Toaster ovens are fantastic countertop appliances.
They save time and space and use a fraction of the energy of a full-size oven.
While microwaves are prized for heating food quickly, toaster ovens are excellent for warming foods evenly, and for achieving crisp crusts and edges that you just can’t get in the microwave.
Toaster ovens are ideal for small kitchens, dorm rooms, mobile homes, and other kitchens where space is an issue.
They are also a great way to conserve energy costs over using an oven for small heating and cooking tasks. And they allow you to cook, heat, and even bake without heating up the whole kitchen (and sometimes the entire house) the way an oven can.
They preheat in just a few minutes, and the small size of a toaster oven allows the heat to concentrate in your food items, rather than warming the entire cubic space of a full-sized, conventional oven.
Since you’ve already invested in it, and it’s already taking up space on your counter, you may as well get all the use out of it that you can.
Here’s how to make the most of your toaster oven.
How to Set Up a Toaster Oven
While toaster ovens are simple to set up and operate, there are a few things to keep in mind when you first plug it in:
Your toaster oven needs ample air circulation on all sides, but particularly where there are air vents.
Make sure that it’s not flush against a back or side wall, and that there are several inches of space between the top of the toaster oven and the bottom of any upper cabinets.
Do not store items on top of or leaning against the toaster oven while it is in use, or while it is still warm after use.
If possible, avoid plugging your toaster oven into an extension cord or power splitter, and instead connect it directly into the wall.
If you absolutely must use an extension cord, check your toaster oven’s wattage.
Buy a heavy-duty extension cord that is rated to equal, or preferably slightly more than, the wattage of your toaster oven.
Use of extension cords and kitchen appliances is potentially a fire hazard, and electrical safety experts all agree that it should be avoided.
And never use a worn or frayed electric cable on any appliance.
If you plan on using your toaster oven for baking, it’s a good idea to run some early temperature tests so you can see how accurate your thermostat is.
A few degrees can make a huge difference in your baked goods, so it’s worth finding out.
Purchase an oven thermometer, and place it in your toaster oven in the middle (on the middle rack, if you have adjustable shelves), and set the temperature of your toaster oven.
Give it 5 minutes or so to reach temperature, and then check the thermometer settings against your toaster oven settings.
If necessary, allow it to cool completely and repeat the test on other oven settings, like “preheat” or “convection.”
Remember that if your toaster oven is too close to a wall and doesn’t have enough clearance, it will affect the internal temperature.
Inconsistent placement of the oven on your counter can also create inconsistent temperatures and inconsistent cooking results.
If there is a discrepancy between your thermometer and your toaster oven indicator, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a lousy toaster oven; it’s common for appliances to differ to some degree when measured.
If you have a consistent temperature differential, you can simply account for that when you use your oven.
For example, if you know that your toaster oven actually takes 5 minutes to preheat instead of 3, or that the temperature is consistently high or low by 15 degrees, you can adjust cooking times or thermostat settings accordingly.
But it is better to conduct this kind of testing in the early stages when you are first “getting to know” your toaster oven than it is to find out later when your food is over- or under-cooked.
How to Maintain Your Toaster Oven
Toaster ovens need to be cleaned frequently because they are small, and grease, crumbs, and spills may affect how well the oven works, what the internal temperature is, or even pose a fire hazard.
Regularly use a sponge or cloth (avoid anything abrasive) to sweep crumbs and debris from the bottom of the toaster oven, and clean it more thoroughly as necessary.
- Unplug it from the wall for your safety.
- Make a homemade cleaning solution of ½ warm water and ½ vinegar, and add a little bit of dish soap.
- Remove the racks and trays and hand-wash them in the sink. Soak them if necessary to remove stubborn spots.
- Use a rag or sponge and the vinegar solution to gently wipe out the interior of the toaster oven, avoiding getting anything directly onto the heating elements. Repeat if necessary.
- Allow all the parts to completely dry before re-assembling the toaster oven and plugging it in again.
Cookware and Bakeware for Your Toaster Oven
There are a few things you should never use in your toaster oven.
Glass baking dishes
Even though Pyrex (for example) has decades of oven-safe use, most manufacturers of glass bakeware specifically state not to use their products in toaster ovens.
Even though toaster oven manufacturers say that it’s safe, these glass baking dishes may sometimes shatter, and it’s better not to risk it.
Mason jars and coffee cups
These glass jars and ceramic mugs are not tempered for oven use, even in toaster ovens. So, while you may use them in a microwave, don’t use them in a toaster oven.
Again, most parchment paper manufacturers say not to use it in a toaster oven due to the risk of fire from the exposed heating elements, although most toaster oven manufacturers claim that it’s okay to do so.
It’s better to be safe and avoid it.
Of course, we all remember a toaster oven somewhere in our lives with aluminum foil lining the bottom of it.
It’s intended to catch drips and make cleaning easier. However, it increases the risk of fire and may affect the internal temperature and consistency of the oven.
It’s okay to use aluminum foil for toaster oven recipes that call for it, but don’t line the crumb or drip tray with foil.
Just in case it needs to be said, never put plastic in your toaster oven, because it will melt.
You can use silicone bakeware, though, if it is rated for ovens, and silicone is a great way to get consistent heating and cooking, without ever sticking or adding grease.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t a ton of options for cooking and bakeware for your toaster oven, though.
Consider purchasing metal bakeware small enough to use in your toaster oven.
A small cookie sheet, a loaf pan the right size for your toaster oven, or a six-cup muffin tin are a great way to get more use out of your toaster oven and explore a broader range of recipes.
Silicone bakeware is also an excellent choice for toaster ovens.
But by far the most useful bakeware for your toaster oven are ramekins.
Ramekins are oven-safe and come in a wide range of sizes. They are perfect for baking large and small dishes in your toaster oven.
How to Make the Most of Your Toaster Oven
A toaster oven is a surprisingly versatile appliance, particularly if you have bakeware and cookware sized to fit in it.
Even without some of the more advanced toaster oven features, like convection cooking or a rotisserie, you can still make a wide range of delicious foods, including:
A toaster oven is much better than a microwave for frozen pizzas, French fries, chicken nuggets, and a host of other frozen foods.
In a toaster oven, they come out consistently warm and heated all the way through, but remain crispy on the outside.
A toaster oven is a great way to roast a chicken, a few ribs, a pork tenderloin, and other smaller portions of meats.
It’s faster and more efficient than a traditional oven, and the results taste great.
Even if your toaster oven doesn’t have a rotisserie accessory, you can still use it to make tender chicken with crispy skin.
You can easily bake smaller portions of cookies, cakes, muffins, and bread in a toaster oven if your bakeware is the right size.
Finish under a broiler
A toaster oven is a great way to finish dishes that just need a couple minutes under the broiler to melt cheese, like French onion soup.
You can also use a toaster oven to make some dishes you may not have thought of before.
You may think of baking potato, but have you thought of baking an egg?
An egg cooked in a toaster oven comes out perfectly “hard-boiled” without boiling it at all.
Arrange nuts on a single layer on a baking sheet or tin foil, and stir them every few minutes to toast them evenly.
Toasted nuts have a richer, more robust flavor and are great in recipes or by themselves.
You can make your own fruit leathers, dried apple chips, or dried cherries and cranberries easily and without unwanted sugars and additives in a toaster oven.
Crispy kale chips
Dry kale, lightly tossed in oil with a dash of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, can be toasted in a toaster oven for a healthy, delicious snack in just minutes.
Roasted red peppers
Roasted red peppers are delicious and expensive if you buy them in the store.
But you can make your own roasted red peppers and even sun-dried tomatoes in a toaster oven… so, they would be toaster-oven-dried tomatoes, but they are still flavorful and less expensive than buying them.
Croutons are a great way to use old bread that may otherwise go to waste.
Just cut stale bread into cubes, then toss them lightly in oil with salt and pepper and herbs if you want, and toast them in the toaster oven.
They add a satisfying crunch to salads and a flavorful zest to soups and take just minutes.
If you have an herb garden or just leftover fresh herbs from a salad or a recipe, you can dry the herbs in the toaster oven to preserve their flavor and use them any time of year.
You can even make your own seasoning blends, so your recipes come out just the way you like.
Desserts for one
Microwave single-serving mug desserts are all the rage, but in a toaster oven your small-serving cakes, cookies, brownies, and fruit crumbles have a better texture and are just as fun to make.
You can also use your toaster oven as an alternative when your full-size oven is busy.
During the holidays, for example, you can be roasting a turkey in the full-size oven, and baking pie, roasting potatoes, making stuffing, or even just warming plates in a toaster oven.
Toaster ovens are wonderfully compact, versatile, energy-saving appliances.
They can do almost anything an oven can do, in less time, with less electricity, and without heating up the whole kitchen.
They are perfect for small spaces, small families, and for fast, simple cooking and heating tasks.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, and enjoy discovering everything you can do with your toaster oven.