, as well, and found that their performance was hit and miss. In the Amana's case, I tested it out with frozen potatoes and fresh baby carrots, and found that both came out fully cooked, if not a slight bit overcooked. With certain foods, it might be a slightly imperfect feature, but it's still nice to have.
Above all, the features that you're really paying for with the AMC2166AS are the above-average capacity combined with the top-of-the-line wattage. Take note, though, that, for less money, you can find smaller-size microwaves that still offer 1,000 watts of power or more. Conversely, you can sacrifice some of that wattage and still find high-capacity microwaves, and those will come with cheaper price tags as well. Unless you really need both high wattage and lots of interior space, consider compromising on one or the other in order to save some cash.
Battle of the presets
Overall, the AMC2166AS performed admirably for us, finishing at or near the top of almost every one of our tests -- although it's worth noting that there wasn't always a great deal of differentiation between the different microwaves we tested. Most notable was the performance of the previously mentioned popcorn preset, which consistently produced perfectly popped full-size bags in just 90 seconds. Try making popcorn in under 2 minutes using another microwave, and the chances are very good that you'll come away disappointed. Try using the preset, and you'll probably need to stay in the kitchen to listen for the popping to slow down, or maybe tack on an extra 30 seconds at the end. In fact, most bags of popcorn will explicitly warn you not to use your microwave's popcorn preset, because those presets are usually so lousy.
Amana's preset is an exception, and as exceptions go, it's fairly, well, exceptional. In our tests, it left the least number of kernels unpopped, yet it didn't even come close to scorching a single piece. And, again, it did this in just 90 seconds, faster than any other microwave we tested, and faster than the popcorn manufacturers themselves tell you it will take. The results were just as impressive when I tested out an individual size bag -- perfect popcorn, quick cook time, no fuss. That's putting the power of 1,200 watts to good use.
In addition to popping a whole lot of popcorn, we tested out the microwave's dedicated potato preset, and found that the AMC2166AS handles spuds just fine. We also experimented with leftover pizza, putting the microwave's pizza preset to work by reheating slices from pies we left in the fridge overnight. As a lover of all things pizza, I thought that the Amana did a good job here as well, uniformly heating each slice, crisping up the pepperoni a bit, and getting the cheese nice and gooey, all without leaving a "nuked" aftertaste, the way the Panasonic did. It wasn't quite as tasty as my go-to method of reheating pizza in a frying pan, but it was surprisingly close.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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