It’s official. You now have a toaster. Was it a going-to-college gift or a wedding gift? Maybe you and your roommates decided to buy one. But what really matters is you have never had one and now you need to know how to use a toaster oven. Well, that’s why you’re here, and you came to the right place. This article will cover the basics of a toaster oven—what is one and how do you even turn it on?—to deep existential questions such as “Can you put aluminum foil in the toaster oven?” So here we go!
Let’s begin with the bottom line: money. Not only is your toaster oven cheaper than a full sized regular oven and takes up less space than its bigger counterpart, but toaster ovens are more energy efficient, which saves you money every time you can use it instead of a regular oven. Energy.gov estimates that an average toaster oven used for two hours a day will cost you $0.25 a day, at the United States’ average electricity rate. If you only cook for one or two people, many recipes can be completed in a toaster oven which requires much less energy to reach the required temperature. So if you are a single gal or a newlywed couple without kids and are wondering why you should use a toaster oven, do you need much more of a reason than that?
The next question on your mind, then, may be what to use a toaster oven for. There are so many toaster oven uses: it is literally a toaster and an oven. You can toast your bread; you can reheat breads to give them their just-baked textures instead of the soggy texture from reheating in a microwave; and you can bake almost any recipe that will fit into your toaster oven. (The larger toaster ovens can accommodate entire pizzas and casseroles!) However, because of the limited space in your toaster oven the heating element sits closer to your food and dish than in a regular oven, and therefore some types of baking dishes—these will be discussed later—should not be used in a toaster oven, but you can easily swap the unsafe dish for one safe to use in a toaster oven.
There’s nothing left to do but throw together a recipe and put that toaster oven to use. So let’s walk through a few steps of how to use a toaster oven—from preheating for baking, to other cooking functions, to what not put in a toaster oven.
There will be a preheat function for any baking in the toaster oven you wish to do. Since this is much smaller than a regular oven, you may be wondering if or why you need to preheat a toaster oven, or even how to preheat a toaster oven. The “if and why” answer is the same as for a regular oven: yes, you need to preheat for any dish requiring preheating, or you might otherwise have the outer and inner layers of your food cooked improperly. Exactly how to preheat a toaster oven will vary model to model, but the principle remains the same: find the function knob and set it to bake, then turn on the temperature to the required temperature.
The main difference between preheating a toaster oven and a regular oven is that the toaster oven preheats more quickly because of its smaller size. This allows you to bake in a toaster oven more quickly, sometimes cutting several minutes off usage times depending on the temperature needed and the comparative sizes of your toaster and regular ovens. Your toaster oven model likely signals when preheating is finished, but if it doesn’t you can use an oven thermometer or just let the toaster oven heat for a couple minutes before using it.
Cooking with a toaster oven
There are several styles of cooking in a toaster oven. You can toast, you can bake, and you can broil. Some models even come with spits for roasting rotisserie chicken.
Toasting in a toaster oven is easy. Set your function knob to toast, select the temperature (your temperature knob probably has “toast” on it), and then set a timer. The crumb tray allows you to toast all manner of breads without worrying about losing bits and pieces. Everything from tortillas to thick Texas toast to muffins warm and toast well in a toaster oven. And cleanup is as easy as removing cooled trays and wiping them with a damp sponge.
Baking in a toaster oven allows you to make small serving dishes of just about anything you can imagine. This is the perfect method of baking for those dishes that just never taste the same when eaten as leftovers or for those people who have such erratic schedules that they never know if they will be able to finish the leftovers from a larger dish cooked in a regular oven. Once your toaster oven is preheated (see the above section), all you have to do is place your dish on the rack and set your timer. It’s just as easy as baking in your old oven. The concern here is possibly using a toaster oven too small for the dish you want to use: make sure your dish is sized appropriately for your toaster oven so that any rising breads will not come into contact with the heating elements and so that the dish is not too close to the heating element throughout the cooking time.
Broiling in a toaster oven can be an easy way to cook delicious tasting meats. To broil, make sure your function is set to broil and that your rack is lowered if possible. Allow the toaster oven to preheat. Once the meat is cooking, watch it for the browning and coloration you want and flip when you are ready. If you are unsure about this, let the meat broil 3 to 4 minutes per side. This usually cooks the meat sufficiently and evenly throughout. Of course, you can broil anything else that you would also broil in a regular oven. Just be sure to preheat appropriately and follow your food’s suggested cook times for a toaster oven since it will differ from a regular oven.
In all, your toaster oven can handle the tasks of your toaster and regular oven as well as the warming tasks of your microwave. It really is three appliances in one. You can reheat all the dishes you cooked throughout the last week. You can toast bread, you can toast frozen waffles. You can bake or broil potatoes, casseroles, meats, vegetables, cakes and muffins. Most anything will bake well in a toaster oven!
What is safe to use in a toaster oven?
When people ask, “Can you bake in a toaster oven?” they more precisely mean, “Can you bake in a toaster oven the same way you bake in a conventional oven?” The answer is yes . . . and no. As previously discussed, you can bake all the same foods in a toaster oven with adjustments for recipe scale, and preheating and cooking times. But some of your favorite dishes might not be suitable for a toaster oven.
Topping the list of what not to put in a toaster oven is glass. Pyrex glass dishes are synonymous with baking dishes. However, the smaller space of a toaster oven means that the Pyrex glass is much closer to the heat source. That may cause the glass to fracture and eventually shatter. Never put Pyrex in your toaster oven, and never use any glass in your toaster oven, even if your toaster oven manual says it is OK. Just because the glass won’t harm the appliance doesn’t mean the appliance won’t harm the glass.
Of course, paper and plastic are a NO. Don’t put paper, paper towels, cardboard, plastic containers, plastic lids, plastic wrap, or any other versions of these materials into your toaster oven.
Ceramics and stoneware are best left out of the toaster oven unless the manufacturer states that the product is toaster oven safe. There are some good stoneware products that work well in toaster ovens. The big concern here is temperature shock: do not place your stoneware directly from the refrigerator into the toaster oven. The stress may cause your dish to break.
Can you put foil in a toaster oven? Yes, but carefully. Aluminum foil that comes into direct contact with your toaster oven’s heating element may cause damaging sparks. Never cover your crumb tray with aluminum foil. It would make for easy cleanup, but the placement usually is too close to the bottom heating elements and the foil can spark on the elements or cause crumbs and grease to be even closer to the heating elements which makes the potential risk of a grease fire even greater. When you do use tin foil in a toaster oven, use it close to the dish: smoothly cover your dish and keep the foil close to the sides, or use just enough to line the bottom of your broiling dish.
Now that you know how to use a toaster oven and what to use a toaster oven for, you are ready to practice your favorite recipes. You may also want to know how to clean it. Bake a small batch of cookies or cupcakes; toast yesterday’s pizza, or broil a juicy steak. As long as you use your toaster oven properly and maintain it properly, it will cook delicious meals for years to come.