All four of the ovens did a surprisingly good job with the birds - better, actually, than our non-convection standard kitchen range. But the Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven was the runaway winner here. Its "Speed Convection" mode delivered the fastest cooking time, evenly cooked meat and, most importantly, beautifully browned skin. The Kenmore was the slowest of the lot, taking 10 minutes longer than the Cuisinart to fully cook the bird. The small Hamilton Beach produced chicken that was paler on the sides than the others. Its temperature probe was useful, but still required double checking with our Thermopen to make sure that there weren't underdone areas.
What better way to finish off our testing than with trays of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies? We used store-bought dough (hey, this is a toaster oven review, not a cooking class!) and baked at 350F for 12 minutes.
The slower cooking Kenmore delivered the most even browned cookies, followed closely by the Breville, but the Cuisinart and Hamilton Beach weren't far behind. The Hamilton Beach's tray's raised center caused the cookies to have a drooping effect, similar to the melting clocks in a Salvador Dali painting, but it didn't affect the taste.
Controls & Display
The Breville Smart Oven Plus, the Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven and the Kenmore Elite Digital Countertop Convection Oven all use a combination of knobs and buttons to set the various cooking modes and temperatures, whereas the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget uses a digital touchpad.
The Hamilton Beach controls are the easiest to use, though they lack certain basic functions, like a bagel mode and a countdown timer for toast. The Cuisinart and Breville were more complicated, with various cooking settings – from the type of food, to the number of toast slices, to whether your dish is frozen or not frozen – as well as convection levels and cooking times.
If it all sounds confusing, it is. But after a few times through you get the hang of it. And, once you have your cooking presets set the way you want them (e.g., you can dial down the temperature for Pizza mode or turn off convection for Cookies), the process is pretty easy. The Kenmore operates the same way as the Cuisinart and Breville, but doesn't display the entire list of presets as you're scrolling, showing only the preset you're on and forcing you to guess when the preset you're really looking for is going to come up. Surprisingly, given its high price, the Cuisinart's control knob felt cheaper than the Breville and the Kenmore's, with the "clicks" not always lining up to menu choices on the display.
The Breville was unique among the models in offering a slow cooking feature, allowing you to cook for up to 10 hours at a low temperature. Nice to have, but we usually associate slow cooking with larger quantities, where a Crock-Pot or standard oven seems more appropriate.
The Cuisinart and the Breville both have clocks on their displays; the Hamilton Beach and Kenmore do not.
With their small door openings and hot metal surfaces, both inside and out, we considered the safety of my toaster oven to be an important consideration. This is especially true for families where children use the toaster oven frequently to make toast and reheat pizza.
In this department, the Breville and Cuisinart again stood out from the less expensive contenders. Both have catches on the doors (magnetic for the Breville and a hook for the Cuisinart) that will automatically pull out the cooking rack – no need to reach in to grab your hot trays. Each also has a safety catch on the main rack level to prevent the rack from sliding out all the way. The Kenmore won't pull the rack out automatically, but it, too, has a safety catch. The Hamilton Beach has neither auto pull out nor a safety catch, making it the most dangerous of the lineup; on more than one occasion, we accidentally pulled out the entire rack, and then scrambled to keep a burning hot rack of food from sliding onto the floor.
The Kenmore Elite Digital Countertop Convection Oven's metal handle is attached directly to the toaster, with no insulating material in between. As a result, during long cooking times, the handle becomes extremely hot, creating a burn risk. None of the other toasters suffered from this defect.
The Cuisinart was the only model in our group that had an interior light, which we found handy, especially given the oven's relatively cavernous size. The Breville BOV845BSS, which wasn't available at time of testing, includes an oven light for an extra $20 over our tested model, the BOV810BSS.
All of the ovens in our test have a large number of user reviews available, except the Kenmore, making it easy to evaluate how reliable they would be and whether our results were "typical" for the model.
The Cuisinart tops the charts with a very strong 4.8 out of 5 star rating on Amazon and no major complaints. The Breville does pretty well, too, with 4.5 out of 5 stars for the similar models (Amazon doesn't carry the BOV810 yet), though there were some issues with units dying shortly after warranty and poor customer service. Hamilton Beach rated a 4.1 out of 5 stars, with 15% 1 and 2 star reviews, mostly due to product failures. The Kenmore is only sold through Sears stores; there were 14 reviews available, 13 of which were positive.
Should you experience problems, the Kenmore comes with a full 5-year warranty; the Cuisinart has a 3-year warranty; while the Breville and Hamilton Beach only come with 1-year warranties.
Top Pick: Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven (TOB-260)
The Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven performed at or near the top in all of our cooking tests. And, it offers more food capacity than any of the other models we tested, making it the most viable substitute for your full-sized home oven. It also happened to get the strongest user reviews on Amazon, demonstrating that this is a consistent top performer. It gets our pick for the Best Toaster Oven.
The Breville Smart Oven Plus was nearly an equal to the Cuisinart in performance and had a control knob that felt more robust. It only missed being our pick due to its smaller interior capacity (.8 cubic feet vs the Cuisinart's .95). For those looking for a slightly smaller model (or who value a slow cooker function), this would be an excellent alternative to the Cuisinart.
The Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Toaster Oven didn't excel in any category, and it's not nearly as stylish as the modern, upscale design of the other models, but is definitely the "best buy" of the group. At around $90 on Amazon, it's a whopping $130 less than our winner's discounted Amazon price. The Hamilton Beach is also the only model we tested that fit onto our NYC-sized kitchen countertop.
Meanwhile, the Kenmore Elite Digital Countertop Convection Oven was stuck in the middle; not as good as the leaders, not as cheap as the Hamilton Beach. You probably wouldn't be unhappy with it but, if you have the money, you're better off with the Cuisinart.
The Best Toaster Oven
Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven (TOB-260)
This article originally appeared on Techlicious
Image Credits: Cuisinart, Techlicious