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

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With a retail price of $249, the Breville Smart Oven sits among the most expensive toaster ovens in our test group, second only to the $299 Cuisinart CSO-300 Combo Steam + Convection Oven. Breville's oven performs well and handled nearly every food we tested with ease. I particularly liked its easy-to-use control panel and preset cook functions. If you're in the market for a luxury, large-capacity toaster oven, the Breville Smart Oven is recommendable, even if its "smart" features aren't immediately obvious. If you don't need a lot of space, however, it's hard to justify its price when you can purchase the smaller, equally effective Panasonic Flash Xpress for $100 less.

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8.1

Breville Smart Oven

The Good

The Breville Smart Oven is a well-made, smartly designed appliance that performs consistently well.

The Bad

Some of the cooking presets don’t work very well, and its "smart" functions aren't all that obvious.

The Bottom Line

Consider investing in this trusty, solid and clever toaster oven if you plan to use yours for serious cooking and as long as you're not turned off by a $249 price tag.

Read more: The best toaster oven is the one you'll hate the least

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

Usability and design

The Breville Smart Oven is a sturdily built, well-designed toaster oven. Its stainless steel construction gives it a modern appearance, and it will look attractive on your countertop. In addition to the appliance itself, the Smart Oven comes with a broil rack, baking pan, and pizza pan. These are fairly standard accessories for toaster ovens, but Breville also offers accessories like pizza stones on its Web site. The Smart Oven is large, with a width of 18.5 inches and a depth of 12.5 inches, though it is not the largest toaster oven we reviewed. If your counter space is not limited, this size is a good thing, as it enables the Smart Oven to cook a 13-inch pizza or handle a roast or chicken pieces. Even though it does not have the largest exterior, the Smart Oven has a 0.8-cubic-foot interior, the largest of any other toaster oven we've tested so far.

Read more: Best toaster ovens of 2019

In addition to its sturdy construction, the Smart Oven boasts a few design conveniences, though not all are perfect. You don't need to open the oven door to remove the crumb tray. Its top, which heats up during cooking, doubles as a plate warmer. That's useful if you have a plate to warm, but the surface can get warm enough that you'll want to avoid setting anything on it that might melt or combust. The sides, at least, stay relatively cool during cooking.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Smart Oven also has three rack height options, which you'll use differently depending on what you're cooking. You'll see a guide for correct rack placement clearly on the outside of the window. It would be easier to read if Breville located the guide on the other side of the door, on the oven itself, but the window markers are easy enough to check. Regardless, it effectively saves you from having to pull the manual out every time you change from toasting to roasting to check for appropriate rack height. When a rack is in the middle position, a magnet on the door will partially pull the rack out of the oven, making it easier for you to remove. This feature works so well, I wished it extended to the other rack positions.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

Overall, though, my favorite part about the Smart Oven's design is its control panel, which is incredibly intuitive. You will find three dials: a function dial, which includes the oven's presets, and both a temperature and a time dial.

The Smart Oven also features four buttons, the functions of which are: start/cancel, convection on/off, frozen food, and Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion. This panel makes programming simple. You can also adjust its presets on the fly, and the oven will remember your adjustments for the next time you cook that same item.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

While the preset memory is welcome, they seem to be the limit of the Breville's overt smart functionality. A video on Breville's Web site describes how it also employs different heating elements depending on which preset you choose, but you don't really interact with that function at all. The Breville is a fine toaster oven and, within its price category, a reasonable buy. But its "smart" functions don't really map to more contemporary expectations, where "smart" means "connected." That's not necessarily a ding against Breville or this oven. Just know that, for better or for worse, you won't be using this oven in conjunction with your phone.

Breville Smart Oven (pictures)

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Features

Similar to the Cuisinart, the Breville Smart Oven has an optional convection cooking function. Convection cooking uses a fan to circulate hot air evenly throughout the interior of the oven, ideally cooking food more evenly and quickly than with static element heating. It is a faster, more energy efficient way to cook, and, generally, produces great results. You have the option to turn the convection function off if you don't want to use it. For functions like broiling and toasting, the oven's presets disable convection cooking automatically, as it wouldn't add anything.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Smart Oven has a maximum cook time of two hours, and a baking/roasting temperature range of 120 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. It will also broil food at 500 degrees. All of that is in keeping with the other ovens we tested. What I also liked here is that the Breville's convection settings activate automatically for the bake, roast, pizza, cookies, and reheat functions. That makes getting the most out of this oven easy.

The Smart Oven's interior is the largest of any toaster oven we've tested so far. You could roast something as small as a chicken drumstick or as large as a whole chicken, though I wouldn't try to roast a chicken larger than six pounds or so due to space and heat circulation constraints. The Frigidaire and the Cuisinart have similar internal capacities and can handle the same amount of food. The Panasonic is much smaller.

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Ry Crist

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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Ry Crist/CNET

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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Ry Crist/CNET

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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Ry Crist/CNET

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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Ry Crist/CNET

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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Ry Crist/CNET

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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Ry Crist/CNET

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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Colin West McDonald/CNET

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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8.1

Breville Smart Oven

Score Breakdown

Performance 8Usability 9Features 8Maintenance 7