I love my toaster oven. It's been rebranded in the last few years, so you might have heard it called convection ovens or countertop ovens. Along with my microwave, it's saved me from many starving nights as a college student. But sometimes, a microwave can feel like you're not really making "real food." It was a gateway appliance to making me more comfortable to use the stove and oven.
It's more powerful since it uses more energy and is meant to be used for longer periods of time, but I've found that most toaster ovens these days are multi-functional and can even act as mini ovens or camping ovens. There are so many recipes that become accessible to you with a toaster oven, depending on the kind that you get.
What Can a Toaster Oven Do?
The typical power consumption of a toaster oven during use is 1,200 to 1,400 watts, according to an Energy Star Scoping Report. Most all toaster ovens can 'bake,' 'toast,' and keep 'food' warm by intensely heating the outside with wire coils to better brown your food. On the side note, Ovens with 500 degress should handle any task, while those with low wattage are meant for more basic cooking.
So, does all this basically sound like a regular oven? If you think so, that's because you're right. Even basic toaster ovens use about ⅓ to ½ the amount of energy of a regular conventional oven when cooking small meals and take up much less space, to boot. And honestly, if you're looking for more well-rounded meals, there are higher-end options on the market that can also do that for you, with more specific functions than just 'toast.'
Today, depending on the brand, you can even dehydrate food in a toaster oven by higher-end lines like Breville or Ninja Food. Brands like Black-n-Decker or Cuisinart generally have one or two extra functions like 'broil' to better brown the tops of microwave dinners but should not be used for prolonged use.
Settings to Try on your Toaster Oven
Bake. Your toaster oven will usually bake faster than your oven. That being said, it will do it faster, and it might be easier to burn. Until you know your toaster oven well enough, just get used to watching it every few minutes. This also means it is more prone to uneven cooking and hot spots, so if you find one spot getting burned more often, be sure to turn your cooking rack.
Broil. Broil is hotter than the bake setting and is usually only meant to add golden brown color at the end of cooking. This is great for mac and cheese and casseroles, and sometimes pizza (see ovens for 4 slices).
Air Fry. Air Fry is a great function because it gets hotter than broil and brings back to life any take-out fried or crispy foods I might have brought home. It can definitely help with browning overall while circulating are so your food has extra crispy skin.
Frozen. This is a lower temperature setting than the others on a toaster oven, much like your microwave. Unlike a microwave, I've found it defrosts frozen pizza and my food more evenly and avoids cooking one part while leaving the other raw, provided you turn it as you're watching it.
How Much Will a Toaster Oven Cost?
The more a toaster oven is, the more functionalities I've found it provides. I grew up with a non-specific brand of toaster oven which probably could have baked cookies but really was a glorified toaster for my bread. But the one I have today, the Breville Smart Oven, has greatly increased my quality of life cooking as a single person living in a tiny apartment with minimal kitchen space (as in, I do not have a conventional oven).
Advantages of a Toaster Oven
Toaster ovens are like having a starter oven in your apartment. They are perfect for someone like a college student or someone renting a small space, for the following reasons.
Bake small batches. Having had both a traditional oven and toaster oven, I found myself going towards the toaster oven more for things like warming cookies and little things. I could also make them and small cakes with mine! Definitely not for a large party but enough for a modest crowd. This also helps keep portion sizes for me in control, so I only make a few cookies at a time.
There is less clean-up. Small space, small mess. Unlike in an oven, where you have to crouch to clean every bit of splatter, a toaster oven doesn't produce nearly as much mess and requires far less cleanup time than a toaster oven.
Baking is quick. That cake I mentioned came together in under an hour. Just be careful, though, that if you don’t check on it every few minutes towards the end, it can overcook. Like all cooking, though, after the first few times, I now have it memorized how long I need to bake my cake in it to reach a golden, fluffy perfection. Don't forget to have a cake tester on hand to check.
It doubles as an air fryer. You don't need to throw down a lot of money for a nice toaster oven that has the ability to air fry food. Before the air fryer was a thing, people could use a toaster oven! I've been using mine to reheat takeaway food, and it's greatly improved after sitting in someone's car for 30 minutes getting to me.
Pre-heating time cut in half. The most tedious part of baking has to be waiting for it to preheat. With a toaster oven, that time is cut in half due to its compact size, which Mini Smart oven from Breville is the great example of. On the other hand, for more demanding cooking larger toster ovens are probably the ones to stick with. These are huge reason why I love using toaster ovens so much. Most of the inconvenience of an oven is waiting for it to heat up in the first place, and by then, I'm not interested in using it anymore. Besides cakes and crumbles, I've been able to bake meals with it now, as well.
Cooking in Toaster Ovens
I have found I've gotten very creative these last few years living without a conventional oven. I've been able to replicate toaster oven recipes that require one with my toaster oven and can confidently say you could make a four-course meal with a toaster oven (and may some help with a stovetop depending on what you like to eat).
I'm not even the first one to do it! There are plenty of resources and recipes online that show you the ease at which using a toaster oven can be. I included some of the more challenging foods and what I take into consideration when I am cooking with them.
Higher-end toaster ovens, or convection ovens, often have functions that include cooking meat. For example, I've been able to cook sausages and bratwurst with functions like 'roast' or 'bake.' I've even been successful with ribs and chicken in a fancier toaster oven. You'll notice a lot more splashes on the back of the toaster oven, especially while you're baking, but I like to wipe it clean between uses like this to keep it clean.
Roast Your Veggies
Arguably, the point of convenience in cooking really shines when it comes to roasting vegetables. Things that usually require a large roasting pan can now be done for single or double servings in half the time, depending on the strength of your oven. A convection oven or just a stronger toaster oven is what you should look for if you want to start doing more involved cooking. But just season your veggies accordingly, pop it in the toaster oven, and voila! Your dinner is ready!
This may be a two-step process, depending on what you put in your casserole. In my experience, if there is any pasta involved, it's probably better to do a little stovetop cooking first before using your toaster oven. The only restriction for making protein-like chicken or anything large like a casserole is the size of the oven: just make sure your dish can fit inside your chicken. I've found that toaster ovens broil casseroles beautifully! If you are experimenting with more liquid foods like casseroles or pies, I would recommend lining your trays with aluminum foil or parchment paper to avoid mess. In general, You will just see more mess with something like a toaster oven because it is, of course, smaller and easier to see.
Surprise Things Most Toaster Ovens Can Cook
Just to give an idea of the variety of food you can cook with a toaster oven, here are some of the things I've made in mine:
- Roast chicken
- roasted potatoes
- pizza (both frozen and from scratch)
- chocolate chip cookies (and baked goods in general)
- baked and broiled fish
- hot sandwiches (like a meatball sandwich and meatballs, from scratch!)
- a small pie!
- zucchini and banana bread
The consensus, when asked if you can bake in a toaster oven, the answer is yes! You definitely can. Not only can you simply reheat or toast food, but you can also have fully cooked food at the end of the day. But how much is up to you? There are so many on the market these days that are meant to fit all price points.
If this ends up being the right fit, there are sure to be plenty of options to choose from. If you've never been introduced to cooking food that requires more steps, a toaster oven might be a great start. It was helpful for me to have a smaller appliance to learn the ins and outs of baking and more involved cooking like lasagna. It's helped me feel more confident in the kitchen.