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Cooking a good meal at home takes work. Or at least it used to. Meal kit delivery services are bringing quicker and more diverse dinners to homes around the world, and smart ovens are starting to play a role as well. Tovala introduced its first smart steam oven optimized for meal kits last year, and now there's a new and improved second generation.
The new $349 Tovala Smart Oven is still heavily optimized for cooking the brand's own meal kits, but its new design brings it closer to being a countertop appliance for all foods. However, if meal kits aren't what you're looking for, I can't recommend the Tovala as the best oven for cooking from scratch. The June Intelligent Oven is still your best bet, though it's nearly double the cost at $599.
When we reviewed the original Tovala oven, we were impressed by the taste of the meal kits, but disappointed with the way it cooked items out of our own pantry and with the sparseness of the app. This time around, Tovala made improvements to the oven's design and companion app that had me hopeful for a better experience.
The Tovala Smart Oven uses a combination of steam, convection baking and broiling to cook Tovala meal kits. Here's one example from the company's website of a salmon recipe:
The oven includes a bar code scanner and each Tovala meal kit has a bar code printed on the packaging. Simply scan your meal and hit start. Presets load from the cloud and tell the oven how to cook your dinner.
Cooking food on your own takes a bit more action on your part, but it's still simple. Either use a chef's recipe in the Tovala app or package directions from your own food to find the right cooking mode, time and temperature. Set those three modes with the oven's controls or through the app.
The Tovala oven can cook food at up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and the oven's timer ticks all the way up to two hours and 45 minutes. That means there isn't much a full-size oven could cook that the Tovala couldn't, unless you're restricted by size. Tovala's interior cooking chamber is a cozy 0.84 cubic foot.
Tovala added two more sets of controls to the front of the oven. These control time and temperature. The original Tovala had just one dial for selecting toast or reheat mode and relied primarily on the app to set everything else. Being able to set times and temperatures through the app is a modern-feeling extra, but it's convenient to be able to punch in your settings on the oven itself.
The second generation is also smaller and lighter than the first Tovala oven without losing any cooking chamber capacity. It's easy to pick up and move around should you need to, and it doesn't take up any more counter space than a microwave.
Tovala also adjusted the way steam vents out of the top of the oven, so you can now safely place it beneath your kitchen cabinets, something Tovala warned against in the first generation.
Setup is simpler, too. Instead of the odd flashing light sequence required to share Wi-Fi information with the first-generation oven, the second generation uses a Bluetooth connection to share Wi-Fi credentials through the Tovala app on your mobile device.
Though I think the meal kits are expensive, you will get a price break on the oven compared with the original. When we reviewed the first-gen oven, it had a $400 price tag. The new Tovala will cost just $349, and there are introductory offers, too. If you commit to 100 meals, for example, the cost of the oven drops to $249.
The Tovala oven is at its best when you're cooking with a Tovala meal kit. You'll need to be ready to throw down some cash for these delicious dishes, though. Each meal costs $12 and that meal serves one person. If you're enrolling in meal delivery, you can choose 3,4,6,8,9 or 12 meals per week.
Over the last year, Tovala has added more gluten-free and vegetarian options. When it comes to nutritional value, sodium was pretty high in most dishes. One week's menu features meals with sodium levels ranging from 360 to 980 mg.
While the kits each serve one person, the servings are large. If you're counting calories, Tovala says most kits fall between 400 and 800 per serving. If you're watching your weight, there are also low-calorie options. One dish called Mongolian Tofu came in at just 360 calories.
Nutritional numbers aside, I loved the meal kits. They tasted great, and I was able to try dishes I wouldn't have attempted to make myself. The garnishes Tovala includes make plating a beautiful dish easy, too. I was surprised at what a complete, full-flavored dish I created with each recipe.
Like the last Tovala oven, the new model struggled with items from my own pantry. I tried biscuits, bacon and chocolate chip cookies. I found that with the oven rack on the lowest position (what Tovala recommends in the oven manual), I burned these foods every time, despite following package directions.
Results were much better when I adjusted the rack to the middle, but baking was still uneven. Every dish was much more well done in the back right corner of the oven.
If you're aware of these quirks, it's easy enough to rotate a baking sheet or adjust time. You shouldn't have to, though, and that's why I felt a bit disappointed cooking my own food with Tovala.
Tovala's oven is cheaper, prettier and more sensible in this second generation, but uneven baking means it still isn't the oven I'd recommend for home chefs preparing meals with their own ingredients.
Tovala meal kits are excellent, and require less effort than most other options out there (but more of your money). If you're looking for a smart and capable countertop oven sans meal kits, the June Intelligent Oven is still your best bet.