What Is a Countertop Smart Oven?
Kitchens are getting smarter: Smart speakers, smart phones, and tablets allow home cooks to access recipes, cooking videos, order groceries, and more with one tap of a screen or by asking the right question. Smart countertop ovens have also become increasingly popular, and for good reason. Compared to full-sized ovens, they are generally less expensive, take up less space, are incredibly versatile, and are more efficient. Whether you're upgrading your toaster oven or looking to buy an internet-connected appliance that cooks in a newfangled way, exciting options abound. Here, we explore what a smart oven is and how you would use it in your own home.
Types of Smart Ovens
Trying to figure out just what a "smart oven" is can you make you feel, well, not so smart. Is it a countertop oven that has many functions? Is it an oven that uses convection or steam? Is it an oven that you program with your phone? Truth be told, it could be any of those things. While the options vary greatly, they all do considerably more than a standard countertop toaster oven.
Generally speaking, there are a few different types of smart ovens that you can choose from: Convection toaster ovens and steam (or combi) ovens. Here, we explain what makes each type unique and outline their benefits, which will help you make a more informed decision for your own household. Ovens in either category can also be "smart" because they use Wi-Fi, which means they can connect to your smart phone and other devices. With high tech ovens that have sophisticated software, updates are sent wirelessly as are new recipes, allowing you to cook directly from your phone.Other features include the ability to scan QR codes and cameras allowing you to monitor what you are cooking without opening the oven door.
Convection Toaster Ovens
Unlike traditional toaster ovens, convection toaster ovens generally have multiple levels. Each one will have a slightly different set of functions, but they often include air fry, dehydrate, defrost, proof, toast, slow cook, bake, reheat, roast, broil, and pizza. All those functions are based on a combination of temperature control and convection, and they often require you to use a specific pan or rack level.
One particularly appealing feature convection toaster ovens offer is air fry. Air frying in an oven as opposed to a dedicated air fryer is basically convection baking on a rack or tray. Convection ovens have a fan or fans, which circulate hot air consistently around food, yielding crispness and crusts mimicking the results you get from a deep fryer, but without all the oil.
Steam or Combi Ovens
Steam, or combi, ovens are the next category of smart oven. Combi ovens are named for the combination of heat, convection, and steam. This means you'll be adding water to the appliance. Steam cooks or heats food evenly, but also prevents it from drying out. This is particularly useful for certain kinds of cooking like steaming vegetables, seafood or dumplings, making puddings and custards, and baking bread. The steam function can be used in tandem with dry heat which will help to create a dry exterior or crust. Some combi ovens can also approximate the long and slow tenderizing effects of sous vide. The downside? The excess moisture can potentially shorten the life of the oven.
Which Smart Oven Should You Buy?
Given all the aforementioned bells and whistles, trading in your standard toaster oven for a smart oven seems like a no-brainer. It will allow you to do a lot more and you may find you use it more frequently than your traditional oven. Before upgrading, however, you'll need to make sure you have enough room on your counter and the dedicated outlet that's required. Heights vary, but you'll also need to make sure you have enough clearance below cabinets. Another consideration is how large your household is, as some of the ovens are fairly small and are not optimized for cooking large quantities. Some ovens can handle a whole three- to four-pound chicken, but that's a stretch for most of them. Also, some ovens allow for multiple cooking phases, while others have particularly long timers, such as the Cuisinart Digital Airfryer Toaster Oven ($299.99, target.com), which allows you to dehydrate for up to 72 hours.
Some ovens have more of a learning curve. On social media, you'll find groups for users who share their recipes, tips, and also frustrations. It's a good idea to spend some time lurking and asking questions before committing to a very expensive model or an oven that uses new technology. This is particularly important for models in the $600 to $1,300 price range. Some ovens include temperature probes and lots of accessories, but others offer accessories for sale separately. Last but not least, some brands offer a trial period so if you decide a smart oven is not for you, you can return it.
There's a wide range of options for countertop smart ovens. To help you select the right one for your home and needs, we're sharing a few we like.