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 three 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.
A toaster/toaster oven combination is a popular choice for kitchens with minimal counter space or cooks who just want a multi-use appliance. These small models are ideal for single-serving portions. Since toaster ovens, in general don't always get good reviews for toasting bread, if a well-toasted bagel or morning meal accompaniment is important to you, this may be a great option. The actual ovens on these appliances are smaller than a dedicated toaster ovens, so are more suitable for cooking or heating small, single-serve food portions.
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.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Best Toaster Ovens: Small but mighty, these toaster ovens can bake, broil and roast, but they save energy and won't heat up the entire kitchen. We even found a red toaster oven that's a combination toaster and toaster oven.
Best Cheap Toaster Ovens: There are some top-performing toaster ovens -- all with convection or other quick-cook features -- that do a great job and won't take a bite out of your budget. These are big performers with a fairly small price tag.
Best Convection Toaster Ovens: Plenty of cooks prefer these highly versatile, fast-cooking appliances to their full-size range. We found the best performing and easiest to use and clean models; one is sure to become your go-to oven.
Buying Guide: What kind of toaster oven do you need? Here is your guide to finding the best toaster oven for your cooking style and lifestyle.
Our Sources: We used these professional and user review sites to find the best toaster ovens. They are ranked in order of their expertise and helpfulness.