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I don't expect a whole lot from the microwave I use at home. It's a battered, secondhand (or thirdhand) device that I bought off of Craigslist a few years ago, and it certainly isn't the cornerstone of my kitchen. But it's there when I need it to reheat something, and it does the job well enough that I don't have to put much thought into the process. Whether I'm making a quick frozen dinner or a bag of popcorn, I know roughly how long it'll take for my microwave to get my food the way I want it, and that's really all I need.
I suspect that this isn't terribly different than how most people approach their microwaves. After all, if you care about the finer points of cooking enough that presets and advanced microwave features would matter to you, well, then you probably aren't the kind of cook who uses a microwave very much. This makes our quest to find the best microwave upgrade a tricky one. Do high-end features like convection cooking or inverter technology really matter when all you're making is popcorn and pizza rolls? Isn't "high-end microwave" a bit of an oxymoron?
Not according to GE. With this Profile Series microwave, they're promising a better, more efficient cooking experience. One of several Profile Series microwaves, the 2.2-cubic-foot model features 1100 watts of cooking power, along with moisture sensors capable of automatically detecting how long your food will need to cook. And, of course, there's that capacity -- with 2.2 cubic feet and a 16-inch turntable, you'll be able to feed a small army, let alone your family.
For most consumers, I'm not sure this combination of size, strength, and smarts justifies the $359 price tag, especially given the fact that you can find similar high-wattage, high-capacity microwaves for significantly less cash. Some, like the $219
That said, the Profile Series is a decent and dependable microwave, and I was seriously impressed with how accurate the sensors were when it came time to turn last night's dinner into today's lunch. I think it merits consideration, especially for leftover-lovers, but I'm not sure that it's enough of an upgrade to recommend over similar microwaves that cost over $100 less.
Playing it safe with design
Head to the microwave section of your local electronics store, and the chances are good that you're going to see a whole lot of stainless steel. It's a popular aesthetic for home appliances these days, one that's supposedly capable of making just about anything look a little bit more luxurious. It's a mindset that GE has clearly embraced with the Profile Series, as almost all of their microwaves now offer stainless steel finishes.
In my opinion, it's an easy, overly safe design choice. GE definitely isn't trying to rock the boat with the look of this microwave, choosing instead to offer you something familiar (I made the same criticism of the Amana microwaveI recently reviewed, and could make it for dozens of other models, too). Fortunately, GE also offers this exact microwave in black or white plastic, either of which will cost you $50 less than the stainless steel version, so if you aren't picky about the design, you'll be able to save some money.
Aside from its slightly boring looks, you'll notice that this microwave is big. At 24-inches wide, 20-inches deep, 14-inches tall, and weighing in at a whopping 44 lbs., it's one of the biggest microwaves that we've tested. If you're looking for a machine capable of cooking inordinate amounts of food all at once, then you'll like what GE is offering here, but if you're like me and your kitchen is a bit on the small side, then this almost certainly isn't the microwave for you.
But how well does it cook?
Overall, the GE Profile Series delivered satisfying results in our test kitchen, but its basic functions didn't blow us away. I started out with the true staple of microwave cooking -- popcorn. Unlike other microwaves with time-specific settings, the Profile Series uses its moisture sensors to detect exactly how much time your popcorn needs. This means that no matter what size your bag of popcorn, you should be able to pop it to satisfaction at the touch of a button.
While it didn't fail outright, the popcorn preset on the GE Profile Series didn't perform well enough to keep me from preferring to simply follow the cooking instructions on the bag. Test after test, the sensor-powered preset left too many kernels unpopped -- over half of all of the kernels in the bag during its least successful run. Individual-sized bags fared a little better, but the results were inconsistent. We'd see a satisfyingly popped bag one test, then a severely underpopped one the next. The best thing that I can say about GE's preset is that it never burned my popcorn.
This might not seem like much of a problem. After all, most popcorn presets are inherently disappointing, so much so that the cooking instructions on popcorn bags will often explicitly tell you not to use them. If a popcorn preset tends to leave bags underpopped, it really isn't that difficult to make a habit of tacking an extra thirty seconds onto the cook time. This is exactly what I have to do with my microwave at home. Still, that microwave is a cheap piece of tin, while the GE Profile Series is a $359 designer model. The fact that its performance is comparable to the microwave I already have doesn't exactly inspire me to rush out and upgrade.
Next up was baked potatoes, which also have their own sensor-controlled preset. Like with popcorn, the potato preset will detect the amount of steam in the microwave in order to figure out when your food is done. This means that regardless of the size of your potato, or even if you're cooking more than one of them, the Profile Series should be able to automatically put the correct amount of time on the clock.
We've had some success with potato presets in prior tests, so I was hopeful that I'd see a strong performance here. With sour cream at the ready, I cooked several spuds in the Profile Series, leaving it to the moisture sensors to determine how long to cook each one. Unfortunately, much like the popcorn tests, my potatoes came back undercooked each and every time, needing at least an extra minute or so to get me to the flaky promised land. Out of two presets tested, that's zero that I would ever rely on for satisfying results.
From popcorn and potatoes, we moved on to frozen dinners, and macaroni and cheese was up first. Some microwaves have a dedicated preset for frozen entrees, but not the Profile Series. I don't mind this at all -- frozen dinners simply vary too much for a preset to make much sense. At any rate, I stuck with the instructions on the box, and after my experience with popcorn and potatoes, I was more than ready to take a break from preset-based cooking.
The results here were decidedly better than what we saw with the popcorn preset. The dish came out smooth, creamy, and evenly cooked each and every time. The middle wasn't cold, and the edges weren't overcooked. I like to think that I know a thing or two about macaroni and cheese, and let me tell you, this was some darned good macaroni and cheese.
To be fair, macaroni and cheese is probably one of the easiest frozen dinners for a microwave to handle. I wanted to push this microwave a little harder, so I picked up some large-sized frozen lasagna dinners. It's a thicker, more complicated entree, with layers of noodles, cheese, and sauce that all need to be heated evenly. Another key lasagna difficulty: you can't stop and stir it halfway through cooking to help even things out, the way you can with macaroni. With lasagna, the microwave is more or less on its own.
All things considered, I think that the Profile Series did a pretty good job. With every test, the lasagna came out evenly cooked, more so than we saw with a lot of the other microwaves that we've tested. My only complaint was that the top layer of cheese wasn't ever fully melted, but the dish was still warm and cooked through, and certainly within the margin of error, given that the box recipe calls for almost 15 minutes of total cooking time.
Things were starting to look a little better for the Profile Series, especially when I wasn't forced to rely on the presets. I ran through two of our oddball tests: raw hamburger meat and nuked-from-scratch omelets (no, not at the same time). While not recipes I'd ever cook for myself, the Profile Series did a nice job with both of them. The microwaved burger was as gooey and disgusting-looking as I expected, but it also tasted a lot better than it looked, as the Profile Series managed to cook it evenly without ruining the texture.
As for the eggs, the Profile Series produced a fluffy, tasty little omelet. I wouldn't expect to win any points for presentation with it, but it would certainly make for an acceptable breakfast. If you have any favorite recipes that rely on your microwave's low power settings, rest assured that the Profile Series should be able to handle them.
The Profile Series can handle defrosting, too. Using the "Weight Defrost" setting on frozen chicken, I found that the Profile Series was able to bring my poultry back to a comfortable 40 degrees Fahrenheit, with none of the extreme hotspots that we saw other microwaves produce. After a rough start to my tests, the Profile Series seemed to be turning things around. Little did I know, it was just getting started.
Bringing leftovers back to life
For my last test, it was time to return to those moisture sensors -- specifically, the Reheat setting, designed to automatically resuscitate last night's leftovers. My leftovers of choice were slices of pepperoni pizza that had been chilling out in the fridge overnight. After my experience with popcorn and potatoes, I was convinced that the Profile Series would leave my slices undercooked.
I was wrong. The Profile Series nailed this test time and time again, cooking the pizza just as well as any other microwave that we've tested, and doing so at the touch of a button. It didn't matter if I was cooking one slice, two slices, three slices -- my pizza always came out piping hot, with gooey, stretchy cheese, crisp pepperoni, and a satisfyingly chewy crust. Best of all, I never needed to think about how long the pizza needed to cook. I just threw whatever portion I wanted into the microwave, hit the Reheat button, then let the machine do the rest.
These results were so impressive that I decided to investigate further. The reheat function is designed for single servings only, but I was curious -- what would happen if I pushed its boundaries a little bit?
I started off with something pretty simple: Salisbury steak. After cooking a family-size batch in the oven, I let the dish sit in the fridge until it was nice and cool. From there, it went straight into the Profile Series. I hit the Reheat button, crossed my fingers, and watched.
Sure enough, the sensors did their job, figuring out that I was challenging them with something a little trickier than a few slices of pizza. After about two minutes, the microwave beeped, and the display told me my food was ready. I grabbed my fork, dug down to find a piece buried at the bottom, and tried a bite. It was perfectly reheated. Not content to stop there, I whipped up a nice, dense potato cheddar casserole, easily enough servings for a large, hungry family. After baking it for an hour, then letting it cool off in the fridge, I attempted to reheat it using the Profile Series' sensors. Five minutes later, I had a perfectly reheated, ready-to-serve casserole.
This almost seemed too good to be true. We've tried out moisture sensors in other models before, but none of them had even come close to performance as impressive as this. I wanted to push the limits even further, so I brought out the big enchilada. By this, I mean that I literally brought out a party-sized tray of chicken enchiladas that had been sitting in the fridge for a few hours. In general, I don't recommend microwaving anything that sits in an aluminum tray, but after determining that the platter was microwave-safe, I decided to push forward with the test (still, don't try this at home).
Thanks to the Profile Series' ample capacity, the entire tray fit neatly into the microwave. The turntable was even still able to turn. The microwave did its thing, its sensors struggling to figure out what the heck I was trying to cook. They worked at it for over eight minutes before the machine abruptly stopped cooking and beeped angrily at me. There was an error message on the display reminding me that Reheat was for single servings only. I deflated a little bit. Perhaps I had flown a little too close to the sun. But then, I opened the microwave up. In spite of the error message, the Profile Series had still managed to reheat the entire tray of enchiladas just as perfectly as it had done with the pizza, the steaks, and the casserole.
Clearly, Reheat has its limits, but still, these results left me beyond impressed. In all the microwaves that we've tested, it's been a struggle trying to find features that I actually think I'd use on a regular basis, or ones that would make me want to use my microwave more. With the Profile Series' sensor-based reheat function, I think I've finally found a feature that meets both of those marks.
So, is it worth it?
It's hard to say whether or not I would recommend this microwave. At a price of $359, it's one of the most expensive models that we've looked at so far, and in terms of general, every day microwaving, it wasn't able to consistently outperform more affordable alternatives like the
Still, none of those "advanced" features really blew us away. In most cases, the difference they made in our cooking experience was actually rather marginal. The same can't be said for GE's sensor reheating function. It's a true killer feature, and unlike some of the other moisture sensors that we've tested, it works really, really well. Best of all, it's the kind of thing I could actually see myself using. Microwaves that claim they can cook entire chickens or bake a loaf of bread are interesting, but how often would you actually use those features -- and how confident would you be in the results?
If you live off of leftovers, and could see yourself using the sensor Reheat button on a regular basis, then this is a machine that definitely deserves your consideration, even at the price. If, on the other hand, you just want a microwave to make standard fare like popcorn and frozen dinners in, then you're probably better off saving your money and going with something less expensive. As for me, I'm probably sticking with what I've got -- for now, anyway. After gleefully reheating everything I could in the Profile Series, I can't deny that GE might finally have me expecting more from my microwave.