Toaster Oven Safety
This is my first post. In looking for the right toaster oven and questioning TO safety. I've done some research. Here are my concerns.
Nonstick coating - I understand the coatings start breaking down at 500 degrees F, but I've also read that you need to cover most of the bottom surface of the pan with food while cooking to keep the vacant pan surface from reaching 500 F. So, I wonder, what is happening to the nonstick coating located where the quartz heating element plugs into the side of the TO? There's no food on that surface to absorb the heat and keep the temp from climbing to 500+ if you are broiling. So is it breaking down and outgassing toxic vapors? It seems like all but the cheapest toaster ovens have this coating, and the reviews make the cheaper ovens sound more dangerous from fires or shattering glass.
Quartz tube heating elements - I've watched one of these in a space heater crack and burst into flames. I remember my Mom had a TO that lasted for decades heated by wires like a toaster. I'm baffled why the older technology in TOs has been phased out for a seemingly more hazardous one. Do quartz elements crack and flame out in TOs? Or do TOs have some standard mechanism for stopping a fire from quartz tubes? And how important are those little shields that cover the quartz elements? (I've noticed the Breville compact and Mini don't have them. Even many cheapo Walmart TOs have them, for heavens sake.) I've been eyeing a Breville mini -- small kitchen -- but these two concerns are stopping me.
Also, without convection, does the Breville mini cook unevenly, or does the smaller space minimize hot spots? Thanks for any advice you TO veterans can pass on.
I can't really comment on the science aspect of your safety concerns, but I do have experience using the Breville mini-smart toaster oven.
I've used the Breville solidly for four to five months and have yet to see any signs of the inside deteriorating or breaking down. There are no visible flaked chips on the inside. It cleans up well with a quick wipe. Compared to other toaster ovens I've used and seen used, the inside is holding up really well despite the high temperatures. A similar Cuisinart unit had much black flaking after only using two months.
I've found that things do cook quite evenly, and have had success with baked goods, custards, roasts and breads. Even toast comes out quite evenly, better than my toaster. When I bake, I use mostly corning ware (the pyroceram kind) and reduce the recipe's heat by 25 degrees.
One of my main criticisms with the unit is the insanely loud beeping sound. While it's good if you're across the house and need to hear when your food is done, in a smaller apartment the noise is too loud.
Wow. I hadn't read anything about nonstick coatings flaking off in TOs. That's good to know.
Can you set the mini to cook without the timer to avoid the beeping? I do have a small apartment.
Does the mini's surface get quite hot as the oven cooks? I'm interested in a TO to avoid heating my apartment in summer.
Not wanting to heat the apartment is exactly why I bought a toaster oven. In the summer, the heat output of my oven made my small apartment intolerable. The oven itself does get quite hot to the touch on the outside surface. I'd avoid placing another appliance immediately on top of the oven. You supposedly can use the top as a plate warmer, but I've yet to do so. They recommend that you place the oven at least a certain distance from other things so that it has enough air. In my daily use, while the TO does release some warm air around the unit, it hasn't elevated the room temperature to any noticeable degree (unlike my big oven).
The unit also has an incredibly fast preheat time. Even for a 350F temperature, it heats in less than 1-2 minutes.
Whether it was a nonstick coating flaking off, or just baked on carbon flaking off, I'm not certain. But other ovens I've used have had the black (carbon?) flaking off.
I don't believe you can avoid the beeping of the timer, nor can you adjust the volume. The TO also makes a clicking noise when it's regulating the temperature to adjust internally as the food cooks. I don't find it annoying, but am not sure if you would. Despite the noise though, I'd recommend the unit. It's been fantastic compared to other ones I've used/owned. The small size makes it apartment friendly.
I've had the Breville Smart Oen, which is essentially a big, well-controlled toaster oven, for a couple years. Pricey but it can take the place of a regular oven for many things. It cleans up great, no stuff flaking off and is a workhorse.
My overriding concern with toaster ovens is the risk of fire - I have had one, and they may be the most hazardous appliance in your kitchen. Stay close by when anything is cooking in it, it's not the time to go have coffee with your neighbor. As to a loud beeper when cooking is done, be grateful for it.
I've used a Krups top of the line toaster oven for five years and it hasn't poisoned me yet, and the quartz heating elements haven't shattered or burst into flame. If this were a widespread problem, there'd be product recalls, wouldn't there?