There are so many options for toasting bread, from a fork over a fire to a pan on a stove or rack in a full-size oven, but today, most people choose a toaster or a toaster oven. Both work reliably and focus on the simple task of using heat to simultaneously brown two sides of a slice of bread—so which should you buy?
Takes up minimal counter space
Works with a few simple controls
Typically costs less than a toaster oven
Limited to toasting what fits in its slots
Handles far more than toast
Gives numerous ways to adjust settings
Heats to precise temperatures
Bulky and heavy
The toaster or toaster oven decision ultimately comes down to your needs. Is your goal to simply crank out evenly brown, crisp toast, or do you want a small countertop oven that can toast and do more? Cost, size, ease of use, and bonus features are also worth considering. To help you choose between a toaster and toaster oven, keep scrolling for a rundown of how they perform head-to-head on toasting and other tasks.
Hamilton Beach Keep Warm 2-Slice Toaster (22811)
What It's Best For: Toasting pre-sliced bread and toaster pastries, toasting bagel and English muffin halves, defrosting and crisping waffles, making breadcrumbs
If you're all about golden, crispy toast, this is our top choice. In testing, its toast, bagel, and defrost settings all earned high marks. It browns just two slices of bread at a time, making it compact enough to live on the counter or tuck into a cupboard. Its classic design makes this toaster simple to use and keeps its size, weight, and cost low. It has just one bell, a chime when it starts and stops toasting, letting you step away while it does its job. The wide lever can be lifted to push the finished toast farther out of the machine and make it easier to grab.
For a four-slice option, we recommend the Cuisinart CPT-T40 4-Slice Touchscreen Toaster.
KitchenAid KCO211BM Digital Countertop Toaster Oven
What It's Best For: Toasting home-sliced bread, browning baked goods, making hot sandwiches, making breadcrumbs, toasting nuts, warming and reheating food
If you're going with a toaster oven, we recommend this model. When we tested it in our Lab, it toasted bread, plain and with melted cheese, so evenly that we were over-the-moon impressed. It also excelled at baking a half-dozen cookies and other small-batch cooking and reheating tasks. A dial lets you choose one of nine built-in settings, from the standard toast, bake, and broil, to specific ones for bagels, pizza, and cookies. If the functions seem overwhelming, the detailed instruction manual will set you on the right track. We found the price tag quite reasonable given how well this brand-name appliance performed during testing.
For a more budget-friendly option, we suggest the Black+Decker 4-Slice Toaster Oven TO1313SBD.
Pop-up toasters generally weigh less than toaster ovens and take up less space on the counter or in a cupboard. Whether they have two or four slots, their ultra-hot elements quickly and evenly brown and crisp whatever you can fit in them. Even the fanciest toasters have just a few basic controls that make them family-friendly, from kids learning to make their own breakfast to parents fumbling for a bite before finishing their first cup of coffee. Most have a removable crumb tray that simplifies cleanup. Toasters usually cost less than toaster ovens.
Toaster ovens handle the same toasting jobs as pop-up models, but like full-size ovens, they direct heat onto bread placed flat on a rack. This expands their repertoire beyond unadorned slices thin enough to fit within fixed slots. Instead, you can toast handmade pastries, open-face melts, cheesy sandwiches, and more. Many models have the capacity and functionality to be rightfully called countertop ovens, stretching beyond toast, bake, and broil to include convection baking, air frying, and dehydrating. All these possibilities have their cost: toaster ovens are typically bigger, heavier, and more expensive than toasters.
Toast Pre-Sliced Bread
With a pair of heating elements working in each slot, a pop-up toaster quickly and evenly crisps both sides of a slice of bread, making it the best choice for factory-sliced loaves and toaster pastries. A toaster oven usually performs the same job less consistently and more slowly. The distance between the toaster oven rack and elements, the heating speed, and how many slices you squeeze in all affect color and crispness.
Toast Home-Sliced Bread
Winner: Toaster Oven
Hand-cut slices of homemade or bakery loaves can be thick and uneven, with plenty of loose crumbs. Slices may be too long to fit in toaster slots or too small to easily pull from them. Even when hand-cut slices fit, large crumbs and broken corners can collect quickly in the bottom and burn if not cleaned out regularly. With a large, flat rack and wipe-clean interior, a toaster oven is better suited for slices from artisanal loaves.
Modern toasters often have a bagel setting that turns on just one element. In slots wide enough to hold sliced bagels, English muffins, and maybe even rolls, a toaster fully cooks the interior without over-crisping the outer surface. A toaster oven can easily hold thick bread products on its rack, but it takes practice to get the rack height, temperature, and time just right to evenly brown a bagel’s cut side.
Defrost and Crisp Waffles
Is a toaster or toaster oven better at defrosting and crisping precooked, frozen waffles? It is a close call, but the toaster wins because it hits the waffle with even heat from both sides, whereas a toaster oven could cook one side more quickly if you don’t nail the settings. That said, a waffle taken straight from the freezer may require two rounds in either appliance. Kellogg’s recommends toasting its frozen breakfast products twice on the lightest setting for a crisp outside and fluffy inside.1
Brown Baked Goods
Winner: Toaster Oven
Halved muffins, croissants, hot dog buns, and other baked goods may fit in a wide-slotted toaster, but likely in a tight squeeze with lots of flaky pastry or crumbs to clean up. A toaster oven is the best bet for oddly shaped baked goods, especially when warmed whole. Refrigerated pastries may warm better to the center on the oven’s bake setting, which sends more heat from the lower element, than on toast, which heats evenly from top and bottom.
Make Hot Sandwiches
Winner: Toaster Oven
With a slotted toaster, having sandwich fixings ready to pile on the moment hot toast slices pop up might let residual heat warm the filling, but it cannot match the heat of a toaster oven’s broiler. A toaster oven lets you build the sandwich and slide it in until all its layers meld into toasty, gooey perfection. Cheese caramelizes, nut butter roasts and softens, and marshmallows piled with chocolate on graham crackers puff and melt.
Winner: It’s a tie!
Dry bread makes the best breadcrumbs, and toasting helps pull out the last bits of moisture. Whether you use a toaster or a toaster oven, the key is to get the bread as dry as possible without burning it. You will also need to watch more carefully than you would with fresh bread while processing the toast to ensure you end up with crumbs, not powder.
Winner: Toaster Oven
After bread products, the verb “toast” may most often be paired with nuts. A pop-up toaster cannot handle the loose pieces, but a toaster oven quickly roasts a few pine nuts for pesto, a handful of almonds to stir into oatmeal, or a couple of tablespoons of sesame seeds to sprinkle on chicken. When heating a full-size oven seems wasteful, a toaster oven can tackle other small-scale tasks, like roasting a head of garlic, crisping a batch of croutons, or dry-roasting whole spices.
Warm and Reheat Food
Winner: Toaster Oven
Reheated toast never impresses, leaving little call for pairing a slotted toaster with leftovers. A toaster oven is a different story. Its dry heat both warms and crisps mac and cheese, enchiladas, a slice of pizza, onion rings, and other leftovers that turn soggy in a microwave—and it does so faster than a full-size oven. The toaster oven has limits: Soups, stews, sauces, and dishes with a lot of liquid warm up best on a stovetop or in the microwave.
Should you buy a toaster or toaster oven?
When you just want evenly brown, consistently crisp toast, choose a pop-up toaster. One with wide slots will fit bagels and English muffins, and one with a lift boost makes hot slices easiest to remove. Choose a toaster oven when you also want to enjoy hot meals like toasted tuna melts and English muffin pizzas, as well as for toasting loose items like nuts and seeds.
If you have both, should you use a toaster or a toaster oven? Pull out the toaster for crisp, golden dry toast—and any other unadorned bread products that easily slide in and out of the slots. Pop bread with toppings or loose fillings and thick or gooey pastries into the toaster oven.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This story was written by Julie Laing, who has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years and writes the weekly newspaper column and food blog, Twice as Tasty. She is an unabashed toaster oven fan, especially for solo lunches and quick meal prep, but her young niece and nephew and older parents have convinced her that a pop-up toaster has its place. Julie piles her toast with condiments and pickles from her cookbook, "The Complete Guide to Pickling."