Avi Greengart is the Research Director for Consumer Devices at Current Analysis (Mobile Phones, Connected Devices, and Digital Home). He also regularly writes for Slashgear, sporadically blogs at Home Theater View and Tweets far too often as @greengartAvi's expertise lies in understanding consumer electronics marketing, consumer behavior, and technology adoption patterns: where new technologies meet the mass market. 

 

 

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:

bulletThe DeLonghi Convection Oven with Rotisserie ($350, Chef Central).  This beautiful, stainless steel and plastic monstrosity was simply too expensive to consider.
 
bulletThe Toastmaster Convection Oven model 7093s ($130 - 160, PC Richard & Son - a local appliance chain).  I immediately took this beautiful, stainless steel monstrosity home with me.  More on this later.
 
bulletThe Black and Decker Dining-In (Models CTO7000 - 9000; $80 - 150).  This white plastic-clad unit is not as manly as the stainless steel giganto-ovens above.  It is not as tall as those two, either.  However, it is equally wide and deep, allowing the use of our 10x14 pan with just under an inch of room to spare on each side.  It is also considerably less expensive, and far easier to find and buy. 

Black and Decker's CTO8000 "Dining In" Toaster Oven, with a 9"x13" pan

Wal~Mart and Sam's Club sell a version for $79, Amazon.com and Sears sell a slightly different version for $99 and $110 respectively, and Sears may price match Wal~Mart or Amazon if you prefer buying from them.  The convection version sells for $149 at Amazon, but I'm not convinced convection cooking is a good idea (see below).

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...

-avi

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2001, 2002 Avi Greengart