Ditch your air fryer and replace it with this magic multitasker

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My love affair with small appliances started at an early age.

The Easy-Bake Oven was my first glimpse of what magic could come from a miniature box, leading to a few experiments with microwave cooking — think nachos and Rice Krispie Treat bowls—during my latchkey kid years. And the minute I got my own off-campus apartment in college, I invested in my very own toaster oven.

Twenty-something years later, toaster oven technology has moved far beyond the analog dial and hot coils of my first model. But my small oven love remains strong, and it’s the most-used appliance in my daily life.

The word “oven” is crucial in its name because it does everything my full-size conventional oven can do and more. In fact, it’s not just a toaster oven; it’s a countertop oven.

If I had to choose to keep only one of my kitchen toys — the high-speed blender, the stand mixer, the compressor ice-cream maker, the multicooker — the countertop oven would likely come out on top. (OK, I admit it would be difficult to give up the stand mixer.) That’s how deep my commitment to my countertop oven reaches. Here’s why.

The toaster oven is the original multitasker

Instead of having multiple appliances crowding my countertop, the countertop oven does the work of many. It toasts bread and bagels, sure, but it also has the capability to do convection baking, air frying, dehydrating and dough proofing.

Its broiler is spacious enough and functions so much more effectively than my oven’s broiler that I don’t even risk throwing out my back to shove sheet pans into the drawer underneath the full-size oven. (Who designed these bottom broiler drawers, anyway?)

My countertop oven is also my secret weapon in the fight for better leftovers. When I create a monthly meal plan, I’m always planning to reheat half of what I’m cooking, so this is a crucial function. And because most dishes taste better when they’re not zapped in a microwave, I let my countertop oven restore my meals to their original crispy, bubbly texture. No more soggy cutlets or mushy pasta casseroles in this house!

A countertop oven is a quick fix

Yes, I understand that a countertop oven will never heat food as quickly as the one-minute express cook button on a microwave can. But I’ll argue that the taste trade-offs are worth it, and that you’ll still be heating food and cooking more quickly than you would in a large conventional oven.

My countertop oven preheats to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (232 degrees Celsius) in five minutes (I’ve timed it), whereas my full-size oven takes 15 minutes to reach the same temperature. That’s a big difference — I can be done eating my leftover-but-perfectly-heated pizza in those 10 minutes!

Moreover, the convection and air-fry functions on my countertop oven cook food more quickly and efficiently than conventional heat, since the convection method circulates hot air around the food for a more even heat distribution. I can shave at least five minutes off my baking and roasting times every time I make meals in my countertop oven.

When the decades-old range in our kitchen finally went to the big scrap pile in the sky a few years ago, I refused to replace it with a high-end model. My top-of-the-line countertop oven cost half as much as the range we purchased, and I use it twice as often.

It’s a summer savior

I’ll never forget the process of testing my first cookbook, “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch,” during a sweltering New Jersey summer. It was July, and I was working on various recipes for homemade crackers, which meant keeping my oven on for hours — in a house without central air-conditioning.

In between batches, I laid on my kitchen floor, sweating and crying, wondering why I was voluntarily putting myself through such torture.

I still don’t have central air, but thankfully, I’m not regularly tasked with developing and testing multiple baked goods every day of the week. For everyday summer baking and roasting, however, I’ll use my countertop oven, which gives off much less heat than my full-size oven and cools down much more quickly once its cooking cycle is finished.

If I want to bake some goodies that require my larger baking sheets or multiple sheet pans, I’ll simply bake on my grill.

What to look for in a countertop oven

So, I’ve convinced you to ditch all your other appliances and replace them with a countertop oven. Great! But before you rush out to buy one, think about what oven best suits your cooking habits.

Choose a model that can fit your everyday cookware and bakeware. My countertop oven is deep and wide enough to fit a standard 9-by-13-inch (23-by-33-centimeter) casserole dish or sheet pan or a 10-inch (25-centimeter) round baking pan or cast-iron skillet. This means I can cook meals for up to six or eight people in one little appliance.

Size does matter. Yes, choosing a smaller oven can be tempting when it comes to keeping your kitchen looking open and tidy. For the most versatility, however, I’d recommend going with the largest model that can comfortably fit the space you’re planning to use it in. Your foods need the air circulating around them in the oven to cook most efficiently, so having a space that’s too small to allow that won’t be doing you any favors.

Consider what extra functions you’ll need. As I noted earlier, my countertop oven comes with a lot of bells and whistles — including a few functions I don’t even bother using. I’ve never tried the slow cook function, for instance, even though it’s there. Some models come with wi-fi functionality so you can control them via an app. Decide if these things are worth the money to you.

Casey Barber is a food writer, artist and editor of the website Good Food Stories.

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