We baked 10 batches of cookies, broiled 100 asparagus spears, roasted 10 chickens, and toasted a whopping 860 slices of bread to find the very best toaster oven.
Published Aug. 19, 2019. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 22: Flavor-Packed Chicken Dinner
The uses for a toaster oven go way beyond making toast. A good toaster oven functions as a small second oven, and can even take the place of your big oven—it can handle a 4-pound chicken or bake potatoes or a batch of cookies, and it preheats faster, uses less energy, and is easy to clean. Toaster ovens make quick work of toasting nuts or bread crumbs, and are ideal for roasting a vegetable side dish, baking an 8-inch square cake, or broiling a few fillets of fish. They’re even handy for holidays or parties when you need more cooking space, and they won’t heat up your kitchen as your full-size oven would on hot days. But which toaster oven is best?
Toaster ovens come in a variety of sizes, but we narrowed our lineup by looking at those that were big enough to function as mini ovens—spacious enough to fit 6 slices of bread and tall enough to accommodate a 4-pound chicken. Ultimately we ended up with a lineup of 10 toaster ovens priced from about $40 to about $270.
We started out by running slices of sandwich bread through the toasters, first by toasting single slices on light, medium, and dark settings, and then toasting four and six slices at a time. Here, we were looking for ovens that were well calibrated; a low setting that just barely kissed the slices with color, a medium setting that resulted in evenly browned, golden slices, and a dark setting that gave us well-toasted, but not burnt, slices. Many toasters’ dark settings ticked on for 8 or 9 minutes, and the toast was scorched by the time the cycle ended. One model toasted for more than 12 minutes on its highest setting, ultimately delivering toast that smoked like a chunk of charcoal. While toast time and color can vary based on the size, thickness, and moisture content of your bread, 12 minutes is simply too long to wait for a slice of toast, especially a burnt one.
We also looked at how evenly the machines toasted. After some fiddling with settings, we were able to make single slices that were relatively well browned on both sides in most of the toasters. However, when we toasted four or six slices, many browned the slices unevenly; some even left whole slices practically blond, indicating that the heat wasn’t dispersing evenly throughout the oven. Only a few ovens evenly browned all the slices from edge to edge on both sides; we rated them higher. We also preferred toaster ovens with a range of doneness settings—our top-rated machines offered seven different shades—enough flexibility to tweak the toaster to work with your bread and toasting preferences.
Beyond toast, we put the ovens through a ...
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