Updated August 2018
In our latest update we removed the now discontinued hOmeLabs 6 Slice Convection from the review. This was a great and inexpensive oven, so if you find it on a clearance rack we suggest you snag it, but most stores are out of stock. We've continued to use both the Breville Smart Oven and Panasonic FlashXpress in the office. Both have continued to serve up delicious lunches and expedient bagels, respectively.
Best Overall Toaster Oven
Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL
: 11.2" x 18.5" x 16.2" | Maximum Pizza Diameter
Easy to use
Great all-around cooking performance
Great temperature Accuracy
Providing the most compelling argument for ditching your conventional oven, the Breville Smart Oven handled pretty much anything we threw at it with aplomb. It heats up fairly quickly, makes food crispy but also retains moisture in all the right places, and the precise temperature control is great for baked goods. We think a house with 2-3 people could probably do all of their cooking in this machine, with the exception of the Thanksgiving turkey. The controls are also well designed and very intuitive, allowing for easy navigation of all the different cooking modes available. You can even upgrade to the Smart Oven Air ($400) which adds slow cooking and air frying capabilities. A slightly slightly less expensive upgrade is the Smart Oven Pro ($270), which can slow cook but doesn't have an air frying function.
The only real downside to the Smart Oven is the price. $250 is a lot to spend on a countertop kitchen appliance. However, it can often be found for less online, and we feel the quality and versatility is well worth the investment if you can spare the extra cash.
Read review: Breville Smart Oven
KitchenAid 12" Convection Digital Countertop Oven
: 16.1" x 18" x 12.1" | Maximum Pizza Diameter
Great Temperature accuracy
Good all around cooking performance
While the Smart Oven is our clear favorite, we'd feel remiss if we didn't give the KitchenAid Convection Digital Countertop some props as well. This oven nearly matched the backing performance and temperature accuracy of the top scoring Breville and made some great toast to boot. Plus it comes in a variety of different colors, offering an option for pretty much any kitchen aesthetic you're going for.
It's easy to balk at this oven's $450 list price, but don't let it scare you too much, you can generally find it for much less at online retailers. Overall the Smart Oven is a bit better and tends to sell for a bit less, but for those that don't like its styling, the KitchenAid is a worthy alternative.
Read review: KitchenAid Convection Digital Countertop Oven
Best Bang for the Buck
Black and Decker Countertop Convection Oven
: 21.8" x 12.4" x 14.5" | Maximum Pizza Diameter
Poor temperature accuracy
For those trying to add a bit more food prep capabilities to their dorm room, or any budget minded person that needs an oven, the Black and Decker Countertop Convection is a great choice. For less than $100 it offers the ability to make toast, bagels, frozen pizza, and even do some basic baking.
Unfortunately, the budget price does come with some minor drawbacks. We found that frozen pizzas needed to be left in the oven longer than suggested if you like the crust crispy rather than doughy. Relatively poor temperature accuracy means its hard to tell whether cookies are going to come out chewy or crunchy. The control panel takes some getting used to and does tend to heat up a good bit while in use. However, all of these drawbacks are relatively minor when you consider the convenience to cost ratios this oven delivers.
Read review: Black and Decker Countertop Convection Toaster Oven
Top Pick for a Small Toaster Oven
Breville Mini Smart Oven
: 15.5" x 14" x 8.8" | Maximum Pizza Diameter
Great all-around cooking performance
Great temperature accuracy)
If you're short on space but big on baking aspirations, the Breville Mini Smart Oven was designed just for you. This space-saving model has nearly all of the performance and temperature accuracy of its big sibling, but in a more economical package. The small size also lets it heat up incredibly fast, offering the quickest route we've found from emergency cookie craving to fresh baked goodness. IT is also the smallest oven we've found that can still handle more finicky meals and baked goods, thanks to its stellar temperature accuracy.
Really the only complaint we can levy against the Mini Smart Oven is its relative lack of capacity, but that's a tradeoff you have to make if you're looking to save space. It could also be argued that the $150 price tag is a bit steep, but dollar for dollar this oven offers more cooking performance than almost any model on the market. It is the perfect oven for cooking aficionados that live in small apartments, or for dorm dwellers that don't want to give up their baking habit.
Read review: Breville Mini Smart Oven
Top Pick for Convenience
: 13" x 12" x 10.2" | Maximum Pizza Diameter
Fast and convenient
Great toasting quality
Great for frozen foods
Functioning as more of a microwave/toaster hybrid than a true countertop oven, the Panasonic FlashXpress is the fastest appliance around that can make toast, bagels, heat up leftovers, and bake crispy cookies. This machine uses infrared heating elements that can get up to temperature almost instantly, eliminating the need for preheating. The intense heat also cuts most cooking times in half. We were able to make toast, bagels, mini frozen pizzas, and cookies more quickly in this oven than any other. It is also the fastest way to heat up leftovers apart from a microwave.
This is a bit of a quirky machine, with somewhat finicky controls and odd presets. The temperatures are also based off of round numbers in Celsius, so you won't be able to dial in the exact Fahrenheit temps that many recipes call for. Retaining moisture is also not a forte of the infrared heating elements, so this oven is better for people that like things crispy rather than chewy. If you've ever wished your microwave could make taste and didn't leave your reheated leftovers so soggy, this is a great addition to your kitchen.
Read review: Panasonic FlashXpress
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Analysis and Test Results
The phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none," often carries a negative connotation. However, that is exactly what many a modern kitchen needs. Living spaces are becoming smaller as more people migrate to cities. This creates the need for a small, efficient device that can serve in the place of a number of other kitchen appliances. Even people with larger kitchens could benefit from a smaller more efficient device that can expedite their weekday dinner prep and possibly lighten their energy bills. Enter the toaster oven. We designed a gauntlet of tests to determine each model's overall performance. You can read about these tests, and how each model performed in them, in the sections below.
As seen in the chart above, there isn't exactly a linear correlation between toaster oven price and performance. This means you can end up getting a lot more for a lot less. For those looking for a low budget option, we think the Black and Decker Countertop Convection (which generally sells for well less than the $90 list price displayed in this chart) offers the best performance at a low price, outperforming some models that cost significantly more. The Breville Mini Smart Oven provides top-notch baking performance at a relatively mid-range price, as long as you can deal with a slightly smaller capacity. If you really want the best performance you will have to spend a bit extra on the full-sized Breville Smart Oven, but we think it's well worth it for aspiring chefs.
Being able to bake individual meals or small batches of confections without wasting energy and time heating up an entire conventional oven is one of the biggest advantages of having a countertop model. Accordingly, we assigned it significant weighting in our scoring scheme and made sure to bake a representative spread of tasty food during our testing. We evaluated each model's ability to cook evenly without drying out or undercooking any of the meals. This led us to look for the ideal crispy-on-the-outside chewy-on-the-inside cookies, fully cooked yet moist cake, and drumsticks with crispy skins and juicy, tender meat.
While no models performed horribly in our baking tests, there were clearly some superior models. Leading them off was the Editors' Choice Award-winning Breville Smart Oven, which earned the high scoe of 9 out of 10 in this metric. It made almost perfectly gooey cookies that were fully cooked but maintained a pleasant moistness. It excelled in making cakes and drumsticks, delighting all of our testers on both accounts. The cakes were the most even and moist made during our testing, and the drumsticks had the perfect combination of crispy skin with he actual meat staying tender and not overdone.
The Breville Mini Smart Oven performed very well in our baking test, but has a smaller capacity than most ovens.
The KitchenAid Digital Countertop Oven was just slightly inferior the full sized Smart Oven in terms of baking. Accordingly, it earned a score of 8 out of 10. The KitchenAid made similarly fantastic drumsticks to the full sized Smart Oven. Cookies made with this oven were a bit crispier than those made by the Breville, and would definitely be preferable to those that fall on the crunchy side of the crunchy vs. chewy debate. The KitchenAid' was slightly less adept than the Breville at maintaining moisture when backing a cake, but it still achieved a better consistency for this birthday confection than most of the other models we tested.
Also earning an 8 out of 10 in our baking testing was the Breville Mini Smart Oven. This oven rivaled its larger sibling but fell just short in a few areas. It wasn't able to get the same crispy skin on drumsticks, and didn't lock in the same amount of moisture when making a cake. However, it made some of the best cookies in our testing, with gooey insides and nice, crunchy outsides.
The Breville Smart Oven was able to produce some delectable drumsticks during our testing.
Closely following the top performers was the Cuisinart, which scored a 7 out of 10 on our tests. Its cooking was very even, and it was able to crisp the skin of drumsticks very well. However, it tended to dry most things out just a bit more than the top models (for instance, its cakes weren't too dry, but definitely not delectably moist). The Hamilton Beach Countertop Oven, which scored a 6 out of 10, performed very similarly to the Cuisinart, though small items like cookies came out even drier. The Black and Decker also scored a 6 on our baking test. Across the board it baked just a bit less evenly than the better performing models, leaving some more done splotches in cakes and cookies, but not to a horrendous degree. It also tended to dry out food slightly more than its more accomplished competitors. It produced drumsticks and cookies that were moist enough to be appetizing, but not quite moist enough to be mouthwatering.
We tested each model's ability to bake cake evenly and retain the right amount of moisture, it was a difficult job.
Overall, the Panasonic FlashXpress sacrifices baking performance for speed. It is better suited to quickly heating leftovers and making toast than baking a cake, as the intense heating elements tend to dry everything out. In fact, it timer maxes out at just 25 minutes, significant;y less time than some baked goods take to cook (our drumstick recipe called for a 45 minute bake time). Cookies cooked very fast, but no matter what we did in terms of adjusting temperature and time they came out incredibly crispy. This earned the Panasonic FlashXpress a 4 out of 10 in this metric.
The Oster Extra Large Digital Countertop also earned a 4 out of 10 in our baking testing. it also tended to dry things out, though not to the degree of the FalshXpress, and had some issues with burning the surfaces of things while the centers weren't as done. For instance, it blackened the outside of the cake we made, but the center felt a bit underdone.
Ease of Use
Toaster ovens are, by their very nature, versatile. But with versatility comes complexity. The controls on these devices must allow you to select whether you are making toast, bagels, frozen food, baking, or broiling, and then allow you to choose the proper temperature settings and duration of cooking for each one of these functions. Models with intuitive controls and thoughtful user interfaces make navigating this myriad of options a breeze, but clunky interfaces can turn meal prep into a rage-inducing experience. We had everyone in the office dial each one of the models into a variety of settings to determine which were easy to use, and which may start you down a path towards anger management seminars. We also assessed how easy it was to remove and clean each crumb tray.
Ease of use testing split our ovens into two distinct camps, with half the models scoring 7 out of 10 or above and the other half scoring 5 out of 10 or below. Again, the Breville Smart Oven was at the front of the pack, earning a 9 out of 10. Its large LCD screen and multiple control knobs made selecting various settings, temperatures, and cook time a breeze. The KitchenAid has a similarly intuitive interface but has one less knob, so you have to do just a bit more fumbling to scroll through settings.
With all of the various functions a countertop oven can perform, it is vital to have an easy way to navigate through them. The three knob design of the Breville Smart Oven makes selecting and adjusting functions a breeze.
The Cuisinart and Breville Mini Smart Oven both scored a 7 out of 10 in our ease of use testing. Both models utilize a similar interface to the full sized, using a large LCD screen and knobs to select and display settings. The Cuisinart has only one knob. Pressing on it allows you to cycle through selecting function, temperature, and duration settings. While these controls are straightforward, the full sized Breville's dedicated knobs made things feel just a bit more seamless. The Breville Mini Has one knob to cycle through cooking modes, and uses arrow buttons to set temperature and time. We'd definitely prefer more knobs instead of buttons, but it feels like a small sacrifice to get such a space-saving package.
Cooking in a countertop oven can produce a lot of crumbs. Having a sturdy crumb tray that is easy to remove and clean can make a world of difference.
The best model in the runner-up group was the FlashXpress, which picked up a score of 5 out of 10. Its controls are generally clear, with dedicated buttons for each preset (annoyingly it does not have a bagel function, you'll have to settle for normal toast settings). However, using the device can be a bit tricky. You can't make any selections until you press the power button, and if you wait too long it will just fire up on its own, forcing you to shut everything off and start over. The temperature settings are converted from Celcius, so you likely won't be able to select the exact temperature your recipe calls for (for example, you can't set it to 400˚, but you can set it for 390˚).
The Breville Mini Smart Oven has a single knob and a set of arrow buttons. This feels much less streamlined than having multiple knobs, but it remembers your preferred settings to save you some time in the long run.
The Black and Decker, which earned a 4 out of 10 in this metric, has dedicated buttons to select each cooking function. Up and down arrows allow you to adjust temperature and time, but the time button is hidden in a non-prominent spot amongst the cooking function buttons, prompting all of our testers to ask, "Why can't I set the time?". Also scoring a 4 in this metric was the Hamilton Beach Countertop Oven. It has nice knobs for setting the function, temperature, and timer. However, it has no preheating function and does not tell you when it's up to temperature, you just have to set a 10-minute timer and assume that's enough preheating time. We would prefer some sort of temperature indication.
Bringing up the rear with a score of 2 was the Oster Countertop Oven. While the Oster's controls were fairly intuitive, we really disliked their design. It utilizes a touch control panel, so each button is not actually a button, just a printed word or symbol that sits on top of a touch sensor. This is similar to the controls used on most microwaves. However, on the Oster these controls were so hard to press that it often took multiple attempts just to get it into baking mode. When we heard banging and grunting in the office during our testing we knew the Oster was refusing to bend to someone's will.
The most surprising results of our testing came from the temperature accuracy test. We were somewhat taken aback to find that a number of our ovens routinely differed from the indicated temperature by 20˚, with some having discrepancies as high as 50˚. It seems that achieving the correct temperature is the most basic function of an oven, and we felt those inaccuracies were unacceptable. As we dug into this issue further we found that it is quite a divisive topic in the baking world. You can find many articles peddling the idea that oven temperature is a relatively uncontrollable variable and we should thus stop worrying about it. However, you can find an equal number of articles extolling the virtues of accurate oven temperature and the fact that a change of just 25˚F can have a noticeable impact on the quality of baked goods. Both camps have a point. Obsessing over checking your oven with a thermometer is going to add hassle and take some (or all) of the fun out of baking, but having a more accurate oven will most likely yield better more predictable results. With that in mind, we measured temperature accuracy with two different NSF-approved oven thermometers and a Extech EA11A-NIST thermocouple thermometer.
To test accuracy we set each oven at three separate
In our testing, we set each oven to three different temperatures and monitored the thermometers for 30 minutes to see at which temperature each oven reached equilibrium. The Editors' Choice Award-winning Breville Smart Oven, the KitchenAid, and the Top Pick for a Small Oven Award-winning Breville Mini Smart Oven were the rock stars of this metric, all earning the top score of 9 out of 10. The Breville Smart Oven settled in at exactly 350˚ and 400˚ when set to those temperatures. When set to 450˚ it ran just 5˚ hot. The KitchenAid also hit exactly 350˚ when set to that temperature and ran only 5˚ hot when set to 400˚ and 450˚. Despite being more susceptible to temperature fluctuations due to its small size, the Mini Smart Oven was always within 10˚ of the temperature we set it to.
Running one of our temperature accuracy tests.
The top performers in this metric obliterated the competition. All of the first runners-up, the Black and Decker and the Cuisinart, fell 5 points behind and scored 4 out of 10. The Black and Decker ran 10˚ cold when set to 350˚, and ran 20˚ cold when set to 400˚ and 450˚. The Cuisinart performed similarly but in the other direction. It ran 25˚ hot when set to 350˚ and 400˚, and 20 ˚ hot when set to 450˚. The Oster Countertop, the Panasonic FlashXpress, and the Hamilton Beach brought up the rear in this metric, all scoring a 2. The Oster ran very hotly at all temperatures. It was 30˚ hot when set to 350˚, 50˚ hot when set to 400˚, and 55˚ hot when set to 450˚. The FlashXpress heated up almost instantly but also ran hot. It was 20˚ over when set to 350˚, and 50˚ above when set to 425˚ (we had to adjust our test for the FlashXpress because its temperature presets are based on the Celsius scale). The Hamilton Beach consistently ran at least 20˚ hot, sometimes exceeding its set temperature by as much as 65˚.
It's hard to think about the time savings offered by small, countertop ovens without quickly dreaming about the convenience and deliciousness of a good frozen pizza. Most of our frozen food testing centered around that lazy dinner special, and we threw in some frozen tater tots for good measure.
The scores in our frozen food test were relatively tightly packed, ranging only from 5 to 8 out of 10. The lack of low scores is because all the models' performances were at least comparable, so nothing deserved to be separated from the pack. We reserve high scores, 9 and above, for things that surprise us with their performance. In this case that would be something that managed to make us forget we were eating packaged frozen food. An, "It's not delivery, it's DiGiorno™" moment, if you will. Unfortunately, we didn't have any of those moments during our testing, but we did have some pretty delicious pizza.
The FlashXpress was particularly adept at preparing frozen food.
Frozen foods are where the Panasonic FlashXpress
came into its own, earning the top score of 8 in our test. It made frozen pizza with crunchy on the outside fluffy on the inside crust and melted cheese that was just barely starting to brown. It left the center of the pizza just a tad too doughy for our liking, keeping it from earning an elite score. It also made tater tots that were a perfect golden brown on the outside with lusciously smooth interiors. We would like to note that, due to the Panasonic
's relatively small capacity, we used a 6-inch frozen pizzas in our testing as opposed to the 12-inch pizzas used for all other models. It can handle a 9-inch pizza, but we found it hard to find one of those. Also, without the need to preheat the Panasonic
made both of these dishes faster than any other model in our test.
Somewhat surprisingly the models that led most of our other metrics were only middle-of-the-pack in our frozen food testing. Both Breville ovens scored a 7 out of 10 in this metric. The Mini Smart Oven tended to leave pizzas a bit softer and doughier than we would have preferred, though this could be fixed by extending the cook time. The full-sized Smart Oven had some inconsistency problems, cooking the backside of the pizza more than the front. The KitchenAid had this same problem, and also scored a 7 out of 10 in this metric.
A fluffy field of tater tots, fresh out of the oven.
The Oster earned a 6 out of 10 in this metric. It cooked frozen foods fairly evenly but tended to burn the cheese on frozen pizza a bit. The Black and Decker and Cuisinart shared the low score of 5 in this metric. The Black and Decker was able to make relatively good tater tots, but it had some struggles with frozen pizza. In our testing, it frequently browned the pizza crust while leaving the cheese and pepperoni in the center a tad underdone. The pizza dough itself was certainly cooked and edible, but still felt well below the ideal level of doneness. The Cuisinart cooked pizza much more evenly but had similar issues with leaving the dough a bit too underdone. It was also able to crisp the outsides of tater tots nicely but left them just a bit too mushy.
The perfect piece of toast is evenly browned and crunchy on the outside, and a bit softer on the inside. The ideal bagel has a browned, crispy face and a warm but still soft backside. We prepped both of these breakfast staples in each of our ovens and measured them against these ideals. We also created a heat map for each model, stuffing them to the brim with toast and then visually inspecting to see if there were ay hot or cold spots. This test evaluates whether you can make a lot of toast at once without sacrificing quality.
Our toast tests yielded scores ranging from 4 to 8 out of 10. This is similar to the range of the toast test we conducted in our traditional slot toaster review. We would like to note that, being more specialized machines, we split bread toasting quality and bagel toasting quality into two separate metrics. For toaster ovens, we considered both bread and bagel toasting quality in the same metric. We've found, in general, that traditional slot toasters toast bread a bit better than ovens, and ovens toast bagels much better than traditional slot models. So while these scores aren't directly comparable across reviews, we think our descriptions and photos will give you all the information you need to compare the toasting virtues of a specific toaster oven against those of a particular traditional slot toaster.
We looked for bagels that were toasted as evenly as possible.
The Breville Smart Oven again led the field in this metric, scoring an 8. Its bagel mode made some of the most evenly toasted bagels we've seen. It also left the backsides warm but not toasted. Bread placed in the center of the oven was toasted near perfectly on the front side, but was toasted a bit lighter and had some inconsistencies on the backside. Our toast map revealed some cool spots around the edges of the oven, but to a lesser degree than some other models. The Breville Mini Smart Oven performed almost identically to its larger sibling in this test. Despite not having a bagel mode, it still made amazing bagels. The only real difference was the Mini had some more cool spots at the edge of our toast map than the full sized.
The Panasonic FlashXpress shared the top score in this metric, thanks largely to its expediency. It was the only oven we tested that could make toast and bagels as quickly, if not faster, than a traditional slot toaster. The intense heat of the infrared elements also left no cold spots and was very directional, meaning it easily toasted the cut sides of bagels while leaving the backsides gooey and chewy.
Most of the ovens we tested fell into what we would call an acceptable range in terms of toasting. We're talking toast that is good and crunchy but not particularly even. The Cuisinart was one of these machines, producing great bagels and toast in our testing, but if you made more than a couple of slices at a time the pieces away from the center of the oven would have cold spots. The KitchenAid and Black and Decker had fewer cold spots, but the bottom side of the toast tended to be darker than the tops. The Hamilton Beach suffered some cold spots when toasting more than 2 slices, and it tended to toast the backsides of bagels a bit more than is ideal.
Toast maps like this one show both how well an oven toasts, and whether it has any cold spots.
The Oster Countertop Oven was the worst performer in our toasting test, reaching the finish line with a score of 4. As with all of the models we tested, it was able to make passable toasted goods, but it had the most deficiencies of the bunch. It often burned the edges of bagels and had difficulty toasting them evenly. It toasted the top sides of bread much more than the bottom sides, and it produced the most uneven toast map we encountered. All the bread but the slice in the exact center were more untoasted than toasted.
Toaster ovens now come in a relatively wide variety of styles and technologies, from those that attempt to replace a conventional oven in a smaller, more economical package, to those that essentially offer a less soggy microwave alternative. We hope that our testing results have shown you the pros and cons of all these iterations of countertop cookers, and led you to the perfect one for your needs.