From Season 8: Pizza Party
If you're like a lot of people, you grew up using toaster ovens to make toast, melt cheese on sandwiches, or crisp up cold slices of pizza. But if you were to go shopping to replace that simple toaster oven, you'd be in for a surprise. Today, manufacturers are building toaster ovens bigger and fancier than they've ever been. Custom settings, convection capability, sleek design, digital displays, and their own cookware come along with higher prices—up to $200 for what used to be a pretty humble appliance in the $25 to $30 range.
Are these tricked-out toaster ovens really useful? Or have manufacturers gone too far and made something nobody needs? We noted first off that these bigger toaster ovens can't approach the capacity of a full-size oven. A standard 13 by 9-inch casserole dish couldn't fit inside any of the models in our lineup. But toaster ovens' smaller size means they preheat quickly, which is great if you're in a rush or don't want to heat up the kitchen. Even the slowest model in our lineup took half the time of a full-size oven and a toaster oven also uses roughly half the energy of a full-size oven.
During testing, the toaster ovens performed inconsistently. While manufacturers have given them a sleek new look, few have actually improved on the traditional problem of toaster oven cooking: The heating elements tend to be nothing more than pairs of narrow, exposed bars across the top and the bottom of the oven. You get intense heat in proximity to the bars, which cycle on and off to regulate overall temperature. (The bars contain a nickel-chromium wire coil—the same wire that heats up inside a regular toaster-covered in ceramic and metal.) Their position also explains why toasting is so inefficient in a toaster oven. Bread might be four or more inches from the elements. Ordinary toasters, however, have eight to 10 wires on each side of the toaster slot, less than an inch from the surface of the bread.
Manufacturers have made a few technical advances, most notably adding convection, which helps with heat distribution. Others simply cover the bars with pierced metal shields to help diffuse the heat or vary the number and placement of the bars. A few of the newest models sheath the bars with quartz instead of steel. Quartz has less thermal mass than metal, so the coil starts to radiate the heat out a lot quicker; quartz also cools down more quickly, which makes the ovens less prone to overheating.
Our one recommended model cooked food more evenly than the other models, offering reliable cooking, user-friendly controls, solid construction, and even decent toast. But at $200, it was expensive, we only recommend it if you want to invest in a higher-end toaster oven for small cooking projects. But you can do equally well (and save a lot of money) with an ordinary toaster and your full-size oven.
Victorinox (formerly Victorinox Forschner) 6-inch Straight Boning Knife: Flexible
The nonslip grip and narrow, straight blade let testers remove the smallest bones with precision and complete comfort. Perfectly balanced with enough flexibility to maneuver around tight joints. The low price was a bonus.
|★ ★ ★||★ ★ ★||$19.95|
Wüsthof Classic Boning Knife
Hefty in weight, this knife was a solid performer when removing poultry bones, and the handle was easy to grip, even when covered in chicken fat. Piercing silver skin was a challenge since the tip wasnt sharp enough and the long narrow blade produced slightly jagged cuts.
|★ ★||★ ★ ★||$99.95|
|Recommended with Reservations|
Mundial Boning Knife: Flexible
The sharp tip performed well when removing silver skin, but it was too flexible when maneuvering around poultry joints, leaving testers feeling a lack of control. The heavy handle was slightly unbalanced and became slippery once covered in poultry fat.
|★ ★||★ ★||$19.95|
Shun Gokujo Filet Knife
Designed to replicate a samurai blade, this expensive knife was a disappointment. It struggled to pierce the silver skin, although long cuts were smooth and even. Minimal flexibility and extreme curve got in the way when maneuvering around joints. The smooth handle was hard to grip and slippery.
MAC Boning KnifeChef Series
The large, cumbersome handle reminded testers of an outdoors knife for fishing and hunting. The blade was too wide to maneuver around joints and it struggled to pierce silver skin. Unlike other knives, this boning knife could only slice in one direction, making intricate cuts around joints difficult.
Messermeister San Moritz Elite Flexible Boning Knife
The blade was so flexible it led to erratic cuttings; testers said the knife was hard to control. The blade was not sturdy enough to maneuver around joints and the lightweight handle felt flimsy and unbalanced.