In Praise of Toaster Ovens

I’m a HUGE fan of toaster ovens (TO) and have been ever since my mother and I set-up a makeshift kitchen in my college dorm room by putting a small toaster oven on top of the standard issue mini-fridge that came in every room. I delighted in being able to heat up my own French-bread pizza and frozen lasagnas….ah, the good old days when I ate in ignorant bliss of nutrition (I’m joking of course…a little bit.)

Nowadays my cooking is much more advanced and the TO is a bit larger, but this little workhorse is still the center of my kitchen and enables me to do 99% of my cooking without ever turning on our full-size oven.

Why use a toaster oven you ask?
1) Right-sizing: In environmental design we have a term called “right sizing” which means you want to use the right size appliance for the right size job. Turning on a full-size oven when you are just warming up a burrito would be a waste. But the reality is turning on an oven when it is any less than full capacity is also a waste. The vast majority of my family cooking can fit in a toaster oven, so this reduces my energy consumption.

2) Cook Faster: Toaster ovens cook faster because they focus the heat closer to the food. Think about when you hold a marshmallow close to the heat versus far away. Same concept.

3) Keeps Your Kitchen Cooler: If you live somewhere that gets really warm, it will keep your kitchen/house cooler than turning on a full-size oven because it will throw off less heat.

A couple of tips if you are considering buying a toaster oven:
1) Minimum Size: Get one that fits at least an 8″x8″ casserole dish. This will allow you to do most of your cooking if you are a 1-2-person household. You will be able to bake a cake, make brownies, cook chicken breasts or fish, roast vegetables and heat up leftovers quickly (350-degrees for 5-minutes will warm up most items you might be tempted to use the microwave for. I’m not a fan of the microwave…)

Even better is a slightly larger toaster oven like mine which can fit an 8″x8″ dish and a 4-1/2″x8″ bread dish side by side (technically my dishes are about 10″ at their widest points with their handles.)
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2) Adjustable Rack: Make sure the toaster oven’s rack is adjustable to at least 2-positions (low and middle) and preferably 3 (more options is always better!)2015/01/img_1872.jpg

3) A Timer: I didn’t “graduate” to a TO with a timer until just recently, but it is SO fantastic. I love that I can walk away and get busy doing something else and not worry about burning anything!!!! This isn’t a necessity, but it is awfully nice to have a cooking device that shuts off automatically!

A word on convection: I enjoy cooking with convection when I’m making anything bread-y because it makes the top come out nice and crisp, however, I don’t like how it dries out vegetables and meat. I would not let convection be a make-or-break characteristic of a toaster oven.

I personally own this Breville Convection Smart Oven which is the #1 best-selling convection oven on Amazon and is pretty reasonable at $250 considering all it can do. I absolutely love this oven because it’s large enough for me to roast a whole chicken in it and even comes with a pizza pan. Sometimes I will even “stack” pans to take advantage of the extra headroom!

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One word of caution: it does pull 1800-watts so you may want to make sure you have the juice to spare in your kitchen. Here is a toaster oven much like the one I started with back in college which is 1/10th of the price of the Breville at around $29.

Hope this helps and would love to hear your thoughts on toaster ovens! Be a spark in the world!

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