The Best Toaster Oven is Expensive, but Great
If you’re going to make space on your kitchen counter for a toaster oven, we recommend the full-size Breville Smart Oven. At $250, it’s very expensive, but experts and people who own it say its impressive versatility, consistent cooking, and thoughtful design make it worth the extra dough.
Building upon the 12 hours of research in our previous toaster oven guide, we added nine hours of research and 14 hours of testing five additional toaster ovens alongside our original top pick and step-down. After toasting dozens of slices of bread, baking cookies, crisping frozen pizzas, and roasting potatoes, we discovered that the Breville Smart Oven remains the best pick for anyone who wants a device that’s beautifully designed, easy to use, and consistent in cooking every time.
Table of contents
Should I upgrade?
If you don’t have one yet, and you like melting cheese on bread, a toaster oven is going to be great replacement for your upright toaster and a supplement (or even replacement, in some cases) to your microwave. If you already have an inferior or dying toaster oven taking up space on your counter, consider upgrading in order to make the most of your kitchen space. Or, if your conventional oven poses difficulties, an appliance at waist level may be ideal; on a Chowhound message board, Cam14 also mentions that a counter-level toaster oven helps elderly parents “because they just couldn’t bend to lift things in and out of the oven any longer.”
People who like pies or cakes in the summer (especially those with no AC in the kitchen) but hate turning the oven on will appreciate that the toaster oven keeps the kitchen a little cooler than the conventional oven. And toaster ovens are handy for active cooks who want to make quick work of little jobs like making croutons or toasting nuts. (The Kitchn has a list of the 10 Best Uses for Your Toaster Oven, including using it to warm your plates before you serve. GENIUS.)
Of course, a toaster oven has a bigger footprint than an upright toaster, so it may not be right for those without counter space. All toaster ovens have hot surfaces, so they need clearance. And, if all you need is toast, stick to a normal pop-up slot toaster—they’re faster, cheaper, and generally more even.
How we picked and tested
We assumed that toaster ovens will need to be used for toast, so the best had to toast bread well, and in a timely fashion. But we wanted to also measure how they performed as auxiliary ovens.
Cooking should be even between the front and back, the sides and middle, the top and bottom of the foods—with the least noticeable hotspots. (All toaster ovens tend to have hotspots in the back. As Nathan Myhrvold points out in Modernist Cuisine at Home, this is likely because the back corners of most ovens emit more radiant heat than the areas around the door, especially if the door has a glass window—which all of the models we tested had.) A toaster oven is versatile enough to cook a whole chicken or just broil the cheese on top of an open-faced sandwich.
Size matters, though needs will vary from kitchen to kitchen. Looks also count, though this is again a matter of personal preference.
Ease of cleaning is important in such a small space, since fallen crumbs and oil splatters can cause smoke and possibly fire.
When it comes to longevity, both Lois Dewitt and Lynn Alley suggested that a toaster oven should last about five years. And, as with all household objects we use daily, design makes a huge difference in encouraging owners to use the toaster oven’s multiple functions correctly, right out of the box. This is especially important in households with kids who are entrusted to heat up their own breakfast or after school snacks.
Many of the common names on household appliances are players in the toaster oven realm, from affordable brands like Black & Decker and Oster, to mid-range brands such as Krups, DeLonghi, and Hamilton Beach, to upscale department store brands including Cuisinart, Breville, and Kitchenaid.
These three major reviews gave the Breville Smart Oven top ratings across the board, as did testimonials from other sources, but its high price gave us pause—could the Breville, at $250, really be that much better than some of the more affordable competitors?
In our original guide, we tested two mid-range models that got high marks in editorial reviews: the Black & Decker CTO7100B Toast-R-Oven Digital Rotisserie Convection Oven ($93) and the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Toaster Oven with Convection Cooking ($83). For this round, we decided to also test the Panasonic FlashXpress Toaster Oven ($130), a favorite of many commenters of the original guide, and the Cuisinart TOB-135 Deluxe Convection Oven Toaster ($130), a new model from Cuisinart that’s comparable to the Breville Smart Oven in power and design. We also tested a very cheap option, the Black & Decker 4-Slice Toaster Oven (TO1332SBD) ($30), as well as the affordable Waring Pro Digital Convection Oven (TCO650) ($90) and the Cuisinart Custom Classic Toaster Oven Broiler (TOB-40) ($80).
We toasted bread to check for hotspots, baked Nestle Toll House cookie dough to test baking against the tops and bottoms of food, heated up frozen pizzas, and roasted potatoes to check for sustained, intense heat. Whenever possible, we used the ovens’ preset functions and followed recommended temperature settings.
The Breville Smart Oven is still the clear winner. It evenly toasts both sides of up to six slices of wide bread, arranged in a single layer. Heat is provided by five quartz elements—three on top, two on the bottom—that bring the oven to temperature quickly and maintain that temperature. Unlike most of the toaster ovens we looked at, the Breville offers not two but three rack levels so you can move your food closer or further from the elements as required. It’s roomy enough for a 13” round pizza, a 13”x9” cake pan without handles, or a 4.5 lb. chicken. Most importantly, it handles roasting, baking, and toasting consistently well. There is a small button you can push to indicate that a food is frozen, which automatically adds the recommended amount of time needed to defrost things like pizza or cookie dough; there’s also a convection button which helps circulate the hot air throughout the oven, speeding up the cooking process and browning.
But what really puts it in a class of its own are thoughtful design touches that make using the Breville intuitive and easy to use. There are three logical, well-marked, dials on the machine that turn and click smoothly: one to choose the function, one to set the temperature, and one to set the time. As with many other models, there are specific settings for the most popular functions—toast, bagel, bake, roast, broil, pizza, cookies, reheat, and warm—and each one changes which heating elements are employed for the appropriate amount of directional heat. Choose a function (with preset time and temp that can be adjusted to your liking and will be subsequently remembered by the machine), then hit the big start button. While the oven preheats, the light on the display goes from blue to orange. When the oven is ready, a beep signals to let you know you can put your food in. An automatic timer displays, counting down the remaining time left so you know exactly how long you have until you can eat. And, when the timer has run down, the oven shuts off automatically. The crumb tray pulls out easily from the front, making it a cinch to clean.
Some of the design flourishes are small, but no less genius. When the rack is in the center (as it would be for toast and cookies), magnets in the door automatically pull the rack out a few inches—no more burnt fingers when you fish your bagel out. Even the plug, pictured left, is designed with a hard plastic doughnut hole shape to help thumbs grip the plug when inserting or pulling out of the socket. Little safety catches on the oven wall allow you to pull the top two racks out a few inches without having your food fall. With its stainless steel housing and firm electronic beep, as well as the included pizza pan and heavy baking pan with broiler insert, it looks more solid and expensive than its competitors.
The Breville Smart Oven comes with a 1-year limited warranty. Consumer Reports gave the Breville Smart Oven a score of 73, 4 points higher than its Compact little brother and eight points higher than the nearest competitor of a different brand. They took note of its “sleek, sturdy design” and rated the model excellent on successive batches of toast, ease of use, and full batches of toast.
America’s Test Kitchen gave the Smart Oven a perfect score. They said, “While the price makes us wince, this well-designed oven aced every test and was simple to use.” Cooking through a macaroni and cheese casserole and making dark (not burnt) toast wasn’t a problem. (See this YouTube video for more on what they loved.)
Good Housekeeping gave the Breville Smart Oven, and its little brother, the Breville Compact Smart Oven, an A, saying, “Expensive, yes, but Breville’s Smart Oven is a whiz at toasting and baking.” They note its “large interior”, which provides more room for roasting a 4.5 lb. chicken or baking a cake (and it performed both tasks beautifully in their tests).
The Wall Street Journal gave the Breville “The Blue Ribbon”, saying, “We were so wowed by this little state-of-the-art genius that we might just start using our old-school oven for storing summer shoes.” They loved the “dummy-proof digital knobs” and the “auto-eject tray” (a reference to the magnetized middle rack).
The Kitchn writer Emily Ho called the Breville Smart Oven her “essential appliance”, explaining, “When I pared down my kitchen tools last year, the Breville Smart Oven was among those that stayed firmly in place. It’s a counter hog, no doubt about it, but I use this appliance nearly every day.” As someone who references British recipes often, she appreciated the easy-to-miss Fahrenheit/Celsius toggle button. (Breville’s are designed in Australia, where they measure temperature in Celsius.)
Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of the The Cake Bible, calls the Breville “the perfectly even oven,” saying that it cooked her test cream puff pastry to an even golden brown.
The home cooks in this Chowhound discussion rhapsodize about the Breville. Lynniato says “I worship my Breville. It’s sexy and it works great. We use it throughout the day, every day.” Rexter314 said, “We bought the Breville Smart Oven last year and couldn’t be happier with it. We’ll use it before we turn on our large ones.” Goodhealthgourmet said, “I have to add my vote for the large Breville Smart Oven with convection. Easily the best $200 I ever spent on a kitchen appliance.”
In addition, the Amazon page for the Breville Smart Oven has a 4.5 star rating, which is especially impressive considering that it has amassed over 1,300 reviews as of this edit, with 975 of the reviews being five-star ratings. Amazon customer K. Robertson wrote a long, loving review of the Breville, pointing out, “I don’t think most of us have convection ranges, so having this feature on a toaster oven is great.” An update to K. Robertson’s review also says, “It’s 1½ years later, and I still use my Breville almost every day—still love it and not one hint of problems. Crumb tray in the front is SO very easy to pull out and to keep clean.”
Flaws but not deal breakers
The biggest flaw of the Smart Oven, if you can call it that, is probably the cost. We know, the price makes us uncomfortable, too. Why should you get a smaller oven if you’ve already got a big and powerful one? Think of it as the difference between having a big S.U.V. and a little compact car. 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. This is a highly versatile appliance that many reviewers say they use every day. Some say they use the Breville much more often than their conventional ovens, and that the Breville replaces it. If you’re an avid cook, you may find that the Breville becomes the second oven you wouldn’t otherwise have room for. Many of us live in homes with old ovens that may lack power or temperature control, not to mention some of the more modern touches like preheating notification, convection, or even a window to look in and see your food as it cooks. It’s also a lot easier to clean than a conventional oven.
Of the 2,100 reviews on Amazon, there are about 150 1-star reviews, many of which come from people who love their Breville…until it stops working. Similar reviews crop up on Consumer Reports’ page, as well as Breville’s unusually public and transparent getsatisfaction.com forum.
Some negative reviewers report that their ovens allegedly die as early as 1 month in, but other 1-star reviewers report a lifespan of up to about 3 years. Many of the negative reports point to failure in the LCD display, quartz elements not working anymore, or unresponsive dials. Appliance failure complaints are not uncommon in the category; by percentage, the popular Oster has a similar number of negative comments on outages.
We contacted Breville for comment on these particular issues. They responded, “At Breville, we continually strive to create innovative, award-winning products that meet the highest standards of quality. While we do not comment on consumer reviews posted on third party sites, we know that the overwhelming majority of our customers are extremely happy with the ovens they have purchased from us, which is why we are the leading brand in the kitchen countertop oven category. If a customer thinks that he or she may have a problem with a product, we strongly encourage the person to call customer service (1-866-273-8455) Monday-Friday, 8 am – 5 pm (PST) or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Often, with the assistance of one of our dedicated representatives, what might first appear to be a problem can be quickly resolved through basic troubleshooting.”
As for performance, the only thing the Breville is a little weak on is toast—on the light setting, the Breville basically warmed the toast all the way through, only making the outside of the toast slightly crispy, with no browning whatsoever. Medium was on the light side, and the darkest setting wasn’t really that dark.
The Panasonic FlashXpress Toaster Oven ($134) is our runner up to the Breville Smart Oven. The Panasonic uses infrared heating, which they claim eliminates the need for preheating and to also cook food 40 percent faster. In our testing, we were able to cook without preheating, which is pretty great, but food cooked in the same amount of time as it did in the other models.
The FlashXpress is nearly cubical, measuring 10 1/4″ H x 13″ W x 12″ D, and weighs just 7.5 lbs when empty. It takes up much less space on a countertop than a rectangular toaster oven, and it still was able to fit a 9” pizza comfortably in its 10.2 x 9.8 x 4.1-inch interior. It comes with a removable crumb tray that you remove from the front of the oven, and a 9” square pan. The rack holds up to four wide slices of bread at once. It’s also the only oven we tested that could bake at up to 500 degrees.
It’s not our main pick in part because it’s more of a compact toaster oven, which means it’s not as versatile as the Breville. The interior height from the rack, when positioned at the lowest rung, to roof is about 4 inches, so roasting a chicken is out of the question. It’s also not very wide, so a standard 13×9 pan won’t fit.
Compared to the Breville’s blue-backlit digital display and smooth, silver knob controls, the Panasonic’s under-the-door keypad feels outdated and makes the entire device appear a little retro.
There was a slight hotspot in the back of the oven, which burned a small amount of crust on the toast on the medium and dark settings. Otherwise, pizza and potatoes cooked fairly evenly and thoroughly. Like all the other models we tested, the Panasonic gets hot the touch while cooking, so be sure to leave enough room around the device and be cautious of where you put your hands so nothing and no one gets burned.
Since this model heats food using infrared heat from light bulbs, the inside of the oven shines with bright white light while the food is being cooked. It’s not necessarily a bother, but when the oven was on, the light was bright enough that I could see it from the next room. You’ll want to be careful if you have small children who like to watch food cooking in the oven as well. Amy Says Cook points out that the instruction manual warns that staring at the front light for extended periods could cause eye injury.
The step down
Good Housekeeping gave this model a B, and thought it was “a whiz at toasting, consistently delivering evenly browned bread in GHRI tests.” Note that Consumer Reports complains about a lack of crumb tray; the model we tested did have a crumb tray, but you had to open the oven door in order to retrieve it. This comes with a 1-year limited warranty.
In our second round of testing, the Hamilton Beach cooked all foods fairly well, but really delivered a stellar performance with pizza and potatoes, which both came out golden and crispy. Bread toasted decently, although there wasn’t much difference between medium and dark toast, and cookies were slightly undercooked and stuck to the pan just a bit. Overall, it’s a solid, consistent alternative at 1/3 the price. If you plan on using your toaster oven infrequently (2x a week), or you only want to use it for basic toaster oven functions like toasting bagels or heating up convenience foods, this is an affordable and reliable pick.
Care and maintenance
Before going to clean your toaster oven, check the model’s manuals to see if any the parts and accessories are dishwasher safe; otherwise, handwashing is your best bet. If you are cleaning the toaster oven manually, always unplug the oven and wait until it’s fully cool to clean it. The Kitchn simply recommends cleaning the oven and its parts with hot water and dish soap, but this YouTube video from Clean My Space offers an alternative with a mixture of cream of tartar and water. For the interior of the toaster oven, Martha Stewart recommends soap and either steel wool or a nylon pad, depending on whether the interior is made of metal or porcelain. For the exterior, use non abrasive liquid cleaner, and as Bright Nest notes, always remember to keep liquid and cleaning products away from the heating elements of the oven.
The Breville Compact Smart Oven ($180) is based on the same technology that makes its bigger brother so great, but it lacks convection and some of the smart design touches like the magnetized rack. The time and temperature are combined into a single knob. Considering that its footprint is not much smaller than the full-size, the internal measurements feel significantly smaller. Consumer Reports gave it a score of 69, saying, “This Breville toaster oven is priced well below its top-of-the-line brand mate, but it performs just as well in many areas.” Good Housekeeping notes that it only allows 4 slices of bread, as opposed to the 6 slices that fit into the full-size. Amazon customer Michael J. Edelman, who owns the Compact, says, “I think the Breville BOV800XL The Smart Oven 1800-Watt Convection Toaster Oven with Element IQ, which adds convection and a somewhat larger oven is a better deal overall.” Like its big brother, it comes with a 1-year limited warranty. Saveur Senior Editor Gabriella Gershenson has this model and loves it, but says she would have gotten the larger one if she had had room for it.
The Cuisinart TOB-135 ($130) is less expensive than our pick, but as with other cheaper toaster ovens, evenness and temperature control were less consistent. It failed with basic toast: bread cooked at the medium (4) setting came out more burnt than toast made with the dark (7) setting. It also includes a limited 3-year warranty.
The Black & Decker CTO7100B Toast-R-Oven Digital Rotisserie Convection Oven ($90) earned a score of 52 in Consumer Reports, which noted that it “took too long to toast one slice bread medium brown.” America’s Test Kitchen found its performance “acceptable but a little uneven.” Amazon customer Anonymous said, “This B&D oven makes outstanding rotisserie meats and is a big leap in value over a traditional toaster oven, with one significant drawback: it’s a very mediocre toaster.” The Black & Decker comes with a 2-year limited warranty.
The Waring Pro Digital Convection Oven (TCO650) ($90) was an all-around average toaster oven. It has a hotspot in the inside back of the oven that consistently overcooked food. Toast and cookies in the back of the oven were very close to being burned even when they were cooked at their suggested times and temperatures. The Waring Pro didn’t cook any food spectacularly, only adequately—potatoes came out warm yet chewy, some cookies were slightly undercooked and stuck to the pan, and pizza crust was heated unevenly.
The Cuisinart Custom Classic Toaster Oven Broiler (TOB-40) ($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 the time of the food you’re cooking on your own.
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 its best buy in the category, but said “the model’s overall toasting performance was only so-so.”Good Housekeeping gave this model a B and, strangely, said that “it toasted bread fairly evenly (the most even of any toaster oven in our test).” Our own testing showed performance to be uneven, with hotspots and high running temperatures. This model comes with a 1-year limited warranty.
The cheapest and lowest performing oven we tested was the Black and Decker 4-Slice Toaster Oven (TO1332SBD) ($40). This is the bestselling toaster oven on Amazon right now. Consumer Reports gave this model a score of 49, citing 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, and it also couldn’t even fit a 9” pizza in its interior.
The Cuisinart TOB-195 Exact Heat Toaster Oven Broiler ($170) has gotten stellar reviews from customers on Amazon, with 451 5-star reviews out of 650 total. However, it was discontinued in December 2013.
We also considered testing the Kenmore 6 Slice Black Convection Toaster Oven (4806) ($75) and the Waring Pro Toaster Oven (WTO450) ($60) but decided not to test them because, while they are very similar to the other budget pick 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.
What to look forward to
We think the 12-inch KitchenAid Convection Bake Digital Countertop Oven could be a contender, but we haven’t been able to test it yet. At $400, its capacity is slightly shorter and less wide than our Breville pick, but it has great reviews.
We’re also interested in the $260 Cuisinart TOB-260. Consumer Reports has tested it already and says, “Its spacious interior is big enough for a 9-pound chicken, according to the manufacturer, and it actually held 9 slices of toast in our tests. More importantly, it’s very capable at both baking and broiling, and it turned out a nice batch of toast, which not all toaster ovens can manage.”
Wrapping it up
The innovative Breville Smart Oven is worth the money once you calculate its daily use. It’s smart enough for amateurs who want a no-think appliance and precise enough for experienced cooks who want to harness its versatility.
Inventor of the Week: Charles Strite, MIT, January 2007“Strite’s version employed heating elements that could toast both sides of a slice of bread at the same time. It also included a timer that turned off the electricity and a spring that ejected, or ‘popped up,’ the toast when the electricity shut off. He received U.S. patent No. 1,394,450 for his device, which became known as ‘the Toastmaster.’”
“Which is more efficient, a toaster oven or a regular oven?”, Now, October 21-28, 2010,“A typical electric oven runs on 2,500 to 5,000 watts (depending on the model, age and mode it’s in) and set to 350° uses an average 2 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy for 60 minutes of cooking time. A 1,200-watt toaster oven set to 450° for 50 minutes uses only 0.9 kWh, according to BC Hydro.”
Toaster Oven Reviews, Good Housekeeping
Toaster Ovens, America's Test Kitchen
Toaster Oven Ratings, Consumer Reports
Toaster Ovens, The Wall Street Journal, December 17, 2011,
My Essential Appliance: Breville Smart Oven, The Kitchn, February 10, 2012,
Originally published: May 24, 2013