Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment: video, audio, computing, and wireless, how these are coming together, and what's likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life.
Column #35 (07/12/02)
The Sacred Quest For a Toaster Oven
Editor's Note: The AskAvi column usually addresses consumer electronics, computing, and home theater issues. After last week's column, which covered tablet PCs, innovative software, home automation, and the latest PDA/Phone combinations, this column is, well, different. We promise not to do too many appliance-themed columns in the future.
Ah, a quest. This particular quest was not initiated when the handle to our old toaster oven fell off - we just improvised for a while. Sometimes we opened it with the broken handle. Sometimes with a fork. Sometimes with other pointy objects not terribly fireproof and definitely not intended for use this way. Even when the on/off dial fell off, I was able to get it back on. However, when the on/off dial no longer stopped at on or off and just spun around and around like the child's head in the Exorcist... time to pull the plug (literally - the thing wouldn't turn off!) and look for a new toaster oven. The quest had begun.
I have looked at four dozen toaster ovens. Web sites don't generally tell you interior dimensions, and the ones that do give you the interior volume in cubic feet - useful if you plan to cook feet, I suppose. (We plan to cook pizza and lasagna.) I visited eight brick and mortar stores, and I brought my trusty 10x14" lasagna pan with me. I looked like a cooking geek, but I'm a cooking geek who got some results, baby!
Capacity By The Slice
If a toaster oven doesn't list its capacity, it's a "two slice" model. Unlike "foot" or "meter," there is no standards body that determines what is a "slice," though the term clearly applies only to some sort of bread. Universally, two and four slice models were way too small to hold much more than a single "slice" of pizza, and perhaps not even a single slice of "New York Style" pizza, which is often a "foot" or more in length. Many six "slice" models are not appreciably larger than four "slice" models, so presumably the bread must be smaller. If you plan to toast baguette slices, these are the models for you.
However, if you actually want to use your toaster oven as an oven, size matters. I've found three that can accommodate our pan, and I'm not sure there are any others:
Performance: Toastmaster Convection Oven
This oven looks like the professional mini-ovens you see at your local deli or the pastry outlets in the mall's food court. I cleared space on our countertop, provided adequate ventilation, plugged it in, put some frozen pizza inside, and... within two minutes, our smoke detector went off. No matter, I removed the smoke detector's batteries and soldiered on, at least temporarily. In addition to setting off the smoke alarm, the convection cooking left the pizza crust a bit soggy in the middle, so back to the store it went.
Performance: Black and Decker Dining In Toaster Oven
This oven had an even more obvious initial problem - the temperature knob refused to move beyond the 400 degree setting. Turning it beyond 400 resulted in the knob popping off into your hand. Not very reassuring.
Our second sample has - thus far - proven acceptable. Its knobs turned, the smoke alarm remained undisturbed, and pizza crusts were crisp. Now to try some lasagna...
Please note: All submissions to AskAvi@Greengart.com become the property of Greengart.com, and Greengart.com retains all copyrights of both questions and answers. (Don't send us anything you intend to copyright or patent.) Not all submissions will be answered.
© 2001, 2002 Avi Greengart