After more than 50 hours of research and testing—and making stacks and stacks of toasted white bread, mini pizza bagels, and cookies—we think the Panasonic FlashXpress toaster oven is the best for most people. This model performed as well as (or better than) models that cost twice as much. The Panasonic FlashXpress delivers four slices of perfectly browned toast every time due to its unique combination of both quartz and ceramic infrared heating elements. Its compact size takes up less space on a counter, while its interior is still large enough to comfortably reheat leftovers and frozen snacks.
To winnow down our selection of models to test, we spoke with Denise Selman, senior product manager at Panasonic, as well as Martha Rose Shulman, chef and author of The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking. We also consulted reviews from America’s Test Kitchen (subscription required), Consumer Reports (subscription required), and Good Housekeeping. Additionally, we looked at highly rated models on sites such as Amazon, Sears, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Brendan Nystedt has spent over 20 hours researching and testing toaster ovens for this guide. He also contributed to our guide for the best toaster.
A 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. A compact one 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, lasagne, and grilled cheese sandwiches.
And what about regular old toasters? We have picks for those, too. In our original guide, 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.”
We looked for toaster ovens that were easy to use, reliable, quick, great at toasting bread and baking cookies, and available for between $25 and $270. For our last update, a Sweethome survey revealed that most of our respondents wanted to cook leftovers, pizza, and convenience foods like Hot Pockets, so we looked for a model with enough capacity for those jobs. But we didn’t want to go too big; many of those surveyed said they only toast between two and four slices of bread at a time. Our pick would ideally 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 built in. Really, we were only looking for straightforward ovens that could handle baking, toasting, and other standard tasks 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 reduce 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 to test.
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 one model, the Panasonic FlashXpress, uses both quartz and ceramic.1
For this update, we put seven toasters through a battery of tests with three tasters in our New York City test kitchen.
First, for our toast test, we filled each toaster with as many slices of basic white bread as we could. For consistency, we set each machine to the medium shade setting and used the toasted results to create a heat map. This showed us any hot spots, as well as how each one performed as a toaster.
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 FlashXpress, 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.
The Panasonic FlashXpress made crispy-yet-melty Bagel Bites that were more consistently browned from one edge of the oven cavity to the other. Some ovens’ results weren’t dark enough; others put out too much heat or hot spots in the center. Up against bigger, more expensive toaster ovens, the FlashXpress more than held its own.
The Panasonic FlashXpress was one of the smallest toaster ovens we tested, so it’s a great option if you have limited counter space (it measures a bit more than one cubic foot at 13.5 by 13.5 by 14.5 inches). It takes up only a little more space than most four-slot pop-up toasters and fits four pieces of bread (compared with up to nine in some of the other toaster ovens we tested). We think that’s fine; an overwhelming majority of our survey respondents said they would 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.
Beyond performance, there are other features that set the Panasonic FlashXpress apart from the competition. Hooks on the door help eject the toaster’s wire rack so you don’t have to reach your hand as far into the oven cavity to retrieve your food. Though this feature was common with some of the larger, more expensive models we tested, the Panasonic FlashXpress was one of the few to include door hooks at a lower price.
We’d hesitate to describe the Panasonic FlashXpress’s interface design as being elegant, but it presents a straightforward cooking experience with its clearly-labeled controls. Unlike the other toaster ovens we recommend that have dial controls, the Panasonic 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. Like some other models we tried, our testers liked that the Panasonic FlashXpress beeps when the cycle has finished and turns itself off automatically.
When mapping out the Panasonic’s internal heat distribution, we found a 1-inch margin right behind the door where the toast didn’t brown well. Since you can’t fit full slices of bread in that space anyway, it’s not a huge deal (just remember to push your bread 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. However, similar problems were common in many of the ovens we tested.
Using a retro red LED display, the Panasonic 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. Our testers found that the displays on the pricier Breville and Cuisinart toaster ovens were easier to read.
Additionally, the Panasonic FlashXpress, 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 400 °F? You can get either 425 °F or 390 °F but nothing between. That said, this idiosyncrasy didn’t negatively impact any of the items we cooked.
Also, the Panasonic FlashXpress has a somewhat flimsy stamped metal crumb tray compared to the sturdier trays on our other picks. After only a few cycles, the Panasonic tray was already warped. However, the warping didn’t make it overly difficult to pull or clean the tray. We’ll keep an eye on this to see if it presents any problems down the road.
Should you encounter any problems with the FlashXpress under warranty, contact Panasonic.
In our tests, the Breville Smart Oven toasted bread evenly from front to back, with paler results from side to side, but it still toasted more evenly than the Breville Smart Pro and the Hamilton Beach 31230. The Breville Smart Oven’s roomier cavity means it can fit up to 6 slices of bread or a 12-inch pizza. (We found that six slices of bread toast best on heat setting 4, while one to four slices toast best on heat setting 6.)
The Breville Smart Oven had the easiest-to-use controls out of all the toaster ovens we tried. In fact, our testers intuitively understood how the controls worked without having to refer to the user manual, which wasn’t the case with the Cuisinart TOB-260N1. The legend displayed on the door conveniently tells you where to place the rack for broiling, toasting, and baking.
One glitch to this model is that the convection mode automatically activates whenever you adjust the function knob. If you don’t want to activate this mode, you have to press the convection button each time to turn it off. This is a little annoying, but we don’t consider it a dealbreaker since this model is so easy to use and provides solid results. Also, this model doesn’t have an internal light, but we found that the heating elements provide enough illumination for you to see inside to check your food.
The Breville Smart Oven is backed by a 1-year limited warranty, which isn’t as good as our upgrade pick’s 3-year warranty. If you encounter problems, contact Breville for repairs or a replacement.
Without a doubt, the Cuisinart TOB-260N1 had the most even heat in its voluminous cavity, toasting all nine slices of bread in a single batch to golden-brown perfection. Corner-to-corner, no other oven was as consistent (even our main pick, the Panasonic FlashXpress had a narrow strip towards the door where food cooked a little bit less). The similarly-priced large toaster ovens (like ones from Breville and KitchenAid) both concentrated heat in the center of the oven and had a more significant fall-off of heat towards the edges.
The biggest shortcoming on the Cuisinart is the single dial control, which functions as a combined start/stop button and timer. It’s not as intuitive as the two-knob controls on the Breville Smart Oven, but once we familiarized ourselves with it, we appreciated its sleeker, pared-down interface.
The Cuisinart TOB-260N1 has 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.
You may find the Cuisinart toaster oven sold under various model numbers, including TOB-260 and TOB-260N. The Cuisinart representative we spoke to said that there were minor internal changes made to these toaster ovens, which account for the differences in model numbers. However, they assured us that these changes shouldn’t affect the toaster oven’s performance. The TOB-260N1 is the most up-to-date version of this toaster oven. We plan to try it again soon to see that it’s performing as well as the TOB-260 version we tested for our original guide.
The Cuisinart TOB-260N1 has a three-year limited warranty, while most competitors only include one-year warranties for the same price. If you encounter problems with the toaster oven under warranty, contact Cuisinart for a replacement.
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 have a chance to get into your food. Do this in a ventilated space if possible; depending on the oven, you’ll smell 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.
Though it’s more expensive, the Breville Smart Oven Pro is nearly identical to our runner-up pick, the Breville Smart Oven. While the Pro adds a couple of minor features (a slow cook mode and an internal light), the Bagel Bites we toasted between the door and the front of the oven’s rack were noticeably paler than those in the middle and back of the oven. Consumer Reports found the same thing, giving the Pro a lower score on “full batch” than the Smart Oven.
The Breville BOV650XL Compact Smart Oven didn’t do well in many of our tests. Its price is decent if you don’t need the capacity of the big Breville Smart Oven, but it’s still more than the Panasonic that we like more overall.
The Hamilton Beach 31230 Set & Forget Toaster Oven with Convection Cooking was our previous runner-up pick. However, in a new round of testing, we found that it produced pale toast on the medium setting and cooked unevenly compared to the Breville Smart Oven.
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 since the KitchenAid only has a 1-year warranty, we think the Cuisinart is worth the extra money for the 3-year coverage and better performance.
We were underwhelmed by the Proctor Silex 4-Slice Toaster Oven. We dismissed this model because it was plagued by the same problems as the Black and Decker TO1303SB model.
The Black and Decker TO1332SBD 4-Slice Toaster Oven was the most inconsistent in our tests, burning some things and undercooking others. Consumer Reports gave this model a score of 48, noting that while it was very easy to use, it didn’t bake as well as others.
The Black and Decker TO1303SB is a popular model on Amazon, but our testers found that it was cheaply built, it gives you little control over the the toast shade, and it has a small interior space.
The Oster TSSTTVMNDG Digital Large Capacity Toaster Oven has cheap plastic components. In our tests, its performance was inconsistent and it had hotspots and high running temperatures. Consumer Reports gave it a score of 64 and chose it as their best buy in the category, but said, “the model’s overall toasting performance was only so-so.”
The Cuisinart TOB-40 Custom Classic Toaster Oven Broiler is easy to use, but bread became too dark on its medium setting. Also, this model has no timer, so you’ll have to keep a close watch on your food to prevent it from overcooking.
The Cuisinart TOB-135 toasted bread unevenly and its temperature control was less consistent, so we were able to dismiss it.
The Cuisinart CSO-300, more of a steam oven than a toaster oven, promises to speed up cooking times up to 40 percent by incorporating steam heat. We didn’t test it, but this toaster is significantly more expensive than our pick.
Reviewed.com recently published an article about a prototype for the soon-to-be-released Panasonic Insta-Heat Toaster Oven. We spoke with a public relations representative at Panasonic who told us that this model will become available sometime this fall. We’re eager to test this toaster oven for our next update.
Panasonic has also released the new Countertop Induction Oven NU-HX100S. We’d like to test this model for our next update to see how it compares to standard toaster ovens and whether it’s worth the steep price tag.
The soon-to-be-released June Intelligent Oven boasts an HD camera that monitors your food as it cooks, carbon fiber heating elements, and two convection fans. According to the company’s website, the first pre-orders will begin shipping during the 2016 holiday season. However, these features and its exorbitant price tag are likely overkill for most home cooks.
Originally published: November 15, 2016