We've tested a number of high-end toaster ovens here at CNET Appliances over the years, including beloved favorites like the Panasonic FlashXpress and sturdy stalwarts like the Breville Smart Oven. But you'll need to spend at least a hundred bucks for a toaster oven like that, if not considerably more.
That's why, this year, we wanted to take a look at toaster ovens that cost less than $100. How well do they cook? Are any of them a good value pick compared to those aforementioned splurge options? Which is the best?
Let's start with this guy, from Bialetti. At $80, it's the most powerful with 1,800 watts (and it looks pretty classy in black stainless steel). How does that translate to toasting and baking, though?
(Just want to see the side-by-side cook test comparisons? I've stashed them at the end of this gallery -- keep scrolling through, or click here to skip ahead.)
Here's a close look at the fronts and backs of three batches of toast -- one at the Bialetti's lightest setting (1 out of 7), one at its medium setting (4 out of 7), and one at its darkest setting (7 out of 7). The medium toast is perhaps a touch dark, but with digital controls, it's easy enough to dial down to a lighter setting.
Overall, this is some good-looking toast. Three distinct settings, wiggle room in between them, and nice, even color each time.
The darkest setting isn't just for blackened bread -- it's also often used to toast frozen foods, like these Eggo waffles. Bialetti did a nice job here, though they're perhaps just slightly more brown than I'd like. Again, the digital controls make it easy to dial down to a lighter setting.
We also ran lots of bake tests for each toaster oven. That includes Nestle Tollhouse chocolate cookies, baked using convection settings according to the recommendations on the packaging.
Bialetti did OK here -- the convection fan helped circulate the hot air to ensure a nice, even bake, but they're definitely a bit overdone for my tastes. Note the crackly texture -- that's a classic sign of overcooking with cookies like these. With 1,800 watts (most toaster ovens in this price range use 1,500 watts, tops), the Bialetti definitely errs on the fast side, making it more likely that your food will come out overcooked if you aren't watching it.
Remember how I mentioned that the Bialetti tended to overcook? Here you go. This personal pepperoni pizza from DiGiornio is supposed to take 17 minutes at 425 F, but with Bialetti, that was way too long. It's just a little bit overpowered.
On the plus side, if you're willing to adjust cook times accordingly, this also means that your pizza will be ready sooner, so there's that.
Next up: the TO3265XSSD, one of the newest models from category mainstay Black & Decker. The brand has been cranking out toaster ovens for generations now -- at a retail price of $80, this one offers a wide-bodied design and an "Air Fry" mode that replaces the convection setting.
I'll note here that convection and air frying are basically the same thing -- you use a fan to circulate hot air around all sides of what you're cooking. With Black & Decker, that Air Fry setting leaves a lot to be desired. More on that in just a bit.
First, the toast tests. Here's a look at how Black & Decker did at light, medium and dark settings. Light didn't toast the bread at all, and dark toasted it way too much.
The TO3265XSSD dedicated an entire egg-timer dial to toast doneness, and you get lots and lots of room in between the three marked presets. That's a marked difference from other models, which crowd the three toast presets together at the top of an overall timer dial with a much longer maximum setting that's meant for baking.
Black & Decker's air-frying toaster oven doesn't let you adjust the temperature in Air Fry mode, which replaces convection mode altogether. I tried using the setting to bake these cookies and they came out overdone.
Here's the chicken I baked in the Black & Decker model for an hour -- the skin was crisp and evenly cooked, but not as brown as I'd have liked. Again, it's frustrating that you can't adjust the temperature in Air Fry mode.
Here's toaster oven No. 3: The Hamilton Beach 31123D, which I scored on sale for about $55. It's one of the brand's "Easy Reach" models, which means that it has a sloped door in front that opens upward over the entire top of the device, sort of like a welding mask. That makes it easier to see inside, and easier to pull things out, too.
I just hate that Hamilton Beach stamped its logo right over the middle of the glass, partly obscuring your view of what's cooking inside.
The dark setting isn't quite as powerful as what we saw from other toaster ovens I tested. That means that it'll produce edible dark toast that isn't charcoal black -- but it also means that it tends to undercook when you're toasting something frozen. These Eggos were close, but I'd have probably left them in for an extra minute or so.
The convection fan in the Hamilton Beach toaster oven helps it to cook evenly, though it didn't seem quite as effective as what we saw from other convection models. This batch tasted great, but note the uneven coloring, even within individual cookies.
This test batch of Pizza Bagels came out underdone as well. I like this toaster oven's design and affordability, but it cooks too slow to feel like much of an upgrade over the true bargain bin toaster ovens.
Contestant No. 4: This fine-looking Nostalgia-brand toaster oven that comes in bright red. I'm not sure what this is actually nostalgic for -- did toaster ovens ever look like tool boxes? Did I miss something? At any rate, it's a unique look that might appeal to you if you want something different and eye-catching for your countertop.
The convection setting cooked our chicken drumsticks evenly, but failed to get them to a satisfyingly crisp level of doneness. If you want to cook a lot of chicken in your toaster oven, it's probably worth it to spring for something with more than Nostalgia's 1,500 watts.
You can see that difference convection makes with this pizza, which we cooked with the setting off. Note how it's more well done on the right -- that was the part of the pizza that was positioned in the back half of the oven's cavity. Without convection circulating the hot air around, that back half runs a bit hotter than the front.
The Pizza Bagels were a touch underdone -- same as the chicken, but contrary to the cookies. Still, our test food was always in the ballpark, which makes Nostalgia's toaster oven a perfectly usable choice if you like the way it looks.
Our penultimate model is the Oster TSSTTVCG05, which retails for $65 at Costco (we got ours on sale for about $10 less). With no extra features and nothing fancy about the design, it's the simplest model we tested.
The real question is how well does it toast and bake things? It was off to a good start with toast. Like the Nostalgia model, it only offers light and dark presets, forcing you to eyeball it if you want something in between, but it still did very well. It was one of the only toaster ovens we tested that actually produced lightly toasted bread at the light toast setting.
For what it's worth, this batch of Pizza Bagels was also deemed to be one of the best cooked by my taste testers. I'll also note that the black metal pan that comes with Oster's toaster oven had the most effective nonstick coating of any of the toaster ovens, making it the easiest to keep clean.
Speaking of black metal, here's our last contender -- the Toshiba AC25CEW-BS, which comes clad in classy black stainless steel. Retailing for just shy of $100, Toshiba's digital toaster oven looks a lot like Bialetti's, and it comes with several different cooking presets.
Toshiba's digital controls give you six different doneness settings that each come with preprogrammed toast times. You can also tell it how many slices of bread you're trying to toast, which is useful, since six slices will need a little longer than two.
Here's how two slices toasted at light (1 out of 6), medium (4 out of 6), and dark (6 out of 6). Seems a bit underpowered to me.
Those frozen Eggos didn't fare so well on that darkest setting, and definitely would have benefitted from an extra minute or two.
The real problem isn't really that this toaster often isn't powerful enough, but that those toast times -- particularly the darkest setting here -- are too short. Set to two slices of bread, the darkest toast setting takes 4 minutes, 30 seconds. That's about half as long as most other toaster ovens toast for at the darkest setting. If anything, Toshiba is being cautious.
I say cautious because this thing actually tends to overcook when you're baking. This batch of convection cookies browned quickly and unevenly, so much so that I actually needed to yank them out about 2 minutes ahead of schedule.
Toshiba actually offers a dedicated pizza preset -- I gave that a go as well, and it cooked even faster. Some might appreciate being able to pull their pizza out of the oven a few minutes early, but if you don't want to have to hover over your toaster oven when you're cooking to avoid burning things, this probably isn't the model for you.
Now that we've run through the finer points of each model I tested, let's take a look at how they compare. Here's that lightest toast setting. Only the Bialetti produced anything that I'd feel comfortable calling toast.
As for waffles, the darkest setting seemed to work best with Bialetti and Nostalgia. Oster's uneven brown came in a close third -- meanwhile, Black & Decker overcooked the Eggos, while Hamilton Beach and Toshiba undercooked them.