Self-contained, compact, and versatile: these are just a few of the words to describe this handy countertop appliance. Maybe your roommate brought along a toaster oven when he moved in, but you aren’t sure of how to take advantage of its little heating rack and convection bake setting.
Or perhaps you’re trying to impress some new friends at a dinner party with your skills in the kitchen without creating any fire hazards around using a conventional oven. Whatever the case may be, here’s everything you need to know about using this miniature marvel–from putting it through its paces to cleaning up after yourself.
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What Is a Toaster Oven?
You probably already know that a typical oven is for baking bread (or cakes or cookies). But what if you just want warm, crispy toast? Or a nice warm bagel to slather with butter and jam? Those meals are perfect for the small appliances known as toaster ovens. Simply put, they’re basically mini-ovens designed specifically for smaller cooking tasks.
A standard countertop toaster oven generally has three major parts:
- Built-in heating elements (heat comes from below)
- Timer and/or temperature control
- Removable crumb tray or drip pan
A typical toaster oven is about six inches high by about nine inches deep by nine inches wide. Its user controls include an on/off switch, a timer knob, and a light indicator that lets you know when it’s preheated. If the model has an adjustable thermostat, the knob usually has temperature settings such as “low,” “medium,” and “high” or a slider that lets you select your preferred temp.
Toaster ovens vary greatly—the smallest is about four inches deep, but larger versions can be over twice that depth. In fact, some models are large enough to accommodate a small casserole dish or bakeware for making an entire meal (or at least entree).
So is it toast? Or is it a little oven? Actually, both! Both use similar electrical coils around their interiors to produce heat via internal combustion (like gas) flame to warm up food items.
However, unlike a full size oven, the heating element does not have fans and vents designed to help circulate the warm air produced inside. Toaster ovens also don’t have racks to let food “bake,” so they’re not ideal for baking an entire meal, but they are perfect for side dishes.
Toaster ovens don’t have different rack positions like conventional ovens for cooking tasks.
But they’re great for:
To toast bread, bagels, and English muffins (bread slots vary in size from a few inches to several inches long)
Crisping bacon on a rack over the oven’s tray; or heating bacon in the oven itself if you have no time to wait around (*just* be careful that it doesn’t burn!)
Heating up frozen food, like pizza slices—but not “baking” them in an oven-like environment of their own making. Some models have specialized settings for defrosting meat and/or vegetables.
Braising meat or fish at low heat without drying out the contents (cooking liquids should be kept at a minimum), and you can cover it with foil.
Here are some unique and fun ways to use your toaster oven:
Bake a Sweet Potato :
When baking sweet potatoes in a toaster oven, simply slice it in half and brush with oil, then put the halves—open-face side up—in the oven for about a half-hour. (Or split an already baked potato open, mash its flesh with butter and salt, and toast until lightly browned in spots.)
Melt Cheese for Sandwiches, Pizzas, or on Leftovers :
Looking for a quick, low-fat way to top off your sandwiches or pizzas? Simply put slices of cheese on either side of a piece of bread and melt it in the toaster oven until gooey. Alternatively, you can use leftover baked potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes with butter as an alternative topping.
To Make Croutons :
You can make homemade croutons in one minute by cutting up any day-old French loaf into 1/2″ – 3/4″ cubes, brushing them lightly with olive oil, and putting them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet; then placing the tray inside your toaster oven on “low.” They’ll crisp when done—about five minutes—and can be used in salads.
To Bake a Mini-Casserole in the Toaster Oven :
If you’re looking for an easy way to make your own mini-casseroles (and you have enough counter space), all it takes is a baking dish that measures about 1/2″ – 3/4″ deep, foil, some favorite ingredients, and a little toaster oven baking. Simply add these directly inside the baking dish; then cover with another piece of foil—which should be long enough to come over the edges by at least two inches.
Finally, put the tray in your toaster oven on “low”—and allow extra cooking time since convection heat isn’t present. If nothing else, this can also be used to make dips or small appetizers without using an oven.
(Note: Check to see if your model has a convection setting, which is usually the highest temperature selection.)
Bake Mini-Muffins :
If you’d like to make mini muffins—but have no time for an elaborate baking session—you can make a savory or sweet batch of them in around 5 minutes simply by mixing together all the ingredients in a bowl or on top of a piece of parchment paper; then baking them in the same way as before (after greasing your baking sheet with butter).
You can even bake cookies this way if you’re really pressed for time! But keep in mind that these snacks won’t last quite as long because they’re not cooked inside of an insulated oven.
To Make Brownies :
Brownies are one of the easiest items to make in a toaster oven because they require less cooking time than most other baked goods do, rarely involve any special ingredients, and you can usually use a pre-made mix. Simply add all the dry ingredients into an appropriately sized bowl, stir together with a spoon, and add the wet ingredients until the batter is thick.
Next, grease a baking sheet and drop spoonfuls of batter onto it; then put this into your toaster oven on “low” and bake for around 15 minutes or until done. (Note: Use longer times if you want chewier brownies.) Try using nuts or alternative toppings like chocolate chips instead of some of the standard ingredients!
To Make A Baked Egg:
The easiest way to make a baked egg is to break an egg into the middle of its cooking container—ex: a small bowl or deep pie pan. Then butter and crack black pepper onto it before covering with foil and baking.
Be sure to “prop” up both ends with paper towels or more foil so that the egg isn’t touching the edges of the container; then bake on your toaster oven’s highest setting for about 15 minutes (check every few minutes). It’ll be fully cooked when no liquid can be seen inside.
To Make Microwave Bread (or Scones/Muffins):
If you’re looking for an interesting way to make small batches of bread in just a few minutes—but don’t have any extra time to put it in the oven—you can make a small batch of loaf-like bread (or scones or muffins) by combining all the dry ingredients in one bowl; then adding some egg, water, and/or oil.
Mix this together with a wooden spoon, then transfer to an appropriately sized round container lined with parchment paper that has been greased on the bottom. Stick this in your microwave for 1 ½ – 2 minutes per each slice of bread depending on your model’s strength (if you’re using a convection setting; otherwise, add 30 seconds.
(Note: You can use longer times with smart ovens if you want chewier bread.) Microwave scones/muffins should have similar cooking times as those cooked inside your microwave oven, and you can serve them in the morning on warm plates to delight family and friends.
Maple Syrup Roast Chicken :
To make a roast chicken in your toaster oven, preheat it for about 5 minutes and then place the bird inside when ready. Brush a little butter or olive oil onto the skin before adding any other ingredients without taking off its wrapping; then cover with aluminum foil. Cook on “high” for about 1 – 1 ½ hours if possible until it’s fully done—you can check this by making sure the chicken is fully cooked inside (like when roasting in an oven).
To add some interesting flavor, mix up a spoonful of butter, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, salt, and rosemary to coat. When done, remove foil from the container—but do not take out the roast!—and put in an oven mitt; then spoon this mixture over the top —Bake on low for about 10 minutes more for a crispier chicken.
If you are looking for a toaster oven with all bells and whistles with extra features, the Breville Smart Oven is an excellent option. These smart ovens come with the benefits of a regular oven, but it is still small enough to fit on your counter.
The device manages to do this by using high-powered halogen lights that heat up when you push a button, so even though the Breville Oven has no rotating tray or turntable as other toaster ovens do, it still cooks quickly and effectively with all options available at your fingertips.