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 Amana AMC2166AS, have moisture sensors of their own. Others, like the equally sizable Panasonic NN-SD997S, even boast advanced features like inverter technology (not to mention a more stylish design). All of them will cost less -- in some cases, a lot less -- than this Profile Series microwave.
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 microwave I 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.