Due to professional circumstances, I know a lot of people who not only have a favorite kitchen tool but like to wax rhapsodic about them. Usually these tools are utensils: Microplanes, fish spatulas, offset spatulas, chef’s knives. Sometimes they are certain pans or storage containers or gadgets. For me, it’s the toaster oven, which is my most-used kitchen appliance.
The one I own—the one every single person in my family owns, actually, as though getting one is a level that must be unlocked in the simulation of our lives—is the Panasonic FlashXpress Toaster Oven. Unlike my Instant Pot, KitchenAid mixer, and Vitamix blender, it resides in a place of honor on my countertop, out in the open for everyone to see. Partially this is because of its modest footprint—only 12×13″. Mostly it’s because it is the best thing in my kitchen.
Why is the Panasonic FlashXpress the best toaster oven?
With a compact design—although it can still fit up to four slices of bread—and a $150 price tag, this stainless-steel toaster oven is versatile but less expensive than a big, fancy, bells-and-whistles toaster oven (more on that later). It has one infrared heating element toward the front and another in the back for speedy, even cooking and maximum efficiency with no preheating required. In addition to its temperature controls, which go up to 500 degrees, it has six preset cooking functions for toast, frozen waffles, rolls, pizza, hash browns and french fries, and reheating leftovers. It also has a removable crumb tray, an interior oven light, and “shade control” functionality so you can tailor your toast to the perfect level of doneness. I appreciate the retractable baking rack; every time I open the door, it’s as if the Panasonic FlashXpress is presenting me with a tiny gift of a gently warmed brownie or perfectly toasted cashews.
Besides four slices of toast, what can I cook in my toaster oven?
This toaster oven does so much. It toasts bread, as you’d expect. It bakes cookies and brownies and summer-fruit cakes without raising the temperature in my apartment the way the full-size oven would. It roasts veggies of all kinds, from Sungolds that burst into saucy perfection to heartier items like root vegetables and brussels sprouts. (My favorite Thanksgiving tip: Roast your brussels sprouts in the toaster oven to save on valuable oven real estate.) It turns tofu crisp and bakes marinated paneer; it cooks salmon and chicken breasts and basically anything you can fit into an 8×8″ square pan. It toasts nuts; it reheats meals if you, like me, don’t have a microwave; it handles frozen pizza and waffles marvelously. I love it so much that I feel bad for calling the other oven in my home the “real” oven—I definitely use this one much, much more.
The Panasonic FlashXpress is the best small toaster oven out there, and I recommend it to everyone and anyone. But I accept that perhaps your needs are different from my own. Luckily the rest of the BA staff has their favorites as well, and one of them is sure to fit the bill.
If your oven is busted and you really need to roast a chicken:
If counter space and money are no object, seek out the Breville Smart Oven Pro. When professional baker Yossy Arefi’s regular oven broke, she tested all the baked good recipes for her cookbook Snacking Cakes using this very oven. The Smart Oven Pro holds its temperature consistently and, at 15.75×18.5″, it can accommodate a quarter-sheet pan or a 9×13″ baking dish. It toasts, roasts, bakes, slow-cooks, and broils—you can even fit a whole chicken in there.
If you want a toaster oven–air fryer combo but don’t have a ton of counter space:
Truth be told, I rarely use my basket-style air fryer. It’s annoying to lug out of a cabinet and onto my tiny, cluttered counter each time I want to use it, so I’ve never really adjusted to all of the cool things it can do. But many toaster ovens now come with an air fry setting, which activates a little convection fan that circulates hot air and achieves max crispiness.
The Ninja Foodi Digital Air Fry Oven is intuitive; the toast versus bake versus air fry control panel is easy to understand and work. At 19.72″ long x 14.96″ wide x 7.56″ high, it can fit a 13×13″ sheet pan (included, in addition to an air frying basket). But what makes this our pick for smaller kitchens is that the Ninja Foodi oven can flip up off the counter, meaning its footprint when stored is not even 8×20″. Whether you’re roasting vegetables, air-frying spicy, honeyed crinkle-cut fries, or a baking cookies, this is a great option to consider for kitchens of all sizes.
Ninja Foodi Digital Air Fry Oven
If want a toaster oven–air fryer that can tackle all the tasks:
If you have a lot of counter space (this thing is big at 21.25×17″) and want a toaster oven that can both roast a 14-lb. turkey and dehydrate mushrooms, you’ll love the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro. The Smart Oven Air Fryer toaster oven is equipped with a digital display and six heating elements that automatically adjust according to your setting selection. When you want to air-fry some sesame-coconut chicken tenders, set it to “Super Convection” and your food will emerge extra-crispy (the setting also reduces cooking time by 30%). This convection toaster oven also comes with two heavy-duty wire racks, an enamel baking pan, a nonstick pizza pan, and a mesh basket for air-frying.
Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro
If you want a straightforward, affordable toaster oven:
Consider the Hamilton Beach Easy-Reach Oven the best bang for your buck. Priced at around $90, this humble, no-frills appliance has just a few settings: convection, bake, broil, and toast, all controlled by manual dials. It’s compact, lightweight, and among the smallest toaster ovens you’ll find, although it can still fit six slices of toast and a 12-inch pizza. Most importantly, though, it does its job well. Your nuggets, fries, and bagels will come out evenly cooked, golden brown, and crispy-edged (and your leftovers will be reheated impeccably). You’ll appreciate its “easy reach” design, which features a rolltop door that swings upward and stays out of the way, along with a pull-out rack, so that you’re less likely to burn yourself while handling food. It also has two rack positions and comes with a baking sheet and removable crumb tray for easy cleaning.
Hamilton Beach Easy Reach Toaster Oven
If you have a small kitchen. Like, a really small kitchen:
The Dash mini toaster oven is adorably petite at only 9×9″—perfect for a dorm room with little-to-no countertop space—and comes in a variety of pastel colors like butter yellow and peony pink. Contributor Annalee Soskin keeps one of these at her desk for toasting her morning bagel or heating up those mid-afternoon pizza bites. This small toaster oven is not going to be your kitchen workhorse by any means, but it’s cute, it’s tiny, and it works.
If you need a designer toaster oven for your designer kitchen
There’s only one countertop toaster oven sold by the MoMA Design Store, and it’s Balmuda’s The Toaster. This Japanese stunner comes in matte black and an incredibly sophisticated shade of greige. Compared to all the buttons and displays on Breville toaster ovens, it’s minimalist in design with just two knobs—one for cook modes and one for cook time. It also comes with a delightful mini coffee cup that holds exactly a teaspoon of liquid. Fill the mug—which looks like it’s sized for a mouse—with water and pour it into the oven’s reservoir before turning it on; the Balmuda will then release steam into the interior (you’ll hear a pleasant hiss and see the glass fog up), which allegedly toasts bread more quickly while sealing in moisture and flavor. While we can’t say we can taste the difference between steam-toasted bread and traditionally toasted bread, Balmuda’s The Toaster works like a charm, has a small footprint (12.6×14.1″), and is so beautifully designed that it’s practically an objet.
Tiffany Hopkins and MacKenzie Chung Fegan contributed additional reporting to this piece.