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The best toaster oven

The Sweethome
11.10.15
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Brendan Nystedt | September 29, 2015

This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a buyer's guide to the best things for your home. Read the full article here.

After going through more than 51 hours of research, a reader survey, and stacks and stacks of toasted white bread, mini pizza bagels, and cookies, we recommend the Panasonic FlashXpress for most home kitchens. It's smaller than most competing toaster ovens and cheaper, too, but it delivers four slices of perfectly browned toast every time.

How we tested

Our heat-map test results from five of the better ovens we looked at. Photo: Katie Hausenbauer-Koster

We looked for a toaster oven that was easy to use, reliable, quick, great at toasting bread and baking cookies, and available for less than $200. We ended up testing seven toaster ovens with three tasters at our New York test kitchen. We started by filling each with slices of basic white bread. We set each machine to the medium shade setting and used the toasted results to create a heat map. This procedure showed us how each appliance performed as a toaster, and it identified any hot spots or uneven heat distribution.

The Panasonic FlashXpress browned frozen pizza Bagel Bites better than the other small toaster ovens we tested and about as well as ovens costing twice as much. Photo: Brendan NystedtE

We also made break-and-bake Toll House cookies and pizza Bagel Bites, examining the final products for color and consistency. To keep the ovens on an even playing field, we made sure that none of the ovens' convection settings were turned on when we tested. With the most promising ovens, we ran a bonus round of testing by using the broil mode on boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The results were disappointing on every model (except the Panasonic, which doesn't have such a mode), so don't expect much from this feature.

Our pick

We liked the spring-loaded auto-eject rack designed into the Panasonic. Photo: Brendan Nystedt

For excellent toast, strong baking performance, a compact size, a reasonable price, and enough room to quickly heat leftovers and frozen snacks, the Panasonic FlashXpress is the best toaster oven we found. It cooked toast and other foods to an even golden brown better than most other models we tried, and its toast shade settings were among the most accurate we tested. For a relatively low price, the FlashXpress stands out from a crowded pack of mediocre, cheap models, offering performance and features we found comparable to those of models that are much larger and more expensive.

Runner-up

The Hamilton Beach 31230 is passable but mediocre compared with the Panasonic.

If our top pick is sold out, look for the Hamilton Beach 31230 Set & Forget Toaster Oven with Convection Cooking. This model was the closest we tested around the same price—even though it's a distant second to the FlashXpress. It wasn't the worst toaster oven we tested, but next to the Panasonic, the difference is clear enough that we suggest you go out of your way (or wait) to find our pick. Perhaps the best thing we can say about the Hamilton Beach 31230 is that it has a larger interior. It fits two more slices of toast than the Panasonic, but the toasting is uneven.

Upgrade choice

The Cuisinart's controls take some getting used to since the timer is activated by a switch that the door presses. Photo: Brendan Nystedt

The Panasonic excels at the basics, but the larger Cuisinart TOB-260 Chef's Convection Toaster Oven can perform more like a full-duty oven. It delivers even heat to up to nine slices of toast and can easily handle a 13-inch frozen pizza. The three-year warranty is outstanding, as are the impressive accessories, such as a pizza stone. Compared with all the other big toaster ovens we tested, this was the top performer by an impressive margin. No other oven was as consistent, and even our pick, the Panasonic, had a narrow strip toward the door where food got cooked a little less.

Wrapping up

The Panasonic FlashXpress has some of the most accurate toast-shade settings among any toaster oven we tried, which no other model at its price could match. It's equally capable at baking small batches of baked goods. The Panasonic wasn't the absolute best toaster oven we tested, but weighing price against performance, it clearly offers the best value.

This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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