Toaster ovens and microwaves are very different appliances with different applications. But there is understandably some confusion: both can be used to reheat leftovers or cook small portions of food, both are small countertop appliances (or mounted under the counter – you get the idea). So let me clear things up a bit.
How do toaster ovens work?
A toaster oven is a small kitchen appliance that has heating elements that apply heat to the food. Most toaster ovens have several below the food and above it, some have them at the back and the sides.
Many toaster ovens use a fan to circulate air throughout the cavity – this is called convection (thus they are sometimes called convection ovens). This helps brown the food, cook and warm it throughout, and add even brown and crust to whatever you’re making. Some toaster ovens also have air frying and dehydration capabilities.
Toaster ovens use less energy than wall ovens, and are smarter and more hands-off.
How do microwaves work?
A microwave is a small kitchen appliance that uses electromagnetic radiation to heat up the water in everything that is put inside. Most of the time, this is used to reheat food. Sometimes – to cook. But it does not toast, roast or crisp up the food, only heating up the water molecules.
An average toaster oven uses 1300 (1200-1400) watts depending on the mode selected, whereas an average microwave uses 900 (600-1200) watts per hour, so if you use your microwave to reheat food, it is 30% more energy efficient.
However, if you try to cook food in a microwave – say, defrost a pizza or bake muffins – then a toaster oven will achieve the end result three times faster (and much better). So, in cooking, they are by far more energy efficient.
If you’re cooking at the stove or in a wall oven and only need something to reheat leftovers or defrost pre-made food, then I would say that the microwave is your clear choice. There is no taste benefit and the food may turn out soggier than you want, but it’s much quicker and efficient at that. Plus, nothing beats heating up your cup of coffee that you’ve let sit for too long.
A toaster oven will produce more delicious food with a better texture, but will use more energy and will take longer, even if it has a dedicated defrosting mode.
If you’re going to cook with your toaster oven – and if you ask me, you totally should, since modern toaster ovens are basically smarter and better mini-sized versions of regular wall ovens – then a microwave will never replace it. I have fully replaced my wall oven with my toaster oven and never looked back. Pizza is crispy. Potatoes are soft and fluffy. Chicken is tender. You can bake, roast, broil, air fry, dehydrate, proof or simply just toast in it – and, if you choose right, it’s all quick, efficient, hands-off and simply better.
Other things to consider
- If you will use your toaster oven for cooking, it will be a mess and you will need to clean it. It can have a self-cleaning mode, and if that doesn’t help I have a guide that describes how to clean it easily. A microwave or a toaster oven that is only used to reheat food will need to be cleaned much less often.
- Since a microwave uses less energy, there is less heat radiation from it and it’s therefore safer.
If you can, get both. You will use a toaster oven for cooking and the microwave for a quick reheat or defrost. If you can’t – I hope I was able to help you clear things up.