Breville Smart Oven review: Not connected, but still smartly designed

Performance
In our toast tests, the Breville performed well thanks to its toast preset. Once you select toast, you simply dial in how many pieces you want to make, and then turn the temperature dial to select your darkness setting, from a scale of one to seven. Toast in the middle of the Smart Oven will come out darker than the toast toward the sides, but even on the darkest setting, none of the pieces burnt. With the exception of the Frigidaire, which completely charred the toast on the darkest setting, all of the toaster ovens we've tested so far made excellent toast.

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None of the toaster ovens in this group delivered what I would call amazing chocolate chip cookies, but the Breville held its own. The Smart Oven's cookies were tasty enough, but they lacked crispness. The Breville would be a good option if you wanted to bake a small amount of passable cookies quickly and easily, but if you plan to bake a full batch, I'd recommend using your regular oven. The Panasonic delivered the best cookies in the group; they were crisp on the bottom and soft inside, but even those tasted a bit overdone.

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I was not impressed with the Breville's pizza preset. After selecting pizza, you must turn the time dial to select your pizza size, and the Smart Oven will then calculate the time required to bake it. With a 10-inch, frozen, thin crust pizza, the oven's presets overestimated the baking time dramatically. I had to stop it only six minutes into the preset's 20-minute cycle. When I changed the temperature and time to match the instructions on the pizza box, the results were much better, yielding pizza with a crisp crust, melted cheese with just the right amount of browning, if still not quite as good as pizza from a regular oven. It was a matter of falling just off the mark. The crust was crisp, but not as crisp as oven-baked pizza. And the cheese was golden and delicious, but just a bit more overdone.

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I thought that perhaps the presets were designed for a thicker-crust pizza, which I tested next. I allowed the oven to cook the thick crust pizza for the entire preset time, but I was disappointed with the end result. While the bottom of the crust did not burn, it was tough and dry. The top layer of cheese was completely browned and very nearly burnt.

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As with the thin-crust test, I also cooked the thick-crust pizza again according to the instructions on the box, with similar results. The result was still not as good as what you'd get from a standard oven, but it was still a well-cooked pizza with satisfying texture and crispness.

These tests showed that whether the crust was thick or thin, whenever I used the pizza setting, the Smart Oven overcooked the product. You can improve things by tweaking the settings, but you still have to compromise compared with what you get from a regular oven. The Cuisinart made the best pizza overall, but the Panasonic did remarkably well with personal-size pizzas. The Breville's pizza was consistently a close second with full-size pizza, with crust that wasn't as crisp and cheese that was a shade overdone.

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Breville's Web page describes the Smart Oven's ability to roast "succulent meat." "Succulent" is quite an adjective, and I was skeptical at first, but the Smart Oven proved me wrong. I roasted five chicken drumsticks, averaging to 1.5 pounds, under the roasting function, only adjusting the time based on the weight/time chart in the manual. It prescribed 30 minutes of roasting at 350 degrees per pound of meat. After roasting the drumsticks for 50 minutes at that temperature, I found that the chicken tasted delicious. It had crispy skin, juicy meat, and excellent flavor. I never would have guessed it had been cooked in a toaster oven. All of the toaster ovens performed surprisingly well in this category, but the Breville cooked the best chicken overall. The drumsticks were moist and juicy, yet the skin was crisp and browned all over.

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This success made me optimistic about the broiling test to follow. I broiled 2.5-pound preformed ground beef patties (88 percent lean, 12 percent fat). I chose these for the sake of uniformity of shape and size. I raised the racks as high as they would go in the ovens and broiled the meat according to the instructions in the manual, at 500 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. I aimed for an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which foodsafety.gov recommends ground meats are safe for consumption. The Breville was the only toaster oven to give the outside of the burger any char at all that mimicked a grill or traditional broiler, likely because the Smart Oven's broiler rack is closer to the heating element than any other toaster oven we tested. The taste tests revealed a different story

Broiling the burgers, across all of the toaster ovens, reminded me of the saying: "Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should." All of the toaster ovens produced overdone burgers. The meat was tough and dry. I tried tweaking, ignoring the presets, and cooking the burgers to a lower internal temperature. I tried moving the racks lower in the ovens, adjusting the burger position and thickness, and playing with the time. The results did not change remarkably. The burgers were, across the board, terrible. My theory is that compounding the small size with the long amount of time required to cook meat to a safe temperature is the problem. Roasting, across the board, was a much better option. A toaster oven can broil a burger. It will be cooked and it will be edible, but it won't be good.

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Maintenance and support
Maintaining the Smart Oven is easy, in part because the crumb tray is so user friendly. The enamel pans are not necessarily nonstick, but they do clean easily with detergent and a sponge. I had no problem cleaning off any food left behind.

The Breville Smart Oven includes category-standard customer support, including a service and support page on the manufacturer's Web site, as well as outlets for replacing worn out or broken accessories. It comes with a one-year limited product warranty, which is also fairly category-standard, though the Cuisinart includes a three-year limited warranty.

Conclusion
If you are in the market for a high-end toaster oven that can perform a wide range of tasks and has large oven capacity, I can recommend the Breville Smart Oven. With a retail price of $249, the Smart Oven is definitely a luxury toaster oven. If you don't need all of that size, you might consider the $149 Panasonic FlashXpress, which performed almost as well as the Breville, and with a much smaller price tag.

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