Make the Most of Your Toaster Oven

Once you see how much you can get out of this appliance, you’ll never look back.

Toaster ovens have traditionally been used for toast, tuna melts, and other easy meals. But in recent years, the technology in toaster ovens has improved so much that they now function as small second ovens that can bake, roast, and broil a range of dishes. You'd be surprised by how versatile these countertop machines are: They preheat quickly, use less energy than a typical oven, are easy to clean, and won’t heat up kitchens on hot days. At home, I’ve cooked Weeknight Roast Chicken in our toaster oven, turning out a beautifully brown and crispy-skinned bird. They're great to use on busy days when you’re looking to cook a quick meal without the time it takes to preheat your oven. It makes plenty of food, especially in a two-person household like mine. This week’s guide is all about the gear you need to utilize the full potential of a toaster oven.

—Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

Our previous winner once again aced all our tests, producing evenly baked cookies, golden brown pizza and tuna melts, tender-crisp asparagus spears, and a bronzed, crisp-skinned chicken. Its settings are intuitive and easy to use, and it's programmable, so you can set it to remember your preferences; no fiddling with the dials. Markers on the glass door helpfully instruct you to where to place the rack for each setting, and the interior of the oven that has a nonstick coating for easy cleanup. Though it took longer than other products to toast (about 5 minutes for medium toast) it was capable of making big batches of perfectly golden slices that were evenly browned from edge-to-edge.

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This model is the same size and has the same interface and capacity as our favorite toaster oven, The Breville Smart Oven, with two additions: an interior oven light and a slow-cook function. It performed identically to the Smart Oven when broiling, baking, and roasting, but we found that it consistently underbrowned toast, even on the highest setting. While we were able to make thoroughly browned toast by running bread slices through two heating cycles, it was a frustrating extra step. We did like the slow-cook function, which turned out tender, juicy pulled pork. It’s worth noting that to slow-cook you need a covered casserole dish or a 3.5-quart (or smaller) Dutch oven with the lid knob removed (it is simple to unscrew). While we still prefer the Smart Oven, the Pro model is a good option if you aren’t too concerned about toast and you prepare a lot of meals in your toaster oven—especially if you’re interested in slow cooking but don’t have the room for an extra appliance.

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Our top pick had intuitive controls and consistently made the best food in the bunch. We liked its clearly labeled knobs and digital interface that displayed the time, temperature, and cooking setting. It made excellent toast (it has adjustable settings that you can customize depending on your slice of bread); produced tender, browned broiled asparagus; yielded roasted chicken that was golden all over; and made air-fryer french fries and chicken Parmesan on par with recipes made in our favorite traditional air fryer. To use the air-frying function, we had to preheat the oven, which we found a bit annoying. We also thought that the oven was a bit hard to clean—grease clung to its sides and door after roasting the chicken and the air-fryer basket wasn’t nonstick, making it tough to remove melted cheese from. This model can also accommodate more food than our favorite air fryer, which is helpful if you frequently cook for more than two people.

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This extremely sturdy, warp-resistant baking sheet turned out evenly cooked and browned chicken, cauliflower, and focaccia. Its lightweight, compact size made it easy to maneuver into and out of the oven. Its size is ideal for preparing recipes that serve two and for kitchen tasks that require only a small amount of space, such as toasting a handful of nuts or a few tablespoons of sesame seeds.

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Our winner had it all: Straight sides that produced attractive cakes with well-defined edges and a 1⁄2-inch lip that made it easy to hold. It was the only metal model in the lineup that was molded, a construction technique that renders it seamless and therefore easy to clean (even though it is not dishwasher-safe). It lacked a nonstick coating, but baked goods released with ease when we greased and floured the pan. We did notice very faint scratches in the bottom of the pan after repeated passes with a paring knife.

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This folded metal pan produced tall, picture-perfect pound cake and sandwich bread with crisp corners. Like all folded pans, it lacked handles and had crevices in the corners that trapped food. We had to clean it very carefully. The corrugated pattern on the metal didn't affect the appearance of the baked goods. It still scratched slightly.

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This golden-hued metal plate baked crusts beautifully without overbrowning; even bottom crusts emerged crisp and flaky. Additionally, we liked this plate’s nonfluted lip, which allowed for maximum crust-crimping flexibility. One minor drawback: The metal surface is susceptible to cuts and nicks, but we found that this didn’t affect its performance.

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The heaviest, thickest ramekins in our lineup, these sturdy ceramic dishes didn’t slide around in a slippery baking dish and stayed perfectly still while we layered delicate berry pudding. Straight sides meant soufflés and puddings emerged picture-perfect, and thick walls provided gentle insulation, producing baked eggs with creamy whites and runny yolks. A bonus: They stack securely for easy storage.

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These oven mitts kept our hands comfortably cool and in control when holding hot equipment or reaching into a hot oven. When compressed, they were the thickest of the models with a silicone exterior. The silicone is heavily textured for better grip, and because it flexed with our hands, we could easily pinch thin cookie sheets and small handles or knobs. The fabric lining moved around inside the mitts at times during use, but it stayed put better than the linings of other models. The mitts can be machine-washed, but they have to be laid flat to dry. The silicone became permanently stained.

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Our old winner is still the best instant-read thermometer on the market. It's dead accurate, fast, and so streamlined and simple that it's a breeze to use. It does just what we want: “Tell me the temp; get out of my way,” as one tester put it. Its long handle gave us plenty of room to maneuver, allowing for multiple grips, and a ring of slightly tacky silicone kept our hands confidently secured. The automatic backlight meant we never had to stop and adjust in low light, and the rotating screen is handy for lefties and righties needing different angles. The auto wake-up function is extremely useful; you don't have to stop and turn the thermometer on again midtask. The digits were large and legible, and it's waterproof in up to 39 inches of water for up to 30 minutes. It's also calibratable, promising years of accuracy.

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