The Tovala Smart Oven is a Wi-Fi connected, app-forward countertop oven that, paired with a pricey meal plan subscription, can cook up fresh, individual dishes for one in about 20 minutes or less.
A perfect companion to a small kitchen and busy schedule, the Smart Oven lets you pick your meals online, scan the barcode on the packaging and dig in. However, if you’re interested in creating your own recipes or cooking for more than one (you can order double portions, though that will up the price tag for the already-expensive meals) you may not need such a targeted smart appliance. And, if you don’t feel like spending the extra cash on a six-week meal delivery, the affordable $99 oven rockets to a less economical $250 — which no longer makes it a budget pick, especially compared to other countertop ovens and air fryers like our favorite, the $300 Cuisinart Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven.
To help you decide if this smart oven is for you, I prepared a week’s worth of Tovala’s gourmet meals using the Smart Oven. Here’s what you need to know before you get cooking.
The Tovala Smart Oven offers a simple, fresh meal delivery service for one and Wi-Fi connected, one-touch cooking. A great budget toaster oven if you order meals, it jumps to a pricier, less useful purchase if you're more interested in cooking from scratch. However, if you're looking to save time and energy, this countertop oven beats out supermarket frozen food and takeout.
What we liked about it
An app-based countertop oven for busy cooks
The Tovala app (available for iOS and Android) is non-negotiable for the Smart Oven because it’s where you sign up, pay for and order your meals. It also walks you through setting up your oven and even comes with access to a recipe base if you do, indeed, decide to cook from scratch. And if you need a recipe for air frying hot dogs (see below), this oven is definitely a win.
Once you download and sign into the app, it will completely control the Smart Oven as well, though you can still go OG with the appliance’s simple buttons (more below) or use its even handier barcode scanner. And, to keep you organized, the app will also send notifications to your phone about meal deliveries and give you a heads-up when your food is done cooking.
Smart oven, basic design
Because I live with my husband and two kids, I knew I wouldn’t necessarily use this oven the way it’s intended — to offer a tastier, 21st-century version of the lone TV dinner. And, because I love to cook for my family, I was skeptical of the simple smart oven premise. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how incredibly easy and fast it was to use when paired with the meal delivery service.
The point is to take most of the prep work out of preparing fresh food while simultaneously making it tastier and healthier than the prepared meals you can grab in a supermarket. Not only do you not have to follow a complicated recipe, but you don’t need to fiddle with the temperature, figure out a cooking mode or consider how long to cook it for. This is, simply put, dinner for dummies.
he new Smart Oven, which launched this year, is a neutral putty color in contrast to the Smart Oven Pro’s soft gray finish. It has a glass window to watch your food cook, a panel of touch controls on one side and a barcode scanner on the top right.
Super-simple meal subscription and preparation
Because the meal subscription service is an integral part of the company’s philosophy, there’s not much point in purchasing this oven without ordering at least some of the meals. And, as mentioned above, in order to get the oven for $99, you have to commit to ordering six meals. I ordered eight to get started.
Though you can get a meal for as low as $10, the average price is $13 per serving (depending on ingredients, prices do vary). Which is about what you’d pay if you were ordering in. You can start at four weekly meals for $52 and shipping is a flat $10. Once you subscribe, you can easily go back and change the frequency or even skip or pause your meals depending on your schedule.
I chose an array of meals to try out, including four chicken dishes, one filet mignon (which added a few dollars to my delivery price), some meatballs, a beef and rice bowl and one vegetarian option. Each meal comes in a tidy cardboard box with a set of instructions and a bar code, though the corresponding protein is vacuum packaged separately.
Making the meals was a snap. Everything is already cut and portioned, and any sauces or condiments you need come in handy, individual packets. I had my teen try making them on his own, and my 16-year-old was charmed by how easy it was to assemble the meal and throw it in the oven — then just scan the barcode and wait for his dinner. As mentioned, you can use the app to start the oven, but there is something strangely satisfying about holding that barcode under the scanner and watching it go to work.
The food is good. It’s not restaurant quality, but it’s more appealing than a frozen dinner. Though if you’re watching calories or salt, you may want to check the nutrition list online before you order specific meals — my Italian Meatballs with Roasted Red Peppers and Potato Wedges was a whopping 720 calories and contained 45 grams of fat, with nearly 2,000 grams of salt (compare that to a Big Mac, which has 540 calories, 25 grams of fat and just over 1,000 grams of salt).
What we didn’t like about it
It’s not great for cooking out of the box
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive toaster oven for all kinds of food and types of cooking, the Tovala is not the best choice. And no, you can’t go to the supermarket and pick out a Tovala meal. There is a list of food under the “Groceries” tab in the app if you want to grab something from brands like Amy’s, DiGiorno or Trader Joe’s, but at that point, you may as well use your microwave.
The oven itself is smaller than the $449 GE Cafe Couture Oven with Air Fryer I usually have on my countertop and it comes with a lot fewer bells and whistles. Though this austerity may be better for the prepared meal subscribers, it’s not as helpful if you’re making food from scratch or cooking for a larger group.
Oh air fryer, wherefore art thou?
Though this newer oven is billed as an air fryer, I realized after I received the meals that none of them used this feature. At least I don’t think they did, because it doesn’t tell you what it’s doing when it’s cooking. It just does.
Tovala addressed this by responding. “The air fryer is not actually compatible with Tovala meals at the time, it’s only meant to be used for other items you might want to air fry.” Like hot dogs, apparently.
You better have space in your fridge
Here’s something I didn’t consider before I signed up for my meal plan: Where exactly do I store eight individual boxes of food in my fridge? I ended up having to completely rearrange things to stack them, then put the proteins in the freezer. If you have a small kitchen and even smaller refrigerator, you may want to consider this before you order more than four meals at a time.
Of course, if your fridge is empty because you don’t cook for yourself, the Smart Oven is a perfect fit.
The Tovala Smart Ovenand accompanying meal plan are a time-saving way to enjoy fresh food at home. Assembling the meals is simple, and you can choose to use the app or the strangely gratifying bar scanner to cook without any further instructions.
Of course, if you don’t feel like paying at least $52 a week for a minimum of four meals, that inexpensive $69 oven goes up to $250, and you’re better off with a basic toaster oven/air fryer like the Hamilton Beach Sure-Crisp for just $100 with no strings attached. And if you are a more adventurous home cook, you may want something larger and more versatile, like our pick, the KitchenAid Digital Countertop Oven with Air Fry ($200).
But if you simply want to cook your own food with almost no effort, prep work or clean-up, the Smart Oven is, well, a smart choice. Even my 16-year-old, who spends more time waiting on line at Chipotle than making his own meals, appreciated Tovala’s ease of use and minimal mess.
So, how was the food? “It’s good, mom, but I’d rather eat your cooking.” Music to my ears, but for him, it’s certainly a step up from takeout.