Here’s how I roll: I use my traditional stove for cooking, my traditional oven for baking, and my microwave for reheating—usually mugs of coffee. When I want toast, I use my toaster. I never understood the point of a toaster oven just as I never understood the point of a rice cooker: both have always struck me as redundant kitchen appliances. (What? You can’t throw some water, rice, and salt in a covered saucepan and read the instructions on the label? Seriously?)
No, it’s just never made sense to me to dedicate valuable kitchen counter real estate for something that, to my mind, has little real utility. Don’t take away my blender or my mixer, and don’t you dare touch my coffee maker, but to a toaster oven I say, “Meh.”
Such is the preconceived bias with which I approached this product review as a member of the Viewpoints Blogger Panel. (You can read my review on the Viewpoints website, along with those of my colleagues on the panel.) I thought there might be a ghost of a chance that I could be convinced, thus becoming a zealous convert to the joys of toaster-oven-cooking. But after using the thing twice, I’m sorry to have to say no. That didn’t happen—the Panasonic Flash Xpress Toaster Oven has not made me see the light. (Although we’ll get to the oven’s light, and its potential hazards, in a moment.)
Let’s begin with first impressions.
The thing looks like a toy. The Kenner Easy-Bake Oven I played with as a child surely had more heft and substance. The toaster oven is ten-and-a-quarter inches high, thirteen inches deep, and twelve inches wide. It weighs a mere seven-and-a-half pounds. This is all fine if you’re short on space and upper body strength, but as I said in my first paragraph …
I must add that I found the oven’s numerous disclaimers slightly alarming, especially this one:
Do not use the toaster oven near wall or cabinet.…Keep the toaster oven away from flammable materials (wooden wall or cabinet) as follows: Rear: more than 10 cm (4 inches) Top: more than 15 cm (6 inches). Side: More than 10 cm (4 inches).
I carefully (and nervously) measured the area around the oven before I determined it was safe to proceed.
Infrared ray heating elements heat the surface and inside of the food efficiently. But the cautionary bullet points in the owner’s manual include this advice: “Do not stare at the near-infrarde [sic] ray heater for a long time. It could cause injury to your eyes.”
I felt like Carol Anne in The Poltergeist, being warned to STAY AWAY FROM THE LIGHT.
After regaining my composure, I began my test. I purchased all-natural frozen whole-wheat waffles, and decided upon a three-tiered experiment. First, I prepared the waffles in the toaster oven according to the package directions on the waffles. Ten minutes? Really? Okay, Van’s. If you say so.
Ten minutes were clearly too long. And I cannot blame the toaster oven for this; I followed the package instructions. The waffles looked like hockey pucks and tasted like shredded twigs.
A couple of mornings later, I prepared the same breakfast, but this time I followed the toaster oven’s directions instead of relying upon the waffle’s cooking instructions. I placed the waffles on the rack, same as before. (I never did use the oven tray; perhaps one of my colleagues on the Viewpoints panel did.) This time, I pressed the button for “waffles,” stood back (not looking at the light), and let the product do its thing. I had waffles in about four minutes. Nothing could have been simpler. And I have to admit, they were nicely browned, with a nice exterior crispness. My eating experience was as pleasant as one could expect, considering I was eating frozen waffles. (I do own a waffle iron, by the way. Guess I’m old-school.)
The results of test number two? I used less energy by cutting the cooking time in more than half, and I ended up with tastier waffles. So what did I do for my third test?
You guessed it!
I popped two frozen waffles in my toaster, set the dial to a medium setting (I referred to the package instructions for toaster cooking), and in two minutes—two minutes, people—I had delicious waffles. Warmth being a matter of personal preference, I put the plate of waffles in the microwave and zapped them for an additional 15 seconds. Perfection. Lightly crisp on the outside, moist and tender on the inside…
The prosecution rests.
I’m in the midst of preparing for our relocation to Ohio, so unfortunately I had to sit out the discussion with my colleagues on the panel. When Viewpoints posts it I’ll add a link so you can see if I’m all alone on this toaster oven limb. I’m donating the toaster oven (with reservations, given my less-than-stellar review) to the Safe Harbor Shelter of Richmond, Virginia, with the proviso that they give it to a deserving family without small children.
I give the Panasonic Flash Xpress Toaster Oven two gold rings.