By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
Some thrifty consumers would no doubt forego a toaster or toaster oven on the grounds that it’s redundant. For others disinclined to fire up a full-size oven just to toast a slice of bread, a toaster oven makes a convenient and energy-saving addition to the kitchen. Experts tout high-end toaster ovens for successfully cooking everything from pizza to cookies to whole chickens -- and, of course, toast -- but those models can top $200. The low end is littered with toaster ovens that struggle to fulfill their most basic function, turning out uneven or underdone toast.
Amid the chaff, Cheapism has found four top picks for affordable toaster ovens.
- The Black & Decker TRO480 (starting at $30) can accommodate up to four slices of bread and has a tray that slides out for easy disposal of crumbs. This model features keep-warm and bagel functions in addition to the usual bake, broil, and toast. Users can set the timer for up to 30 minutes. Positive reviews point to evenly browned toast and well-cooked meals for two. (Where to buy)
- The Proctor Silex 31116Y and 31118Y (starting at $25) are, respectively, white and black versions of the same four-slice toaster oven. Experts credit these models with making toast quickly and even baking a cake as proficiently as a regular oven, although the timer maxes out at 15 minutes. Users empty out crumbs by opening a drop-down tray underneath. (Where to buy)
- The Hamilton Beach 31508 (starting at $30) is the largest toaster oven on this list, boasting a six-slice capacity, although numerous reviewers call that generous. Still, experts say it’s capable of cooking a 6-pound chicken. There’s a slide-out crumb tray for easy cleaning and a 30-minute timer. (Where to buy)
- The Hamilton Beach Toastation 22708 (starting at $37) has a unique design: a two-slice, pop-up toaster on top and a shallow oven below. Reviewers say the size is sufficient for reheating two slices of pizza or toasting an open-face sandwich. This model has a drop-down crumb tray and no broil function or timer, only dials for adjusting the darkness of the toast and the temperature of the oven. (Where to buy)
If you can, check out a toaster oven in person or see if the specs list the interior dimensions. Manufacturers often indicate only the number of slices (and the size of pizza) a model can accommodate. As we’ve seen, that’s not always a reliable indicator.
The toaster ovens with timers shut off automatically when the time is up, so they must be reset for foods that require longer than 15 or 30 minutes to cook. Users can also set these models to stay on and turn them off manually.
A toaster oven with a drop-down crumb tray may be more awkward to clean than a model with a removable tray. Don’t let that deter you from emptying it often, however -- the crumbs pose a fire hazard.
All four models on the list above come with a bake pan and the capability to cook a whole range of dishes. No less than chef Eric Ripert has included toaster oven recipes on his blog.
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