If you like bread then you would probably love bread toast as well. There are chances that you may even own a toaster oven as well. You may have wondered how does a toaster oven work?
In the most basics of answers, a toaster oven workings using three essential components: a heating element to heat up the cooking chamber, a thermostat to control the temperature, and a timer to control the cooking time.
Toasters ovens are much more than just mere appliances for toasting breads. These are literally mini regular ovens that can bake (see ‘Can You Bake in a Toaster Oven?‘), broil and roast complex meals for you – this KitchenAid’s 2-in-1 oven is a great example of it.
Many even prefer toaster ovens over microwave oven for reheating due to its direct heat method that cooks from the outside to inside (see ‘How Long to Reheat Pizza in Toaster Oven‘). Hence it can retain the original taste especially for baked or roasted food products.
With that said, let us now review how this appliance works by dissecting its components.
What is a Toaster Oven?
The toaster oven is an electrical kitchen appliance that works almost like a regular oven. The key difference you may notice is the size.
Toaster ovens are generally smaller than regular ovens and as a result, have slightly different uses. Whereas a regular oven can cook an entire meal, toaster ovens are only capable of handling smaller portions of food at a time.
It has also been implied that a toaster oven is aptly named because it is a cross between a toaster and a regular oven – see this cutting-edge Breville Mini Smart Oven.
Read in Detail: What is a Toaster Oven
History of the Toaster Oven
The invention of the first electric toaster, the forefather of the ones we use today, dates back to the year 1893 and is attributed to a Scotsman named Alan MacMasters.
The device was then mass-produced in Britain under the Crompton Company and despite being revolutionary at the time, still faced many issues like the heating element would melt and destroy the oven.
In 1910, an American named William Hadaway invented the toaster oven in collaboration with the Westinghouse Corporation.
After over a century of use and development, the toaster oven has evolved to incorporate many functions and a lot of controls.
You now have more flexibility with how you cook along with several other advantages that we will see shortly.
The one key invention that made toaster ovens possible was the invention of the resistance coil commonly known as heating elements. The pioneer here was the Albert Marsh who constructed an alloy using nickle and chromium.
Without the heating elements, compact toaster ovens, as we know them today, would not have been possible.
Read in Detail: History of Toaster Ovens
How Does a Toaster Oven Work?
In a nutshell, a toaster oven works just the same way as a regular oven would, but on a much smaller scale as compared to the latter.
While you can find regular ovens with different fuel sources i.e wood or natural gas fired ovens, toaster ovens only work via electricity.
They employ the use of heating elements made out of different materials.
A heating elements is coil, ribbon or a strip that converts electrical energy into heat. They are highly resistive material and as such do not melt or disintegrate when an electrical current passes through them. Instead they heat up producing radiant heat.
Conductors vs Insulators
To understand how heating elements works, it will be worth it brush up some of the electrical terminologies.
An electrical conductor is a material that can easily pass an electircal current through. Copper is a good example of an electrical conductor.
An insulator is a material that does not easily carry electrical current through. Dry wood is an example of an insulator.
Both conductors and insulators have an electrical parameter called resistance. Resistance is the ability of a material to ‘block’ the flow of electrical current.
Conductors have low resistance whereas insulator have a high resistance.
One property of insulators is that while they do not let the electricity go past easily, the do heat up A LOT when connected to an electrical source.
In the case of bulbs and oven heating elements, a material with a high resistance is used. The brightening of the bulb or the red glow of the heating element that you witness is basically the material heating up due to it resisting the flow of electrical current.
Types of Toaster Ovens and How They Work
When you get into it, there are several different types of toaster ovens and they each serve the same purpose but use different means to get the job done.
1. Regular Toaster Ovens
These are your good old budget toaster ovens that only employ heating elements and no other supporting technology to heat up the food.
Regular toaster ovens are generally small and not ideal for family sized meals preparation.
Also Read: Best Mini Toaster Ovens
2. Convection Toaster Oven
A convection toaster oven uses a fan to circulate hot air to cook the food inside. Air is first heated by heating element and through the process of convection, this heat is transferred to the food.
These toaster ovens are good for cooking dishes that require even heating from all corners like roasted chicken.
Some convection toaster ovens also come with dual fans or powerful singe fan that can blow a higher volume of hot air inside thus practically giving it the ability to air fry, too (see Breville BOV900BSS). There are also those that combine microwave and convection ovens, like this air fryer from Galanz, but they are much rarer.
One issue with convection toaster ovens is that you may to adjust your recipes to a lower temperature and cooking timer if it is based on regular oven cooking style.
Convection toaster ovens can cook food more evenly and in much less time as compared to regular toaster ovens, making them ideal for fast meals like frozen pizzas.
The short cooking times also mean that you get better energy savings when using convection toaster ovens making it less demanding on your electricity bills.
3. The Rotisserie Toaster Oven
A rotisserie is a cooking appliance that has a rotating component that is used for roasting meat like a chicken.
These devices are quite common today. In this light, a rotisserie toaster oven is simply a toaster oven with such a component.
Rotisserie toaster ovens are generally large and more expensive and therefore are not entirely suited for those who are looking for a simple device just to toast mere bread slices or reheat pizza.
Also Read: Best Toaster Ovens with Rotisserie
Some convection ovens are also Rotisserie ovens. They make it easy to cook foods like poultry as you can grill an entire chicken in one go without having to split it down the middle.
The rotisserie will rotate, letting the meal cook evenly on all sides and in return, you get to watch as the food turns in the toaster oven.
4. The Combination Toaster Oven
What makes a combination toaster oven great is the fact that it combines the better features of two worlds, making it a multipurpose device that’s ideal for the kitchen.
Combination toaster ovens combine two heating methods making them versatile as well as powerful. For example you may find a convection toaster oven and a microwave oven combination. You may also find toaster ovens with infrared heating etc
Combination toaster ovens leverage their designs to save on space usage. They also happen to be much cheaper than if you bought a toaster and an oven separately.
Also Read: How does a microwave oven work?
Features of a Toaster Oven
Toaster ovens are made up of several different components that work together to cook your meals and in the process, ensure that their surroundings are not affected by the heat they produce.
1. Cooking Compartment
The most important is the cooking compartment where all the food is placed in for cooking. This is usually large enough to accommodate some small meals since the devices are relatively small themselves. The interior is usually made of metal (see our ‘How to Clean Breville Toaster Oven‘ post).
The price of a toaster oven is directly related to the oven compartment. It is generally measured in liters or Cubic Feet.
2. Heating Elements
As mentioned earlier, the heating element is an electrical resistant coil that primarily produces heat.
The toaster ovens also need a means of regulating their temperature. In this case, a thermostat is required. The thermostat helps control the temperature by varying the power that goes to the heating elements.
A traditional thermostat is made out of a bimetallic strip. A bimetallic strip, as the name suggests, is a strip made of two metal layers. It has one brass layer and one steel layer placed on top of each other – it can be different metals.
Normally they are top of each other and are conducting electricity. This is referred to “closed” circuit. As the temperature gets hotter, the brass expands more than steel and the contact between the two metals breaks. The circuit opens and the ovens stop heating further.
As the temperature cools down, brass comes back into its original shape and the contact between the two metals establishes again. The current now passes through again.
The cycles continues.
Modern digital toaster ovens use heat sensors and PID controller instead of bimetallic thermostats. Depending on the quality, PID controllers are more accurate.
There’s also a timer in place that lets you control the amount of time food should cook. It also shows the time that has elapsed during cooking.
The timer is basically a ‘Timer Switch” in electrical terms. The timer can be electromechanical (found in manual toaster ovens) or Digital made out of semiconductors.
The timer works by disconnecting the electrical current as the countdown ends.
5. Others Components
Toaster ovens also come with a lamp that illuminates the food inside, helping you get a view of the cooking progress.
Convection toaster ovens have a fan that circulates the air inside them making food cook more evenly.
Digital toaster ovens also have a display through which all the session-specific information like the function, time and temperature are communicated to the user.
To protect the user from excess heat, there’s insulation lining inside the device that lines the interior cavity.
A toaster oven will typically use much less power than a regular oven. Nevertheless, these devices usually consume about 1200 watts of power with some going up to 1800 watts in some instances.
This makes them the ideal candidate for preparing small meals as they would result in better cost savings as compared to using a regular oven.
Essentially, the power usage will depend on a lot of factors, most importantly, the function you’re using and the temperature at which you’re cooking your food.
In this time, they have undergone massive development and the modern device has proven itself to be the ideal choice for people who are preparing small meals and need it well done quickly.
In this article we learned about how does a toaster oven work. Basically, toaster ovens come in varying shapes, sizes and types and this affects how they work.
Regardless, the underlying principle is usually the same, there’s a heat source for generating heat and then all you’d need is a way of controlling the temperature and managing the cooking times.
Toaster ovens are great for modern kitchens as they take up very little space compared to ordinary ovens and besides, they are also more power-efficient and cook small meals much faster.
1. Can you reheat food on a plate in the oven?
If your plate is made of metal, whether stainless steel, cast iron, or even enameled, it is safe to bake. Take extreme caution when removing it from the oven, as it will be boiling. As with a sheet pan, use hot pads.
2. What happens if you put a plate in the oven?
Thermal shock occurs when an object's temperature rapidly changes. In this instance, a plate that is rapidly heating or cooling. This can result in materials breaking and/or cracking, even if they are oven-safe.
3. What kind of plate can be used in oven?
Stainless steel and cast iron are examples of metals. Avoid non-metallic components such as wooden or plastic handles. In general, ceramics are safe to use in the oven. Avoid plates with adhesive designs and, if the ceramics are glazed, ensure that they are designed for use in a built-in oven.
4. How much heat can a ceramic plate withstand?
Ceramics are generally capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures ranging from 1,000 to 1,600 degrees Celsius (1,800 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit). Due to its amorphous (non-crystalline) nature, glass is frequently misclassified as a ceramic.
5. How can you tell if a plate is heat resistant?
The bottom of the plate should indicate whether it is oven and microwave safe. Certain plates will crack when exposed to thermal stresses, so be sure to preheat the oven and avoid placing very cold food on a hot plate.