The Toaster Oven in the Solo Kitchen

Cooking for One

Did you know that the toaster oven is one of the few small appliances that Alice Waters approves of? If you do a lot of cooking for one, then you will agree that a good toaster oven is a kitchen necessity. The key is to purchase a decent model, one that really functions as an oven as well as a toaster. Then you can do everything from roast a small chicken (or my favorite, chicken thighs!) to baking off a small tray of cookies to making your cinnamon toast in the morning.

One of most popular assumptions is that a toaster oven is more efficient than heating up a regular oven when cooking small amounts. Is this really true? Yes it is, according to Adria Vasil of Now:

"A typical electric oven runs on 2,500 to 5,000 watts (depending on the model, age and mode it's in) and set to 350° uses an average 2 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy for 60 minutes of cooking time. A 1,200-watt toaster oven set to 450° for 50 minutes uses only 0.9 kWh, according to BC Hydro."

Of course, a microwave uses even less energy but is limited in how it cooks food. You cannot successfully roast a small chicken a microwave, for instance, while a good toaster oven will perform this task quite beautifully, especially if you have a convection setting which will help to cook the bird faster and promote a crispy brown skin.

What makes a good toaster oven?
The toaster oven needs to accomplish two distinct tasks: to function like a toaster to produce a proper piece of toast while at the same time offering enough oomph to broil a piece of meat or bake a lasagne. Here's what I look for in a good toaster oven:

1) Heats properly. In order for a toaster oven to truly live up to it's multi-tasking promise, it must be able to both toast bread and and bake, roast and broil food. This is not always the case, so read the reviews before purchasing. A bad toaster oven will dry out bread before toasting it or not produce enough 'oven power' to properly cook food. Adding a convection mode only increases its potential to cook foods quickly and efficiently, and more and more ovens are adding this feature.

2) Easy to Use Dials. Sometimes the front of a toaster oven more closely resembles an airplane cockpit than a household appliance. While a toaster oven is a multi-tasker, it should also function as simply as possible, with easy to use dials and displays.

3) Built-in Timer. I don't know about you, but in my household a toaster oven without a timer would be a disaster. I cannot count the number of times I have been saved by my toaster oven's ping!

4) Easy to Keep Clean. In general, toaster ovens are easy to clean as most models come with removable crumb trays and racks. But if you do a lot of proper cooking in your toaster oven, you will want to be able to wipe down the inside with relative ease.

Do you love your toaster oven? What kind do you have? How do you use it?

My Essential Appliance: Breville Smart Oven
Can you Recommend a Good Small Toaster Oven?
Toaster or toaster Oven: Which Do You Prefer?
How Do I Clean Grease Out of the Toaster Oven?
10 Best Uses for Your Toaster Oven

(Image: Breville)

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Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.