Let me count the ways...
I've been playing with the Breville Smart Oven, which yes, makes toast, but is so much more than a toaster oven. It's just big enough to bake a pie, even a 13" round pizza. It gets hot quickly and has some neat features like a magnetic rack that pulls out when the door is opened. This particular unit would be a really good choice for kitchens without ovens (I see this more than you might expect in NYC apartments) or for anyone trying to cut back on wasteful energy. Why heat up a big gas oven to bake a potato?
Here are a few of the things I use my toaster oven for. Tell us in the comments how you use yours.
- Warm plates before serving. Many large ovens only go down to 200°F which can be too high. A counter-top oven goes lower. I like heating plates for 5 minutes at 170°F.
- Toast nuts. Arrange in a single layer on included pan or a sheet of aluminum foil. 350°F for 10-15 minutes, agitating to turn nuts every 5 minutes.
- Make small batches of cookies, muffins, individual cakes
- Cook side dishes (like stuffing) while the main oven is occupied with something bigger (the turkey).
- Roast small batches of meat: a whole roaster chicken, quartered, fits easily, as does a pork tenderloin, a few pounds of ribs, etc.
- Re-heat left-overs.
- Defrost frozen ingredients.
- Bake potatoes.
- Melt cheese on top of French Onion Soup.
- Anything you'd use the broiler for with the added bonus of using less energy and having more control: your broiled food will be at counter-height with a see-through window.
The big argument that is always made about toaster ovens is that they don't make toast well. This is partly true, although it does vary from model to model. The Breville does a good job, although in more time than a traditional toaster. Forget toast though, this is about cooking (entirely if you choose) with a counter-top oven. Goodbye gas bill.
Those with an eye toward replacing a traditional oven should shy away from cheap counter-top toaster ovens. Look for a counter-top oven with convection and at least 1500watts of power.
So go ahead, tell us why you love your counter-top oven, and be sure to tell us which one you have.
Related: Could You Live Without an Oven?