It used to be that the only real advantage offered by high-end toaster ovens was that they looked a little nicer than their more budget-friendly countertop counterparts. There was nothing cutting-edge about toaster ovens back then, and when it came time to cook, one would more or less do the job just as well as another.
Today's high-end toaster ovens are different. With full convection settings, presets that actually matter, and a variety of new and improved cooking elements to play with, you'll find plenty of tempting new models capable of giving your full-size oven a run for its money. Of the four that we reviewed, two lived up to the hype, one let us down, and one over-performed so well for its price that we could hardly believe our taste buds.
If you're going to spend anything more than $100 on a toaster oven, you would hope that it came with a few extra tricks. That's what Cuisinart is offering with its CSO-300 Combo Steam + Convection Oven. With a built-in water reservoir, the CSO-300 offers multiple steam cooking settings in addition to convection cooking, and that means that it can cook things that other toaster ovens can't, things like rice, or steamed clams. For more standard fare, like English muffins and roasted chicken, the CSO-300 performed admirably in our tests, especially when it came to reheating leftovers, where the steam seemed capable of breathing life back into last night's dinner. It was also our unanimous favorite in terms of looks, but at a cost of $299, higher than any other toaster oven we tested, you'd expect a luxurious appearance at the very least.
The "smart" aspect of Breville's Smart Oven might feel a little murky. This isn't a connected device; instead Breville calls this oven smart because of its Element IQ feature, which automatically engages different heating elements depending on which cooking preset you select. To us, that just sounds like a more involved version of a preset, but we'll cut Breville a little slack here, as the company named its product a few years ago, before our ideas about "smart" products expanded. At any rate, we were consistently impressed with this high-end toaster oven's performance. From toast to chicken wings to full-size frozen pizzas, it was at or near the top of our ranks almost every time, making it a kitchen upgrade you can feel confident about.
The Frigidaire Professional 6-Slice Convection Toaster Oven isn't a toaster oven that we'd recommend. At a suggested retail price of $179, it's marketed as an affordably high-end toaster oven, and with its brushed steel exterior and LCD screen, it certainly looks the part. But once we started cooking with it, we were met with disappointment after disappointment. Most notable among these was a disastrous run of toast tests on the "dark" setting. While other toaster ovens interpreted "dark" to be a deep, crunchy golden brown, the Frigidaire seemed to think that we wanted used charcoal, and gave us an insane default cook time of almost 15 minutes. The result was that we cremated some perfectly good bread and filled our lab with smoke, all so you don't have to.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of our toaster oven tests was the Panasonic FlashXpress, a funky, unapologetically odd little toaster oven. We'd heard a little bit of buzz online from users who swear by the thing, and pulling it out of the box, we were honestly a bit skeptical. Then we started cooking with it. The FlashXpress uses both near infrared heating (ceramic) and far infrared cooking (quartz) to cook both the surface and interior of your food, and also cook it faster than other toaster ovens. We found that it does indeed speed up cooking time just a bit, and because it provides instantaneous heat, there's no need for preheating. As for the cook-off results, you can read our full review to get all the juicy details, but just know that the FlashXpress was able to compete with even the most expensive, high-end models that we tested - and in a few instances, some of our taste testers even thought that this brave little toaster bested them outright. Best of all, you can currently get the FlashXpress for just $89.99 on Amazon, one of our favorite current deals in home appliances.