After more than 51 hours of research; a reader survey; and stacks and stacks of toasted white bread, mini pizza bagels, and cookies, we recommend the Panasonic FlashXpress. It’s smaller than most competitors and cheaper, too, but it delivers four slices of perfectly browned toast every time.
In researching this guide, we looked at toaster ovens costing anywhere from $30 to nearly $300. Most of the cheaper models failed basic tests, but the Panasonic performed as well as—or better than—models that cost twice as much. It has some of the most accurate toast-shade settings among any oven we tried, which no other model at the Panasonic’s price could match. It’s equally capable at baking small batches of baked goods. It wasn’t the absolute best oven we tested, but weighing price against performance, it clearly offers the best value.
If our top pick is sold out, this Hamilton Beach model did a passable job in our testing. It’s $10 less expensive, and with a bigger oven cavity, it’s a little more flexible. But we didn’t like its sticky, cheap-feeling controls and hard-to-decipher display, both big strikes against it compared to the better, clearer controls on the Panasonic and Cuisinart models. It also turned out pale pizza bagels and unevenly browned toast compared to the gorgeous, honey-colored toast and crispy pizza bagels we easily made with the Panasonic and Cuisinart. We think that you’d be better off waiting for the Panasonic to come back in stock, but in an emergency, there are worse toaster ovens you could buy (and we should know—we tested a couple of them).
The Panasonic excels at the basics, but the larger Cuisinart TOB-260 Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven ($220) can perform more like a full-duty oven. It delivers even heat to up to nine slices of toast and can easily handle a 13-inch frozen pizza. The three-year warranty is outstanding, as are the impressive accessories, such as a pizza stone. If you came to this guide looking for our former top pick, the Breville Smart Oven, the Cuisinart outdoes it thanks to its lower price, great accessories, a three-year warranty, and more even heat. It was the overall best toaster oven we tested, but we feel its size and price are both more than most people need.
We’ve been testing toaster ovens for more than three years, and the editors and writers who have worked on this guide have combined experience in product reviewing and testing that totals decades. For this year’s update to the guide, our reporters, editors, testers, and reviewers spent about 20 hours testing seven machines, surveying readers, researching, talking to manufacturers, and debating the merits of our finalists (often with our mouths full).
The toaster oven is a great multipurpose small appliance that lets you toast bread and bake and reheat foods without firing up your full-sized oven. The compact size works well when you’re making single-serving meals and snacks or if your rental has a tiny kitchen with an oven that doesn’t work well (or is missing altogether). If your kitchen is so active that the oven is full, you can use the toaster oven like Martha Rose Shulman, chef and author of The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking. When she runs out of room, she said, she turns to the toaster oven to make gratins, lasagnas, and grilled cheese sandwiches.
We looked for a toaster oven that was easy to use, reliable, quick, great at toasting bread and baking cookies, and available for less than $200—the maximum price that one-third of the readers who took our toaster oven survey said they wanted to spend. This survey also revealed other criteria that we used to narrow the field: 93 percent of our respondents wanted to cook leftovers, pizza, and convenience foods like Hot Pockets and Bagel Bites, so we looked for a model with enough capacity for those jobs. But we didn’t want to go too big—97 percent of those surveyed said they only toast between two and four slices of bread at a time. Our pick, ideally, would take up very little counter space in the type of tiny kitchen you find in small studio apartments or a mother-in-law unit. And, of course, we wanted to find a toaster oven that could combine all these requirements with solid performance.
As for extra features, some are clever and genuinely useful and convenient, like automatic cooking modes and racks that pull out when you open the door. Others are less clearly valuable—we saw everything from toaster/toaster-oven crossbreeds to models with rotisseries buil in. Really, we were only looking for straightforward ovens that could handle baking, toasting, and other standard tasks really well.
One feature manufacturers like to tout is convection, which basically means a fan circulates the hot air inside the oven. The fan can be deactivated if you want to broil meat or just melt cheese on an open-faced sandwich. Convection has a benefit in full-size ovens, where it can lower cooking times, but it’s not clear how useful it is in small ovens, as Consumer Reports notes. We didn’t consider convection a must-have feature when we selected models.
And what about regular old toasters? We have a pick for those, too. In our original review, Ganda Suthivarakom likened a toaster oven to a passenger car, while your big oven is like an SUV: ”both are useful, and both will take you where you need to go, but the little car may be faster, more energy efficient, and more convenient for those shorter, smaller trips you commonly take.”
While most people wouldn’t shop for a toaster oven by examining its heating elements, three main types featured prominently in our research, and the differences between them helped explain why certain models performed better than others. Nichrome heaters (metal wires, like in a slot toaster) are very common, and quartz elements (which look like long coils encased in a glass tube) tend to appear in more expensive models. The big advantage quartz has over nichrome is that it heats up considerably faster. The third type is a ceramic element, which is often found in space heaters. None of the models we tested use ceramic exclusively, but the Panasonic FlashXpress uses both quartz and ceramic. We believe this unique combination of quartz with ceramic helps explain why the Panasonic model delivered unusually speedy, consistent performance.1
Since the last time we updated this guide in July 2014, only a few new models have come out, and nothing revolutionary has pushed toaster ovens forward in any meaningful way. Since readers asked us to look for slightly different things this time around, we scoped out 15 toaster ovens to start. Based on our new, more refined parameters (price, performance, versatility, and size), we whittled the search down to the seven models we tested, ranging in price from around $30 to $270. We weren’t shy about calling previously-tested models back in to reassess them and see how they fit what our readers said they were looking for.
For this update, we put seven toasters through a battery of tests with three tasters in our New York test kitchen.
First, for our toast test, we filled each toaster with as many slices of basic white bread as we could (Bimbo and Wonder Bread were our media of choice). For consistency, we set each machine to the medium shade setting and used the toasted results to create a heat map. This showed us how each one performed as a toaster, as well as any hot spots or uneven heat distribution.
In the five models we thought had the most promise after the heat-map toast test, we also ran a bonus round of testing on boneless, skinless chicken thighs. We wanted to test the effectiveness of each oven’s broil mode (except the Panasonic, which doesn’t have one). The results were disappointing on every single model, so don’t expect much from this feature, even if the oven can roast and bake with no problem.
For excellent toast, strong baking performance, compact size, reasonable price, and enough room to quickly heat leftovers and frozen snacks, the Panasonic FlashXpress NB-G110P is the best toaster oven we found. It cooked toast and other foods to an even, lovely golden-brown better than most other models we tried, and its toast shade settings were among the most accurate we tested. For a relatively low price, the FlashXpress stands out from a crowded pack of mediocre, cheap models, offering performance and features we found comparable to other models that are much larger and more expensive.
The Bagel Bites are a good example of the Panasonic’s performance. Compared to other ovens we tried, this one made crispy-yet-melty, nicely browned bagels that were more consistent from one edge of the oven cavity to the other. Some competitors had higher heat spots in the center, creating a nice brown result on the middle bagel but almost no brown goodness on the outer pieces. Some ovens’ results weren’t dark enough; others put out too much heat when cooking per the package’s instructions (or as close as the machine’s settings would allow). Up against bigger, more expensive toaster ovens, the FlashXpress more than held its own.
Toast, when cooked on the medium-brown setting, came out beautifully golden without any scorching or charring. Only one other toaster oven we tested was able to toast bread as impressively—the $220 Cuisinart Chef’s Convection Oven. On comparable medium-brown settings, the other toaster ovens just didn’t get the color quite right, making the bread too dark or too light. In the case of the Breville and Kitchenaid, uneven heat within the oven was a problem—those got hot enough in the middle to toast the central piece of bread (only), while leaving pieces at the edges underdone. We credit its infrared heating elements, both quartz and ceramic, for its knack for pumping out beautifully consistent toast. The Panasonic is the only model we tested with this combination.
If you have limited counter space, size is an advantage of this model, which is one of the smallest toaster ovens we tested (it measures a near cubic foot at 13.5 by 13.5 by 14.5 inches). It takes up only a little more space than a four-slot pop-up toaster, and, appropriately, it only fits four pieces of bread, compared with up to nine in the other toasters. We think that’s fine; 97 percent of our survey respondents said they only want to toast two to four pieces of bread at a time. You can’t cook a casserole or a loaf of bread in this toaster oven, but there’s still plenty of space for items like leftover pizza, frozen waffles, and cookies.
Price is another strong point in favor of the little Panasonic. At $100 or less on most sites where we found it, the FlashXpress is as much as 60 percent cheaper than the other highly rated toaster ovens we’ve investigated. You could spend even less than this, but the performance of this oven is far better than the other cheap models out there—in our experience, it competes well with some of the priciest toaster ovens.
Beyond performance, there are some other little details about the FlashXpress that we think set it apart from other comparable toaster ovens. Inside the FlashXpress, hooks on the door help eject the toaster’s wire rack. While the rack is a little tricky to remove at first (we definitely recommend letting it cool before attempting to pull it out with your hands), we love the fact that this oven makes the rack a little more accessible when you open it up. The bigger toaster ovens we reviewed from Cuisinart and Breville have hooks and magnets, respectively, to pull the rack out a bit, but others we’ve tested around the Panasonic’s price (like the one by Hamilton Beach) do not have this feature.
The push-button control panel on this model is different from the usual knob-and-dial models we tested, and we have some more thoughts on the controls in the next section. As for the interface design, we’d hesitate to describe the FlashXpress as being “elegant,” but it presents a straightforward cooking experience with its clearly-labeled legible controls.
Consumer Reports recommends this model, giving it a 70 out of 100. (The top scorer is the more expensive Breville Smart Oven, which earned a 72.) CNET gave our pick four out of five stars in their review, summing it up as “endearingly quirky and almost surprisingly good at what it does.” Reviewed.com’s Matthew Zahnzinger cited the “cult following” of this toaster oven when it made its return to the United States in early 2013 following a brief spell off the market. Many Amazon reviews back up that reputation, averaging 4.4 out of five stars from more than 1,100 customers. One FlashXpress fan unashamedly proclaimed it to be “the Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky of toasters” after using one for more than five years.
When mapping out the Panasonic’s internal heat distribution, we found a 1-inch margin right next to the door where the toast didn’t really get brown. Since you can’t fit full slices of bread in that space, it’s not a huge deal for toast (just remember to push your toast all the way to the back of the oven rack). However, it did affect other foods that were in that zone. While Bagel Bites and cookies placed in the cool area were thoroughly cooked, they weren’t as pleasantly browned. Similar problems were common in many of the ovens we tested, even the Breville, which produced less-toasty bread and paler Bagel Bites closest to the door.
The control scheme bucks the general trend among toaster ovens, a category that traditionally uses knobs for temperature and time input. Instead, this appliance has blister push buttons for all but the power on/off switch. The buttons are perfectly usable—not as sticky and mushy as others we tried—but they could be better.
Using a retro red LED display, the FlashXpress’s timer looks more like a time bomb from a 1990s action thriller than a modern kitchen appliance. While it’s not hard to read the display dead-on, it can be tricky to discern from off-angles. Displays on the pricier Breville and Cuisinart toaster ovens we tested were easier to read, and perhaps the best we used was the high-contrast white-on-black LCD on the Kitchenaid Convection Bake Oven. Thankfully, the Panasonic oven makes a very audible beep when the cycle has finished, and it turns itself off automatically.
Additionally, the Panasonic, as a Japanese appliance, is understandably designed around degrees Celsius for temperature input. There’s a converted-to-Fahrenheit selector on the temperature indicator, but the markings are oddly spaced. Want to punch in 400F? You can get either 425F or 390F but nothing between. It’s weird, but we should also note that it didn’t negatively impact any of the items we cooked. We had to bake cookies and Bagel Bites at slightly lower temperatures than the recipes called for (it’s easier to add more time than it is to undo burnt food), but the results were as good as the other ovens in the test.
One other quirk worth noting here is that the Panasonic FlashXpress will turn its heating elements on and off to regulate its internal temperature. Since two of the elements put off a very bright visible light, you can tell exactly when it happens from across the kitchen. We recommend that you don’t look directly at the light when the oven is in operation.
We also weren’t impressed by this toaster oven’s flimsy stamped metal crumb tray. After only a few cycles, the tray was already warped, which was a little worrisome. The warping didn’t make it overly difficult to replace or clean the tray, but we’ll keep an eye on this to see if it presents any problems outside of the one-year manufacturer’s warranty period.
If our top pick is sold out, the Hamilton Beach 31230 Set & Forget Toaster Oven with Convection Cooking ($90) was the closest we tested around the same price—even though it’s a distant second to the FlashXpress. In past versions of this guide we named this model as a budget pick, but this time around it didn’t meet our expectations for the price. Spend the extra $10 on the Panasonic and you’ll get better toast as well as better overall baking performance. This definitely wasn’t the worst toaster oven we tested, but compared to the Panasonic, the difference is clear enough that we suggest you go out of your way (or wait) to find our pick.
The Hamilton Beach undercooked pizza Bagel Bites and cookies to a noticeable degree when compared to other ovens, and the toast was paler and less toasted at the oven’s edges. Its one neat trick is an included temperature probe, but we felt that it was really poorly executed. The probe lives behind a flimsy plastic hatch, and its cord needs to be wedged in the door when you want to use it. Finally, the controls on this model are really cheap, using sticky, small blister buttons and a weird, hard-to-decipher amber LCD display.
Perhaps the best thing we can say about the Hamilton Beach 31230 Set & Forget Toaster Oven is that it has larger interior dimensions, putting it between our top pick and upgrade pick in overall size. It can fit two more slices of toast than the Panasonic, but the toasting is very uneven, with the most browning occurring in the dead middle of the oven’s cavity. It’s better than the cheap, $30 options we tested in this roundup, but we still would recommend you wait for the Panasonic to come back in stock.
If you want your toaster oven to cook nine slices of toast at once, 12 golden crispy pizza Bagel Bites, or eight perfectly done cookies, the big, versatile Cuisinart TOB-260 Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven is the best we found. It’s a different beast entirely than the Panasonic: It’s more than twice the price, almost twice the size, and its much bigger oven cavity means it can handle a wider variety of cooking tasks. Compared to all the other big toaster ovens we tested, this was the top performer by an impressive margin. In this year’s tests, it came out ahead of the Breville Smart Oven, which was our pick in a previous version of this guide. When compared head-to-head with the Breville, the Cuisinart cooks toast more evenly, is cheaper, and has a better warranty, more accessories, and a slightly bigger capacity to boot.
Without a doubt, the Cuisinart had the most even heat in its voluminous cavity, toasting all nine slices of bread in a single batch of toast to golden-brown perfection. Corner-to-corner, no other oven was as consistent, and even our pick (the Panasonic) had a narrow strip towards the door where food got cooked a little bit less. In comparison, the similarly-priced big toaster ovens (like ones from Breville and KitchenAid) both concentrated heat in the center of the oven and had a significant fall-off of heat towards the edges.
Spending more than $200 on a big toaster oven also gets you a premium ownership experience, as you should expect. The Cuisinart has a standard three-year limited warranty (competitors only include one-year warranties for the same cost), and a lot of included accessories: two racks, a baking pan, a broiling tray, and a pizza stone (we particularly like that last one). These accessories, like the warranty, are also a step up from other competitors in this price range. The oven has four levels for the racks, with metal hooks that pull out the middle rack when the door is opened. The quartz heating elements help it come up to temperature quickly, and preheating never feels like it takes all that long.
The biggest shortcoming on the Cuisinart is the controls, which take some time to get used to. There’s a combined start/stop button and timer, and the timer is started by an internal switch that only works once you open and close the door. If that sounds confusing, it is.
There’s one unusual feature we didn’t see with any other toaster oven. Called Dual Mode, it’s a basic way of programming your own cooking cycle by hooking two existing modes together to play out back-to-back. So, let’s say you’re baking a couple cinnamon rolls. Using Dual Mode, you could, for instance, bake them to perfection, and then run a 15-minute warming cycle automatically after they’re done cooking while you wait for your family to get out of bed.
Currently, the Cuisinart TOB-260 has a 4.8-star average over on Amazon. That’s pretty high for a toaster oven, but there are less than 200 user-submitted reviews for the product, so take that rating with a grain of salt.
Among all the toaster ovens we tested, only a couple of manufacturers noted the importance of getting the oven ready for its first use by running several test cycles with the machine empty before using it on anything you plan to eat. This way, any industrial residues inside the oven (which are applied to prevent corrosion while the machines are shipped and stored) can burn off and don’t get a chance to get into your food. Do this in a ventilated space if possible; depending on the oven, you’ll smell noxious fumes in the first round or two. While you wait, take the time to wash the rack and accessories in warm soapy water.
Once you’re up and running, we recommend you empty the crumb tray often. If you’re cooking something that could drip grease on the lower heating element, be sure to use foil and a pan underneath the item. If grease splatters inside the oven, clean the interior according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
The Breville Smart Oven ($250) was our pick for best toaster oven in a previous version of this guide. This year, we also tested the new-for-2015 Smart Oven Pro ($280) as a stand-in for the near-identical original Smart Oven. The Pro adds a couple of minor features (a slow cook mode and an internal light) on top of the Smart Oven’s tried-and-true formula. At $250, the original Smart Oven is still an okay choice, just not the best we tried. Like the Panasonic, this oven had a bit of a gap in performance between the door and the front of the oven’s rack. Bagel Bites we toasted in that space were noticeably paler than those in the middle and back of the oven. At $280, the Smart Oven Pro might be a stretch given the limited bonus features you get for your extra dough. For instance, if an oven light is important to you, both the Panasonic and Cuisinart options we recommend include one for way less money.
The Breville BOV650XL Compact Smart Oven ($180) didn’t make the cut this time around. Its price is decent if you don’t need the capacity of the big Breville Smart Oven, but it’s still $80 more than the Panasonic that we like more overall.
We tested the KitchenAid KCO273SS 12” Convection Bake Digital Countertop Oven and found that it was about as capable as the Breville Smart Oven but underperformed when compared to the Cuisinart. It came with very nice racks and had the clearest display out of all the toaster ovens we tested, but for around $200, we think that the Cuisinart is worth the extra $20 for the warranty and better performance.
If we learned anything in this roundup, it’s that you get what you pay for with cheap toaster ovens. We tried out the Black and Decker TO1303SB ($30) and Proctor Silex 4-Slice Toaster Oven ($25) and were underwhelmed. The Black and Decker is the top-selling toaster oven on Amazon at the time of publication, and price aside, we’re not sure why. It’s cheaply built, has poor controls, gives you little control over the toast shade, and has a small interior space. The Proctor Silex is even more bare-bones, and we didn’t like it for very similar reasons. If you have $30 to spend and mostly want to toast bread, buy a cheap slot toaster instead.
The Cuisinart CSO-300 ($300) promises to speed up cooking times up to 40 percent by incorporating steam heat. We didn’t test it, but at $300, this toaster is significantly more expensive than our pick and comes with a feature that only 15 percent of our readers said they wanted.
In our last guide, we looked at the Black and Decker TO1332SBD 4-Slice Toaster Oven ($40). Consumer Reports gave this model a score of 49, noting that while it was very easy to use, it didn’t bake as well as others. We found the Black and Decker to be the most inconsistent in our tests, burning some things and undercooking others.
Unfortunately, the Oster TSSTTVMNDG Digital Large Capacity Toaster Oven ($60) has plastic components that make it look cheap. Consumer Reports gave it a score of 62 and chose it as their best buy in the category, but said, “the model’s overall toasting performance was only so-so.” Our own testing showed performance to be uneven, with hotspots and high running temperatures.
The Cuisinart TOB-40 Custom Classic Toaster Oven Broiler ($80) performed fairly well, only burning dark toast over the majority of the slice while toasting light and medium toast to golden brown, and it’s very easy to use, with knob controls for function, temperature, and shade. The biggest drawback, however, is that this model has no timer, so you’ll have to keep watch on the food you’re cooking on your own.
We also considered testing the Kenmore 6 Slice Black Convection Toaster Oven ($75) and the Waring Pro WTO450 Professional Toaster Oven ($60) but decided not to test them because while they are very similar to the other budget options, they did not provide anything unique in terms of power, size, or features. Also, neither model was as heavily praised in Amazon reviews or manufacturer website reviews as the models we did choose to test.
With the Cuisinart TOB-135 ($130), evenness and temperature control were less consistent. It failed with basic toast: Bread cooked at the medium (4) setting came out darker than toast made with the dark (7) setting.
A startup promising to disrupt the appliance scene got some attention earlier this year. The connected June Intelligent Oven has a spec sheet that looks like a tablet’s, an internal HD camera that monitors your food as it cooks, carbon fiber heating elements, and two convection fans. It seems great on paper, but its whopping $1,500 price tag is a tall hurdle for early adopters to cross. To make things more difficult, this oven’s wattage matches the $250 Breville Smart Oven at 1800 watts, and it’s about 2 inches bigger in every dimension, hogging even more counter space. If you don’t need a side of WiFi with your waffle-cut fries, a conventional toaster oven can do almost as much as the June can for way less dough.
Originally published: October 2, 2015