How to Choose a Toaster Oven
The top performers in our review are the Breville Smart Oven, the Gold Award winner; the DeLonghi Digital Convection, the Silver Award winner; and the KitchenAid 12" Convection Digital Countertop Oven, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a product to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
When you have a toaster oven at home, it's like having a miniature conventional oven on your countertop, but it cooks food faster and uses less energy. A full-size oven can take up to 30 minutes to preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas some of the toaster ovens we tested took less than four minutes to heat.
Toaster ovens are a convenient, budget-friendly alternative to full-size ovens – especially when you have a small kitchen, or no kitchen at all (case in point: affordable apartments in New York). The best toaster ovens are easy to use and maintain, hold large portions of food, offer preset cooking functions, and have safe designs. They have an average lifespan of five years. For more information about upgrading your unit or purchasing one for the first time, read our articles on toaster ovens. If you're interested in replacing your big oven, check out our reviews on gas ovens, electric ovens and double wall ovens.
The size, functions and even color of toaster ovens vary. With so many selections, you can find an oven that fits on your countertop and helps you create delicious food using minimal energy. If you simply want a device to toast bread, you should check out our toaster review site.
Your toaster oven should have an intuitive design that allows you to adjust the temperature and racks to fit the food you are making. The best toaster ovens have preset buttons that automatically adjust the temperature and timer for popular food items like pizza, toast, bagels and cookies. While size is a determining factor, you want a toaster oven that has the capacity to cook a chicken but is compact enough to sit on your counter without taking up too much space. You also have to be careful where you put your toaster oven and avoid placing it under cabinets, as it emits high temperatures.
Different toaster ovens use different cooking methods. You can select a conventional toaster oven that uses heating elements and cooks the food from the outside in, or one with a convection fan that circulates the heat and cooks your food more evenly. Some toaster ovens even use infrared technology that immediately heats up your food.
While the features and design are important, the oven's safety and usability is equally significant. The material the toaster oven is made of and its maximum temperature determines how hot the outside of the unit gets. For easy cleanup, you'll want a toaster oven that has a nonstick interior. However, most nonstick materials include Teflon, which can be hazardous if it becomes too hot.
We looked at a wide range of toaster ovens that cost $25 to $250. Our reviews include conventional, infrared and convection toaster ovens.
Toaster Ovens: What We Tested, What We Found
To determine which toaster oven is the best, we focused on accuracy and performance. We also considered the design of each toaster oven, because a higher capacity means you can cook more food at once, and different heating elements can increase the speed at which your food toasts, bakes or broils.
To test accuracy, we heated all the toaster ovens up to 350 degrees and measured how long it took each oven to reach that temperature, as well as if the interior of the unit matched the temperature to which we set the toaster oven. We found several variations among the toaster ovens. The interior temperatures differed slightly by 5 to 10 degrees on half of the models, and on the other half, there was a significant difference of 50 degrees or more. We awarded the toaster ovens that were accurate with a high performance score.
While accuracy is important when cooking, we also wanted to test how well each toaster oven performs. We did this by testing how evenly the toaster ovens cooked a variety of foods. To see how evenly they cooked, we put bread slices along the entire rack in each oven and made toast. We found that most of the toaster ovens cooked the toast to the desired shade and that each piece cooked the same amount, indicating that almost every toaster oven cooks evenly. The Hamilton Beach 4-Slice oven produced toast that was a bit darker in spots – the center of the oven runs hotter.
We also tested three different food types to see how well each toaster oven cooks raw, frozen and reheated food. For raw food, we made cookies. There was some variance on how well done the cookies were. The low-priced models tended to bake the cookies more than desired, whereas the high-quality units toasted them to our satisfaction. For the frozen and reheated food, we used burritos and pizza. All of the toaster ovens performed similarly with them. The food came out crisp and thoroughly cooked.
Most of the toaster ovens we included in our review have room to fit six slices of bread, while a few others can only handle four slices. The larger toaster ovens can fit a standard medium pizza, while the four-slice toaster ovens can only fit the standard small pizza. A larger oven lets you cook more food, while having two racks instead of just one lets you cook different foods at once. Only two toaster ovens on our lineup have two racks: the DeLonghi Digital Convection and the KitchenAid 12" Convection Digital Countertop Oven.
Most toaster ovens are controlled with dials that you turn to the desired temperature and time, but a couple have touchpad controls, such as the Oster Large Digital Countertop Oven and the Panasonic FlashXpress With 2X Infrared Heating. Another common feature on toaster ovens is a convection fan, which speeds up baking and promotes even cooking.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison either on loan from the companies or through retail purchase. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a Toaster Oven?
Most toaster ovens come with several safety and convenience features. Between automatic shut-off, automatic rack ejection and how well the toaster oven retains heat, you can determine how safe the oven is to operate. If kids are operating this device, these features become increasingly important.
While not as important as the safety features, a toaster oven's conveniences greatly affect how easy it is to use. Preset cook functions, built-in timers and adjustable racks all help with the cooking process, while nonstick interiors help afterward with cleanup.
Only a handful of toaster ovens have automatic rack ejection, which helps prevent burned fingertips and hands, because you don't have to reach into a small, hot oven to slide the rack out. The Cuisinart Custom Classic TOB-40 offers this feature, as well as the Panasonic and Breville in our review.
It's tempting to touch the exterior of a toaster oven to check how hot it is, but that's not a smart decision with some of these toaster ovens. The exterior temperature of some of the countertop convection ovens we tested registered as high as 250 degrees Fahrenheit. The best toaster ovens registered at cooler temperatures – the KitchenAid and the DeLonghi read at 86 degrees and 98 degrees, respectively.
To be fair, toaster ovens are inherently easy to use, but we took into account the usability of all the toaster ovens as we tested them. The more presets or functions a toaster oven has, the more versatile it is. We also considered the timer ranges, because it's more convenient to be able to set one timer on the device you're already using than to have to set an extra one to accommodate the whole time.
We also looked at whether the racks are adjustable or not. Some racks can be pulled out and repositioned higher or lower in the toaster oven to accommodate different foods. Others are designed so you just have to turn the rack over to position your food higher for broiling and toasting, or lower for baking.
How Important Is Automatic Shut-Off?
While the timer serves as a signal that the food is done, it usually does not turn off the toaster oven. The times that you or your family forget to turn off the oven after removing your food are when the automatic shut-off feature comes into play. Some toaster ovens turn themselves off after a certain period of inactivity. Other models turn off when the timer goes off. In fact, several models do not even include a timer. Instead, you use the preset cook functions, which are already programmed to run for a certain amount of time, and the toaster simply turns off after that time is up.
The automatic shut-off serves as an effective safety feature. Whether you forget about the food or are absent when your food is ready, you can be sure the toaster oven is no longer running. This feature is particularly helpful if you have kids using the toaster oven.
Are Nonstick Interiors Safe?
A nonstick interior greatly reduces your cleanup time; however, if it is composed of Teflon, there is a possibility of it overheating and releasing harmful chemicals into the air. While the likelihood of those chemicals affecting you adversely are slim, it can harm pet birds if you have them. Several manufacturers offer toaster ovens without nonstick interiors. While they require a little more work to clean out, a warm rag and mild soap should suffice.
If ease of use is a key feature you are looking for, then you will want a toaster oven with a nonstick interior. The material makes it so you simply have to wipe the interior of the unit with a wet cloth to remove the grease and grime with ease. This is important when you make pizza, chicken or other kinds of greasy foods in your toaster oven.
Toaster Ovens: Our Verdict & Recommendations
Our best-rated toaster ovens are the Breville Smart Oven, the DeLonghi Digital Convection Toaster Oven and the KitchenAid 12" Convection Digital Countertop Oven. Each of these toaster ovens has short heat-up times, cooks food evenly, cleans up easily and offers safety features. Additionally, these models are compact enough to sit on your counter, but they have large enough capacities to cook pizzas, chicken or multiple pieces of toast.
For a quality toaster oven that costs less than $100, the Oster Large Digital Countertop Oven is a good choice. This Oster toaster oven has the same design and convenience features as the top choices, but it offers fewer cooking functions.
Toaster ovens provide a more compact and energy-efficient way to cook food than traditional ovens. If you're in the market for a new cooking appliance, check out our toaster oven reviews to help you choose the best one for your household.