If you were to ask most people to name the differences between a toaster oven and a microwave oven, they probably wouldn’t be able to do so. Toaster ovens and microwaves both have an important place when it comes to convenience and ease of cooking, which is why many people prefer to have one of each in the kitchen. Likewise, some cooks tend to use toaster ovens primarily for browning and toasting - although in reality, a good toaster oven can perform many of the same functions of a microwave.
Gone are the days when a toaster oven was used primarily for yummy, runny cheese toast and other grilled sandwiches. Today’s toaster ovens are high wattage smart ovens that can do pretty much everything a conventional oven or a microwave can do. In fact, because of its browning properties, a toaster oven can actually do a number of things that a microwave can’t.
If you need a quick primer on the differences between a toaster oven and a microwave, it’s important to consider each appliance’s strong points before deciding which one is right for you.
- Browning – Microwave ovens cannot brown foods, but toaster ovens can. Toaster ovens have a broiler function which works much the same as an oven broiler, browning evenly and, in the case of a quality toaster oven, quickly as well.
- Countertop Convenience – For countertop convenience, a toaster oven is usually much lighter than a microwave - and also more user-friendly. If you’re tired of heavy gadgets in the kitchen, you’re going to definitely prefer a toaster oven. Microwave ovens generally take up more counter space and require some headroom as well, which can be especially difficult if your kitchen cabinets are set low.
- Energy Efficiency – The microwave gets an edge when it comes to energy efficiency, but only a very slight one. On average, a microwave oven uses between 700-1,300 watts while a toaster oven uses between 1,200-1,800 watts. In the end, a microwave oven will use a third of the energy of a conventional oven, while a toaster oven uses half the energy. Both are considerably more energy efficient than a conventional oven, but otherwise, it’s a toss-up between the two and depends on the individual wattage of the toaster oven or microwave that you choose.
- Crispy Cooking – For crispy cooking, the toaster oven has a decided advantage over the microwave. If you’re used to soggy microwave bacon, you’ll appreciate the delicious crispiness you’ll get from a toaster oven. The broiling unit can crisp everything from meats to breads; you can even make toaster oven potato chips with no frying necessary. Unfortunately, crisping, like browning, is a function that has never been perfected in a microwave oven.
- Bread Heating - Breads heat up better in a toaster oven. Have you ever eaten tough, warmed-over microwave bread? That rapid microwave heating tends to toughen everything from breads to vegetables if you’re not careful.
- Large Meals – If you’re constantly cooking large meals, or if you spend a lot of time cooking large items, then you’re probably going to be happier with a microwave oven, the larger the better. But if you’re not in the habit of cooking a turkey every day of the week, then this shouldn’t be a deciding factor in your choice. Besides, many quality toaster ovens are large enough to bake a chicken or even a medium-size pizza.
- Heating Times – Heating times between microwave ovens and toaster ovens can be comparable, depending on what you’re heating. Likewise, while the microwave may be faster in heating some foods, it also toughens them up more quickly as well. A toaster oven’s heat distribution may take slightly longer on foods such as meats, but the slightly slower cooking time will allow for a more even cooking. The inside of those baked potatoes will be soft and fluffy, not hard and chewy, while that sockeye salmon will be flaky, not rubbery.
By weighing these pros and cons, you’ll be better able to decide which is right for you. If you just want something to heat up water and an occasional frozen dinner as quickly as possible, you may opt for a microwave oven for the sheer speed of cooking. But in the end, a toaster oven is the best choice for overall convenience and versatility when it comes to properly and evenly heating a wide variety of foods. If you like your food to be heated evenly without overdone or underdone sections, and if you like your toast and bacon crispy and brown, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the difference a quality toaster oven can make to your everyday cooking.