Editor's Choice: The Panasonic FlashXpress Toaster Oven would make a great addition to an apartment or small kitchen, and its double infrared heating system does the job faster than most.
The $149 Panasonic FlashXpress Toaster Oven is a cute, capable machine that consistently surprised me with its speed, accuracy, and generally above-average cooking performance. It's a midrange toaster oven that often performed as well as (if not better than) more expensive models from Cuisinart, Breville, and Frigidaire. If you can get past the Panasonic's dated display and the wonky temperature and timer settings, you will probably fall in love with it. And, over time, maybe those odd little features will become part of its appeal -- it definitely grew on me. I would highly recommend the Panasonic FlashXpress to anyone in the market for a toaster oven, but it's particularly suitable if you're short on counter space, plan to cook a maximum of one or two servings, or are searching for a reasonably priced appliance that also performs extremely well.
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It's a bit of a challenge to describe this toaster, but let's just say that it has charm. No, it doesn't have that "sophisticated" look of many stainless-steel toaster ovens, but it's full of panache all the same. It's also sturdily built and streamlined for absolute simplicity. With that said, this Panasonic has some questionable, or at least very odd characteristics that come together to create a bit of an aesthetic hodgepodge.
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For instance, there's a Celsius/Fahrenheit dial that resembles an old AM/FM radio tuner. That would be mostly alright with me as a retro design feature, except that the dial is calibrated for Celsius. That's great if you want to cook something at 200 degrees Celsius, but the equivalent in Fahrenheit is 390 degrees and that's the closest you're going to get to cooking something at 400 degrees. It seems reasonable to expect that a toaster oven for sale in the United States would be set up for Fahrenheit readings. I'm satisfied with its temperature range, though, which goes from 250 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
The timer isn't great, either. It only goes up to 25 minutes. Panasonic argues that most consumers won't make things in here that take longer than that. Even if that's true, the two hour timer on the Breville Smart Oven makes Panasonic's decision seem limiting. Regardless, expect to use a second timer for longer cooking.
There's also an on/off button, which most toaster ovens don't have. Usually you plug it in, select "toast," and then "start" and it gets to work. Instead, you have to push the "on" button before anything else. That's kind of a small thing, but fiddly nonetheless and potentially dangerous if you forget to turn it back off.
It also comes with quartz and ceramic double infrared heating technology, a removable crumb tray and cooking pan, a nonadjustable cooking rack, and the following presets: Toast, Frozen Waffle, Reheat Roll, Frozen Pizza, Quick Reheat, and Frozen Hash Brown.
So, while the Panasonic FlashXpress is well built, the design is, in a word, quirky. But I must ask: does something that specializes in cooking waffles, pizza, and hash browns need to be decked out in fancy stainless steel anyway? That's entirely subjective, but if you are expecting something classy, this probably isn't the right toaster oven for you. On the other hand, it will save you money and space compared with the other ovens we tested. And, it kind of reminds me of the inside of the Delorean from "Back to the Future." So there's that.
Apart from having to reset your timer when you cook anything longer than 25 minutes, you will enjoy using this toaster oven. It really is easy to operate, especially if you use a preset. For toast, frozen waffles, and frozen pizzas, I literally turned it on, put in the food (there's only one rack height, so you don't run the risk of putting your food too close to or far away from the heating elements), selected the corresponding preset, and presto.
That pretty much holds true for nonpreset items as well, although there's a pretty big caveat. Instead of using convection, the FlashXpress uses a double infrared heating system. That means that it cooks faster than most other toaster ovens. Of course, that's a good thing in the long run, but when you first use this product, you're going to have to mess around with the time settings a lot to figure out what works best. I would suggest erring on the side of undercooked and then adding more time if needed. The first time I roasted chicken drumsticks in this toaster oven, the weight of the chicken suggested that it would take 50 minutes to cook, but they were way overcooked. By the third run, I dropped the time down and they were completely done by 40 minutes. Also, they tasted much better than the first two runs.
In each oven we toasted bread, baked cookies and frozen pizza, roasted chicken drumsticks, and broiled hamburgers. I also made frozen waffles in this toaster as a separate test since it's a dedicated setting. With that in mind, here's a rundown of the different tests, and how well the Panasonic performed.
The Panasonic made the most consistent toast all around. Each of the four slices was evenly toasted at the light, medium, and dark settings. It's not uncommon for some toaster ovens to toast unevenly so that some areas are much lighter than the rest, typically the toast closest to the front of the machine. This wasn't really an issue for the Panasonic. Yes, it was ever so slightly lighter toward the front, but generally the toast was extremely uniform, consistent, and never burnt. Both the Cuisinart and the Breville also produced acceptable results here.
We did find a more obvious front-to-back temperature disparity on the cookie test than with the toast. While the Panasonic's cookies consistently won the taste test in our office, they didn't cook incredibly evenly. In fact, the cookies in the back came out well cooked and the ones closer to the front were gooey underneath. That's great if you have a group of hungry cookie-lovers with different cookie-eating preferences, but that's not really what you hope for when you're baking. Cookies don't strike me as a very common thing to make in a toaster oven anyway, since the Panasonic can only reasonably bake five at once. I guess that's a vote for portion control.
The frozen pizza setting did all the work here. The cheese was melty, the crust wasn't too hard or too chewy, and the whole thing baked very evenly. The preset worked flawlessly and consistently for all three tests. If you're planning to make a lot of frozen pizza for a family, though, I'd recommend the larger Cuisinart or Breville, if not a regular oven.
I had to do a bit of trial and error with the timer on the chicken tests. Since the Panasonic cooks more quickly than its competitors, the first and second attempts were overcooked, but by the third try I strayed from the time requirement for the weight of five chicken drumsticks and it was by far the most successful chicken roasting run for the Panasonic. The Breville and the Cusinart performed the best here, but I think that's more a case of getting the time setting just right for the infrared heating system. Remember, too, that there's a temperature disparity in play between the Celsius/Fahrenheit dial, so the closest I could get to the desired 350 degrees was 355 degrees.
Despite all of our efforts to adjust temperature and cooking time, not one of the four toaster ovens cooked a decent burger. We concluded that toaster ovens are generally too small to broil something successfully at high temperatures. I suggest avoiding toaster ovens for your burger-broiling needs.
The Panasonic's frozen waffle setting worked beautifully. It made truly perfect-looking waffles quickly and simply thanks to the preset.
Overall, the Panasonic held its own throughout the testing process. It may require a bit more tweaking than the Cuisinart and Breville, but it's so much less expensive that it might just be worth a bit more effort up front. And it's easy to remove the crumb tray, cooking rack, and cooking pan for seamless cleanup.
Unless you have a particular need for a toaster oven that can steam cook, like the Cuisinart, want a larger toaster oven to fit a 9-inch pizza, or are really serious about sophisticated design, I'd buy the Panasonic before any of the other ovens we tested. Not one of them performed so much better that the huge price disparity seems worth it, and there's a great deal on Amazon that's offering this toaster for $89.99 instead of the $149.95 sticker price, at the time of this writing.
Not only is it worth the price, but it's a great space-saver if you have limited real estate on your counter. You're going to get consistently well-cooked food using the settings, and if you're a little more hands-on with this toaster in the beginning, your nonpreset meals will turn out great, too. The double infrared heating system is a wonder; it really does get the job done faster than the other models we tested. Overall, the Panasonic FlashXpress Toaster Oven is a delightful little kitchen appliance that holds up incredibly well in comparison to the $299 Cuisinart CSO-300 and the $249 Breville Smart Oven.