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Throwdown: Toaster Oven vs. Microwave

Do hounds tend to prefer one or the other?

I vastly prefer a toaster oven. The microwave that came with my kitchen went into storage so I could use its shelf for cookbooks and I haven't once missed it. I can't think of an application where the microwave is a better alternative, but more than one guest to my house has noticed the microwave missing so I'm wondering which appliance gets more votes.

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  1. So the toaster oven makes good popcorn?

    16 Replies
    1. re: ferret

      Touche! We aren't big popcorn people so haven't run into that particular problem. :)

      1. re: Aravisea

        My vote is always for the toaster oven.

        I won't eat microwave popcorn because of the carcinogens emitted from the Fluorooctanoic acid used to coat the bags. I make popcorn the old fashioned way.

        1. re: FoodChic

          FoodChick: Re; MW popcorn: Not to mention the diacetyl particulates, long-term exposure to which can cause bronchiolitis obliterans.

            1. re: FoodChic

              *munches down another handful of microwaved popcorn*

              1. re: ZenSojourner

                Have at it. You won't find it in my house.

                1. re: FoodChic

                  *munches down ANOTHER handful of microwaved popcorn*


                  1. re: ZenSojourner

                    Remeber that popcorn during your chemo treatments. :-)

                    1. re: FoodChic

                      Yeah - it's not cancer the stuff in microwave popcorn causes, and its not eating it that's the problem.

                      Its the diacetyl they were using, it causes scarring of the lungs if you BREATHE it. Only 3 people outside of popcorn processing plants ever got that disease, and one of them still got it as a work-related situation (she was microwaving 30 bags of microwave popcorn in a row in a small enclosed space).

                      They don't use diacetyl in microwave popcorn anymore. Though some of the stuff they've replaced it with is raising hackles. Not because it's caused anyone problems, but because some people are afraid it MIGHT, some day.

                      So as long as I keep it down to something under 30 bags of popcorn a day and don't make it a habit to breathe deeply as I take it out of the microwave, I'm good.

                2. re: ZenSojourner

                  Hilarious ZS! I'd be munching with you if I had any popcorn! lolz

            2. re: FoodChic

              My microwave pops the same popcorn as whatever method you are using.

              1. re: FoodChic

                Put 1-2 TBS popcorn in a brown paper bag. Nothing else NEEDS to go in, but some like to add a tsp of their favorite oil. Fold the end shut and tape or staple shut. (The staples will be ok in the microwave and WON'T arc). Microwave until popping slows down - this will take some experimentation - it depends on your microwave. You want it long enough to pop most of the kernels without burning any.

                You now have your own microwave popcorn, done the way you like, quickly and easily, with just a bag to throw away. AND none of the artificial junk they put in commercial microwave popcorn!

            3. re: ferret

              So you've never made popcorn on your stovetop???

              1. re: c oliver

                I have, which is why I find the microwave that much more appealing. I've also boiled water on my stovetop, reheated small portions of leftovers on the stovetop, etc. I've also baked potatoes in my oven. I can do nearly everything I need to do without a microwave, but I can do many things quicker and easier with a microwave.

              2. re: ferret

                I like air popped best, myself.

              3. Both are vital in our kitchen!

                Example -- I use the micro to thaw frozen waffles before heating them in the TO. Conversely, I use the micro to finish heating up Toaster Scrambles in the TO because they inevitably remain slightly cold in the middle.

                Most leftovers -- micro. Leftover pizza -- TO

                And so on and so forth.

                1. Neither...I recently discovered the beauty of the ultravection oven, and it puts a microwave and toaster oven to shame! Everything comes out crispy as can be, as if it were deep fried, without the grease! It is truly marvelous thing!!!

                  1. I have both and use both. The toaster oven is an energy efficient alternative to heating up the big oven for a small item. If one were in an either/or situation, they could get a MW/convection which is what I have. That then gives me a second oven also.

                    1. I use the microwave for warming and softening tortillas, cooking bacon, melting cheese and reheating leftovers. Our toaster oven is used mostly for making toast and bagels.

                      1. Don't own a toaster oven.

                        1. I miss having a toaster oven terribly, and I'd miss having the microwave just as much. In my ideal kitchen I would have both.

                          As it is, I am toaster oven-less because all the things I could do in my toaster oven I can do in my regular oven. Except perfect cinnamon toast. ;( But I can't use either to rapidly defrost something from my freezer trove, or easily re-heat the cup of tea that got cold while I was on hold with the electric company. The microwave can also function as an additional "burner" on my stove when I am doing complicated cooking, letting me melt butter or reheat stock or warm veg while all my stove top burners are being used.

                          So my vote would have to go for preferring the microwave.

                          1. That's easy... a microwave.

                            Any gadget in my kitchen has to hold its weight. It has to be very good at doing things that are much harder to do with other kitchen hardware.

                            A toaster oven:

                            1. Does not toast as well as a toaster
                            2. Does not cook as well as an oven

                            I therefore use my oven to cook, my microwave to reheat/boil, and my stove to make popcorn. I use each gadget according to its best served talent.

                            Mr Taster

                            18 Replies
                            1. re: Mr Taster

                              Re #s 1 and 2, I think that's a bit too broad a statement. We recently bought a new toaster (for only $30! on sale) that does both of those just great. Also has a rotisserie and is convection. They've come a long way.

                              ETA: oops - "toaster OVEN"

                              1. re: c oliver

                                According to Cooks Illustrated, the heating elements on most toaster ovens are pairs of narrow, exposed bars on top and bottom of the toaster oven, which cycle on and off to control temperature in the oven. This is a very imprecise heating method which is the Achilles heel of the toaster oven... hot spots.

                                With this type of heating system, you get intense heat in proximity to the bars, which means uneven cooking and unevenly browned toast. Some models have taken measures to diffuse this heat better, like convection or using quartz sheathes to disperse the heat. But, despite advances, the same fundamental problem exists.

                                Hot spots.

                                Not good for cooking, not good for toast.

                                Compare a toaster oven heating element to a good quality toaster, which has 8-10 evenly spaced wire heating elements which run up and down each side of the bread. The bread is heated evenly on both sides, creating uniform browning. Diffuse heat from toaster oven elements can't create the same beautiful, evenly browned symmetry of the direct heating elements of a good quality toaster.

                                Mr Taster

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    No problem... I too have learned a lot from the pros at CI.

                                    Mr Taster

                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      Actually I was being polite. One of the things I've learned here on CH is that CI is not infrequently wrong when it comes to their product evaluation.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        As a subscriber to CI for several years, I find that they're correct more often than not, and the things I feel they're wrong about are more subjective matters of taste (like determining the "best tomato paste") rather than matters of science (like measuring consistent temps in meat smokers). Their methodology for these kinds of empirically verifiable things is generally pretty tight, with multiple measurements and redundancies for controls. As a result, these kinds of reviews are accurate more often than not. And I should know-- I've tested them on their picks dozens of times and am rarely disappointed.

                                        Mr Taster

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          c oliver: Dang! That's TWICE now we've agreed on something. Of CI, I prefer to say: "Frequently wrong; never unsure."

                                          On the main topic, however, I believe the toaster oven has a soul. A tortured soul in most cases, but the MW has none.

                                          1. re: kaleokahu

                                            Holy moley, k, what IS the world coming to?!?

                                            One of my fave things is "cheese toast" whereby you toast/broil one side of the bread, add sliced cheese to the other side and broil til nice and bubbly. It's something I had growing up and now my husband loves it too. With no TO, I'dhave to use the big oven. Wasteful, IMO.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              I remember those.... yes, we cooked those in our toaster oven when I was growing up. Except that in my family, "cheese toast" was actually called "grilled cheese". It wasn't until I was a teenager that I discovered what a real grilled cheese was.

                                              Incidentally, on those rare occasions when I make cheese toast now, I stick it under the broiler for a minute which usually does the trick. Doesn't require much preheating (just enough to make the thin aluminum broiler pan hot so the bottom of the bread gets crispy), and doesn't heat up the house because of the short time involved. I have a gas oven so heat is instant- that's a great convenience too.

                                              Mr Taster

                                            2. re: kaleokahu

                                              >> I believe the toaster oven has a soul. A tortured soul in most cases, but the MW has none.

                                              Ha! Indeed. I can go along with that.

                                              Mr Taster

                                      2. re: Mr Taster

                                        Mr Taster -

                                        Have you actually used a toaster oven? Or are you judging all toaster ovens on the basis of the CI reviews?

                                        I agree about the mildly uneven toasting, though it's a mixed blessing (see my post below). But I've used my toaster oven as a replacement for my normal oven for many, many applications, and I haven't really seen a significant problem with uneven heating for most oven applications -- and I don't have convection or other such things in mine.

                                        I wouldn't bake a cake or pastry, and I'd probably avoid yeast bread-baking. But I can't think of much else that you might do in an oven that you couldn't use a toaster oven for. Perhaps roasting meats would require a different strategy, since the glowing elements will create a bit of a broiling/roasting combination, but my toaster oven isn't big enough to handle most meats that I'd tend to roast.

                                        EDIT - By the way, I agree with your ideal of an appliance that "holds its own weight." Personally, I find it annoying to heat up my large oven for most of the summer, which heats up the kitchen as well, just for something small. We need a toaster on the countertop anyway, so the combined benefits of a toaster + substitute oven for when using the oven is inconvenient makes it very useful.

                                        1. re: athanasius

                                          We do have both a toaster and a toaster oven in our kitchen at work. On several occasions with this toaster oven I've attempted to make those little Trader Joe's frozen pizzas. The results? When the outside is done, the middle is cold or frozen. So I don't bring pizza to work. (It's probably better that way anyway).

                                          Hey, I'm not saying that toaster ovens don't serve a purpose, and I can understand their convenient appeal. However, it's been a few years since I stopped basing my choices with convenience as the overarching virtue, and instead now choose the hardware best suited for a particular job. (I use a high quaity German mill and hand crank our coffee beans each morning, for example.) So, that means cold salads, or microwavable soups and stews for lunch. I'm really okay leaving the pizza for when I can make it properly. I don't need to have all options available to me at all times.

                                          Mr Taster

                                        2. re: Mr Taster

                                          As Cook's Illustrated says - that's true of MOST toaster ovens. There is an exception, but it ain't cheap: the Breville Smart Oven. Large enough to roast a small chicken or bake a 12" pizza, with controllable convection, capable of making six slices of nicely even toast (and smart enough to know that if you make a second batch it doesn't need to toast them as long because it's already pre-heated, so every batch comes out the same), able to leap tall buildings with a single bound... OK, maybe not that last one. ;-)

                                          But it's a pretty darned impressive widget.

                                          1. re: BobB

                                            Ours isn't Breville and doesn't have the "know it's a second batch" feature (it's in a second home so I can't check the brand) but the same capacity, also convection. And the rotisserie which I haven't tried. And we got it on clearance for $30 at Fred Meyer in Oregon.

                                            1. re: BobB

                                              The Breville changed my view of the relative value of microwave vs toaster oven. It's amazing and makes far better toast than any single-function toaster I've had.

                                              Just goes to prove the point that it's often in the execution.

                                              1. re: BobB

                                                The Breville is worth every cent. We use it on a daily basis, and I can't tell you how happy I am with it. There's one thing I wasn't too crazy about -- I used the toaster function once and it came out pretty uneven. I had to turn the bread over to get the proper browning on the other side. But I was toasting gluten-free bread for bread crumbs, so that may be the culprit. When I'm cooking something that should remain soft, I add a few drops of water or just do it over the stovetop. I have no microwave.

                                                The Breville is also pretty heavy-duty as a commercial bakery a few blocks away from me uses it as well.

                                                1. re: Miss Needle

                                                  And if you're a fan of 30 Rock - look closely the next time they show the staff cafeteria and you'll see one there!

                                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                                    Anyone tried the smaller Breville Compact Smart Oven? It's the one without convection, a feature I'm not particularly interested in. I just noticed last night that the exterior surfacing on my Cuisinart toaster oven is starting to flake off along parts of the edges of the door opening -- only a few spots now, but I can see that it will progress as time goes on. Since the odds are that by the time I decide to replace it, Breville will have discontinued the smaller Smart Oven that I'm currently interested in, I'm thinking of just getting that one now and keep it in reserve "against the day".

                                                    (Edited: I just saw the other posts talking about the Brevilles, although not too many users of the Compact version, so if anyone now does have it and would like to chime in with an opinion, please do! :-) )

                                          2. Maybe you'll all kick me off the CH site, but I have never owned a toaster oven, nor I have I wanted one. When I want two pieces of toast, I'll use our (admittedly crappy) toaster. When I want more, I'll use an oven. My microwave heats cider, defrosts meat quickly (and very well), makes popcorn, and reheats food.

                                            I'm not sure there's really any comparison between a microwave and a toaster oven because they have different functions.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Isolda

                                              Yeah, it does strike me as an apples/oranges kind of thing. That said, I have a microwave and use it constantly (you can really cook in a microwave and I do it all the time, not just reheat). But since my son's roomate moved out of town and took her toaster oven with her, it has not been missed.

                                            2. Toaster oven. We use it almost daily.

                                              I agree with others that it doesn't quite toast as evenly as a good toaster, but it toasts fine, and I personally prefer it because I tend to make different kinds of bread all the time, which require different toasting times -- with the toaster oven, it's easy to see when it seems to have reached a good doneness.

                                              But otherwise, it's a great replacement for an oven for small batches or small things. I wouldn't try to do delicate pastry or cakes in it, but it's great for a small batch of baked or oven-fried potatoes/vegetables, pot pies, roasting frozen chicken parts for use in another dish, toasting garlic bread, reheating entrees that I've frozen, reheating stuff in general without that "microwave flavor," and in general anything you'd heat with foil or a lid on top in the oven anyway. In years past, I also used mine to bake loaves of soda bread fresh for dinner -- very successfully.

                                              My favorite use -- slow-roasted bacon. Forget your skillet and the splatter. Buy thick bacon. Preheat the toaster oven to 250F or so. Line a pan with foil and lay the bacon down so that slices don't overlap. Bake until desired doneness -- which may take 45 minutes to an hour or more, depending on the thickness and amount of bacon. Watch it carefully once it starts to look done, because the fat will suddenly start to render very fast, and you'll quickly end up with almost nothing left. But when you hit it right, you get slightly crispy outside with melt-in-your-mouth fat that is better than anything I have ever achieved on the stovetop. (For larger batches, you can use your oven, but the toaster oven is great for a few slices.)

                                              Microwave? I use it to melt butter. Sometimes to heat milk. Occasionally to reheat leftovers when I'm in a hurry. I can't remember the last time I used it for anything else.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: athanasius

                                                Bacon in the toaster oven? You can get, what maybe 4 slices done in 45 min to an hour? Seems like an incredible waste of time and energy. If you wanted to bake it you could do much more of it in a regular oven. If you want crisp bacon fast, put 6 slices on 2 paper towels on a microwave safe dish and cover that with 1 paper towel. Microwave 5-12 minutes (depending on microwave power and bacon thickness), throw out the paper towels and you have perfect, crispy bacon.

                                              2. I've never owned a toaster oven but the ones I've seen at work have been loathsome dirty devices filled with crumbs and splattered fat. The food coming out of them appears to be either cold or burned.

                                                At home I have a combination microwave/convection oven. That way I have a microwave when I want and also a second oven when I need that. It gets used every day as it doesn't heat up the kitchen like my regular oven does.

                                                1. I've never owned a toaster oven, but if I saw one that was recommended and at a good price, I might, maybe get one. I like the idea of not heating up the kitchen in the hot months, but I don't want something that large permanently on our countertop.

                                                  We just got a new over-the-stove microwave today as a matter of fact. The old one still worked, but the door handle had broken off and the cover to the vent that never got used because it doesn't vent outside also broke. Apparently it was a bad design by Whirlpool or whomever made it for Whirlpool (whoever owns them, there used to be a Whirlpool appliance manufacturing plant in St. Paul).

                                                  I understand there are purists out there that don't use a microwave (does Ina Garten have one?) but I think they are indespensible. Reheating is the obvious reason to use one. Heating up small quantities of water for things such as a manual drip coffee maker or making tea are good reasons to own a microwave. Mostly the only food that gets cooked in the microwave at our house are water laden vegetables, although I did just recently discover from someone on Chowhound that a microwave is the perfect device to cook soft boiled eggs without having to watch and wait for the water to boil before timing commences.

                                                  1. Microwave.

                                                    No toaster oven but have a toaster. Thought of getting a toaster oven forever but kitchen's so small no place to put it.

                                                    I don't think I can give up my microwave though. I use it everyday. Mostly to heat up frozen rice, milk for hot chocolate, water for tea and in general leftovers.

                                                    1. About four months ago I put my toaster oven on the floor under my chopping block table so I would have room on the counter (in my very small NYC apartment kitchen) for my FoodSaver. I figured I’d keep it within reach for a while just in case. And I haven’t reached for it once. Another couple of months, and out it goes. Trying to remember what I used to use it for. Reheat hors d’oeuvres. Bake a couple of cookies. Make bad toast. That’s about it.

                                                      1. I have both and use for different reasons...
                                                        Microwave- to reheat foods like soup, leftovers..and to warm up "soft" foods/breads. Some bread I prefer soft and warm and some I prefer crispy, which calls for the toaster oven..
                                                        Whenever heating food that needs crispyness..it's the TO

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: burlgurl

                                                          Oooh, I NEVER warm up bread in the microwave! It makes it tough. Well I can if I knock the power level way down. But I'd rather not risk it.

                                                          Just my experience.

                                                        2. I have no oven in my kitchen and love to bake, so I use my toaster oven for that, but I also use it constantly for anything that needs to be warmed up. I've made pies, cookies, cakes, vegetables, all kinds of stuff in it and only one or two have failed. I use my microwave maybe twice a month... pity it's taking up so much space in the kitchen.

                                                          (I should add that I have a uhhh... hot water pitcher? I forgot their name. But they're ubiquitous and cheap here, so I use that for heating water.)

                                                          4 Replies
                                                              1. re: Japanecdote

                                                                I use both "equally minimally":

                                                                - cooking steam-in-bag frozen veggies when I'm out of fresh
                                                                - melting butter if it's less than 3/4 of a stick (if more, I melt stovetop)
                                                                - heating water to the right temp for yeast recipes
                                                                - making homemade fresh potato chips in 3 mins (seriously, you can do this and they are awesome)
                                                                - Step #1 of making a crispy-skin 17-minute baked potato (7-8 mins on high)

                                                                TOASTER OVEN:
                                                                - toasting nuts
                                                                - warming up bread (don't like what nuking does to it, sorry)
                                                                - making the occasional burger for a vistor who isn't vegan
                                                                - roasting red peppers
                                                                - Step #2 of making a crispy-skin 17-min baked potato (~10 mins at 400F)

                                                                I'd say no more than 3x a week for each appliance though.

                                                                I wouldn't want to use a toaster oven for actual baking. I'm a major fusspot about accurate oven temps and just can't believe that as small a compartment as that, is going to have accurate controls, readouts, or results for recipes that were designed to be cooked in a normal-size oven. Especially items that specifically call for being baked in the upper third, or lower third, of a standard oven interior.

                                                                I use an electric kettle for tea water. Can't stand how the smell of popcorn seems to linger forever though, no matter how it's cooked (micro, stovetop, or fancy plug-in gadget), LOL!

                                                                1. re: dessert_diva

                                                                  How do you make potato chops in a microwave? Do they really get crispy? Love to know how!

                                                          1. If you have the space for both, I'd use both. In fact I do. My Cuisinart convection toaster oven is in use constantly. It is perfect for the 2 of us, and I do use it to make perfectly acceptable toast. Yes I have hot spots, but they are less bothersome than the hot spots in my full size convection oven. And the toast is as good as our toaster's was.

                                                            You can't toast or bake potatoes in the micro, but I do lots of other stuff in mine. I cook a single egg, reheat stuff, aid the thawing of frozen meat, steam some veggies, heat a mug of water, melt butter. I have baked stuffing and cooked rice as well in my microwave.

                                                            If I had to choose because of space considerations, I'd probably choose the microwave, but I sure would miss my convection toaster oven.

                                                            1. My vote is for neither.

                                                              Toaster oven: Most manage to be lousy ovens and lousy toasters

                                                              Microwave oven: No doubt it's fast and does some stuff really well. A few years back, ours fried when money was tight.We thought we would miss it, but days passed, weeks passed, months passed, and once we were able to get a new one, we decided we liked the countertop space better. Was there any "killer app" for the nuke? Boiling water? Kettle on stove top. Popcorn? Dutch oven. Veggies: bamboo steamers in wok. Leftovers? Growing children.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: MikeB3542

                                                                It depends on what type of cooking you do and what is already in your kitchen. If you have a double ovens or a marvelous stove, you really might not need the toaster oven. By the way, newer toaster ovens that come with convection are quite nice. I use mine constantly. It really isn't a lousy oven or a lousy appliance.

                                                                As for the microwave, if you would never use it then you shouldn't buy it. But I just used my micro a few minutes ago to make DH a cup of hot cocoa. I use mine frequently for many tasks. It doesn't need a "killer app" if it does many tasks better than other appliances. New microwave ovens are often smaller than before, and more powerful. I admit they aren't made too well. But I find that I do use mine frequently, daily.

                                                              2. Hey everyone! Brand new here, finally grabbed an account so I could participate a little.

                                                                Definitely a toaster oven. I moved into my first bachelor apartment this year and I've been dealing with just my toaster oven and haven't found it to be a big issue.

                                                                It sounds like you do some entertaining, so that might be a bit of an issue. It's easier to adapt to something not being there when you're just worrying about yourself, but if other people are expecting to be able to heat up a cold cup of coffee or nuke leftovers it might get tricky.

                                                                That being said, some other people have mentioned it as being a viable replacement for a larger oven when you're just cooking for yourself, and that I firmly stand behind. Those things heat up in 5 minutes, whereas preheating a bigger oven can take 20. I managed to plank roast two whole salmon fillets in mine for a coming home party for my girlfriend last weekend (and by party I mean her and me, but in a bachelor that's a full house)

                                                                Biggest issue I see is the amount of fore-thought it takes to defrost something. If you're big on leftovers that might be a consideration but if you usually cook from scratch you should be good.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: JackHinds

                                                                  Been thinking of a toaster over and there's some useful info/comment/opinion here-Thanks to everyone for their input.

                                                                2. As with apples and oranges, they share little common ground other than a re-heat. Even there, it depends on what you're reheating.

                                                                  1. Apples vs oranges, IMO.

                                                                    I use the microwave a lot for minor things- reheating, heating up sugar water for hummingbird feeder, frozen stuff, watching marshmallows get HUGE, etc.

                                                                    We have a toaster oven at work in our 'cave'. It's great for toasting bagels, etc, but I don't have one at home- takes up too much room and doesn't really excel at anything better than the usual array of heater-uppers.

                                                                    1. I think those are probably the two most-used appliances in our household. The toaster oven is used for toasting bread, scones, muffins, etc. as well as heating smaller portions of frozen foods, for heating bread for dinner, for making sandwich melts, and so forth.

                                                                      The microwave is used for heating mugs of water, reheating mugs of coffee, heating hot dogs, and when I'm making dinner, for cooking frozen vegetables, defrosting things, melting butter for clarified butter, warming milk, warming salad dressing and a range other quick needs.

                                                                      I think if I had to ditch one of them it would be the microwave but I would NOT be happy about it.

                                                                      1. I only had a toaster oven for a few years a long time ago and haven't missed its absence. But when our microwave broke we went out in a snowstorm to replace it! Sure I could live without it, but it's awfully convenient for a lot of things, mostly mentioned below. Add to that heating a damp towel or a buckwheat-filled pillow for a compress and cooking veggies, especially asparagus. Many mornings I make a single egg in a teacup in the microwave, the perfect size for an English muffin sandwich in 53 seconds.

                                                                        After reading the CI article about toaster ovens I thought I'd try the Breville IF I had the counter space--which I don't--plus the $250 price tag made me wince. We keep a toaster for toast, which gets done MUCH faster than in the toaster oven at work.

                                                                        Dessert_diva, how do you make the 3 minute potato chips?