A toaster oven is, at its core, just a smaller version of a regular oven. It can reach the same temperatures as conventional ovens, cook the same types of foods, and you can even find toaster ovens with a convection fan to give you crisp and even results, just like a convection oven. So does this mean you can use your toaster oven in the same way you would use a regular oven?
Essentially, yes, toaster ovens can be used in the same way as regular ovens, with the only difference being the amount of food you’re able to cook at one time. The main distinction that separates a toaster oven from a regular oven is the size, so while you can cook the same foods with similar results in both appliances, the volume of food you can cook will be quite different.
Here we take a closer look at the main differences between a toaster oven and a regular oven.
What Foods Can a Toaster Oven Cook?
A toaster oven can cook any type of food that you would cook in a regular oven. It can toast sandwiches, cook french fries and chicken wings, bake pasta bakes, roast vegetable side dishes, and cook a range of cuts of meat. Toaster ovens work by heated elements which are positioned at the top and bottom of the oven, and these radiate heat throughout the interior of the oven.
Some toaster ovens come equipped with fans which will cause the hot air to circulate around the oven, which will speed up cooking time and create more evenly cooked results, just like a convection or fan oven. Toaster ovens are also great for reheating food, and in some scenarios, they are even preferable to the microwave for this purpose.
Some foods can turn mushy or moist when reheated in the microwave, whereas the toaster oven creates a drier heat which will give reheated foods a nice crisp texture.
Some cooks recommend avoiding greasy foods such as melted cheese in a toaster oven because the grease can splatter against the heating elements and cause smoking. If you are concerned about this, you can wrap greasy foods in foil before cooking them.
Toaster Oven Vs. Regular Oven
Toaster ovens and regular ovens have many similarities as well as many differences.
Toaster ovens are smaller than regular ovens, so you might expect that they can heat up more quickly and cook food more quickly compared with a regular oven. However, this is not the case because toaster ovens have thin walls and are not insulated, so a lot of their heat escapes through the walls and ceiling of the appliance.
By contrast, regular ovens are heavily insulated and therefore do not waste much heat. This means that while they can take a while to reach the desired temperature, they are excellent at maintaining that temperature. The end result is that the cooking time for both toaster ovens and microwave ovens is pretty much the same. You shouldn’t expect to save any time by using a toaster oven instead of a conventional oven.
Both toaster ovens and regular ovens can reach temperatures of between 400 and 500°F, depending on the make and model you choose. It is often the case that regular ovens are more likely to have the capability to reach higher temperatures than toaster ovens, however, the vast majority of foods are cooked between the temperatures of 350 and 400°F, so having the ability to reach 500°F isn’t going to be that useful for the average home cook.
Where toaster ovens differ most when it comes to temperature range is that they are able to cook at lower temperatures. Many regular ovens have a low temperature of somewhere between 150 and 170°F. By comparison, most toaster ovens have a low temperature of 80°F. This means if you are dehydrating food or you just want to keep food warm to be served later, then a toaster oven can fulfill these tasks better than a regular oven.
For most dishes, you won’t be able to notice any difference between food which has been cooked in a toaster oven, and food which has been cooked in a regular oven. Both types of ovens use dry heat which will result in crisp textures, and you can get a fan feature in both types of ovens for even cooking.
If your toaster oven does not have a fan then you can expect there to be hot spots in the oven cavity, which can lead to unevenly cooked food, but this will also be the case for regular ovens which do not have a convection mode. If your main oven is a gas oven, then the heat created will be a more moist type of heat, so in this instance, a toaster oven will give you more crisp textured results.
A toaster oven is smaller than a regular oven, and therefore it takes less energy to heat it. Compared to a regular electric oven, a toaster oven will use approximately a quarter of the amount of energy.
Compared to a gas oven, a toaster oven will use around half the amount of energy. This means if you are able to cook all of your meals in your toaster oven instead of your regular electric oven, you could cut your cooking energy costs down by around 75%.
Toaster ovens are considerably smaller than regular ovens, and this could be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your situation. If you only cook meals for one or two people, then a toaster oven is a great way to cut down on energy usage and save some money. It makes no sense to heat a big regular oven just to toast a sandwich when you could use a small toaster oven instead.
However, if you feed a family regularly, then a toaster oven simply won’t have the capacity you need. In these cases, a toaster oven can work well for over-flow food; for example, when making a roast dinner, you can put some extra side dishes in the toaster oven which you didn’t have space for in the regular oven so that all of the food will be ready at the same time.
In terms of the space a toaster oven takes up, it is significantly more compact than a regular oven and can be stored away in a cabinet when not in use. If you are trying to save space in a small kitchen, you could do without a main oven and just use a toaster oven instead.
The price difference between a regular oven and a toaster oven is huge. Toaster ovens typically range between $60 and $200, while a regular oven will run into the thousands.
For this reason, a toaster oven is a great choice for students who might need to equip their kitchen on a budget or for anyone who wants to save money but still be able to bake and roast their food. Toaster ovens are also more energy efficient to run, so they represent a saving in running costs as well as purchase costs.