You’ll struggle to find a small appliance in U.S. kitchens that’s more commonplace than the toaster, but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers from trying to make your toasting experience more customizable than ever before.
Today you’ll find that more toasters and toaster ovens use electronic sensors—instead of internal timers—to monitor the desired doneness of your food, so you get more predictable, more consistent results every time that you toast. Toasters that have electronic displays that count down your toasting time and toaster ovens that display the cooking mode, temperature and setting also have increased in number and come down in price. You’ll find these displays in toasters that start at about $40 and in toaster ovens that start at about $80 from at least six manufacturers. Three years ago, such displays were restricted to only a few premium models.
SENSING IT. Fancier displays aren’t the only thing that you’ll notice if it’s been a few years since you shopped for a toaster oven. Besides sensors that measure the temperature that’s inside of the oven and adjust the cooking time accordingly, sensor technology now is used to control your cooking. The Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL ($250) allows you to tweak the power that’s in the machine’s five separate heating elements to provide for more precise cooking. For example, if you prefer that your pizza has a crispier crust, you can override the preset “pizza” function (or any of the other eight preprogrammed settings) and reprogram the toaster oven to cook it how you like it—and it will remember that setting the next time that you make pizza. We found that to be an easy task.
Although no other manufacturer would tell us whether it’s working on a similar model, when you consider the amount of sensor technology and digital programming that’s in use, it seems likely to us that Breville’s “smart” reprogramming feature will trickle down to midrange models that are made by other manufacturers in the next 3 years.
Also, toaster ovens that include convection technology are close to becoming the industry standard. (Convection cooking technology uses forced air and a fan to circulate heat more effectively around food and shortens cooking times up to 30 percent.) At least 50 convection toaster ovens now are available, and that means that such models have come down significantly in price, too. Three years ago, you would have paid at least $90 for this technology; now you can find it on models that start at $40. At least one model—the Breville unit that we mentioned—even converts traditional cooking times to convection cooking times for you. That eliminates the trial-and-error method that you typically would have to use (to potentially unappetizing results).
Manufacturers have taken a stab at versatility in another way, too. At least five models from four manufacturers have a dehydrator function. Three years ago, you would have found only a couple that did. That might sound good, but that functionality comes with caveats.
First, there’s the price. You’ll pay at least $60 for a toaster oven that can dehydrate foods. A typical food dehydrator, which can perform all of the same dehydrating tasks, costs only about half of that. Second, the temperature for dehydrating food—depending on the food—ranges from 90 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. Food dehydrators typically operate in that range; toaster ovens’ typical dehydration temperature range is 140–230 degrees.
Deborah Holtkamp of Euro-Pro, which makes a toaster oven that can dehydrate, says if you want to dehydrate a large quantity of food, you might want to consider a food dehydrator, but she also says toaster ovens can handle small batches and, because the temperature typically is higher, do so more quickly than a dedicated dehydrator can. However, higher temperatures might cook out the nutrients and toughen the food, dried-food enthusiasts say.
CHECKING UP. When it comes to toast, it’s about having your toast turn out the way that you want it every time, and today’s toasters and toaster ovens are better at doing so than ever before. We reported 3 years ago about the emergence of toasters that have sensors that monitor the heat that’s inside of the toaster and adjusts the toasting cycle to deliver consistent results. There’s good news: Toasters that use sensors now cost as little as $50. Three years ago, you would have had to pay $70.