Toaster Ovens: The Modern Hearth in Miniature

I’m going to be honest with you – I hadn’t seen or heard of a toaster oven until I was into my twenties, and until relatively recently I found the whole idea preposterous. Here is a machine three or four times larger than a toaster that does the same job, slower. I hate cooking and for me, time spent in the kitchen is time wasted – why would I ever go for a less efficient machine? Simple: I was looking at it the wrong way. Don’t think of a toaster oven as an overgrown, weaker toaster. Instead, see your future toaster oven for what it is: a faster, sleeker, smaller, more efficient oven.

Hamilton Beach Toastation

Hamilton Beach Toastation

Don’t let my spiel stop you if you just want toast though. Toaster ovens cook toast just as well or better than a standard toaster, and since they’re larger, they can cook more toast at once. If you live in a large household or you make a world-famous toasted tomato sandwich and you can’t get enough bread toasted at once, a toaster oven might be everything you need. The largest toaster you’re going to find will net you a grand total of four slices at a time, and once your second batch is done the first batch is going to be chilly. This creatively named HamiltonBeach “Toastation” toaster oven actually has a traditional toaster built into the top, and enough space in the oven to fit two personal pizzas, which means more bread for your buck.

Sunpentown 3-in-1 Breakfast Maker

Sunpentown 3-in-1 Breakfast Maker

While an overwhelming flood of toast might be enough for some people, others like a bit of variety in their breakfast. It can be hard to weigh the strengths of a toaster oven against one of its strongest weaknesses: they tend to take up a lot of space. Don’t be so quick to surrender though, it’s possible to have your toast and eat it too. Case in point: this Sunpentown 3 in 1 appliance. Where you sacrifice space in the oven portion, you gain a coffee maker and a built-in frying pan on top, making this the perfect appliance for breakfast lovers with limited space.

Krups Digital Convection Toaster Oven

Krups Digital Convection Toaster Oven

Since they’re roughly the same size, there’s some logical competition between a toaster oven and a microwave – after all, they do roughly the same thing. The difference between the two is a matter of taste: a microwave warms from the inside out while a toaster oven really is just an oven in miniature and warms from the outside in. When cooking or reheating larger foodstuffs, the toaster oven tends to win out. This Krups toaster oven heats quickly, evenly, and precisely, with digital controls that allow you to maintain an exact heat inside the oven so that your food cooks all the way through – no more biting into a piece of nuked chicken and finding half of it searing hot and the other half cold and clammy.

Hamilton Beach Toaster Oven

Hamilton Beach Toaster Oven

That is, to me, the selling point of toaster ovens: it’s a tiny oven and yes, it can do anything your oven can do, space permitting. While you’re not going to be cooking an entire Thanksgiving spread with a toaster oven, you could very well streamline preparation. This Hamilton Beach model is perfect for baking a loaf of bread if your oven is otherwise occupied, and since its interior is smaller than that of an actual oven, its broiler is more capable at quickly cooking something like fresh fish.

Avanti Toaster Oven with Rotisserie

Avanti Toaster Oven with Rotisserie

If your oven is in some way incapacitated or otherwise not an option, the right toaster oven is a perfect stand-in, even if you need to feed an entire family. This Avanti doesn’t even consider itself anything less than what it is: a small oven, and, since it sports a fully functional rotisserie kit, chances are good that it’s better equipped than its big brother. Why heat up the whole kitchen – and a lot of unneeded space inside the oven – when you can cook an entire chicken in your toaster oven?

Hamilton Beach Toaster Oven with Built in Probe

Hamilton Beach Toaster Oven with Built in Probe

The traditional oven has fallen by the wayside in favor of the faster, easier microwave oven, so the sheer versatility of the oven is often overlooked. Until we start to rediscover what’s possible with the modern hearth, the toaster oven is a perfect middle ground…maybe enough so that we’ll just end up replacing our traditional ovens with extra counter space so we can fit a toaster oven and a microwave side-by-side. This Hamilton Beach toaster oven has a built-in probe, virtually eliminating my least favorite facet of cooking in the oven: overcooked, dry meat. It’s hard to defend the oven when its relatively tiny doppelganger does the job better.

Cuisinart Convection Toaster Oven

Cuisinart Convection Toaster Oven

Since ovens work by heating the air inside and then holding it at a specific temperature, the next best thing to a probe is a precise internal heat sensor like the one in this high-end Cuisinart toaster oven. In fact, this model does everything right short of having a separate probe: it has easy-to-clean chrome on the outside and the inside is lined with an even-easier-to-clean nonstick material, it’s large enough to bake a whole pizza or an entire chicken, it heats evenly, quickly, and quietly, and it comes with a crumb and drip tray.

Sure, a toaster oven cooks toast slower than a plain toaster, and it takes up much more counter space, but what if you want more than toast? Your standard toaster is only capable of a single task – toasting – while a good toaster oven can toast, bake, or broil. If you’ve already got a full-size kitchen and you rarely find yourself wishing for more oven space, a toaster oven may be overkill, but in the right situation – say, a dorm room, a small apartment, or your RV – the toaster oven is an incredibly versatile and useful appliance.

Do you own a toaster oven? What do you use it for – just toast, or whole meals?

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