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 spanakopita.
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.