Our kitchen cabinets and pantries are stuffed with gadgets like slow cookers, air fryers and Instant Pots, all intended to make getting meals on the table easier and faster. Lately, there’s been a new machine popping up everywhere: countertop smart ovens.
What are countertop smart ovens?
This next wave of kitchen appliances is smaller, smarter, and super-efficient—think of them like little virtual assistants in the kitchen that let you be more hands-off with meals. They’ve been so popular, especially during the months of the pandemic when many people are cooking at home, that some brands have quickly sold out. All are reporting restocking by late October, however, which means that now is a great time to consider adding it to your kitchen.
Benefits of countertop smart ovens
First, we need to talk space. More than 90 percent of U.S. households have microwaves, according to Statista—countertop ovens can actually replace those. “If you have enough space for a countertop microwave, you have enough space for a countertop oven,” says George Pitchkhadze, a consumer product expert and CMO with Thrive Cuisine, a company that reviews appliances. (The exception is if you have a built-in oven/microwave unit.)
Versatility is a huge benefit to countertop smart ovens. Depending on the model, a countertop smart oven may include functions (in addition to baking) including steaming, broiling, toasting, air frying, dehydrating, proofing, and reheating like a microwave.
Is a countertop smart oven right for you? Countertop smart ovens are best for smaller households: couples who are time strapped with jobs and want to spend less time cooking; singles who don’t enjoy cooking for one; or empty nesters and older adults who don’t have the energy or motivation to cook as often as they used to, and now have fewer mouths to feed. You could even use a countertop smart oven in a garage apartment, cabin, or another small rental space if you don’t have space for a full-sized oven—an added benefit for people who may be choosing alternative living situations during the upcoming pandemic winter.
Drawbacks of countertop smart ovens
Again, space comes up. If you’re tight on counter space, the last thing you need is a smart oven taking up precious square feet. Many of these ovens measure more than 22 by 16 inches and weigh around 50 pounds. Not to mention, some come with a hefty price tag: Though not as expensive as, say, a new slide-in range, this piece is a serious investment and will pay best if you learn to use it regularly.
Technology, while a convenience benefit of a countertop smart oven, may be a liability if you’re trying to move away from your phone (most models do work in concert with an app).
Is a countertop smart oven NOT right for you? If you are tech-shy or have kids or more than two in your family, a countertop smart oven might not be a good fit for you, because you can really only cook enough food for two people at a time. On the other hand, if you tend to eat different things or at different times than your kids, you can easily pop in meals for them, then adult meals later.
What to cook in a countertop oven
Here’s the great news: You can cook virtually anything in one, which is the beauty of these machines, says Pitchkhadze. They’re like a combination microwave, multicooker, and convection oven all in one, so basically, if you can name it, you can cook it.
Think in terms of three meals a day—toasting bread for breakfast, reheating leftovers for lunch, and making a one-pot dish for dinner—and an investment in this gadget might become worthwhile. Some brands, such as Tovala, have a scan-to-cook feature through which you can scan barcodes of some 750 frozen grocery items (Trader Joe’s frozen pizza or Eggo waffles, for example), and the oven will auto cook that item—in most cases, faster than a regular oven. The June Smart Oven has incorporated intel from pro chefs in its software so that it automatically knows how to cook whatever you specify. For example, bacon: Choose the thickness and desired level of crispiness, and the work is done for you. (They don’t call these “smart” ovens for nothing, apparently.)
6 countertop smart ovens to try, from budget to splurge
Here are some of the most popular models on the market right now, each with slightly different bells and whistles.
Amazon Smart Oven
This machine is a combination microwave, convection oven, food warmer, and air fryer that can be connected to Amazon’s Alexa through a compatible Echo device (available in some cool colors, including plum) for voice control. It, too, has a scan-to-cook feature for select packaged foods. Reviews of this product are a little mixed, but some say it’s helpful for preparing larger meals when your oven is already full (Thanksgiving time saver, perhaps?).
Buy it: Amazon Smart Oven ($290), amazon.com
Tovala Smart Oven
This gadget has five different cooking functions (steaming, baking, broiling, toasting and reheating). While it’s not quite the jack-of-all-trades like some of the more expensive brands of countertop ovens, it does have a unique scan-to-cook feature that comes in handy if you really don’t know how to cook (or simply don’t have time). The other standout feature of Tovala: the option of choosing from an evolving menu of chef-prepared lunches and dinners, accommodating a variety of dietary needs, that can be scheduled as regular weekly deliveries for an added cost.
Buy it: Tovala Smart Oven ($299), tovala.com
Breville Smart Oven Air
It may look like a pretty standard toaster oven, but this device is mighty, able to handle roasting up to a 14-lb. turkey. With 13 cooking functions, including air frying, dehydrating, and proofing, it can help you eliminate other single-use gadgets in your kitchen. Technology inside is akin to “cruise control for cooking,” says the company, because the oven automatically adjusts the heat to your specified cooking task, from broiling to baking to roasting.
Buy it: Breville Smart Oven Air Convection and Air Fry Countertop Oven ($400), amazon.com
June Smart Countertop Convection Oven
This all-in-one appliance can bake, broil, roast, air fry, dehydrate, slow cook, toast, reheat, proof, and keep items warm—whew. Its in-oven camera detects any food placed inside so it can automatically cook it based on chef specifications (there are more than 200 “tap to cook” programs), and pairs with an app that streams live video so you know precisely when your meal is ready.
Buy it: June Smart Countertop Convection Oven ($499), juneoven.com
Anova Precision Oven
Like its name implies, this countertop oven is all about precision. Traditional home ovens tend to have fluctuating temperatures, which can lead to uneven cooking. Using this steam-enabled combination oven helps ensure consistency, and also imparts more moisture and juiciness in things like roast chicken and steamed vegetables, thanks to the use of steam. It’s also handy for cooking homemade pizza, as well as reviving leftover slices.
Buy it: Anova Precision Oven ($600), anovaculinary.com
This sleek-looking machine cooks with infrared light and direct heat to sear the outside of foods while holding in moisture (think perfect steak, broccoli and potatoes, all in one tray). Because of this, it cooks food two to four times faster and with four times less energy than traditional cooking methods, according to the company. Though it stays cool to the touch (no more heating up the kitchen with your oven), the lamps reach 500 degrees in less than a second—no preheating required. You can sear, roast, bake, air fry, dehydrate, slow cook, toast, and reheat with this investment appliance.
Buy it: Brava Oven ($1,045), brava.com