When you own the best toaster oven you'll quickly realize it's the most versatile small appliance in your home. When you don’t feel like turning on your actual oven, it's there to roast a chicken, reheat leftovers, or just bake two cookies instead of a dozen. Still, there are so many souped up styles on the market that choosing the best toaster oven for you can be daunting.
In 2018, we tested six different models from a range of price points and determined the Breville Smart Oven Compact Convection to be our favorite; the Panasonic Flash Xpress Toaster Oven was our budget pick for the best toaster oven. To update our review for 2019, we tested two new budget-priced toaster ovens, the Zojirushi Toaster Oven and the Hamilton Beach Stainless Steel 4-Slice Toaster Oven against 2018’s winners to see if a less expensive option could top them.
Keep reading to see why the Breville still reins supreme; for the specifics of how we tested and what to look for in a toaster oven, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Our Favorite Toaster Oven: Breville Smart Oven Compact Convection
This moderately priced toaster oven from the high-end appliance line came out on top, both in our initial product review and when we tested it against newer budget models. It won thanks to its consistency, ease of use, and thoughtful features (like a Fahrenheit-to-Celsius converter, a button that tells the oven you’re cooking something frozen, and an indicator that tells you how long the cooking or toasting cycle is, so you’re not just waiting for who-knows-how-long for your toast. It’s easy to clean, too.).
It was, time and again, simply the most intuitive to use and reliable of the bunch. It toasted bread evenly and without incident, though in order to achieve color, we recommend setting it a notch or two past the medium setting of four. It takes 3.5 to 4 minutes to brown, well within range of the other countertop ovens we tested, whose toasting times varied from 2 to 5 minutes. It produced the most consistent results in other tests: cookies were golden on top with browned bottoms and soft interiors; frozen pizza had evenly melted cheese; and chicken was roasted to crisp-skinned perfection.
The Breville gave the user more control than any other toaster oven we tested. It was the only contender that included a preheat setting and indicated when the oven was at temperature. The digital interface asks questions to help fine tune the task at hand, like how many pieces of toast you're making and how dark you want them. Buttons and dials telegraph their functions clearly, and written cues on the oven door indicate where to place the rack depending on what you’re making.
True to its name, this is a smart machine that helps you avoid burning your food. The oven features an intelligent mechanism (“Element IQ”) that self-adjusts the heat if, say, you’ve put bread to toast in an oven that’s still hot from a previous job. Once cooking is done, the oven gently beeps and turns off automatically, eliminating any chance of your food overcooking (or worse). Breville claims that the “smart” aspect of its oven is what keeps the heat regulated and even, as sensors are continually adjusting to maintain the appropriate temperature for the task at hand, whether it’s manual or preset.
With a footprint of of 15x17x10," the compact oven is big enough to bake an 8x8" pan of brownies or a roast a generous piece of salmon, but small enough to be reasonably discreet. There is no oven light (unless you want to upgrade to the Smart Oven Pro), and peering through the glass door doesn’t allow for great viewing, but what it lacked in visibility, the toaster made up for in dependability. We tested toaster ovens that ran hotter or seemed more powerful (and less predictable), but preferred the temperate functionality of the Breville, the consensus being that we’d rather have to toast our bread a little longer than throw it in the trash.
The Best Budget Option: Panasonic Flash Xpress Toaster Oven
Try not to anthropomorphize this quirky infrared-powered toaster oven with an R2-D2 vibe and cube-like proportions. At 12x13x10.25," it has a smaller footprint than the Breville but is designed for visibility—the controls, which include an oven light, are lined along the bottom and the door is situated on top, a feature that puts the food closer to eye level. A light also turns on and off during use, as if the oven is chatting with you.
The most notable feature on the Panasonic is the double infrared heating, which significantly speeds up cooking times. Our bread reached a deep tan color in only two minutes, and frozen pizza emerged crisp-edged and melty on the preset pizza setting. The cookies were nicely browned on the bottom but had to be removed earlier than the recipe specified due to the oven's accelerated abilities. While the Panasonic roasted chicken beautifully, the sputtering of fat did create a concerning amount of sizzle and a little smoke, too. (That might've been partly our fault, as we didn't follow the manufacturer's instructions to wrap meat in foil before cooking.)
There’s only one groove for positioning the rack, which took the guesswork out of where it should go for different cooking functions. Another nice feature: the rack is connected to the door, so it pops out automatically when you check your food, eliminating the need to pull it out with your oven-mitt clad hands.
There are some persnickety things about the Panasonic that take getting used to: the temperature is in Celsius and Fahrenheit but clearly favors Celsius, as there are settings for 355ºF or 390ºF, not the more standard 350º or 375º. The timer only goes up to 25 minutes, so if you want to cook anything for longer, you’ll need to set it more than once, which was the case when roasting chicken. In our 2019 update, the Panasonic maintained its budget-pick status, too—but only by a hair. Its price has also gone up in the year since we initially reviewed it. While the Panasonic’s performance was more consistent than its 2019 competitor, the Hamilton Beach Stainless Steel 4-Slice Toaster Oven, the Hamilton Beach’s interface was easier to navigate. The Panasonic relies on buttons with imagery of the food it suspects you’ll be making (e.g. toast or frozen pizza) and arrows that allow you to adjust brownness, time, and temperature. Hamilton Beach uses intuitive, no-nonsense dials for selecting temperature, function (toast, broil, bake), and time. It took nearly 20 minutes to bake cookies from frozen balls of dough in the Hamilton Beach model (versus just 14 in the Panasonic), but in general the Hamilton Beach was straightforwardly efficient, browning slices of toast evenly and quickly.
Still, it's an agreeable, well-performing machine that’s priced fairly.
How We Tested
A toaster oven can bake, roast, defrost, and of course, brown bread. To evaluate these multi-tasking functions, we prepared the following foods:
Toast: We started by toasting two slices of bread on each machine’s medium setting. Immediately after the first round, we filled each toaster's rack to maximum capacity (four to six slices, depending on the size of the oven) to see how evenly the bread browned in two different-sized batches, and if residual heat affected the second round. We also timed how long it took to toast the bread on the medium setting. If it toasted quickly and well, the machine earned brownie points. If it took significantly longer than average and delivered subpar results, that was cause for demerits. But most of all, we were looking for a machine that toasted consistently and effectively.
Pizza: We cooked personal frozen pizzas following the instructions on the box. If an oven had a preset “pizza” setting, we used it (in all instances, the oven's time and temperature was the same as that indicated on the pizza box). If it didn’t, we set the temperature manually. For the machines that did not have preheat settings, we heated each for five minutes before baking.
Cookies: We made chocolate chip cookies from scratch, portioned them out and froze overnight, then baked four to a rack the next day. For both the pizza and cookie tests, we used the baking sheets that came with the respective toaster ovens.
Chicken: In the two front runners, we roasted a chicken thigh and leg, simply coated in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.
We wanted an oven that could handle back-to-back rounds of toasting without burning and produce even color on both sides of the bread. When reheating frozen pizza, we looked for a crispy bottom, evenly melted cheese, and a browned crust. For the cookies, we wanted melty insides, golden exteriors, and crispy edges. When roasting chicken, we looked for crispy, golden skin and juicy meat that was cooked throughout. We considered its efficiency, ease of use, design, and aesthetics.
Other Toaster Ovens We Tested
-The Oster Large Capacity Countertop 6-Slice Digital Convection Toaster Oven was conspicuously large and had an inscrutable interface—even the manual didn’t specify the appropriate rack placement for different functions. As for performance, the medium setting for toast lasted a lengthy 5 minutes and 15 seconds, and resulted in burnt bread.
Black + Decker’s 4-Slice Toaster Oven toasted the first two slices of bread quickly and evenly, but burned the bread on the second round. It did a respectable job for its low price point, but ran hot and featured a somewhat confusing design.
The Cuisinart Convection Toaster Oven Air Fryer, which is expensive, was truly disappointing. The bulky machine felt and looked like a tank, and for the price, lacked finesse. The timer was on a dial, which made it difficult to tell how long it was actually being set for. The top-heavy design, with the controls set over the door, made visibility extremely difficult. And the oven ran very hot: the medium setting for toast lasted a full five minutes and produced bread on the edge of burnt, and the cheese on the frozen pizza browned and puffed up instead of melting.
Zojirushi ET-WMC22 Toaster Oven: Going into our 2019 update, we were hopeful about the Zojirushi, since their other products have a reputation for being reliable and reliably wonderful (the brand wins our rice cooker and travel coffee mug product reviews. But the Zojirushi toaster oven was inconsistent, running so hot in the back that the parchment paper we baked cookies on started smelling campfire-y and emerged browned. (This made us so nervous to cook oil-spattery chicken in it that we wrapped the whole leg in foil, as the instruction manual recommends—no crisp skin here, though it did emerge juicy and evenly cooked.) One feature I did love: the door is completely removable, which makes thorough cleaning a snap.
The Breville Compact Smart Oven will do everything it promises with consistent results. It’s also very forgiving and incredibly easy to use. If you have space in your kitchen, prefer a low-maintenance appliance, and don’t mind paying a little extra cash for quality, this is the best toaster oven for you. If you want mini-oven performance but at a lower price, the cheerful-looking Panasonic is your guy. But if you’re mostly using a toaster oven for toasting bread and heating frozen snacks, go for the super-affordable Hamilton Beach.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious