There are two types of benchtop oven available, the compact or 'toaster' oven and the glass convection oven. The compact oven is a mini-me to a full-sized oven, while the glass convection oven is a giant heat-resistant glass bowl with a lid that contains the heating element and fan. Both types bake, roast, grill and toast, and some even have a hotplate on top – all this at a fraction of the price of a full-sized oven.
So why not use a toaster oven all the time?
Well, they can be useful for small cooking jobs such as toasted cheese sandwiches, and are obviously handy when space is an issue – in a caravan, for instance – but they do have a couple of drawbacks.
Not as good as a full-sized oven – but better than a toaster
Benchtop ovens are compact and may use slightly less energy than a full-sized oven, but their small size rules out big cooking jobs – so it's dinner for two at most. They get the job done, but when we tested them we found they aren't always the greatest cooks (read our benchtop ovens review). You can get some OK results through experimentation, however. The top, rear and glass doors of the compact ovens can get too hot to touch safely as can the glass bowl of the convection ovens, so little hands need to be kept away.
Are they better than a convection microwave?
If considering as an alternative to a convection microwave, you need to think about price and performance. Toaster ovens are relatively inexpensive, while a typical convection microwave oven (or even just a microwave oven with grill element), offers more options and better cooking, but is generally larger and more expensive – starting at about $500, but typically priced at $800 or more.
I can find a use for one of these pocket rockets. What should I look for?
Check the oven is big enough to fit your cookware but small enough to fit your bench space. Some have extra space at the back to fit a large circular pizza.
Controls should be clearly labelled and easy to press, grip or turn. Most compact models have at least three rotary controls: temperature, function selection and a timer. Glass convection models usually have two rotary controls for temperature and time, and a handle that also acts as an on/off switch.
Most compact ovens have three rack positions, but some have reversible racks that give two height options for each position. A glass convection oven usually has two or three racks of different heights.
For compacts, these can include a roasting tray (some with a drip tray insert to allow fat to drain from meat), pizza tray, biscuit trays, a handle for the trays, racks for safer handling, and a rotisserie for roasting meat. For the glass ovens they may have a height extension ring, an air fryer insert, rack tongs and lid holder for resting the hot lid.
Non-stick or ceramic interiors are best in the compact range – look for ones with few crevices or gaps. Most models have removable crumb trays. Trays that can be put into the dishwasher make cleaning a breeze.
Hot to handle!
Door glass temperatures can reach from 75°C to 99°C, and the rear of the oven can get even hotter (up to 168°C in one case we've seen), so be cautious and leave clearance around the oven for air circulation. Be careful of touching the oven during or after use and don't leave anything on or near the oven that could be damaged by high heat. On a positive note, the handles and controls all remain cool enough to touch safely.
Benchtop ovens start at $39 and go up to $400.