Daring slogans sometimes paint them as the kitchen appliance to end them all — or at least, to replace three or four of your existing gadgets. It’s easy to compare toaster ovens with generalists who refuse to specialize in a single major. Yet, the advent of newer high-end models, such as the Breville smart oven, offer high performance while still remaining flexible.
So what is a toaster oven used for? The answer includes toasting bread and warming up pre-cooked foods, but it also bakes, broils, and melts cheese when needed. The specifics will depend on the exact model you buy and on how creative you get with its controls.
Functions of a Toaster Oven
A basic toaster oven usually includes at least three different functions: the oven mode, the toaster mode, and the food warmer. In addition, many offer additional accessories that expand the types of dishes you can make.
This mode is meant to operate just like a full-size oven would. It is mostly used to bake pastries, bread, and other starch-based side dishes.
For those who are interested in cooking meats and don’t want to sacrifice the charred flavor provided by an open grill, some toaster ovens also offer a broiling accessory. This adds an additional heating element at the top of the oven, which will help brown meats faster.
Another common upgrade to a standard oven mode is a convection fan setting. This activates a small internal fan, which helps air move more quickly inside the oven. This cooks larger portions more evenly and reduces the overall cooking time.
The toaster mode offers lower heat intensity but more precise time controls. Just like its name indicates, it is meant to help you toast bread.
In order to use the toaster function, you will just need to arrange your bread slices on one of the baking trays. Most toaster ovens also include a crumb tray that will prevent crumbs from falling on the heating coils and damaging them.
By using the timer to indicate the darkness of your toast, you will be able to have steady and predictable results — assuming, of course, that you find your ideal “sweet spot” first.
The toaster mode cannot be used for French toast, as it will not reach the required temperature to cook eggs. However, a similar effect can be achieved using diluted maple syrup.
The food warmer mode uses slightly hotter temperatures than the toaster mode. However, instead of operating for just a few minutes at a time, it is meant to stay on indefinitely. In this way, the food you already cooked will stay warm without burning.
This is usually a practical way to keep food ready for shift workers or latecomers to family dinners. However, warm plates that are left inside the oven too long can overcook. In particular, meat dishes may end up too dry.
Pros and Cons of a Toaster Oven
Should you immediately replace all your other appliances with a toaster oven? It’s possible the answer requires a bit more forethought.
Consider the following pros and cons of a toaster oven:
Pros of a toaster oven
- It will save counter space
- They tend to be easy to clean
- On average, they are more energy-efficient than full-sized ovens
- Many come with additional advanced functions, such as food dehydrators
- They are cheaper than buying separate appliances
Cons of a toaster oven
- They tend to be smaller and to have a lower capacity than standard ovens
- If the heating elements are not strong enough, they will only be able to handle food in small batches
- They consume more energy than a dedicated toaster
What Else Can You Look for in a Toaster Oven?
Although three functions in one appliance are often enough, premium models now take this a step further. Often, this is done by adding extra accessories:
- Rotisserie tongues, capable of holding a whole roast chicken in place
- Rotating kebab skewers
- Air frying baskets to make french fries or onion rings with no oil.
- Pre-shaped baking trays for donuts, cupcakes, or cookies
- Air dryers meant to dehydrate food
Toaster ovens can be a great option for a newlywed couple who is still trying to equip their starter kitchen. They are also useful for those with little space or who only cook elaborate meals sporadically.
Newer models are now actively targeting the foodie niche by adding air friers or special baking sheets. If you’d like to explore some of these premium options, check out the best air fryer toaster ovens available now.