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Test Drive: Toaster Ovens

These days, the latest models do much more than toast your morning bagel. Here are our top picks for this handy countertop appliance.

Fine Cooking Issue 99
Photos: Scott Phillips
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For many, the toaster oven bell signals that breakfast is ready. Ideal for heating morning pastries and turning out golden bagels, toaster ovens are also great for reheating, defrosting, toasting nuts, broiling, baking, and even roasting fish fillets, chops, and chicken breasts. And depending on the job at hand, they can be more practical than a standard oven because they heat quickly, cook faster, and use less energy. Here are our favorite models.

The Powerhouse: KitchenAid countertop oven, KC01005

$130; Macys.com
Size: 18x10x11-1/2 inches

If you’re looking for a sturdy, powerful toaster oven that can tackle any kitchen task you throw at it, this is the one for you. It doesn’t offer a lot of bells and whistles (the two rack positions are a nice feature, though), but it has reassuringly heavy construction (backed up by a one-year warranty), intuitive functioning, and a large interior space so you can cook bigger items. It heats quickly, but the heat is well controlled—a frozen pizza left in the 350°F oven for nearly 20 minutes didn’t burn. It broiled burgers and toasted nuts and bread very well.

Form and Function: Cuisinart toaster oven, TOB 50

$100; Cuisinart.com
Size: 16 x 9-1/4 x 12-1/4 inches

This toaster oven has both looks and smarts, so to speak. The sleek, almost retro design is attractive, and it offers a spacious 1/2 -cubic-foot interior. The smarts come from this oven’s extra features and all-around good performance. It heats evenly and did a great job baking a pizza and a sweet potato, and toasting nuts. Start and stop buttons offer easy control over your cooking. A pierced metal broiler tray makes broiling meats and fish easy, and the exterior stayed cool even when the oven was blazing hot inside. The three-year warranty is another bonus. One puzzling feature: the crumb tray is removed from the back, inconvenient if the oven is pushed against a wall.

Best Features: DeLonghi toaster oven with broiler, EO-1200B

$60; Delonghi.com
Size: 17-1/4 x8-3/4 x12-3/4 inches

This oven has a lot to offer besides the basics of toasting, baking, and broiling (in fact, toasting was probably its weakest point). There are two positions for the wire rack, and it baked crisp chicken fingers, a beautiful tray of cookies, and homemade pretzels. But its best aspect is a “pizza bump”—a pushed-out back to accommodate a 12-inch pizza—which gives the oven a bit more room inside (this model had the smallest interior of those tested). There’s also a “stay-on” feature for regular baking, an automatic shut-off function so your toast doesn’t burn, and a “slow bake” setting, meaning that the heat radiates gently from only the bottom heating element. It comes with a one-year warranty.

How We Tested

We tested 14 ovens, all designed primarily as toasters but capable of performing other cooking tasks such as baking and broiling. We chose ovens with small to medium footprints, without convection, and with analog dials to control the functions.

We toasted bread, browned nuts, made cheese toast, and baked croutons and frozen pizzas, all the while looking for even browning, speed, and good heat control. We also baked a small batch of cookies or homemade pretzels, broiled a burger, baked a potato, and roasted sweet potato fries.

Toast Points

With many models to choose from, each offering different features, there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a new toaster oven.

Construction: Look for sturdy construction. Besides promising a longer, repair-free life, an oven with thick walls, good door fit, and smoothly operating hinges also offers heat efficiency.

Size: Rather than eyeball it or buy on a hunch, measure the counter space you have and buy accordingly. Some toaster ovens have an upper and lower rack for extra vertical space, while others use the “pizza bump” (a bulge at the back of the oven) to maximize interior space but keep a modest footprint.

Function: If you use your toaster oven only to toast bread and maybe melt cheese, avoid the extra features of more complex ovens.

Safety: Consider models with an automatic shut-off function (that is, a timer), audible ticking, and a bell that signals the oven’s task is complete. Some models also offer a cool-to-the-touch exterior.


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