Are there really people out there who don’t adore the toaster oven? For some reason, it never seems to get the reverence it rightly deserves. It's a countertop staple, but not in the same way as a fancy blender or a KitchenAid mixer, and you'd be hard-pressed to find one on a celebrity home tour. But the best toaster ovens are just as essential as these appliances—if not more.
Perhaps some folks just need a little clarification: The toaster and toaster oven are not one and the same. In fact, while the toaster oven can transform bread to toast, its wide range of cooking capabilities has it more closely aligned with a full oven range as opposed to the one with two slits of heated coils. The toaster oven is the Inspector Gadget of kitchen equipment—it features lots of dials and knobs, organized compactly and effectively, designed to solve all your kitchen mysteries, from reheating leftovers to baking small batches of cookies. Take, for example, Kalorik's 10-in-1 MAXX toaster oven and air fryer combo, which can roast an entire rotisserie chicken as easily as it can air-fry crispy wings, or Balmuda's highly coveted, aesthetically stunning Japanese-style toaster oven, which uses steam to make sure your bread comes out fluffy, chewy, and caramelized without being the slightest bit burnt (and on top of that, has become something of a commodity for its looks alone).
You will not need to watch The Brave Little Toaster for research purposes, as I have done, but you should take into account that not all toaster ovens are created equally. The best toaster oven for your personal needs is worth investigating, as different models offer different standards of quality and overall usage. Most toaster ovens can range from about $40 to $200 depending on brand name, features, and durability. If you want your toaster oven to do it all, it’s worth splurging a bit on the more robust options. (Care for an air frying option, anyone?) When cooking for yourself especially, a smaller oven is an incredible way to approach your roasts and bakes. In short, the device wears many hats, and when it comes to kitchen appliances, I want a thing that keeps surprising me with its multifaceted proficiency.
If you’re debating purchasing a toaster oven, the following anecdotal evidence from a few chefs (and my overeager self) will attempt to convince you of the versatility and power of the tiny, metallic hearth. Chef Pierce Boalt, who cut his teeth in kitchens such as Uni and Menton in Boston, notes that “pop-up toasters are bullshit. Long live their handy cousin—they are quick, precise and get the job done.”
Also on Team Toaster Oven is Sam Schiffer, who has cooked in and consulted for several kitchens in multiple states, and is currently one of the head pasta makers at Semolina Artisanal Pasta in Los Angeles. “I know of restaurants and bars that get more out of a toaster oven and a hot plate than most other restaurants get out of their full line,” he says. “Especially with the fancy new toaster ovens, you can cook pretty good pizzas and bake bread and you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a crazy oven and a build out. It’s The People’s Oven.”
Edgar Rico, chef and owner of Nixta Taqueria in Austin, Texas, agrees. “The toaster oven is an underutilized tool in home kitchens,” he says. “It has the ability to do what a conventional oven and a broiler can do, all in one, but in a small form that’s quick to heat up and doesn’t drain a ton of gas or electricity to operate. Some of my earliest memories of cooking for myself were with a toaster oven—I may be biased, but I love it.” (You’re on the right side of the toaster oven divide, chef.)
A toaster oven can essentially replace a full, regular-sized oven setup in a smaller living arrangement. If you’re a college student or inhabiting a studio-sized apartment, the economy of space can often be at the top of your list when it comes to finding the right appliance. Have you found yourself in a tiny home, craving a whole roasted chicken? Apple crostatas or blueberry muffins? An open-face tuna melt, perhaps? My friend, the toaster oven is in your corner—literally. There is a world of recipes for you and your little oven to explore.
Another impressive example: June, The Smart Oven, which boasts 12 settings. It bakes, toasts, air fries, roasts, grills, slow cooks, dehydrates, and proofs bread; it also acts as a pizza oven, a broiler, a warming drawer and a better reheater-of-food than a microwave. It’s also the perfect choice if you're looking for what appears to be a literal computer. A toaster to match your iPhone, if you will.
In contrast to June’s flashy modernity and robust price tag, both Cuisinart and Black+Decker are tried-and-true brands. Their respective toaster ovens have proven time and time again to be reliable—and wallet-friendly. Cuisinart’s Custom Classic toaster oven comes with a removable tray, an easy-to-clean non-stick interior, an auto side-out rack for hands-free loading and unloading, an automatic shutoff feature, and much more. Black and Decker, on the other hand, doesn’t require preheating—yes, really—and comes with 10 pre-programmed cooking functions and air fryer technology.
The small-scale oven has served families, college students, and yes, even professional chefs well. Even if you also own a regular-sized oven, sometimes, you just don't feel like firing that thing up. During the summer months, I often utilize my toaster oven much more than the regular one—it contains heat much more effectively. The toaster oven allows you to cook a meal for one or two, without the need to greatly alter your kitchen’s homeostasis. Of course, if you want to buy a high-end one like the Balmuda or a Wolf that becomes more of a centerpiece appliance, that is, of course, an option too—and one well worth it.
Waxing poetic in defense of this shining box of magic in an effort to convert all those who do not have such divine faith in it as I do is an honor, but more so, a responsibility. I do not want to live in a world in which toaster oven naysayers move about freely, recklessly, and unchecked. We are here for the love of self, toasty bread things, and all the other joy-filled culinary propositions this miniature oven is built to handle.
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