Breakfast, lunch, dinner and fresh-baked cookies? That's the promise of today's toaster ovens.
Consumer Reports' latest test of 23 models found a few able multitaskers. But other ovens botched basic jobs. And if all you want is great toast, buy a toaster; it can pop out evenly browned slices for $35 or less. Here are the details:
*Oven features expand. Pizza stones, cookie sheets and even rotisserie spits are available in toaster ovens. But the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 31230, $100, is the first CR has seen with a built-in temperature probe designed to "serve perfectly cooked meat every time." The company also claims the countertop cooker uses 65 percent less energy than a standard electric oven or range. CR found that the Hamilton Beach roasts well, but the energy savings are minimal, about $7 per year if you make one roast a week. And in separate baking tests, the Hamilton Beach couldn't cook pizza or muffins as evenly as other toaster ovens, let alone a full-sized oven or range.
*High prices, mixed results. The Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL, $250, is the most expensive toaster oven tested but also the top scorer, combining even toasting and cooking. Italian manufacturer DeLonghi claims its new EOP2046 toaster oven, $200, can "do the work of multiple machines but uses minimal counter space," thanks in part to an integrated panini press. But mediocre broiling and even less impressive baking made the oven's overall performance so-so at best.
*Toasters top the toast tests. Though CR is still waiting for a model that does the job perfectly every time, toasters continue to brown more evenly and consistently than toaster ovens. The newly tested Oster Inspire 6329 toaster, $35, consistently made batch after batch of medium-brown toast. Spending $70 for the DeLonghi DTT720 gets you fine overall performance plus countdown indicator lights and an alarm that sounds 8 seconds before the toast is done.
Top toaster ovens deliver consistent baking, broiling and toasting. The best toasters brown evenly, from light to dark, with almost every batch.
Among CR's recommended toaster ovens are the Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL, $250; the Breville BOV650XL, $180; the Oster TSSTTVMNDG, $80, a CR Best Buy; and the T-Fal Avante Elite OT8085002, $120. All toast as evenly as some top-scoring toasters while also baking and broiling well. If toasting is less important, CR recommends the DeLonghi DO1279, $130.
For toasters, recommended models include the Cuisinart CPT-170, $70; the Hamilton Beach Digital 22502, $35, a CR Best Buy; the Proctor Silex Cool Touch 22203, $15, a CR Best Buy; and the Oster Inspire 6329, $35. All ably deliver batch after batch of uniformly toasted slices.
How to choose
Here's what else to keep in mind:
Toasting times depend on volume. Even the fastest toaster ovens take twice as long as toasters. But if you're toasting for a crowd, an oven with a six-slice capacity can quickly make up for lost time. Four-slice toasters combine the best of both worlds.
Convection doesn't pay. There's little proof from CR's tests that this fan-driven technology enhances baking performance, probably because air circulation is less of a factor in a small oven.
Size can be deceiving. Some of the toaster ovens with the biggest dimensions couldn't fit six slices of toast. If you plan to cook frozen pizza, make sure the rack is at least 12 inches deep. Look for variable or extra-wide slots in toasters.
By the editors of Consumer Reports at www.consumerreports.org.