Innovative kitchen gadgets are nothing new, and as anyone who's seen an infomercial can attest, these kinds of small appliances often come with bold promises of revolutionizing the way we cook. However, with the occasional exception (I'm looking at you, Crock-Pot), that kind of ubiquity never quite seems to arrive.
But if you aren't getting a revolution, what are you getting? That all depends on the specific product, but more and more, we're seeing intriguing options that actually live up to their performance claims. Whether they're introducing powerful new cooking methods like steam baking and pressure roasting, or combining existing cooking methods into one convenient device, these products are proving to be anything but gimmicky. Here are some of our favorites that we've tested so far:
We've seen plenty of appliances that promise to transform your toaster oven into something more versatile and powerful, but few delivered on that promise quite so well as Cuisinart's combination steam and convection oven, the CSO-300. For baking basic things like cookies and frozen pizzas, it does a perfectly fine job, but where it sets itself apart is with its steam baking capabilities. See that blue plastic container on the right side of the oven? That's a water reservoir. Fill it up and set the oven to one of its several steam cooking modes, and you'll be able to cook things like rice and fish, or even bake specialty items like homemade donuts and soft pretzels. The CSO-300 is also a bit of a miracle worker when it comes to leftovers, as the steam helps it hit a sweet spot between microwave and conventional oven reheating.
Apart from the steam settings, the CSO-300 sports a stylish, luxurious build with a classy-looking blue LED display. At $299.99, it's about as expensive as toaster ovens get, but given that it's capable of cooking things other toaster ovens can't (and cooking them well), I say it's definitely worth a look.
You might be familiar with Ninja's impressive spin on the common blender, but did you know that there's a Ninja slow cooker, too? There is, and it does way more than just cook slowly. Aside from the usual low and high slow-cooking settings, the Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System also works as a countertop oven capable of baking anything that fits in it at temperatures of up to 425 degrees. On top of that, you can flip the cooker into stove-top mode, then use it just like you would if it were a pot sitting on a burner. That's a lot of functionality for one device, and after a wide barrage of tests, I came away impressed with how well it performed. It retails for $199, but you can find it marked down significantly at major retailers, making it a countertop appliance worth keeping an eye on -- especially if you're looking to rely a little less on your stove.
If you grew up with an Easy Bake Oven, then you might be charmed by the Panasonic FlashXpress, a nifty and rather adorable little toaster oven that packs a surprisingly powerful punch. What's most interesting about the FlashXpress is that it uses double infrared heating elements (hence Flash) which promise to cook food faster than conventional toaster ovens (hence Xpress). Sure enough, when we tested one out, we found that it cooked faster and more evenly, too, delivering results comparable to what we saw from costlier models like the well-reviewed Breville Smart Oven.
The FlashXpress has plenty of quirks, including cartoonish preset icons and a Celsius/Fahrenheit temperature dial that looks more like the AM/FM dial on an old radio. It also isn't quite large enough for things like full-size frozen pizzas -- although this might actually make it an appealing option for anyone living with a cramped kitchen. All in all, it's the performance that counts, and in this regard, the FlashXpress easily won us over. Considering that you can get one for just over a hundred bucks, it's a kitchen upgrade that makes a lot of sense to us.
I've never been quite so flabbergasted as I was on the day we put the Sharp Convection Grill Microwave Oven's chief performance claim to the test. With a unique, microwave-safe metal grilling rack accessory, the Sharp claims that it's capable of grilling things like chicken and burgers. That's right, I said grilling. In a microwave. I was just as skeptical as you probably are right now -- after all, we were just coming off of a round of toaster oven testing that saw broiled burgers leave bad tastes in all of our mouths. If those couldn't handle hamburgers, how could a microwave expect to?
Skepticism aside, we gave it a shot, microwaving raw meat in hopes of making passable burgers. The results looked a little... alien, but once we worked up the courage to try a few bites, we were stunned to discover that they actually tasted... good -- and none more so than the Sharp's convection-grilled burger which, thanks to that elevated rack, also looked the most appetizing (and least goopy) of the bunch. It isn't a perfect microwave by any stretch (I'm not even sure that I would call it a good microwave), but still, I have to give it credit for making burger believers out of all of us.
Pressure cooking is nothing new and neither is the countertop oven -- but what do you get when you combine the two? The answer is that you get the Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven, a countertop cooker capable of sealing in heat and moisture in order to infuse flavor and speed up cooking time. The bulky design isn't my favorite, and at $249, it certainly doesn't come cheap, but when I tested out its bold performance claims -- which include promises of roasting a full-size turkey in less than an hour -- the Puck Oven delivered, serving up scrumptious, supper-sized cuts of meat in an astonishingly short amount of time.