Choosing a Cheap Toaster Oven
A toaster oven is an energy-efficient, space-saving, multitasking alternative to a traditional toaster and a traditional oven. With a dizzying array of choices, sizes, and capabilities -- from simple toasting, baking, and broiling to convection cooking -- and leading brands offering multiple models that sometimes differ only minimally, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish which makes the most sense for budget-conscious cooks. We've done the research and pored over hundreds of consumer reviews to find several toaster ovens for less than $50 that earn solid reviews and serve up quality alongside convenience.
There are only a few players in the toaster oven market, and most of the action is at the lower end. This is where Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach, and Oster rule, although each also produces models for the mid- and upper tiers. These higher strata are inhabited by other brand names, as well, notably Cuisinart and Breville, whose offerings reach well into the triple digits. Costlier toaster ovens generally are larger than budget models, look sharper, feature more precise controls (often digital) and sensors that regulate temperature, and offer additional functions such as convection baking. They tend to produce exemplary results.
But for frugal consumers, fancy appearance and finely calibrated performance probably don't justify spending a lot for a small kitchen appliance that toasts, bakes/reheats, and broils adequately, albeit not perfectly. This where our picks enter the fray.
User reviews indicate that several budget-priced toaster ovens stand apart from their peers. Our top choices are the Black & Decker TO1322SBD (starting at $31) and the Hamilton Beach 31330 (starting at $40), followed by the Proctor Silex 31116R/31118R (starting at $24) and the Oster TSSTTVVG01 (starting at $25). The tiny Elite ETO-113 (starting at $19) made by California-based small-appliance manufacturer Maxi-Matic, turns in a passable performance according to many consumers, but it's comparatively short on controls and accessories.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Toaster Oven Reviews: What We Considered
Expert reviewers writing for outlets such as ConsumerSearch, The Sweethome, Bon Appétit, and the review site Time 4 Toast generally judge toaster oven models with price tags well above the Cheapism ceiling, so we turned to consumer reviews on Amazon, Walmart.com, Target.com, BestBuy.com, HomeDepot.com, and company websites to learn how inexpensive toaster ovens perform day after day in real life, not in a lab.
Toaster oven users generally crow about the benefits of toasting a bagel or piece of bread in the same countertop appliance that frees them from turning on a large oven to reheat leftovers or bake a small casserole or a tray of brownies on the fly. They also appreciate the relatively small footprint of this appliance, which fits even in compact kitchens. That said, our research found that no cheap toaster oven is perfect and none earn glowing reviews across the board. Owners of these low-cost appliances are not so happy about so-so toast (uneven, underdone, and/or burned) and interior capacity that seems less spacious than marketing materials suggest. Some gripe about too many knobs and hard-to-adjust controls and others contend that newer models are less durable than those that once graced their counters. Still, for all the carping, when it comes to the models on our list, at least, users generally say they're happy with the price-to-performance ratio and feel they've gotten their money's worth.
Capacity.The size of a toaster oven is usually denoted by the number of bread slices the appliance can hold. Our top picks are either four- or six-slice models, which are the most common. Of course, how many slices will actually fit depends on the loaf, which may explain some users' disappointment about stated capacity.
To better determine whether a toaster oven is large enough for your family, look at the measurements and other specifications provided by the manufacturer. Budget toaster ovens generally measure about 15 to 18 inches across, 9 to 14 inches deep, and 8 or 9 inches high. But keep in mind, the external dimensions of a toaster oven might not accurately indicate the amount of space inside: Some can fit a (small) chicken, as the instructions claim, and some barely fit a hot dog bun.
Many models also hint at capacity by noting what size pizza they can hold (usually 9 or 12 inches). To better accommodate a whole frozen pizza, for example, the Black & Decker TO1322SBD trumpets its curved interior back and the Hamilton Beach 31330 sports both a bulging back and a curved glass door. To be safe, before making a purchase, head to a store with a few slices of the family's favorite bread, a baking pan, and maybe a frozen pizza to see if the interior dimensions suit your needs.
Toasting Performance.It's somewhat surprising that some toaster ovens struggle to fulfill one of their primary purposes: giving bread, bagels, and English muffins just the right amount of tender crispness. We came across plenty of griping in reviews about patchy, burnt, or underdone toast, although the models on our list fare better than most cheap toaster ovens in this regard. These small kitchen appliances also take longer to make toast than traditional toasters, which is another source of minor dismay. Both foodies and consumer product experts stress that if excellent toast is the highest priority, a dedicated pop-up toaster is the best bet. To get around this dilemma, some consumers might opt for the hybrid Hamilton Beach Toastation 22703H/22708H (starting at $38), which has a design that incorporates a wide two-slice toaster slot at the top and a mini-oven below. Users warn, however, that food going into the oven section should be flat (think chicken nuggets or pizza), because anything else bumps up against the top element.
Controls and Settings.While many higher-end models feature digital displays, entry-level toaster ovens rely on analog controls, usually in the form of knobs, for selecting time, oven temperature, and function (toast, bake, broil, stay on, and, where relevant, convection). Some models have two knobs and some have three. Toast and broil generally appear on the temperature knob, and settings for toast shade usually appear on the timer knob. The Hamilton Beach 33130 features three knobs, one each for temperature, function, and time. A lever on the Hamilton Beach Toastation switches function between toaster and oven. While some consumers are relieved not to worry about fancy electronics going haywire, others are a bit flummoxed and irritated by the need to maneuver multiple knobs just to toast a bagel. And the close placement of the toast and broil settings on some models, like the Proctor Silex 31116R/31118R, confuses some users, as well.
Most cheaper toaster ovens heat up to 450 degrees, with digits specifying the amount of heat. The timer typically runs up 30 minutes, with the power automatically cutting off once the allotted time has been reached. One common critique of the Proctor Silex 31116R/31118R and Elite ETO-113 focuses on the timers, which max out at 15 minutes, although the Proctor Silex model, like all our other top picks, sports a "stay on" function, as well. While most of the ovens turn in acceptable performance in general, precision baking is not necessarily a given: According to many reviews, the stated temperature on these inexpensive appliances may not be exact. Another big drawback of the Elite ETO113 is the presence of dots rather than numbers to indicate temperature options, leaving users to guess which to choose. Moreover, reviews say, it doesn't heat very well regardless of temperature.
For consumers who particularly value the baking function, a toaster oven with a convection cooking option might be of interest. Convection technology delivers more even and faster results with a fan that circulates the hot air. Usually increased efficiency comes with a higher price tag, but one decent option under $50 is the Oster TSSTTVDFL2 (starting at $40). This model is a good choice for frugal consumers who want a small countertop oven that bakes well and don't particularly care if toasting fails to hit the same mark.
Accessories.Some of the best cheap toaster ovens come with a baking pan and a rack that can be positioned closer to the top heating element for broiling and closer to the bottom for toasting and baking. All our top picks, with the exception of the Black & Decker TO1322SBD, have this option. The racks on models with smaller interior space, such as the Hamilton Beach Toastation and the Elite ETO-113, generally cannot be relocated. The baking pans and racks are dishwasher-safe, although users complain that the pans become discolored and spotty.
One feature reviewers sorely miss on most entry-level models is an oven rack that pulls out when the door is opened. The only one of our picks with this feature is the Hamilton Beach 31330, although it pulls out only when the rack is in the bottom slot. A crumb tray is another must-have accessory. Catching and getting rid of tiny morsels of bread is critical for preventing fires. Removable crumb trays usually slide out, which makes them very easy to empty. With a drop-down crumb tray, like the one on the Proctor Silex 31116R/31118R, is harder to empty without making a mess when lifting the appliance to open and clean the tray. Specifications for the Elite ETO113 are silent about the presence (or absence) of a crumb tray; users say there is none.
Durability.The build quality of budget toaster ovens is a topic of some discussion in consumer reviews. Most models we researched get zapped by users for plastic parts that break, fall off, or melt; electrical components that malfunction; ovens that won't turn off; doors that stick; and insulation that doesn't contain the heat. While the Black & Decker TO1322SBD comes with a two-year limited warranty and the Oster TSSTTVDFL2 guarantees satisfaction for five years, most low-cost toaster ovens promise only one year of coverage, and there are at least a few reports of every model on our list not lasting even that long.
Reviewers sometimes compare newer models with a beloved old toaster oven and find the former wanting. Today's toaster ovens just don't seem to last that long, users suggest. On the other hand, consumers who enjoy the fruits of their toaster ovens' labors are quite pleased to get one at a price that lessens the sting if the appliance doesn't survive more than a few years.