We all know what a microwave oven is. Over the decades, it has become a staple in our kitchen, both at home and the office. Its claim to fame is reheating your lunch. A very useful one-trick pony, indeed!
But if you are serious about making real and wholesome food, a toaster oven may be well worth the space in your kitchen. A toaster oven has a humble name, but it can do much more than toast a slice of bread. Let’s dive in and see how to use a toaster oven to its full potential.
Oversized Toaster or Undersized Oven?
Even if you never cook, you would know an oven or toaster if you saw one. But would you know what a toaster oven was if somebody showed it to you?
Toaster ovens are essentially mini conventional ovens. A typical oven has two sets of heating elements, one above and one below. A frontal door separates the cooking chamber from the outside. This door usually needs to be opened or closed manually, but some high-end models feature a door that opens automatically. Inside the cooking chamber, there is a rack for holding food. (Some ovens may have more.) In addition, these ovens often feature a built-in timer to help save energy.
Typical settings include either broil or grill, or both. Power settings control the temperature, which is regulated by a built-in thermostat.
One thing to note when buying a toaster oven is that many less expensive models have minimal thermal insulation. So before powering it up, make sure there is ample clearance between the appliance and the surfaces around it, like the walls and countertop. Though it doesn’t pose a fire hazard, heat discoloration over time can be a concern. Anything vulnerable to heat, such as plastics, should not be placed on or near the unit.
The Fancy Extras
Due to the limited space inside a toaster oven, and without the help of a turntable, hot and cold spots can develop in larger food items. To counter this, some models have a built-in fan to circulate the hot air around the chamber and even out temperature distribution. This feature essentially turns your ordinary toaster oven into a convection oven and an air-fryer at the same time.
When cooking large items like a whole chicken in a toaster oven, areas not in direct line-of-sight do not get radiant heat from the elements. These shaded areas end up undercooked. If you like a good chicken roast at home, make sure the toaster oven that you buy comes with a rotisserie. A rod or spit holding the chicken is suspended on bearing points on both sides of the chamber. A motor drive mechanism rotates the spit and the chicken. Use the convection setting for the most delicious results.
Heating elements have traditionally been made of nichrome. But manufacturers are increasingly turning to quartz elements for their toaster ovens because they respond and heat up more quickly. With traditional heating elements, the long time-lag between the request for heat and actual delivery leads to temperature fluctuations that make cooking results inconsistent.
For those of us who enjoy roasted asparagus or cheese bread, the broiling capability will come in handy. Some toaster oven designs do not allow you to place the rack close enough to the top for the best broiling effect. When picking your toaster oven, make sure it offers a range of rack positions. Since broiling can easily burn the food, make sure the door doesn’t obstruct your view of it.
Ease of use is another consideration. The controls should be intuitive. Look for clear and informatively-labeled buttons instead of cryptic symbols. You would still want to know how to use your appliance even if you had lost your owner’s manual. And to not limit yourself to only cooking tiny dishes, make sure the cooking chamber is at least 18” wide and 12” deep.
Crump trays make cleaning a lot easier and are therefore an important feature. Look for interior surfaces that are non-stick and easy to wipe down. Accessories should be black enamel and stain-resistant.
The toaster oven is a good alternative to the conventional oven when dealing with smaller volumes of food. It is ideal for people with limited space. It can do most of the things a conventional oven can, uses less energy, and preheats faster. It also heats up your kitchen less on those hot days.
How to Use a Toaster Oven—Foodie Ideas
As the name suggests, the most basic way to use a toaster oven is for toasting. Since the chamber has a lot more room than the slots of a pop-up toaster, you can let your creativity with bread run wild. Put your appliance to good use and look up recipes of toast with toppings like garlic bread, cheese on toast, or melt sandwiches.
If you’re an aspiring foodie and want to try your hands at bread-making, the toaster oven will be more than enough to get you started. Just have your flour, water, and yeast ready. It even doubles as a proofer for your dough.
Other great ideas include cookies, muffins, cupcakes, and cakes. Potatoes baked in a toaster oven can be incredibly soft and delicious. Add butter, cheese, gravy, or other condiments of your choice.
Basic baking accessories are usually supplied with the appliance.
As mentioned above, you can roast a whole chicken if your toaster oven is big enough. It can also handle other big cuts of meat, including roast beef tenderloin, porchetta, and leg of lamb.
If you are brave enough, create your own version of the Beef Wellington. The attempt alone will be enough to impress your friends and family.
The Bottom Line
At first glance it’s not easy to see the point of a toaster oven. It doesn’t have the overwhelming size and bulk cooking power of a conventional oven. And it doesn’t toast bread quite as efficiently as an actual toaster. But thanks to the shrinking of family sizes and the homes they live in, a compact oven that can do most of the things of a regular oven might be just what they need.
After learning how to use a toaster oven, do you wonder if the conventional oven might suddenly be too big for your needs?