The best toaster oven is the one you’ll hate the least


This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2019, your source for the season’s best gifts and deals, hand-picked by the experts at CNET.

If you’ve come to find the best toaster oven that you really ought to buy right this instant, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you: Toaster ovens are, in my humble opinion, mostly terrible.

It’s perhaps a hard truth to hear. For generations, the toaster oven has been a trusty, crusty countertop appliance — a toaster that doubles as a second, small-sized oven — and with faster preheat times to boot! The problem? Most things you’d want to toast, like bagels or bread, would be better off in a toaster, and most things you’d want to bake would be better off in an oven. Either way, you’re compromising from the get-go. 

Best toaster ovens

Most toaster ovens are bulky as hell, too — and thanks to the rise of sous vide cookers, food processors, Instant Pots, kitchen-friendly smart displays and the like, the chances are good that you’ve got a better way to put that precious counter space to use.

Still, maybe you don’t have an oven and need a toaster oven — or maybe you just want one, dammit. I get it. This is a much-beloved kitchen appliance we’re talking about, and my toasty hot take is probably a minority report. And like I said up in that second sentence of paragraph 2, there’s a lot to like about toaster ovens!

But splurging doesn’t always make sense. Want to add in modern luxuries like built-in food cameras, barcode scanners and smart cooking assistance? Techie toaster ovens from names such as Tovala, June and Brava can cost anywhere from $350 to $995, but most of those extras are above and beyond what an average kitchen needs.

Now playing:
Watch this:

How to buy a toaster oven that isn’t terrible


More reasonable are “upgrade pick” toaster ovens such as the fun, well-calibrated Panasonic FlashXpress, or a sturdy stalwart such as the Breville Smart Oven, both of which we reviewed — and loved — a few years ago. But at $127 and $299 respectively, those models, too, are outside the mainstream in a world where a regular toaster can be had for less than $20. 

Read more: 4 signs it’s time to replace your toaster oven

That’s why I decided to take a look at some of your less expensive options to see if I could find a good value. I honed in on popular, well-reviewed models that cost between $50 and $100, and I used convection heating — a trick that uses a fan to circulate the hot air and cook more evenly — as a baseline, must-have feature.

Then, with six toaster ovens ready to go in our test kitchen, I set out to put them to the test to try to find the best toaster oven. Of these six, there were two we liked. But we’re including the aforementioned Panasonic and Breville toaster oven in our buyer’s guide here because they remain well worth the splurge.

We’ve tested all of those aforementioned upgrade picks here at CNET Appliances, but the only one any of us has ever bought for ourselves is the FlashXpress. It’s a fun, quirky cooker that uses infrared heating elements for tasks like toasting bread and baking foods with speedy precision. It might not be big enough for everybody, but that also means that it won’t take up any more counter space than it needs on your countertop. Even now, six years after we first reviewed it, it’s still easy to recommend it as the best toaster oven, or even a toaster oven upgrade.

Read full review.

Read more: 10 essential tools for a vegan kitchen in 2019

Chris Monroe/CNET

It definitely isn’t cheap at about $299, and there’s nothing smart about it in a cloud-connected sense, but the Breville Smart Oven cooks just about everything about as well as you could possibly expect from a countertop cooker. On top of that, it’s sturdy, attractive and packed with extra cooking modes that you might actually find useful. It’s a great mini smart oven pick if you don’t have an oven or if you plan on using your toaster oven for cooking foods just about every day.

Read full review.

Read more: The best meal kit delivery services of 2019

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Bialetti 35047 offers the same 1,800 watts of cooking power as you’ll get from Breville, but at $99, it costs less than half as much. You also get a modern-looking black stainless steel build with an easy-to-use digital display that lets you dial into your preferred level of doneness whenever you’re toasting something for your meals. Another little feature that I love? The “A Little Extra” button for those times when your toast needs just a minute more or so. Just be warned: That extra power means that the Bialetti tends to cook foods quickly — and we’ve got the burnt pizza to prove it.

Read more: The best healthy meal kits in 2020

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I hate that the door on this toaster oven opens down more than 90 degrees. The glass can crash directly against the corner of your counter space if it isn’t pushed all the way back against your backsplash.

Still, if you can forgive that design flaw, then you’ll love the way this thing cooks. Available for about $64 at Costco, it was a top finisher in each one of our cooking tests. That sort of reliable, predictable cooking is exactly what you want from your toaster oven.

Read more: Our favorite meal-prep containers will get you excited to make lunch

Other toaster ovens we tested

  • Black & Decker TO3265XSSD: The newest model from the top name in toaster ovens replaces the convection setting with a gimmicky, one-temperature-fits-all “Air Fry” mode. It’s fine for the price if you need a wide-bodied design with extra room for toast.
  • Hamilton Beach 31123D: One of Hamilton Beach’s “Easy Reach” models, the slightly under-powered 31123D makes it a little easier to see inside as you cook, thanks to a sloping “Easy Reach” door that lifts up to open. Too bad Hamilton Beach stamped a large logo on the glass to obstruct your view.
  • Nostalgia Retro RTOV220RETRORED: The cheesy, retro-red design makes it look more like a toolbox than a toaster oven, and it felt a bit cheaply made. Still, this eye-catching model performed passably well in our tests. 
  • Toshiba AC25CEW-BS: The digital controls are nice to have in this fancy-looking, black stainless steel option, but it comes with a learning curve thanks to underpowered toasting and overpowered baking.     

More from Chowhound: 10 Toaster Oven Hacks You Need to Try Right Now

Energy Draw 1,800W 1,500W 1,500W 1,500W 1,500W 1,500W
Settings 9 (Toast, Bake, Broil, Warm, Bagel, Pizza, Cookies, Defrost, Reheat) 4 (Toast, Bake, Broil, Air Fry) 4 (Bake, Toast, Broil, Convection) 4 (Bake, Pizza/Toast, Broil, Convection) 5 (Bake, Toast, Broil, Warm, Turbo) 10 (Bake, Toast, Broil, Convection, Pizza, Cookies, Rotisserie, Defrost, Reheat, Keep Warm)
Toast time, 2 slices, medium setting 5:00 4:00 3:30 5:30 4:30 3:20
Toast time, 2 slices, dark setting 8:00 8:00 6:30 9:00 7:30 4:30
Exterior Dimensions 19.7 x 15.8 x 14.2 in. 21.5 x 23.0 x 11.2 in. 9.4 x 18.7 x 15.2 in. 19.2 x 15.4 x 10.8 in. 18.5 x 15.7 x 10.4 in. 19.0 x 10.8 x 15.6 in.
Interior Width 12 in. 16 in. 12 in. 12.5 in. 12 in. 12.5 in.
Interior Depth 12 in. 12 in. 12 in. 12 in. 12 in. 12 in.
Interior Height (from bottom rack position) 7.5 in. 7.5 in. 5 in. 7 in. 6 in. 7 in.
Broil Height (from top rack position) 2.5 in. 2 in. 3.5 in. 4 in. 4 in. 2 in.
Weight 18.0 lbs. 19.0 lbs. 14.0 lbs. 15.6 lbs. 14.9 lbs. 16.2 lbs.
Color Black Stainless Steel Stainless Steel Stainless Steel Red Stainless Steel Black Stainless Steel
Key Features “A Little Extra” button Mesh air-frying rack “EasyReach” door Retro design None Built-in rotisserie cooker
Warranty 1-year 2-year 1-year 1-year 1-year 1-year
Price $99 $79 $69 $99 $64 $99 

What are my options?

You’ve got absolutely no shortage of toaster ovens to choose from. Names like Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach, Oster and countless others have been cranking the things out for generations now.

The true bargain-bin picks cost less than $50. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you should expect to get some form of convection cooking, as well as perhaps a wider oven cavity, a few additional cooking presets, digital controls, a non-stick coating or a nicer-looking design. The Bialetti and Toshiba models I tested come in black stainless steel, matching a modern large appliance trend, and the Toshiba model features a built-in rotisserie rack, too. The Nostalgia model offers a unique, red-bodied build, while lower-cost options from Hamilton Beach and Oster serve as simpler budget picks.

How we tested toaster ovens

Testing toaster ovens requires an awful lot of cooking, so I donned my trusty tan apron and got to work. 

Specifically, I set out to cook a wide variety of common toaster oven fodder. With the exception of the toasting tests, where I looked at each toaster oven’s individual settings for light, medium and dark toast, I used standardized temperatures and cook times, and followed the recommendations on the box for whatever I was cooking wherever possible.

More from Chowhound: How to Clean Your Toaster Oven

Ry Crist/CNET

Toast tests galore

Bread made up the bulk of my test fodder — after all, the thing most of us probably make most often with these things is still toast.

Most low-end toaster ovens use a built-in kitchen timer to set baking and toasting times. Typically, those timers include a couple of presets for toasting — medium toast, dark toast and in some cases, a setting for light, barely toasted bread, too. 

Fancier models with an LCD display will usually let you dial into a specific doneness level when you’re toasting. You’ll typically get about six or seven settings to choose from with those, each with preprogrammed toasting times. That’s more precise than turning a timer knob, and worth it if you’re a stickler for the perfect shade of golden brown.

For my purposes, I toasted two slices of thin, white sandwich bread in each toaster oven at its version of each of the three common settings: light, medium and dark. After each test, I photographed the results and made sure to let the toaster oven cool back down to room temperature before testing again.

The main thing I was looking for was a nice, even color at medium settings, as well as the ability to easily adjust up or down from there.

The models with digital displays — Bialetti and Toshiba — were the easiest to use, since you dial into your preferred level of doneness on a six- or seven-point scale rather than guesstimating with a timer knob. Four out of 7 was a touch too dark for my tastes with Bialetti, but it’d be easy enough to leave it set at 3 (it was also the only toaster oven that visibly toasted the bread at the lightest toast setting). I also appreciated that it was the only toaster oven of the bunch to feature an “A Little Extra” button for those times when your toast needs another minute.

Meanwhile, the Toshiba’s toast was a little too light at 4 out of 6, and too light at the darkest setting, too.

The other four toaster ovens I tested all use timer knobs with little markers for different settings. I’m not a fan of the approach, especially with a model like the Hamilton Beach 31123D, which puts tiny markers for medium and dark toast directly adjacent to one another on the dial. Though a full 3 minutes of toasting time separates them, you’ll have to stoop down, squint and turn the knob very carefully if you want to hit anything in between the two with any sort of consistency.

The best of the manual control bunch? That’d be the Oster TSSTTVCG05, which consistently delivered satisfying golden brown toast at medium settings in less time than Bialetti, and which also features the best setting for folks who like toast dark, but not charcoal black.


Ry Crist/CNET

Speaking of the darkest setting, I didn’t begrudge the toaster ovens that burnt the hell out of my bread, because that darkest setting is often needed to toast from frozen. To put that to the test, I toasted several batches of frozen Eggo waffles in each toaster at the darkest setting. Predictably, the ones that had produced black toast at the same setting did the best job, though the Black & Decker toaster oven’s Eggos were a little too well done at the darkest setting, too. That’ll force you to search for a sweet spot between medium and dark on the dedicated doneness dial when you’re toasting frozen food.

Meanwhile, the weakest toasters of the bunch — Hamilton Beach and Toshiba — weren’t able to get the Eggos quite crisp enough. They might have benefited from Bialetti’s “A Little Extra” button.

When following the instructions on the box, Black & Decker and Oster gave us the best-cooked frozen pizzas.

Ry Crist/CNET

Pizza and other frozen snacks

I also baked a bunch of frozen pizzas — personal-sized pepperoni pies from DiGiorno, to be specific. The box recommends baking them at 425 F for 17 minutes, so that’s what I did with each toaster oven. 

The results were all over place, but not terribly surprising. The Hamilton Beach toaster oven was a little wimpy in the toast tests, and it followed suit here, too, with an underbaked pizza that needed another couple of minutes in the oven. Meanwhile, the toaster oven with the most power — the Bialetti — gave us burnt pizza that cooked a lot faster than you’d expect.

Toshiba burnt the pizza, too. That was more surprising since it had the opposite problem during my toast tests. Like Bialetti, it offers a dedicated pizza setting. With both models, the result was basically identical — burnt pizza when following the box instructions.

The best-cooked pizzas of the bunch came from Oster and Black & Decker, while the bright red, retro-designed Nostalgia toaster oven baked a passable pie, too.

In addition to DiGiorno’s, I made sure to test a number of other frozen snacks, including mozzarella sticks (short bake time), Pizza Bagels (medium baking time) and waffle fries (long baking time). Again, for the most part, I was less concerned with how things tasted than I was with how much each toaster oven matched the recommended temperature and cook times compared with the user’s manual. The results largely lined up with what we saw from the pizzas, but if you want to read more details, you can check out my full testing notes here.

Ry Crist/CNET

Convection cookies

My last tests were an office favorite: Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies. I baked five at a time in each toaster oven at its convection setting and according to the recommended time and temperature settings.

The Toshiba toaster oven again produced an overcooked result, which fit the pattern — it undercooked during toast tests and overcooked during baking tests. Bialetti and Black & Decker’s cookies were slightly well done, too. Meanwhile, Nostalgia, Oster and Hamilton Beach produced our taste testers’ top cookies (they passed the eye test with my Twitter followers, too). 

Nostalgia’s convection setting gave us the most even bake — a notable difference from the standard baking tests, where Nostalgia tended to cook faster in the back. 

In honesty, though, all of the toaster ovens did pretty well at the convection setting — it’s a feature that really makes a difference with baked goods. In fact, all of them can bake cookies or anything else just the way you like. The ones that overcook or undercook will just require more of a learning curve.

To that end, the Oster toaster oven emerged as my top pick from a performance standpoint — it aced my toast tests and proved predictable throughout all of my baking tests, too. That said…

Don’t get burned by bad design

I’ve yet to test a toaster oven that makes food taste any better than a full-size oven would. They’re simply not designed to perform to that standard — especially not for less than $100.

That’s why I think you should take most toaster oven performance claims with a grain or two of salt. As long as your toaster oven doesn’t overcook or undercook too much, and if it has enough power (1,500 watts is a good benchmark for an average-sized convection model), then you won’t notice much of a difference in the way it cooks food as compared with other models like it.

You will notice design flaws and clunky user interfaces, though, so if you can, head to the store and get your hands on the models you’re zeroing in on before you buy. Open and close the doors, adjust the racks — look for the little things. For instance, the glass door on the top-performing Oster model opens down more than 90 degrees, which means that the glass can clank directly against the corner of your countertop if you don’t have it pushed up against your backsplash.

As for me, I hated the imprecise doneness dials on the Hamilton Beach and Nostalgia toaster ovens, and I was also bugged by the temperature dial on the Toshiba model, which starts at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and moves in 20-degree increments — that means you can’t hit a precise 400.

None of these countertop toaster ovens is perfect, but some in this price range look better than others, and feel much easier to use. Those are differences worth shopping around for.

Read more: The best meal-kit delivery services  

You’ll also want to think about what you’ll be using your toaster oven for most often. If you like toast with your coffee each morning, prioritize a toaster oven with a precise preset. If you like to broil things like hamburgers, make sure you get a toaster oven with a high top rack position 2 or 3 inches underneath the heating elements. Many don’t let you set the racks any higher than halfway up, which is too low from the heating elements for a good char.

What about my energy bill?

One argument in favor of countertop toaster ovens is that they use less energy than a full-size traditional oven. That’s true — most full-size electric ovens will draw about 2,400 watts at medium to high heat, while the average toaster oven will draw around 1,500 watts. That means that every time you’re using your toaster oven instead of your full-size oven, you’re cutting your energy consumption by a little over a third.

What does that mean in dollars and cents? Let’s walk through the math. Assuming an energy rate of $0.12 per kilowatt hour and an average use of 1 hour per day, the full-size oven will add about $105 to your energy bill each year. Unplug the oven and use a toaster oven instead, and that yearly energy cost drops to $65.

Your actual savings will vary based on use, and will likely be a lot less than $40. After all, most people who own toaster ovens will continue to use their full-size oven sometimes, if not most of the time, and hardly any of us will stop using our ovens altogether. So let’s split the difference and say that using a toaster oven instead of a full-size oven at least some of the time can knock as much as $20 off of your yearly energy bill, provided you’re baking something just about every day.

That’s still pretty good, but it’s also less than you might expect. Think about it — the average 1,500-watt toaster oven offers about 0.6 cubic feet on the inside, while the average 2,400-watt electric oven offers about 5 cubic feet. The toaster oven is 85 percent smaller, but it’s only using 35 percent less energy. If you’ve got a family to feed, or if you like to make multiple batches of cookies at a time, then you’ll actually get more value from the full-size oven.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Are there smart toaster ovens?

There sure are — but it’s very early, and they’re very expensive. Unless you’re an enthusiastic early adopter of smart kitchen tech with lots of cash to burn, they’re tough to recommend.

The first to arrive was the June Intelligent Oven, which now sells in a second-gen model for $599. It’s a capable cooking machine that uses built-in cameras to identify what you’re trying to make, and it offers cooking guidance and an abundance of settings to tweak in its companion app. It also isn’t good at making toast.

The Tovala Smart Oven is another second-gen smart oven, and at $349, it’s less expensive than June. It doesn’t feature built-in cameras — instead, this smart oven uses a built-in QR code scanner to identify specific Tovala meal kits or, thanks to a recent update, frozen foods from Trader Joe’s. From there, it automates the entire cooking process. You just put the food in and press start.

The Brava Oven is a capable connected cooker — but it costs $995.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The third smart oven worth mentioning comes from Brava, and it’s the most expensive of the three at $995. Among toaster oven upgrades, it’s a bit like Frankenstein’s monster — you get the same infrared heating elements as the Panasonic FlashXpress, the same built-in cameras as June, and the same meals kit approach as Tovala. Like the oven itself, those meal kits are awfully expensive, with dinner for two ranging from $28 to $45.

I don’t think any of these smart options are worth buying yet, but connected cooking gadgets are continuing to mature — and with products like the Instant Pot proving that there’s still a healthy appetite for well-featured kitchen tech and kitchen appliances, manufacturers are motivated to innovate. 

That includes the market-movers. Just recently, LG announced that its smart ovens will support Tovala’s meals kits — though you’ll need to scan their QR codes with the Tovala app on your phone. Whirlpool has a smart countertop oven of its own coming this spring; more are likely to follow suit. 

Fresh competition like that might lead to something truly compelling — and, at the very least, it should eventually help to bring prices down to more reasonable levels. When we get to that point, I’ll update this section to include our top pick with its pros and cons.

Originally published earlier this year.


Source link

اترك تعليقاً

لن يتم نشر عنوان بريدك الإلكتروني. الحقول الإلزامية مشار إليها بـ *