6 Things You Should Never Put in Your Toaster Oven
You can cook almost anything in a toaster oven that you can in a regular oven—with a few crucial exceptions.
Megan O. Steintrager's career in digital food media includes stints at EatingWell, Epicurious, AOL, TODAY.com and more. She loves every vegetable—and scoop of ice cream—she's ever met, and firmly believes that eating a healthy diet does not mean giving up delicious food (quite the opposite, in fact).
With all the multifunction kitchen gadgets around these days, your old-fashioned toaster oven may have gotten stashed in your basement. That's a shame, because toaster ovens are great not just for making toast, but for cooking all sorts of things, from breakfast items like eggs and bacon to desserts like cobblers and crumbles.
Toaster ovens are essentially just small ovens and "anything you might cook or bake in an oven will be just fine, with the added convenience of something small that can heat up fairly quickly," says John Savoia, who works at Kitchenwitch, a kitchen supply shop in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
When asked what not to put in a toaster oven, self-described "avid toaster-oven enthusiast" Lois DeWitt, author of Pop It in the Toaster Oven, jokes: "Wet mittens!" She adds, "No, seriously, just about any food item can be baked to perfection in the toaster oven." DeWitt explains that the main differences between baking in a traditional oven and your toaster oven are portion sizes, the types of bakeware you can use, temperature and proximity to the baking elements.
But there are some precautions you should take to avoid poorly cooked food and—more importantly—fires. "Fires in toaster ovens are usually caused by food being placed too close to the heating elements, not being properly contained or employing too high a temperature for baking or reheating," says DeWitt. "That said, following some simple guidelines will permit safe baking for an almost limitless range of food items, from sunny-side-up eggs and perfect bacon to spice-rubbed Cornish game hen and stir-fries."
Here's a look at some foods (and cookware) you should use caution with when using your toaster oven.
"I would say the No. 1 thing to avoid is fatty or greasy foods at risk of dripping. Since some toaster ovens have exposed heating elements, it can cause a fire," says Paul Hope, senior home and appliances reporter for Consumer Reports. (I personally know people who have had fires in their toaster ovens reheating french fries and super-cheesy foods!) But you don't have to avoid fatty or greasy foods altogether, as long as you're careful. "To prevent fatty and greasy foods from dripping or splattering, properly contain them in aluminum foil or a covered baking dish," says DeWitt.
"I would also say to avoid foods at risk of drying out too much, like a cinnamon roll or certain pastries, especially if they're frozen," says Hope. "Instead, I like to reheat those in the microwave until they are heated through and then use the toaster oven to crisp them up a little bit." DeWitt advises covering foods that tend to dry out for the majority of the cooking time and then removing the cover to let them crisp up. "If there is a crumble topping (on an apple cobbler, for example), uncover for several minutes after the main baking time is finished to brown the top," she says.
"I wouldn't reheat rice in a toaster oven," says Tanya Christian, home and appliances reporter for Consumer Reports. "It has a tendency to come out crispy, particularly on the bottom."
Just like with your regular oven, you should never walk too far away from a hot toaster oven, especially if you are cooking things like nuts and seeds that burn quickly. "I donated my toaster oven because I was always convinced it was a danger—it gets so hot and it's easy to forget about the food one is cooking—especially when trying to toast nuts … I have burned a lot of these!" one friend told me. So, while the toaster oven is a convenient way to quickly toast a small batch of nuts or seeds, stay close to the appliance and keep your eyes (and nose) alert.
"I don't think you should feel too constrained beyond things that wouldn't go in any oven, but some extra care should be taken since the heating elements tend to sit much closer to your cookware or bakeware because of the diminutive size," says Savoia. "I would be especially careful of glass and ceramic bakeware that is 'oven safe' but not 'broiler safe' as the distinction becomes more of a gray area when your heating element is so close." Just like with a regular oven, avoid putting cold glass or ceramic cookware into a hot oven.
Even better, opt for a different material. "I would say if you have the option between glass bakeware and metal or even silicone, opt for the metal or silicone instead, just to be safe," Savoia adds. "No matter how oven-safe glass bakeware might be, if you've got the metal loaf pan already, it's easier to use it than to clean up a million shards of glass out of your toaster oven. That's perhaps being overly cautious, but usually if someone asks me what is safe to use in X, Y or Z, they're already in a somewhat cautious mindset."
Once again, anything you wouldn't put in your regular oven shouldn't go in your toaster oven.
Most paper, including wax paper, wooden bowls or utensils, plastic wrap and storage containers, food packaged for microwaving, and dinnerware and dishes that are not oven-safe are all no-nos when it comes to the toaster oven, says DeWitt. And while aluminum foil is safe in the toaster oven, be sure it doesn't touch the heating elements, she adds. But she gives the thumbs-up to parchment paper, disposable aluminum containers (e.g., pie plates), metal bakeware and regular and nonstick bakeware like loaf pans and muffin tins.
With a little common sense and know-how, there's not much you can't cook in your toaster oven, though you might have to make a few adjustments.