Toaster ovens are small, but mighty
You don't need a conventional oven to do all of your cooking; a toaster oven can handle the chore just as efficiently -- and sometimes faster. Toaster ovens are beloved by singles and couples, who appreciate having an oven that's more suited, space-wise, to their meal sizes, while people who live in warm climates like that they can cook a meal without heating up the house. The best models work so well that some people use them as their primary oven. Others use them as a second oven to help prepare large meals.
Toaster ovens come in any size to fit any need. Small toaster ovens are great for grilling open-faced sandwiches and cooking single portions of food. Mid-sized toaster ovens can roast a small chicken, bake a batch of cookies, or cook a small, whole pizza. Large toaster ovens can accommodate a 12-inch pizza or roast a 4-pound chicken. Of course, all can make toast (how many slices at a time depends upon the oven) and bake potatoes as well as broil, reheat and defrost.
The best toaster ovens should come with at least a basic array of accessories -- baking pans, broiling trays, and racks, for example. Remember, most of your standard-sized baking and cooking pans and trays won't fit in a toaster oven. Although the accessories for toaster ovens are often hand wash only, the ovens themselves should be easy to clean, with removable crumb trays and non-stick, wipe-clean interiors.
There are two main types of toaster ovens
Basic toaster ovens do not have a convection feature, so they don't speed up the cooking time, but many say they cook faster than a conventional oven anyway because they preheat faster. Aside from that, the best toaster ovens will have some sort of proprietary heating system to circulate the heat so food cooks evenly and consistently. Cheap toaster ovens often have just one element at the top of the oven and you have to watch food carefully so it doesn't burn. The best toaster ovens should be very easy to use, with intuitive controls and at least a few pre-sets for cooking and baking.
Convection toaster ovens cook food faster than regular toaster ovens or even conventional, full-sized ovens. They are highly versatile appliances that are very popular with cooks who want an oven with a convection features, but may not be able to afford to replace their large oven or range. Some toaster ovens in this category don't necessarily have a traditional convection feature, but they do have proprietary technology similar to convection cooking that speeds up cooking time, such as steam or infrared, so we include them in this category. Convection toaster ovens tend to be more expensive than basic toaster ovens, although you can find some very affordable models that get great reviews, as we did.
Of course, if you only need to toast bread or bagels and don't think you'll ever use the oven feature, we suggest heading over to our report on toasters to see our recommendations -- it'll save you money and counter space. If you're in the market for a full-sized oven, check out our reports on ranges and wall ovens .
Finding the best toaster ovens
There's a lot of consensus when it comes to toaster oven reviews. Certain brands and models within brands tend to rise above the pack, doing well in both expert tests and user reviews -- Breville being the best example of a manufacturer that dominates in this category. We analyzed professional tests performed by experts at Cooks Illustrated, ConsumerReports.org, CNET and TheSweetHome.com. We then matched those results and recommendations to long-term, real-world experiences posted at user-review sites such as Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, BedBathandBeyond.com and other popular retail destinations for appliances. The result of that research is our recommendations for the toaster ovens with the best combination of performance, features, ease of use and reliability.
The best toaster ovens
The Breville BOV650XL Compact Smart Oven (Est. $180) is a mid-sized toaster oven that's a big performer, say experts and owners. It has 1,800 watts of power, and independent heating elements that adjust automatically for even, consistent cooking -- that's the "smart" in the toaster oven's name.
The BOV650XL can toast four slices of bread at the same time, cook a 3- to 4-pound chicken, or bake a 12-inch pizza. With eight preset functions -- toast, bagel, bake, roast, broil, pizza, cookies and reheat -- the BOV650XL is reported as very simple to use and can even remember personal-preference settings. A backlit LCD calculates the correct time and temperature for each dish and then shuts the oven off automatically.
This Breville toaster oven features a pullout crumb tray and interior walls with a nonstick coating for easy cleaning. Some users wish the oven rack would automatically eject when the door is opened because they say it can be tricky to pull it out when it's hot. We also saw some durability complaints; owners who say it failed after just 2 or 3 years; too soon for a toaster oven that is at the upper range of prices compared to other ovens of the same capacity and features.
If you're really pressed for space but still want a top-quality toaster oven, the Breville BOV450XL Mini Smart Oven (Est. $150) is very much worth considering. It's a big performer with a very small footprint, reviewers say, although small may be relative -- it still can toast four slices of bread at once, accommodate an 11-inch pizza, or cook a couple of large chicken breasts. In one professional test it excels at all tasks, including baking, roasting, and broiling. Experts and owners also love its "A Bit More" button which allows you to add just a bit more time for slightly more doneness on toast or open-faced sandwiches.
Like its bigger Breville siblings, the BOV450XL features eight presets and a digital display. Users say it's extremely easy to use and clean, and that it works as well as their full-sized stove on a wide variety of recipes. Many say they were leery of paying this much for such a small oven, but that the Breville BOV450XL was definitely worth it.
The inexpensive Panasonic Flash Xpress is a great budget choice
The Panasonic NB-G110P Flash Xpress Toaster Oven (Est. $110) gets reviews from experts and owners that are comparable to those that we see for the Best Reviewed Breville BOV650XL. In fact, the only thing keeping the Panasonic out of our top spot is its lack of a broil function and its low-ceilinged cavity -- you can't roast a whole chicken, even a small one. Still, most reviewers say that the compact Panasonic NB-G110P is plenty big enough for their typical needs, and its small footprint is a feature we see many positive comments about.
Foods that do fit in the Panasonic Flash Xpress cook in a flash. It needs no preheating -- it instantly comes to the temperature you need. It then uses a combination of infrared heat sources to cook food more quickly, as fast as an oven with convection technology, tests show, and it cooks both sides at once so you don't have to turn foods like chicken breasts or burgers.
The Panasonic Flash Xpress gets top marks for both performance and ease of use in the professional tests we saw, and many happy owners back those results up. It's among the highest-rated toaster ovens at Amazon.com, and users say it excels at everything, but particularly at browning. It also gets raves for its futuristic appearance -- many call it "space age" or say they would expect to see it in a kitchen of the future.