Whirlpool's midrange countertop microwave performs well but lacks modern updates, and more importantly the performance to justify its price tag.
If you think that microwaves seem like an antiquated appliance category, you're only half wrong. It's true that microwaves, as a group, have not seen many of the smarter updates of other appliances. I'd love to see a touch-screen microwave, for example. No such luck. For now, we must be satisfied with modest updates in the way of sensors and enhanced cooking methods.
While lacking in most of those newer microwave features like convection or inverter cooking, the 1,200-watt Whirlpool WMC50522AS still rates as a high-quality appliance, performing well in all of our tests. Occasionally, it performed a bit too exuberantly and overcooked certain food items. The Whirlpool will, however, cook a good hamburger, as well as stand up to the usual demands of microwave cooking.
A sticker price of $279 makes the Whirlpool a reasonably priced countertop microwave, though you might find this price less digestible when you compare it with the 2.2 cubic foot
The Whirlpool's design doesn't harbor any surprises and nothing makes its appearance stand out like the Panasonic's blue display screen and sleek exterior. Then again, microwaves aren't known for their curb appeal. The Whirlpool comes in white, black, and black-on-stainless steel. The buttons and display screen feel well-designed and easy to use. This sturdy overall design and solid construction instills a lot of confidence that the Whirlpool will last for a long time.
With 2.2 cubic feet of internal capacity and a depth of nearly 20 inches, the Whirlpool WMC50522AS spans nearly the entire depth of standard countertop. For $120, Whirlpool sells a trim kit enabling you to install this microwave in a cabinet to give the appliance a finished, built-in look. Many actual built-in units start at $500, making this $399 combination purchase of trim kit and microwave more cost-effective and appealing. The similarly-sized, $299 Panasonic offers the same option, though the trim kit costs more.
The 16-inch turntables inside both the Whirlpool and Panasonic significantly outmeasure those of the
The Whirlpool also includes moisture sensors, primarily intended for steaming vegetables. These sensors work well, take some of the guesswork out of cooking, and are a useful addition to what is otherwise a fairly ordinary microwave.
We devised our tests to assess core functions, settings which might be useful for the average consumer, and additional elements boasted by the manufacturer, such as the Panasonic's inverter technology, or the Sharp's convection grill.
In our first test, we assessed how long it would take each microwave to bring one cup of water to a rolling boil. As the Whirlpool emits 1200 watts of power, it made short work of this test and the water reached a boil at around two minutes and 20 seconds each time.
From there, we began our preset tests, starting with (what else?) the popcorn preset. Nearly every brand of popcorn dictates that you follow their instructions and never use the popcorn preset. We tested them anyway.
On average, a 3.2-ounce bag of popcorn contains 448 kernels. The Whirlpool left an average of 80 unpopped kernels or 18 percent. We saw similar results in the Amana and Panasonic, all of which beat the Sharp by leaps in this test. In addition to cooking fluffy, great-tasting popcorn, the Whirlpool cooked it quickly, requiring 1 minute and 50 seconds compared with 3 minutes with the Sharp.
Potato presets seem nearly as ubiquitous as popcorn presets. I ran this test three separate times, each with one Idaho potato, with weights from 12.4 ounces to 13.15 ounces. Like the Sharp and the Amana, the Whirlpool's potato preset asked for the number of potatoes to be cooked, rather than the weight. The microwave automatically set its timers to cook for four minutes and thirty seconds after which the manual prescribed five minutes of resting time. The Whirlpool delivered a well-cooked potato with crisp skin and insides that mashed easily with a fork.
The Whirlpool's higher wattage seems to be the key to its success so far. I expected it to work just as well when we tested frozen dinners. Here, I used Stouffer's single-serve lasagna and macaroni and cheese, the former for its density, the latter for its even representation of the category of frozen dinners.
Stouffer's recommends cooking both the lasagna and macaroni and cheese to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. The Whirlpool cooked the lasagna until the temperature throughout landed between 170 and 200 degrees, which made for lasagna that looked overdone and "soupy," but not burnt. One taster described the product as "a solid B lasagna -- not bad, but still not great."
With regards to macaroni and cheese, we graded the test on a pass/fail scale. The microwave passed if the cheese melted, the temperature reading fell above 160 degrees, and the edges looked crispy. The microwave failed if the internal temperature fell below the recommended 160 degrees. The Whirlpool passed. In contrast, the Sharp's frozen dinner preset yielded results not safe for consumption because of low internal temperature.
With the reheat preset, the Whirlpool took an automatically timed 1 minute and 15 seconds to warm up day-old pizza. The result was a spongy crust and cheese that was overmelted. The lesson: adjust preheat times yourself.
You will need to set your own timer for more foods than pizza alone. My first two omelet tests left me with disappointing results. According to our recipe, I melted a tablespoon of butter, cooled it, then whisked in two eggs and two tablespoons of milk. Our original directions suggested that I cook the eggs in a covered glass dish at 100 percent power for one minute, stir them, and then cook them for an additional two minutes.
This process resulted in dry, rubbery, and overcooked omelets. By reducing the second cook time to one minute, for a total of two minutes instead of three, I corrected the problem. That recalibration produced a fluffy, uniform omelet. It didn't taste bad, but it wasn't as good as the surprisingly tasty Sharp and Panasonic omelets.
Because of its high wattage, the Whirlpool can transform a quarter pound patty of raw ground beef to a well-done burger in four minutes. We included this test in the lineup because the Sharp specifically claimed to make great burgers. I expected the results to resemble our toaster oven burgers, which looked and tasted disgusting.
All of the microwaves delivered, however, a fact which left me pleasantly surprised. The Whirlpool's burger lacked some of the texture and juiciness of the Sharp, which lived up to the manufacturer's promises, but the margin between them was small. The Whirlpool made a decent-tasting, well-cooked burger that rivaled many of our fast food experiences.
The defrosting function wowed me slightly less. This auto defrost function determined the appropriate "cook" time by the weight of the object, in our case, chicken drumsticks. After the defrost, I measured the internal temperature of the chicken and found temperatures ranged between 30 and 70 degrees, with colder temperature readings from the inside of the drumstick and warmer ones from the outer portions. The center still felt nearly frozen, but, on the plus side, the outside had not begun to cook.
With the exception of the Panasonic and its inverter turbo defrost, all of the microwaves in this test group defrosted inconsistently. Most microwaves simply can't defrost your food completely without some parts beginning to cook. Then again, we don't necessarily use our microwaves for the quality of their performance as much as we do for their convenience. As such, inconsistent defrosting doesn't feel like much of an issue because what a microwave lacks in quality it makes up for in time saved. That said, for delicate foods, you should plan to defrost for an appropriate time in your refrigerator to ensure even thawing without cooking during the process.
Moisture sensors, coupled with the microwave's size, construction, and passable preset functionality, make the Whirlpool a sturdy, reliable microwave that will satisfy most of your basic performance expectations. Occasionally, the preset times run too long, but you can overcome this flaw easily by manually setting cook times. The problem is that it doesn't outperform more budget-friendly models by wide enough margins that its additional expense is justified. Though not the most expensive microwave in the category, for $279, you should expect vastly better functionality than a $60 alternative.
The only factor that seems to make it worth more is its size. The 2.2 cubic feet inside makes for a large microwave, a fact you shouldn't discount. You can find it online on third-party Web sites for as low as $247, though, for that price, we recommend purchasing the 2.2 cubic foot Panasonic NN-SD997S. It retails for $299 and features inverter technology.
The Whirlpool is a fine microwave, it just doesn't possess enough new technology to make it worth the price. Then again, with the exception of larger capacity, none of the models we tested in this set really distinguish themselves from a basic $60 unit.