Toaster ovens are objects of fascination and obsession in certain circles, a phenomenon I appreciate and observe with curiosity. I do not own one, but their fans’ dedication is easy to understand. Not only do these countertop marvels toast, but they’re compact, great for prepping dinners for one or two, and are perfect for a quick reheat and eat. We used the tiny Black + Decker my folks had when I was a kid to make English muffin pizzas and tuna melts, but it was a clear novelty item in Mom’s kitchen. As an adult, the itch to scooch one up next to the microwave has never materialized in my household.
A new offering from Zojirushi known as the Micom Toaster Oven (ET-ZLC30) threatened to tip the balance, though. I’ve admired the company since the day I got married (or thereabouts), when we received a rice cooker that I snuck onto our wedding registry. (Thanks Ruthie!) That sucker’s been cooking away at our place ever since, somehow completely unfazed by a decade of heavy use. I love that even though the model we own doesn’t exist anymore, I can still get replacement parts. So Zojirushi’s sleek new toaster oven made me hopeful, and I called one in to review.
Unlike the brushed stainless-steel competition, this one is black with a reflective glass door. While it appears a bit short and squat, it has a generous interior, with square-foot pans and 5 inches between the lower rack and the elements above. It clocks in at $220, just a hair less than the top-rated competition.
What struck me as funny were the two peculiar pans it comes with. I couldn’t make heads or tails of them. They are 12 x 12-inch squares, yes, but with intentionally domed bottoms—with the center of the pan rising almost half an inch higher than the edges. A company representative told me this was to keep them from bowing in the heat, and I’m sure that’s true, but that sure is a weird thing to do with a sheet pan. Outside the domed griddles around the world which are used to cook flatbreads and lamejun, I don’t often run across recipes calling for food to be cooked on top of a hot orb. In team Zojirushi’s eyes, this is not a bug, but a feature, and I wondered why they didn’t just make a flatter, sturdier pan.
Still, there’s a charming basic-ness to this straightforward oven. Everything is controlled with a dial, two buttons (one of which is just the on/off for the oven light), and a no-nonsense display. Along with toast, bake, broil, and roast, there are settings for cooking pizza, reheating leftovers, proofing bread, and keeping food warm. While a few of the newer toaster ovens take advantage of the air-fryer fad, this one doesn’t.
I emailed chef Alison Mountford at Ends + Stems and asked if she’d send some recipes to help put the Zoji through its paces. Ends + Stems is a service that plans out your meals and grocery list for the coming week while helping reduce food waste. The company’s whole tell-me-what-to-eat thing is a hit at my house now that we’re cooking almost every meal at home, thanks to the pandemic.
Mountford sent a list of recipes. Among them were slow-roasted salmon, teriyaki tofu and green beans, chicken parm, tomato pie, and spanikopita.
Using my own (non-domed) pans, the oven skated right through these recipes, doing well enough that it allowed me to just pay attention to the basic tasks of making a meal, as if it had been on my counter for years. I got to remember how much I like the technique of cooking salmon at a low temperature, requiring no attention at all while I got the rest of dinner together, and every portion coming out in about 15 minutes with that near-custardy, just-cooked texture. On another night, I realized that even if you get the store-bought dough, spanakopita is a lot of work. Then again, when I smooshed it into the quarter-sheet pan, I fell in love with the results. Breaded chicken cutlets (I used thighs) with crushed tomatoes and a big dollop of mozzarella make a fantastic, low-effort weeknight chicken parm.
There was, unfortunately, a snafu with the tofu. Instead of baking the stuff, Moutford suggested broiling it, to see if the oven could muster the necessary oomph to crisp the top of the slabs. It couldn’t. Wimpy broilers are a common toaster-oven hangup, but the better results I hoped for with the Zojirushi weren’t happening.
For some further testing, I pulled out my ThermoWorks Smoke thermometer, set its probe on a stand just above the top of one of the Zojirushi pans, set the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and fired it up. It got up to temperature in less than five minutes—pleasingly quick—then kept right on sailing up to 460 at the seven-minute mark. That overshoot is not unheard of on a preheat, but almost 100 degrees is, uh, quite a lot.
Once 15 minutes had gone by, the temperature had stabilized between 409 and 414, a surprising 40-ish degrees over. I tried swapping trays and tucking my own quarter-sheet pan in there, and at 9.5 x 13 inches, it was such a tight fit that I could imagine the same pan from another brand bumping against the door. Importantly, unlike the pans that come with the oven, it also left a little more than an inch on either side of the pan for air to circulate. Here, the results were much closer to target, with a post-preheat high of 430 degrees at the eight-minute mark, then spending the rest of the hour a couple of degrees north or south of 390.
Things got weirder when I made toast, most notably when I found the following line in the manual: The TOAST function is designed to toast the bottom of the bread lightly. Despite being in the appliance name, toast is relatively tricky for toaster ovens, notably because of the larger distance from the heating elements to the bread surfaces, relative to the slot in a toaster’s snug interior. This means slices tend to need to be in the oven longer, which dries out the toast a bit more than the Sunbeam would. It also means a slice in the front might get a bit more color than a slice in the back.
I found the Zojirushi’s toasting abilities not perfect, but fine, and I liked how you can dial up a little more time if it’s not as dark as you like it. The whole “lighter on the bottom” thing was peculiar; why not make a slot for the toasting rack just a little lower? But in reality it didn’t bug me very much. (If you listen closely right now, you can hear the toast-aficionado mafia blowing a gasket.)
Finally, I cooked a whole chicken, barely hitting a speed bump on the way. I was happy I could do it at all, considering I thought I was going to have to spatchcock the bird and splay it out on the pan. Instead, I trussed it and cooked a 4-pounder whole on the top of my quarter-sheet pan. It would have been nice to tuck a tiny rack under it, but I tried and learned that’s a larger oven’s game. With a bit of coddling, the chicken came out well enough that instead of sitting down to lunch, I ate on my feet, putting away a leg and thigh while standing over the cutting board.
I liked cooking with Zojirushi’s new oven, though perhaps not quite enough to change the way I cook without one. But for those in the market for a capable new toaster oven who are willing to shell out an additional 10 or 20 bucks for a quarter-sheet pan or two, this one will do you right.