This cult-favorite toaster oven is also an air fryer—but is it worth $400?
The Breville Smart Oven Air can do almost anything
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I am far from immune to the allure of superfluous kitchen implements. In fact, my wedding registry was dominated by bread makers, pasta extruders, cherry pitters, and a requisite KitchenAid stand mixer, whose exteriors have since become coated with an impenetrable film of dust.
Yet for all that culinary gadgetry, I could never quite see the point of purchasing a toaster, let alone a toaster oven, when a 4-burner range already occupies the lion’s share of space in my 1-bedroom, NYC apartment.
The transformation was even more pronounced considering that the 17.2 x 21.4 x 12.8-inch behemoth was too big for my counter, thus compelling me to make it the centerpiece of my kitchen table.
That said, the large capacity (Breville says it can hold a 14 lb. turkey) Smart Oven Air offers 13 settings that, theoretically, can replace a variety of those single-use machines cluttering up my kitchen.
Not only does it boast 2-speed fan convection—which outstrips conventional ovens by continuously circulating hot air, making it a must for both even baking and perfectly juicy proteins—it could potentially stand in for your microwave, slow cooker, dehydrator (you have one of those, right?), air fryer, and yes, toaster and/or toaster oven as well.
So after laying the groundwork by searing off a single slice of rye (taking childlike pleasure in fiddling with the dials that account for level of brownness and quantity of toast), I set about giving the Breville SOA’s primary selling points a go, to see if it’s really worth the price…and more importantly, the ample kitchen real estate.
Air frying oven fries
Not only am I a rank amateur when it comes to toaster ovens, apparently, I’ve been entirely oblivious to the ascendance of air fryers as well. If you’ve already jumped on the bandwagon, you’ll know that in lieu of bubbling vats of oil, they operate much like convection ovens, using hot, circulated air to establish that craveable, deep-fried texture.
If you’re like me, however, just know that the SOA isn’t all that intuitive. For instance, the included air frying basket is, well, a basket. Meaning that it’s full of holes. Meaning that it stands to reason that seasonings—and even scant amounts of oil—would splatter and drip right through.
For fear of stopping my Breville experiment in its tracks by scarring the unit with an explosion of air-charged grease, I loaded the basket with spears of naked sweet potatoes instead. Expecting less than nothing (and taking full responsibility for my empty-headedness re: air fryers), I awaited an outcome on my fat and flavor-free spuds.
Well, holla at your Breville, because in record time (using pre-set suggestions of 18 minutes at 400°F, as opposed to my standard for making oven fries of around 30-40 minutes at 450°F), the texture was pretty pitch perfect—brown-spotted and crisp on the outside, and pleasantly starchy and fluffy within.
(Note: with further internet research, I’ve found air fryers are favored for revitalizing pre-fab frozen foods. But if you prefer to cook from scratch, you can probably get away with coating your basket-ensconced items in a mist of cooking spray or a teaspoon or so of oil. Otherwise, ditch the basket and go for a tin foil-lined baking tray instead.)
Dehydrating dog treats
Considering I tend to cook for my dog as much as myself (now you know everything there is to know about me) I was especially excited for this function, and the means of transforming meats and produce into chewy, jerky-style treats.
Returning to my store of sweet potatoes, I arranged thin slices in the bottom of the air fry (which doubles as a dehydrating) basket, positioned the rack on level 3 as suggested, and accepted the SOA’s automatic setting of 125°F for 12 hours.
For the sake of transparency, I admit I ended up pulling them after 4, due to a fear that my mounting electricity bill would end up surpassing money saved on mass market pet store treats. No knock on the Breville itself though: Even in a state of half hydration, my pup gave his potato chips two paws up.
Slow cooking a stew
If you’re comfy with the idea of leaving an electric element operating while you’re at work (we’ve never been especially at ease with the notion) then sure, the SOA can whip up a 4 to 74-hour stew with the best of them (and keep it warm for an additional 2 hours). My beef bourguignon was plenty delicious…especially since I made it on a Saturday when I could watch it like a hawk, and ensure some stray spark didn’t burn the entire apartment down.
Another fun extra (you can also purchase a pizza stone separately), this function delivered a crackly yet airy crust and an oozy cheesy topping, at surprisingly low temps (the Smart Oven Air recommends 375F, yet when we bake off pizzas in our conventional range, we generally crank that puppy as high as it will go).
Owe this to the six independent quartz heating elements, heralded by Breville as Element IQ. These focus the oven’s power according to what you’re cooking and the settings you select, delivering precise, stable temperatures both above and below your food.
Leftover sous chef
For all my grumbling about sacrificing my entire kitchen table to a single hulking machine, I did find myself turning to the SOA throughout the week for smaller tasks, all of which it performed admirably.
That day old wedge of chicken parm hero? I’d long given up on trying to revive sandwiches, which turn to chewy goop in the microwave and dried out bread coffins in the oven. Yet thanks to the Breville’s reheat function, the sub was quickly returned to its former glory.
That rando box of Trader Joe’s Marshmallow Pixie Pie mix? From perfectly blind baked graham cracker crust, to expertly set ‘mallo and sweet potato filling (contrary to what this post would have you believe, I don’t have a particular yen for yams), it produced a gold standard Pixie Pie (ok, I don’t think that’s really a thing).
So does the Breville Smart Oven Air make sense for your lifestyle? As we see it, it’s a good get for cooks at opposite ends of the spectrum. Kitchenless college students will become the envy of their dorm for their ability to whip up dishes other than Easy Mac. Similarly, homeowners with copious square footage in their kitchens can rely on the Breville as an extra oven.
In short, if you have a wedding registry to fill and/or counter space to burn, this just may be the (inessential) kitchen gadget of your dreams.