Toaster ovens are one of the most versatile appliances you can have in your kitchen. From broiling a piece of fish to roasting vegetables to baking a quick cookie, you can easily prepare an entire meal in this useful and affordable device. Often, people don't even realize how many different ways they can use their toaster oven or that there's a lot more than toast in toaster oven cookbooks. Learning more about the appliance and toaster oven settings can help you take advantage of all the device has to offer.
Advantages to Toaster Ovens
There are several advantages to using a toaster oven as opposed to other cooking methods:
- Cooking Small Portions: Whipping up a meal for just one or two people can sometimes be more of a hassle than it's worth. You may not want to roast a whole chicken or bake an entire batch of cookies for a party of one. A toaster oven comes in handy in those situations. You can roast one chicken thigh easily or take a small spoonful of cookie dough from the freezer to have a single freshly baked treat.
- Keeping the Kitchen Cool: It's no fun to turn on the oven or stand over a boiling pot on a steamy summer day. Thankfully, a toaster oven doesn't heat a whole room when being used, but it does efficiently and thoroughly cook food in the same way an oven would, so it's a great option for hot days.
- Energy Efficient: Since toaster ovens are smaller than full-sized ovens (and often require less usage time), they use considerably less energy than their larger counterparts. Switching to a toaster oven is a great way to make your home more efficient and cut back on energy bills.
- Better Than a Microwave: If you use a microwave to heat leftovers, you might want to make the switch to a toaster oven for certain foods. Microwaves work by using radiation to heat the water molecules in food. This is a speedy process, but it can lead to uneven cooking, food that's either too dry or too soggy and foods like fried chicken or mozzarella sticks lacking the crisp that makes them so tasty. Modern toaster ovens, on the other hand, work the same way that ovens do: by using convection baking capabilities to slowly heat food through electric or gas-powered heat sources. This slower process helps to heat food more thoroughly and evenly and doesn't zap away any crispiness or crunch. A toaster oven can also keep meals warm at a low temperature without heating the whole house as a standard-sized oven would, which is also something a microwave is unable to do.
Using a Toaster Oven
When you're ready to start using your toaster oven, begin by making sure it's in a safe spot where it won't make anything near it too hot. The outside of a toaster oven can get warm, so be sure that there aren't any nearby plastic utensils, food or anything else that could burn or melt.
Then, put your food into the toaster oven using one of the provided trays or pans. Using a toaster oven is quite similar to using a bigger oven, right down to the settings. Most models allow you to control the temperature, and some have helpful settings including broil, convection bake, toast or defrost.
Finally, allow the food to cook according to your preferences or the recipes you've used. Make sure to turn the toaster oven off and unplug it as soon as the food is done to avoid overheating. When you're ready to clean up, take care to clean both the pan you used as well as the inside of the toaster oven. Small splashes or crumbs of food can build up over time, becoming fire hazards for the next time you use your device or creating breeding grounds for unwanted bacteria or household pests.
Things to Avoid
There are a few materials that you can use in a regular oven that you need to be more careful with in a toaster oven. The most common are parchment paper, foil and glass or Pyrex dishes. Check your Black and Decker toaster oven manual or the manual for whichever brand of appliance you have before using any of these items.
Because of a toaster oven's smaller size, many have heating coils or ignition mechanisms that come quite close to the tray and shelf that you'll use in the toaster oven. When parchment paper gets that close to a source of heat, it's at risk of catching on fire. Foil can also trap heat, creating a potential fire hazard. Though you may be able to use small amounts of either without starting a fire, especially if it's contained to the enclosed toaster oven pan, it's best to proceed with caution and avoid using the materials in your toaster oven.
Depending on the model, certain types of glass dishes can be safe for toaster ovens, especially at low temperatures. But others can overheat in the snug quarters, which can lead to damaged glass. For that reason, Pyrex recommends keeping its dishes and other glass dishes out of toaster ovens.
Utilizing Toaster Oven Pans
Even though it's best not to use glass dishes or mugs and bowls in toaster ovens, you likely won't miss them. That's because many toaster ovens come equipped with small trays or nonstick pans. They fit perfectly into the oven, are easy to clean and can be used to cook a variety of dishes.
You can buy many different sizes of toaster oven pans, from one small enough for a single baked egg dish to a pan big enough to make a fruit crumble dessert that would feed a dinner party. In fact, many toaster oven baking recipes call for deep-sided pans so you can bake crumbles or small cakes that can be served hot right out of the oven.
Another accessory that's available for toaster ovens is a roasting rack that you can use to roast a spatchcocked small chicken, filet of fish or burger without having to worry about the juices dripping into your appliance. You can even line the pan underneath the roasting rack with fresh vegetables or potatoes. That way, they'll catch all the extra flavor from the roasting meat or fish and create a well-balanced and delicious meal right inside your oven.
No matter your food preferences or dietary restrictions, it's likely that you can find a way to whip up your favorite meal by shopping around for the right toaster oven and following these guidelines.
- Energy Star: Toaster Ovens
- Consumer Reports: Face-Off: Should You Zap It in a Microwave or Toast It?
- Tech Gear Lab: Picking the Right Toaster Oven for Your Kitchen
- Consumer Reports: The Right Way to Clean a Toaster Oven
- Food Network: 13 Surprising Ways to Use Your Toaster Oven
- ABT Appliances and Electronics: Toaster Oven Buying Guide
Rachelle Dragani is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn with extensive experience covering the lifestyle space. Her work on topics including smart home technology, pest control, living green, budget home repair and helpful household tips have appeared in publications including Bob Vila, Esquire, Popular Mechanics, Gizmodo and Yahoo.