I Tried the First-Ever Smart Oven That Prepares a Home-Cooked Meal in Under 25 Minutes Minus the Fuss (or Dirty Dishes)

Photo: Tovala
In 1989, Back to the Future Part II predicted what home cooking would look like in 2015. Their vision of a Black & Decker Hydrator—that could instantly zap a dehydrated pizza into a family-sized pie in 12 seconds—isn’t all that dissimilar to what many modern-day countertop appliances look like. But these days, technology meant to expedite cooking for busy folks is arguably even better, and more nutritious, than what they had in mind.

Take the Tovala Smart Oven. IMO, it's the perfect hybrid between convenience and quality for home cooks. Tovala, which launched in 2017, is a company that creates countertop smart ovens that cook chef-crafted foods with the scan of a QR code (in 25 minutes or less). Just this year, they launched their brand new, Wi-Fi-enabled Tovala Smart Oven (currently on sale for $49; typically it’s $249), which I had the pleasure of testing out.

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Honestly, I’m impressed with how it's able to make cooking easier without compromising on flavor or nutrition. What’s more, I had the chance to catch up with David Rabie, co-founder and CEO of Tovala, who shared about the company’s mission to help facilitate cooking suited for any lifestyle.

tovala smart oven on table
Photo: Tovala
Tovala Smart Oven — $49.00

Originally $249, now $49

How Tovala hopes to make cooking as easy as the push of a button

Usually, the best ideas come from having to fix a problem in your own life, which was the case for Rabie, who came up with the concept for Tovala's smart oven while attending business school at the University of Chicago. “I didn't have time to cook anymore, and I didn't feel like any of the alternatives kind of matched up to home cooking,” he says. “I wanted food where I could see the ingredients, like the raw ingredients that were going into my food. I wanted food that would taste great, but also make my home smell nice and come out really hot and, more importantly, uniformly hot."

What makes Tovala unique from other ovens is the “smart” component. Through their delivery service, you can choose from weekly, mostly-prepped meals—with tasty and comforting options such as Italian wedding soup or buffalo chicken sandwiches—that involve minimal steps (like adding a sauce or seasoning) and then scan a QR code that identifies the meal instantly and cooks it on an automated cycle for that specific recipe. Real smart, eh?

tovala smart oven scan
Photo: Tovala

I tried the Tovala Smart Oven and was seriously impressed by its technology

I love nothing more than eating something freshly prepared in my own kitchen. That said, finding the time in my busy schedule to cook an entire meal isn’t always possible (or something I want to do when I’m exhausted from a long work day). Usually, this results in spending way too much money on healthy delivery food services and takeout. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with ordering from your favorite local Italian spot five days a week (if your wallet can afford it), but there are times when I want a simple, home-cooked meal like the ones my mother made while I growing up.

I was hoping the Tovala smart oven could bridge the gap with its selection of meals for the week. I chose four delicious options to make from their website (or mobile app). On average, they're about $10 per meal. This included single-serving portions of a bacon cheddar ranch chicken melt with mashed potatoes and crispy onions, a Mediterranean roasted chicken with lemon feta green beans and brown rice, and, from their list of vegetarian-friendly options, a sweet pea risotto with basil vinaigrette and lemon parmesan green beans. I also got a two-serving order of cheese-stuffed shells with Italian sausage ragù. All four meals came individually packaged in compact square boxes with the already prepped ingredients and a recipe card designed by their culinary team equipped with a scannable QR code.

Though all four recipes were delicious, ready in 25 minutes or less, and tasted like any other home-cooked meal, I’ll delve into my experience cooking the cheese-stuffed shells (my favorite). In the box for this meal came two small aluminum containers filled with stuffed shells, two packages of individually-portioned marinara, and two servings of parmesan. I opted for making both meals at the same time. (The Tovala can fit up to four of their standard-size meal trays at once.) The instructions included four simple steps broken down into three categories: prep, scan, and enjoy.

To prep the shells, I simply had to remove the plastic film and pour the marinara over them. Next, I put the trays in the oven, scanned the recipe QR, and the oven did the rest. It knew the exact time and temperature to cook the meal—no fussing (or stirring) necessary. *Mind blown.* Once the buzzer dinged, it was time to enjoy, which meant removing the food from the oven, transferring it to a serving bowl, and sprinkling it with the parmesan cheese.

And that was seriously it. I found the whole experience seamless and beyond easy for even the least technologically savvy individual (plus, it’s grandparent-approved by Rabie’s relatives, too). The shells were evenly cooked, tasted fresh, and were perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Although Tovala’s chef-curated meals are a definite win in my book, what I love even more is that the company has an entire library of over a thousand frozen grocery items that apply the same technology—it's also available in their six-in-one convection oven Tovala Smart Oven Pro model.

Their machines are also able to scan barcodes of foods from other popular grocery store brands like Annie’s Homegrown, as well as more than 180 items from Trader Joe’s. (Yup, their cauliflower gnocchi are on there.) So, for example, you can pop in a frozen DiGiorno pizza, scan it, and let the Tovala cook it to perfection. It truly doesn’t get much easier.

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