There is exactly one good use for a toaster oven

The kitchen in my house has a toaster oven tucked into one corner just under the wall cabinets. It gathered dust unused for years, because toaster ovens were a silly 1970s fad that disintegrated in the face of inexpensive microwave ovens. But I’ve found exactly one use for it that a microwave doesn’t emulate well.

Improvised garlic bread:

Your main prerequisite for this is a loaf of Italian or French bread. Works best if the loaf is more or less baguette-shaped so you can cut the bread into relatively small rounds surrounded by crust.

(1) cut the bread into thick slices,

(2) shave thin slices of butter off a stick of it and lay them on the bread slices until they roughly cover each one

(3) sprinkle garlic powder liberally on top of the butter

(4) place on tinfoil in toaster oven

(5) toast for 2 minutes.

Notably, this works OK even if the bread is a bit old, as the butter moistens it nicely.

Total prep time about 5 minutes. Results: Om nom nom.

That is all.

64 thoughts on “There is exactly one good use for a toaster oven

  1. Actually, there was a recent article in a ham radio magazine (QST) where a guy showed how to use a toaster oven to solder a board full of SMT components.

  2. Well, you can’t really make toast in a microwave. I have a sort of soft spot for toaster ovens, as we always had one during my childhood before we got a microwave, and used it for all sorts of random things.

  3. >how to use a toaster oven to solder a board full of SMT components.

    OK, *two* good uses…

  4. Toaster ovens are (IMO) great. They not only make toast, but they’re, well, small ovens. If you have something small to bake or broil (fish, home-made mac-and-cheese to get that crispy top, etc.), you can do it in there rather than using all the energy to fire up a full-sized oven. Now, admittedly, I had more use for the toaster oven when I lived alone and cooked for one. But I still use mine frequently. In fact, I find microwaves to be tools of few uses. Reheating foods is about the one clear use (and I use mine for that frequently). Microwave popcorn is often cited as their only real use — but I find microwave popcorn to be full of a lot of fat and salt. I just make my own popcorn and then I can control the butter (if any) and salt. My main “cooking” use for a microwave is unusual: quick baked potatoes when I’m grilling steaks outside. After time in the microwave to cook them quickly, some time on the high rack in the grill with the steaks gives them a baked-like crispy skin.

  5. Eh, they’re good for most any small item that just needs top-browning and no other heat, it’s just that there are very few such dishes. Croque monsieur leaps to mind, as well as mini-pizzas and welsh rarebit. Could probably do a queso fundido in one, but I never want that little queso fundido. Overall, yeah, not much point. Better off learning to really use your oven’s broiler.

  6. I’m really surprised that anyone would think toaster ovens aren’t very useful. They’re ideal reheating pizza or making nachos or toasting things like croissants that won’t fit in a toaster. Turning on the real oven and waiting for it to warm up is utter overkill for lots of things.

  7. Toast-R-Ovens are awesome for baking single portions of anything that would be a waste of time and energy to preheat a full-sized oven for. A couple of fishsticks, some tacquitos, or chicken nuggets for the kids’ lunch are good examples.

    We only use the oven for large sized portions (chicken nuggets for the entire cub scout den) or things like turkeys, hams, pizzas, etc. that obviously don’t fit in a toast-r-oven.

  8. Bagels.
    Roasted garlic (can be done in conventional oven, but faster and more efficient in a toaster).
    Quickly melting cheese on a variety of things.)
    Various random non cooking tasks that involve heating things in a relatively controlled manner, like some varnishes. (note: different toaster oven, and in well ventilated space.)
    And a weird one:
    Getting an excellent texture on very rare steak. Learned this when I had a shitty stove, and still tend to do it at times.

    I actually rather like toaster ovens.

  9. Our kitchen contains:

    * A 1100 watt microwave / range hood (conveniently placed over the range / oven )
    * A Glass-topped electric range with (2) ovens: the bottom oven is a full-sized convection oven; the top oven is a thin oven intended for baking items that don’t need the full height of a conventional oven. The upper oven heats much faster than the lower oven, since it only has less than a third of the volume of the lower oven.
    * A 4-slot toaster.
    * A toaster oven.

    The toaster oven is the least used of the four appliances, but only because of the small oven. Before we had the small oven, we used the toaster oven for many warming tasks (reheating pizza, garlic bread, baking individual cookies, etc).

    On the other hand, Carrie’s workshop has two toaster ovens, that she uses for various jewelry making tasks, of which the list is too long for me to enumerate.

    Suffice to say, I believe you need to limit your premise to *kitchen* tasks, and even then your premise is still incorrect. On the other hand, toaster ovens are almost ideally suited to producing small quantities of warm tasty foods.

  10. I ate huge amounts of garlic bread made in a toaster oven in college. The difference from your recipe is I melted the butter in the microwave and poured it on the bread, and I bought 5lb blocks of mozzarella and put a slice on each piece.

  11. I’m a fan of toaster ovens for things like ham sandwiches – sure, you can just put ham on toast, but actually getting the meat and cheese hot just makes it better.

  12. OK…now that we’ve all lauded the humble toaster oven…how do you folks clean off the burned on crap that the appliance accumulates rather quickly?

    Armed, Dangerous and Household Hints….

  13. Yeah, I never thought of roasting garlic in one but for sure any time you want to reheat anything involving a baked product (bread, pastry, etc), toaster ovens are orders of magnitude better than a microwave. And unless you’re feeding 6+ people, a regular oven would be overkill for something like that.

  14. To reheat pizza, first warm it up in the microwave, then run it through a toast cycle in the toaster oven to crisp it up again. This makes it good without drying it out. Of course, those of you who live outside of the NY Metro area don’t know what proper pizza tastes like anyway, so this does not apply to you.

  15. Eric – there are plenty more kitchen uses.

    To borrow some points from Robert O.’s answer and add mine, I have (especially when I lived alone or just with a partner) used it for:

    – Baked potatoes (cut un-peeled potatoes in halves, sprinkle with olive oil and salt and rosemary, toaster on)

    – Pizza (reheating real one or making home made one)

    – Grilled cheese sandwiches (rather, melted cheese to be more precise)

    – Italian style buttered/oiled bread toast (not just garlic)

    – Pouched fish (forgot proper culinary name for the method, but basically the fish is wrapped in pergament paper or foil)

    – olive-oil-covered chicken quarters. 2-4 of them fit beautifully in the small/midsized oven and end up with crunchy-to-perfection skin

  16. I just use my “oven” for those tasks, myself.

    Overkill? Yeah, so?

    Gas is cheap, and it’s one less stupid thing to break taking up counter space and tangling cords.

    Nothing wrong with a toaster oven, in principle, but…

  17. toaster ovens were a silly 1970s fad that disintegrated in the face of inexpensive microwave ovens.

    apples and oranges. in the ’70s, the toaster oven carried the weight of being a general heat-it-up appliance, a duty that microwaves perform better in most cases. but today, they’re different tools for different jobs. i got miles of usage from a toaster oven for the bulk of the ’90s.

  18. Speaking on various use cases that came up—

    bagels: are vastly better done in an actual toaster with a bagel setting (i.e., turn off one side and turn up the other)
    fish sticks, taquitos, mac-and-cheese: learn your oven. The broiler is unquestionably tricky, and requires Continual Partial Attention (TM), but gives better results in less time than a toaster oven, once you learn to work it. Sadly, Eric, garlic bread probably also fits this category.
    roasted garlic: ooooh, I may need to try that (or would if I had a toaster oven)
    Texture on a rare steak: Let me introduce you to the Bernz-O-Matic plumber’s torch. Runs about $23 at Home Depot, plus propane. There is no better tool for getting a crust on otherwise rare meat. I’ve used it on steaks, pork tenderloins, and chicken, all in the last few months. No, I’m not joking. Professional chefs use torches to sear meats, and there’s absolutely no reason that you can’t do the same. Searing is important, and toaster ovens are okay but frankly a bit wimpy for this purpose.

  19. I have long considered conventional pop-up toasters to be Rube Goldberg devices. I vastly prefer toaster-ovens for toasting bread! Particularly when the bread has some thickness e.g. bagels or English muffins.

  20. They have microwave ovens now that double as convection (toaster) ovens.

  21. >Of course, those of you who live outside of the NY Metro area don’t know what proper pizza tastes like anyway, so this does not apply to you.

    I pity you in your ignorance. NY metro pizza is better than most other places, true, but even the higher-end NY places I’ve been to barely compete with an average pizza joint in the Philly/South-Jersey area. I have conducted extensive research with my very own tastebuds, and I tell you Italian street food (pizzas, hoagies, steak sandwiches) is better within 50 miles of Billy Penn’s hat than it gets anywhere else in the world, with the possible exception of Italy itself (and there are reasons to doubt that).

    New York and Chicago have respectable second-rate equivalents, but they are second-rate. Take this judgment seriously because I’m not from here; my judgment is not compromised by tribal loyalty or regional patriotism.

  22. Microwaves are a great way to rapidly boil (or especially steam) food; not so great for baking. Ovens are great for baking, not so great for rapid. If you want rapid baking (which is essential to reheating anything less liquidy than soup without ruining the texture) then you want a toaster oven. Frozen-then-reheated pizza now tastes even better than freshly cooked, astonishingly. Best wedding present we got.

    A combo microwave+radiant heat oven would be a fantastic device. Baked potatoes have to start in the microwave to cook quickly but have to finish in the oven to get the skin right, for example; and any number of other oven recipes could be vastly accelerated if the cooking could proceed from the inside and outside at once.

  23. I use my toaster oven at least once a week for bagels. Also occasionally for things like grilled cheese sandwiches, and of course, garlic bread. Om nom nom is right.

  24. I’m gonna get me one of those toaster ovens just to try this out.

    Anything to amp my consumption of garlic and butter

  25. 20 years from now, I will look back on this as the moment my life began to change. (http://xkcd.com/418/)

    Those of us with old macbooks, of course, have no need for the toaster oven. (Turns out the fans on some old macbook pros are unnecessary, since they’re capable of heating up greatly without damaging anything but your legs – and the proteins in whatever food you want cooked.) I suppose the same applies to not-so-ancient CRT monitors.

  26. Ordinary toaster oven, I agree–Does several things, none of them well enough to justify its existence. Add a fan, make it a countertop convection oven and it becomes extremely useful–heats much faster than the full size oven, cooks food evenly, a bit faster without burning, lets you cook sides that need a different temperature than the main dish.

  27. When I had a girlfriend who was a Materials Science grad student, we’d cook frozen pizzas in the sample firing kiln.

    From frozen to perfect in 9 seconds.
    From frozen to singed in 10 seconds.
    From frozen to thrown in the wastebasket in 10.5.

    Because the minimum cycle on the kiln was about 6 seconds, you did not want to put a partially thawed pizza on it.

    Sadly, one day, someone forgot to put their vapor seal cover over samples containing mercury sulfate, which outgassed, and the kiln was no longer safe for cooking food in record breaking time….

    And then there’s the story about the day the sand in the bucket caught on fire.

    http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2008/02/26/sand_wont_save_you_this_time.php

    What the hell someone was doing synthesizing chlorine triflouride, I don’t know. But that was an exciting day to be bringing Kathy lunch.

  28. esr:
    “Italian street food (pizzas, hoagies, steak sandwiches) is better within 50 miles of Billy Penn’s hat than it gets anywhere else in the world, with the possible exception of Italy itself (and there are reasons to doubt that).”

    Woah… you didn’t really say what I think you said, did you? Greetings from Italy. :-)

  29. Um, toasting? Specifically, either things too large to fit in the average vertical toaster (thick-sliced baguettes or hallah, bagels, etc., or multi-layered things that would otherwise require an actual oven (toasted cheese sandwich, tuna melt, etc.).

  30. “A combo microwave+radiant heat oven would be a fantastic device.”

    It is. And there are quite a few to choose from. I have a panasonic combination oven that I absolutely love.

  31. Ok lets dispel a few things about pizza since I can’t sleep. (post may become rantish/NSFW, please note that I’ve been baking pizzas for years, and you haven’t)
    1. your water doesn’t mean shit (yeah see you know from here it’s a rant)
    2. if your dough isn’t any good your pizza is crap too (if you just made the dough, be assured it sucks. Pizza has been around for hundreds of years, and italian flatbreads for hundreds of years more. Did you use yeast? You’re already screwed)
    3. the sauce isn’t as important as the cheese, but both have to be pretty darned good. Fresh, or aged mozzarella are acceptable, as is provalone. GOOD parm should be sprinkled over the entire pie before baking.
    4. IGNORE everything above. None of it matters, and I’ve only included it because I’m at that point of exhaustion where I’ve gone a bit crazy. Pay attention to this though because this is the bit that REALLY matters. BRICK. Pizza is PROPERLY cooked at 1200F (feel free to convert to your newfangled non-USA’ian base-10 math system if you wish). Not a degree cooler. It’s properly cooked in a wood-fired brick oven. They’re $5000+, and weigh a frakking ton. For those of us at home that are broke, there’s a sub $100 option, and a sub $1000 option, and I will outline both.
    For less than $100 you can get a box of unglazed unleaded quarry tile, and line your oven. Please note it’ll take an hour to preheat, and the proper temperature setting is “how hot does your oven go?” Your cooking time is now 6-7 minutes rather than 90 seconds, and you will have to invest in a pizza peel (which you should have anyway)
    For less than $1000 you can get a big green grilling egg which looks, and acts a whole heck of a lot like a pizza oven with an odd hinge. You’ll still want the quarry tile to line the grate, leaving space around the edges, and a pizza peel for the quarry tile. I don’t have one, but the egg should get darned near as hot as a wood fired pizza oven. It has a thermometer. If it will hit 1200F, 90 seconds is sufficient to completely cook a pizza, otherwise adjust appropriately.
    Those of you doing the math are wondering why the tile/brick is so damned important. The answer is actually simple. Pizza sauce and toppings are wet. If you don’t cook the dough very hot and very fast, it will be a soggy mess. By placing the bottom of your pizza directly on an egregiously hot stone surface, it puffs up quickly (called oven pop), then dries to a crust instead of a soggy sopping mess.
    http://www.mediafire.com/?6a8cw874t6td5tm is my pizza crust recipe in ODS. Change ONLY the total weight, and the sourdough hydration (if your starter is not 50% hydration) unless you understand baker’s math. Yes this uses a lot of starter, otherwise the crust is bland. Use 4 hour rise time on a properly kneaded dough ball, stretch (anyone caught rolling will be executed) into a crust (anyone caught tossing or spinning the dough will likewise be introduced to the hereafter).

  32. Carbs & fat?

    Keep eating like that, and you’ll significantly shorten your life.

  33. You can buy little tubes (like toothpaste tubes) of … sort of pureed garlic spread. (They also have similar tubes with pesto, anchovy paste, and so on — I don’t remember the brand offhand.) When I improvise quick garlic bread, I use this instead of garlic powder and spread it on over the butter. If desired, add freshly-grated parmesan cheese (or mozzarella) and toast (in a toaster oven, unless you’re making a LOT).

    Re: pizza and ovens, I read something a couple years ago about a guy who wanted to make authentic pizza in his kitchen, but a standard oven doesn’t get hot enough. His solution was to defeat the safety lock that keeps you from opening the oven door during the self-clean cycle, and cook the pizza using the cleaning cycle, which gets up around 900 F.

  34. It doesn’t really matter:

    “Even bad pizza is still pizza…”
    – Jay Leno

  35. A toaster oven is a far more versatile appliance than a toaster. You can bake, broil or roast almost anything in it that will fit. You cannot bake, broil or roast anything in a microwave, even with convection, which I find useless. Convection microwaves only blow hot air and desiccate the food. Some things are better microwaved, and some things are better made in a toaster oven. The only thing that a toaster does better than a toaster oven is toast sliced bread. That’s it.

  36. >Woah… you didn’t really say what I think you said, did you? Greetings from Italy. :-)

    The first reason to doubt that is that some of the most interesting kinds of “Italian” street food here don’t actually exist in Italy itself – or if they do, only as very recent back-transplants with no native tradition. The hoagie and the Philly-style steak sandwich are both cases in point, invented by Italian immigrants to the U.S.

    The second reason to doubt is quality of ingredients. While Italian bread in Italy is generally superior to American variants, the meat and vegetables available to American sandwich shops are better quality than Italians in Italy have generally available (there are some regional exceptions, especially for those able to pay gourmet prices).

    I used to live in Italy, so the above is not mere speculation.

  37. This is my pizza-baking experience:

    I did try a pizza stone in a conventional oven some time ago (something like http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0001IX0XK). The results were unremarkable, even on maximum heat – still nothing like a proper Italian-made pizza in a brick oven.

    Part of the problem was the lack of a pizza peel – therefore having to take the heated stone out of the oven, assemble the pizza on it, and then back into the oven. I was intending to fix this by getting a peel, but before I could do that I dropped the stone (fortunately empty and cool) and broke it. So ended that experiment :-(

    Currently the best pizza results I can get at home are using a perforated baking plate (such as http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00022BSGQ) and oven at maximum. They are acceptable, even if not authentic.

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  39. …there are quite a few to choose from. I have a panasonic combination oven that I absolutely love.

    A more rational person than I would have, after lamenting that such an obviously good invention as a combination oven doesn’t exist, said “I notice that I am confused” and then gone looking for what inaccurate idea led to that confusion. In this case, hindsight reveals that the proposition “if I haven’t noticed it during brief walks through the appliance aisles, it must not exist” wasn’t my brain’s best work.

    I still wonder why they’re not more popular, but I guess “more expensive” probably explains that.

  40. Toaster ovens are awesome for folks with kids.

    Most of the use cases are covered above (chicken nuggets, taquitos, pizza reheat, etc) but they are largely baked/broiled finger foods for the kids that would otherwise be a soggy mess from the microwave.

    Melted cheese on X is also another common recipe. As in melted cheese on toast, bagel, sandwich, whatever.

    Both the microwave and toaster oven get a workout in my house.

  41. >In this case, hindsight reveals that the proposition “if I haven’t noticed it during brief walks through the appliance aisles, it must not exist” wasn’t my brain’s best work.

    Repeat this mantra until it becomes second nature: “Search is better than guessing, better than memory, and sometimes better than thought”.

  42. Sanyo makes (or made…I’ve had it for a number of years) a combination toaster/convection oven. It’s good for all the things mentioned, plus you can bake small portions in it. I’ve used it many times to make a small batch of biscuits for breakfast and, on a couple of occasions, used it to roast a turkey breast when there were only two people here for Thanksgiving. As others have mentioned, it’s also great for browning things that you’ve cooked in the microwave.

  43. On the topic of steaks, I don’t like them bloody and raw in the middle, so I find a hot-as-possible cast-iron pan gets me a great crust and pink insides just fine.

    5-7 minutes a side – depending on thickness – touch it only to flip, with just oil, salt, and pepper.

    Reliably excellent, every time.

  44. A. Cinnamon toast?
    1. Bread of choice.
    2. Butter
    3. Appropriate mixture of cinnamon & sugar
    4. Apply butter to bread
    5. Cover buttered side w. sugar mixture
    6. Toast until butter melts and sugar mixture is crispish.
    B. Reheating chicken-fried anything?
    C. A baked potato?

  45. With appropriate modifications to the thermostat, a toaster oven can also serve as an emergency reflow oven when your GPU or network card has gone flaky due to excessive handling and/or vibration.

  46. >(3) sprinkle garlic powder liberally on top of the butter

    Garlic POWDER? Yuck!

    Nearly any grocery store has fresh garlic. Use a grater if you can’t be bothered to buy a proper garlic press.

  47. use #3> reheating bacon.

    Place sad, limp, refrigerated, leftover bacon (only suitable for dog treats) in toaster oven for 30 seconds until fat is seen bubbling….enjoy crispy hot bacon. Not the same quality as once cooked, but quick.

  48. 1) Get fresh bagel from favorite place of fresh bagel procurement. Lender’s will do in a pinch, however.
    2) Take one medium-to-thick slice of cheddar cheese (mild or sharp to taste) and nuke for 5 seconds in the microwave. Add cheese to each sliced bagel half.
    3) Take leftover srambled eggs and top them over the cheese.
    4) Add leftover bacon.
    5) Insert in toaster oven and cook on medium-high heat until cheese is nice and melty.

    Very good breakfast sandwich. Trust me!

  49. Also useful for heating pistol frames for painting with today’s somewhat self lubricating coatings. For the squeamish or wise a thrift shop toaster oven does just fine.

  50. “but I find microwave popcorn to be full of a lot of fat and salt.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing? Butter is GOOD for you. Lots of good vitamins and minerals in there.

  51. RE: Pizza:

    Lou Boccardis in STL. Everything else is just over sweetened sauce on bread dough.

    http://www.louboccardis.com/

    (Imo’s comes close, but they’ve started cutting corners in the last decade)

  52. “Carbs & fat?

    Keep eating like that, and you’ll significantly shorten your life.”

    Existence without pizza (and occasionally some other foods) does not qualify as “life”. You can be OCD Paleo Wonder all you want, I’ll sit back fat(er), drunk and happy while you’re grinding out another set of kettle bell swings and drinking lightly flavored water.

    And yeah, I’ll die 5 years sooner, but really, are they *good* years?

  53. Pizza in Italy is not the same food as pizza in the United States. Comparing Italian pizza to American pizza is like comparing mu-shu pork to a carnitas burrito (california/mission style – my wife informs me that burritos are different in Texas and New Mexico) – there are some resemblances, but the comparison is purely a matter of taste.

  54. >Pizza in Italy is not the same food as pizza in the United States.

    That is true. The Italian version is comparatively primitive – or was when I lived there, anyway; that was decades ago.

    In general I strongly prefer Italian Italian food to the over-tomatoed, over-cheesed crap that is served as “Italian” in most U.S. restaurants. (You probably know that American “Italian” food is largely a sort of bad parody of Italian peasant cooking.) But there are a handful of things our Italian immigrants do better; pizza and sandwiches are two of them.

  55. Actually there is one more use, as I’ve just discovered recently. It’s great for softening Kydex enough to form around a gun/knife/multitool if you want make your own holster.

  56. I used the toaster oven to toast tortillas. Way cheaper than buying the pre-toasted ones.

    Regular oven/broiler would be a waste of energy to do the same.

  57. @LS:
    I use the stove to toast tortillas. I just place them right on the burner.

  58. I thought I’d just throw this in the mix-an Oster convection oven that will do a 16″ frozen pizza. Roasts, ya know, flesh of the pig, with a crust that is unbelievable….450 degree air will do that…plus it’s a toaster, if you will…speaking of pizza, living here in east Texas, well, the Oster does a really good pizza….this thing will burn stuff quick, so ys have to be careful…99.00 plus tax at the local walmart….convection ovens are really usefull, and I actually had a Kenmore micro-convection oven about 15 years ago that was amazing…..roast chickens and capons, anyone?

  59. Sigivald: I do like them hot and bloody inside, but I still use cast iron. Butter one side of the steak, throw that side down on the (very) hot cast iron, and butter the other side while it’s cooking. Flip it after a few, let it cook the other side, and use the tongs to test the firmness of the meat for doneness.

    I’m also quite fond of my toaster oven, so I’m apparently some sort of cooking wierdo around here.

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