Sunbeam 4-Slice Toaster Oven

It is an interesting paradox that most toaster ovens are actually crap for making toast – usually the heating elements are spaced apart differently, and somehow the architecture of the whole thing conspires to make the toast dry and brittle even when you do manage to get it to cook evenly. I understand the appeal of the “double duty” concept, but I’ve pretty much resigned myself to having both a toaster and a toaster oven.

The Sunbeam 4-Slice Toaster Oven doesn’t break this trend. The best it will make for you is four slices of crap toast. Fortunately, I don’t evaluate toaster ovens for their toasting capacity, in spite of the fact that they are all sized by how many pieces of toast they can make. No, I evaluate them for a whole range of miscellaneous other odds and ends, from reheating leftovers to baking custom desserts up. Hell with toast, you can get a decent toaster for $5 or $10 at the Goodwill, or just get one through your local freecycling program.

Anyway, the Sunbeam 4-Slice is retailing for about $35, which is moderate pricing for a toaster oven of this size. The performance, unfortunately, isn’t a terrific value to match.

Let’s take bagel pizzas as an example, since this is a primary reason I own a toaster oven in the first place. I live in San Francisco, a city where even mediocre slices of pizza start at about three bucks and a whole small pie can’t be found for under fifteen, at the minimum. I like a good artisan pizza here and there but for the most part, when I have a pizza jones, a bagel with some sauce and mozzarella popped in the toaster oven will do the trick at something like one dollar or less for all the aggregate ingredients. The standard recipe is about 400 degrees for about ten minutes; unfortunately, even with feverish adjustments and experimentation, I cannot get the Sunbeam to brown the cheese before it starts burning the front portion of the bagel. The whole thing comes out cooked enough to be edible and taste decent, but it isn’t top notch by a long shot.

Uneven heating around the back and front edges seems to be a theme with the Sunbeam 4-Slice. Combine that with the fact that the mechanical timer only has a maximum of fifteen minutes, and you have to do more hovering over this thing than I really care to to ensure your food doesn’t come out sub-par. The timer is also totally mechanical and makes a light “tick tock tick tock” Captain Hook sort of noise as it counts down, which you might find either cute or annoying depending on your disposition.

If you can get one of these on a steep discount, in decent shape at a thrift store, or just free from someone, it does enough right to be workable. I mean, it doesn’t char hell out of food for the most part, doesn’t produce weird smells or start random fires. Generally, if you go with low heat for a longer period of time, it does a better job of even and thorough cooking. But if you just want it for quickie heats and reheats, it is far from the best choice and you’ll be better served by something more in the $50 range that has more advanced construction and sophisticated use of the heating elements. This one is OK for lengthy cooking projects, but you have to have a tolerance for experimentation and bits coming out over/undercooked, and thus I wouldn’t suggest relying on it for making food for guests. Also, a little too small for more than one person’s use as far as food quantity per meal.

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