With a roast filling the oven and side dishes on every burner, a holiday host can quickly run out of space cooking a meal with all the trimmings. But with some creative use of small countertop appliances, you can coordinate your dinner so that everything is ready at the same time. Many of today's microwaves and toaster ovens have improved cooking capabilities, and warming trays have given way to induction burners that can be used to cook as well as serve. Here are some holiday hints and helpers from the experts at Consumer Reports.

Don't blow it: Before plugging in your high-wattage helpers, make sure they are running on separate circuits or at least not at the same time. You don't want to trip a breaker just as your guests are gathering around the table.

Microwaves
The most basic microwave can be used to reheat casseroles and side dishes made in advance. But a microwave with a convection mode is far more versatile and can be used to brown and crisp food. In our tests, the Samsung MC11H6033CT, $300, which has a convection function, got very good marks for heating and defrosting evenness. It also has a grill and a speed-cook function, which come in handy. You can even make a cake in a microwave like the one above.

Toaster Ovens
A large toaster oven can serve as a second oven. Use one to bake muffins or bread and to warm up pie for dessert. Several of the toaster ovens in our tests have convection heating, which manufacturers claim is faster and cooks more evenly. At least one model, the Panasonic FlashXpress NB-G110P, $110, also has speedy infrared heating.

The Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 31230, $100, a midpriced toaster oven, provides very good overall performance, especially when it comes to broiling. The interior is large enough to accommodate a 4-pound chicken, though in our tests the built-in thermometer wasn't as accurate as the Set & Forget label might lead you to believe.


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Induction Burners
Countertop induction burners are basically high-tech hot plates. They provide additional cooking space in kitchens that need it. They plug into standard 120V 15-amp outlets, so they're limited by their electrical supply, providing less heat than what you'll find with induction cooktops or ranges, which use 240V 50-amp supply circuits. Still, the burners use magnetic coils to heat more quickly and efficiently than conventional electric hot plates by sending most of the heat to the pan rather than to the cooking surface. But they work only with magnetic cookware.

The induction burners in our tests were all ceramic glass, didn't get as hot as standard radiant cooktop burners, and were easy to clean and easier to keep clean because they don't burn spilled food as readily. For typical cooking tasks, they offer plenty of power above and beyond what a standard hot plate can offer.

Food Processors
If you are mashing potatoes or squash, move the cooked veggies from the pot to a food processor. Pulse to get them to the right consistency, but don't overmix. Then place the food in a serving dish for reheating later. You can also purée winter squash soup. Three of the five recommended food processors in our tests were very good at puréeing, including a Breville, a Cuisinart and an Oster. Our top-rated machine is the Breville Sous Chef BFP800XL/A, $400, which was superb at chopping, slicing, shredding, and grating. And for all its power and performance, it’s surprisingly quiet.  

Coffee Makers
To save time after dinner, make coffee ahead of time and store it in a thermos. All the better if you already have a thermal carafe. In our tests, none of the recommended models comes with a thermal carafe, though the recommended Mr. Coffee BVMC-SJX33GT, $40, has one you can purchase separately. Several other models in our coffee-maker tests come with that feature, including the Panasonic NC-ZF1, $200.

If time isn't a concern, use a single-serve coffee maker to brew everyone an individual cup of coffee. Of the five top models in our pod coffee-maker tests, three are from DeLonghi Nescafé and range from $130 to $150. For Starbucks lovers, there's the Starbucks Verismo 600, $150. For less, you can buy the Hamilton Beach FlexBrew 49988, $80.