The Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven (model TOB-260) wins our award for the Best Toaster Oven based on its combination of excellent cooking results, food capacity and convenience features.
Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven
Toaster ovens are one of the most versatile appliances in our kitchen. We rely on them to make toast, reheat pizzas and bake smaller items when it doesn't make sense to heat up our full-sized ovens. Too often, however, toaster ovens end up being a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none; delivering unevenly cooked toast and burnt pizzas and having too little capacity to really be useful for baking.
So we set out to find the best toaster oven, one that would nail all the day-to-day basics, as well as serve as a reliable oven substitute. We looked for full-size models that had enough capacity to handle six slices of toast, a 12-inch frozen pizza or roast a 3-lb chicken. Convection cooking was also key for both the speed and cooking evenness it offers. And finally, we looked at both consumer reviews and other professional reviewers to ensure that the models we picked offered the highest levels of consistent performance.
We ended up settling on four models: the Breville Smart Oven Plus #BOV810BSS ($250 on Breville.com), the Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven #TOB-260 ($235.45 on Amazon), the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Toaster Oven #31230 ($89.99 on Amazon) and the Kenmore Elite Digital Countertop Convection Oven #0876771 ($149.99 on Kenmore.com and through Sears). And we found our pick in the Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven (model TOB-260). The Cuisinart delivered excellent cooking results throughout or testing and offered more food capacity and convenience features than any of the other contenders. It is the Best Toaster Oven.
Note: most of our commentary on the Breville BOV810 applies equally to the BOV800XL ($249.95 on Amazon - same features, except without slow cooking feature) and BOV845BSS ($269.95 on Amazon - same features, except includes oven light).
Each model we tested could fit our 3-lb chickens and 12-inch pizzas without issue. However, the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Toaster Oven, the smallest unit we tested, could not fit 6 slices of toast as advertised, requiring us to trim off about a half-inch for testing.
The Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven offered the most interior capacity of .95 cubic feet, about 20% more than the second largest contender, the Breville Smart Oven (.8 cubic feet). In fact, the Cuisinart's interior is large enough that it can actually cook with two interior racks at once (included in the box).
The Kenmore Elite Digital Countertop Convection Oven, which doesn't provide an official interior capacity, falls between the Breville and Hamilton Beach.
While there's no doubt that the superior interior space of the Cuisinart makes it the winner in this category, those with little countertop space should remember that big inside also means big outside. With my NYC- sized kitchen, only the Hamilton Beach fit in the space where we typically keep our toaster oven.
Any device that includes "toaster" in its name should be able to toast. Not something that my old Cuisinart lived up to. We were looking for six slices of toast that were evenly cooked no matter where on the rack they were in and had the same level of toastiness on the bottom. So we popped the slices in, set each toaster to "Medium" and let them go.
What we found was:
- Toasting evenness has a lot more to do with your bread than your toaster. As you can see in the comparison shots, the top of the slice was consistently more toasted than the bottom, regardless of toaster or orientation. We presume this is due to lower moisture levels at the top of the loaf.
- Once you get past the issues with the bread itself, all the toasters offered roughly the same level of evenness.
- "Medium" means different things to different manufactures. The Kenmore slices were very lightly cooked, while the Cuisinart were bordering on overcooked. For whichever toaster you get, you will learn the settings and plan accordingly. (This video clip says more about arbitrary consumer electronics scales than we ever could).
Next, we wanted to test out toasting speed. After all, no one wants to sit around in the morning waiting for their toast to get done. So we let each model go for 4 minutes then pulled out the bread to evaluate the level of toastiness.
What we found is that the Kenmore provided the most toasting, just ahead of the Cuisinart and Breville, while the Hamilton Beach provided the least. And if you like your English muffins crispy, the Hamilton Beach was also unable to fully brown one, even when set on "Dark".
We also didn't like the fact that Hamilton Beach didn't have a "bagel mode", which lets you brown just the top part of your bagel or English muffin, nor did it have a countdown timer to tell you when your toast would be done. All the other models offered both.
Cooking frozen pizza
We tested each of the ovens on a frozen 12-inch pizza using their pre-defined "pizza modes", when available, or else followed the directions on the pizza box. Two of the ovens, the Cuisinart and the Kenmore, also come with pizza stones included in the box. However, since both stones arrived broken and the other ovens didn't include them, we went without.
The results were clear that those ovens that cooked slowest, the Kenmore and the Hamilton Beach, also cooked the most evenly. The Cuisinart, which cranked out the pizza a few minutes faster than the others, was the least even.
That being said, I'm actually calling this one a tie. Because the pizza modes on any of the ovens can be customized to cook at whatever temperature you want (you don't need to stick with the factory preset), it's a simple matter to dial down the Cuisinart and Breville to cook slightly slower. And our six person taste test (including three hungry kids), found that all the pizzas tasted pretty much the same, regardless of how even they appeared on top.
Cooking pizzas is fine, and all that, but to really be an "oven" the contenders needed to prove their worth as a true substitute or backup for the full-sized oven in our kitchen. So we went with the standard dish that every oven needs to be able to nail—roasting a chicken.
We used four identical 3.5-pound birds for our test. The birds were seasoned with salt and herbs and popped in the ovens to convection cook at 400F until our thigh temperature measurements were at 160F using a Thermopen. The Hamilton Beach includes a built-in temperature probe, so we stuck that in the chicken and set it to 160F, as well (at which point the oven beeps and shut off).