Dial vs Digital Toaster Ovens

There are two main groups of toaster ovens – dial-operated and digital. Each one comes with its own pros and cons and different people have different preferences of how their toaster oven should operate. Generally, the smaller units will work with dials. There are a few compact digital toaster ovens but they are far fewer in number compared to their presence in the 6-slice units and above categories.

Pros And Cons Of Both Models

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Firstly, let’s look at the dial-operated units. They do have a few advantages over the digital models. They include:

  1. Simple to understand – A typical model will have 3 knobs for you to manipulate. The Black & Decker TO1303SB is one example. These knobs will control the cooking function, temperature and timer/toast shade. There is really nothing complicated about its operations out of the box as you just need to rotate the dials to your desired selection and the oven will heat up.
  2. Cheaper – The cost of dial-operated toaster ovens tends to be cheaper than digital ones. You can easily get a dial-operated 4-slice toaster oven for less than $30. In fact, the Proctor Silex model sells for about $20 most of the time while the cheapest digital models will be about 3 to 4 times that amount.
  3. Basic – Not everyone needs a full-fledged oven on their countertop. Some only need it for simple meals like reheating leftovers and baking frozen pizzas. You don’t need a digital model for basic tasks as those usually have a few more functions to justify the higher cost.

The disadvantages are:

  1. Lacks precision – Because of the nature of dials, you won’t be able to be precise when it comes to adjusting the temperature and timer. For instance, if the timer only has 10-minute interval markings on the control panel, you can only estimate how far to rotate the dial to achieve a 7-minute cooking time.
  2. Inconsistent toast results – This is another typical problem of dial-operated toaster ovens. Because the dials lack precision, it is hard to get the toast shade to be consistent from one cycle to the next. On some models like the Hamilton Beach 31334, the radius between light and dark is also so small that even a slight difference in the dial position may result in vast differences in the toast shade.
  3. Timer ticks – Some users will find this to be annoying. Because of the mechanical nature of dials, most of the models will have a ticking sound when the timer is counting down.
  4. Difficult to rotate – Not all dial-operated units have this issue but some do have stiff dials that are difficult to turn. This is a problem especially for older folks. The timer too tends to require you to turn it clockwise past the 10 or 20-minute mark before rotating it anti-clockwise again to set countdowns for short cooking cycles of less than 10 minutes.

Digital toaster ovens do have their benefits over their dial-operated counterparts. These are as follows:

  1. Precise setting – Like the Cuisinart TOB-195, you can use the up and down arrows to set the time and temperature for a cooking cycle. So, you can see the exact settings that you have keyed in rather than relying on the closest estimate as you would have to do with a dial-operated unit. Some digital models like the Breville BOV650XL Compact use a knob control instead of arrow keys but with a digital display panel, the settings are clearly shown as you rotate it.
  2. More functions – The Cuisinart TOB-260 Chef’s Convection toaster oven, for example, has 15 cooking functions. It also has a Dual Cook mode for you to combine two cooking steps like bake and keep warm or to key in two different temperatures for a dish. Only digital models can offer more possibilities for those who are looking for better convenience.
  3. One-touch cooking – One-touch cooking is another practical feature that only a digital toaster oven can offer. Think of those with kids who like to heat up their own snacks. One-touch cooking will be helpful in this case and it is also a great help when you are in a hurry. The Panasonic Flash Xpress would be a fine example of a compact digital toaster oven with one-touch cooking.

While there are benefits, there are also drawbacks to having a digital unit:

  1. Expensive – The cheapest digital toaster oven is probably the 6-slice Black & Decker CTO6335S which is selling for about $60 to 70 at the time of writing. The Breville BOV450XL which is a mini smart oven will set you back about $150 and this is only a compact 4-slice model.
  2. Display screen fades – Over time, the display may fade and you will have problems deciphering the wordings on the electronic screen. On some models, the screen is also not illuminated that it is difficult to read the settings when it gets a little dark.
  3. Keypads/Buttons fail – The keypads or buttons may lack sensitivity and you may have to press them hard to get them to register a change after a period of time.

Which Toaster Oven Should You Buy – Dial Or Digital?

For normal home use cooking for a small family, we personally would prefer a digital toaster oven. We would think that by the time the LCD screen fades and the keypad fails, it would probably be a few years down the road and time to get a replacement. We would have gotten our money’s worth out of it then. We also prefer digital because we like better control for our toasts and to have a more consistent toast shade result each time. We don’t like sitting and watching our bread while they are toasting and we don’t mind paying more for this convenience with a more precise setting. 

So, which model to buy is a matter of need and preference. Even the best toaster ovens, whether dial-operated or digital, would have their weaknesses. If you are not using it much other than for reheating meals, then a lack of precision may not exactly be a major problem and you can get away with a cheaper dial-operated toaster oven. But if you have old people at home with difficulty turning knobs, then obviously a one-touch digital model may be easier for them to work with.

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