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If you have never tried a toaster oven - or tried one and been unsatisfied - there's no better time than now to try again. All the useful features from past models are still available, with many new ones that bring these appliances completely up to date. That may sound like sales talk, but read a little further and then decide for yourself.

A contemporary toaster oven will save electricity. It's smaller and therefore you can heat the interior and maintain it for much less power than a full-sized electric oven. A toaster oven typically requires only one-half to as little as one-third the amount of a conventional oven.

More important to many busy chefs is how much faster they heat. A full-sized unit may take 10-15 minutes to rise to 350F. A good toaster oven will do that in three, sometimes faster.

In times past, evenness was sometimes a problem when using a toaster oven. No longer. Intelligent technology in heating elements, superior insulation, and a better understanding of cooking has solved that problem.

Sure, there are cheap models out there still that do a lousy job. But a good one can apply heat to the elements selectively to give you a great top and bottom on the toast and keep the inside moist. Or, they can cook your casserole evenly throughout. Equally great, they can do so without heating the entire kitchen, a very welcome fact in mid-summer.

Many combine all that with a convection feature. That not only helps ensure evenness but speeds up cooking still more, usually around 30% compared to a full-sized oven. That's not quite as fast as a microwave oven but a toaster oven handles a much wider range of recipes.

Controls have gotten "the modern treatment", too. That is, there are toaster ovens that feature touchpad controls almost as good as your phone. There are others that still use dials, which make setting preset programs, the time and/or temperature a breeze. No multiple taps or holding down a button forever.

However they do it, a good toaster oven will allow for plenty of those programs. A few lesser models still do nothing much beyond Bake, Broil, and Defrost. But many offer specialized settings for Pizza, Waffle, Rolls, and the ubiquitous Toast, of course, that gives them their name.

Even so, a good one will still allow you to tailor the settings as needed. Some have the intelligence to remember your personalized time, temperature, or shade preferences. Set it once for toast or chicken the way you like it and the next time around one press does it.

Toaster ovens are typically easier to clean as well. Apart from more accessible non-stick interiors and stainless steel exteriors, they typically have removable crumb and/or drip trays. Make toast or steak and you can remove the tray and clean it up in the sink or dishwasher.

Lower cost and time savings, flexible and easy-to-use controls, and much easier cleanup are all good reasons to buy a toaster oven. Check out some models and see for yourself!