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 Whirlpool WMC50522AWS. As for cooking more evenly, the Amana certainly wasn't a disappointment, but I wouldn't call it a stand-out, either.
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 Panasonic NN-SD997S go as high as 2.2 cubic feet. If capacity is a key factor in your buying decision, you'll want to look at the size of the turntable, too, as it can often be an even better indicator of how much space you're actually getting. The AMC2166AS features a 13-inch turntable, which is plenty big, but compare that with the Sharp Convection Grill Microwave R-820JS. At 0.9 cubic feet, the Sharp has almost half the capacity of the Amana -- yet it still features a 12.75-inch turntable. If you're trying to stuff a whole chicken into your microwave, you'd rather have the Amana, but for a plate of chicken fingers, you'd likely be fine with either option.
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.