5 Things I Learned When I Replaced My Microwave with a Toaster Oven
It’s not that I’ve ever been afraid of the kitchen; I’ve always been one to bring homemade treats to friends and make my grandma’s meatballs during the holidays. But when it came to cooking for one, making a multi-part meal in my bachelor-style kitchen felt clunky. Turning on the oven would make half my apartment feel like one, and the countertop clutter from all the usual appliances — including a microwave, coffee machine, and toaster — made the space feel uninviting. Most of the time, I’d spend my meals grazing, boil some pasta, or just order out.
That all changed when, one day, after taking a floppy piece of pizza out of the microwave, I was inspired: I would replace both my ancient microwave and my pop toaster with a toaster oven. My only two criteria were that it fit in the 23-inch space between my refrigerator and stove and that it not be too expensive. I quickly found the perfect-for-me Cuisinart on sale at Costco soon after. It was a fairly basic model — especially compared to the ones on the market today, some of which also have air fryer settings or pizza oven compartments — but it toasted, baked, and broiled, and that was enough to change my eating habits for good. Here are five things I learned once I started using my toaster oven.
1. It heats my food more evenly than my microwave ever did.
I bought my toaster oven with the main goal of replacing my microwave. Whether or not standing too close to the microwave is dangerous, microwaved food always makes me a little sad, like the food isn’t able to reach its full potential, largely due to the way microwaves heat. (They use electromagnetic waves — microwaves, in fact — to heat the water inside the food.) If you’ve ever microwaved something and noticed some parts are scalding while others are still cold, that means the water content of your food isn’t evenly distributed. That’s also why microwaving sometimes leaves food dry (because the water molecules become too excited and leave the food), or, if you covered it, soggy (because at this point, you’re basically steaming your food).
Toaster ovens, on the other hand, heat food in the same way that ovens do: By warming the enclosed space around the food, food warms from the outside in, regardless of the food’s makeup. It takes more time than a microwave, but the reward is even heat, good texture, and food that feels worth eating.
2. It’s more energy-efficient than my oven.
Because toaster ovens are smaller, it takes less time than ovens do to reach the desired temperature, and they use less energy to get there. A 2011 report from Energy Star noted a toaster oven uses between a third and a half less energy than a conventional oven. Lower energy use also explains why using the toaster oven won’t heat up the kitchen in the same way a conventional oven does, making for a more comfortable cooking experience to prepare the exact same foods. Compare a pan of roasted vegetables and crispy chickpeas from the toaster oven to the full oven and you won’t see (or taste!) a difference, but your energy bill just might.
3. It’s more versatile than my pop-up toaster.
Having owned both as an adult, I cannot figure out why anyone would buy a pop toaster over a toaster oven. To start, pop toasters are difficult to maintain. They drop crumbs when you try to move or store them, and cleaning inside the slots is an intricate, moderately dangerous ordeal. Sure, you can get a pop toaster for $10, but that’s $10 for an appliance that only accommodates food of a very specific shape (flat) and consistency (dry). Off the top of my head, that is two foods: sliced bread and bagels.
Instead, you can get a toaster oven that toasts everything a toaster can (again, sliced bread and bagels), plus a whole range of food that would break your toaster: leftover pizza, hunks of bread, cheese sandwiches (with all add-ons, like tomato and ham), any variety of breakfast pastries, from plain croissant to fruit-filled Danish — the list goes on. In a toaster oven, you are free to toast to your heart’s content.
4. It’s encouraging me to practice better eating habits …
Buying a toaster oven transformed my eating habits. Suddenly, I was able to cook anything I wanted in this small appliance, and it was usually perfectly portioned for one. Lunches went from sad desk salads to roasted vegetables over quinoa; dinners upgraded from a series of snacks to salmon. Leftovers felt more satisfying with proper heating, and even my snacks were better (fresh toaster oven-baked cookies!). Using a toaster oven is just so easy, there was no longer a reason to half-ass any meal: All you do is put a few things on a small pan, put it in the toaster, press a few buttons, and walk away for 20 minutes. Frankly, for the first time, I felt like I was eating like a real adult should eat.
5 … Without requiring better cleaning habits.
One of the most satisfying parts of getting a toaster oven was the decluttering it allowed me to do. Opening up a microwave-sized space in my kitchen gave me a modest, but totally adequate prep space, which in turn made it easier to contain messes inside the kitchen area. Plus, toaster oven cookware is typically just a small roasting pan or baking dish, a delight for your dishwasher or drying rack compared to cumbersome full-size oven cookware.
If you live alone like I do, it can be hard to justify putting much effort into solo meals. My toaster oven helped me realize that eating great food every day doesn’t have to be a huge production. It can be as simple as one appliance, tucked neatly between my fridge and stove top, allotting me 20 minutes to throw away the carrot and potato peels, put away the rosemary, and dress a bed of spinach. What could be easier?
This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 5 Ways Replacing My Microwave with a Toaster Oven Changed My Kitchen Habits for Good