Microwave Oven vs Toaster Oven

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Microwave ovens and toaster ovens are helpful and highly popular appliances, used in commercial as well as home cooking.

Both oven types excel in certain aspects of food preparation, and they heat food using different technologies. In this article, you’ll find out which of them is best suited to either replace or complement your conventional oven.

How Microwave Ovens Work

Microwave ovens use electromagnetic waves – that is, microwaves – to heat food very fast. But since microwaves heat water molecules, the food you put in a microwave oven gets cooked but doesn’t crisp on the outside.

The dish holding your food sits on a plate which rotates until the timer stops or the microwave oven is stopped manually.

Microwave Oven Demonstration

How Toaster Ovens Work

Toaster ovens use heating elements that heat the air inside the enclosed oven interior. This ensures that specific foods cook faster than on a traditional stove burner because hot air heats them from every direction.

Convection toaster ovens add another element which speeds up the cooking process and helps heat the food more evenly. This is called a convection fan, and it introduces air circulation. As the heated air moves around inside the oven, fewer hot spots are created, and the result is that you don’t have to worry about burned or unevenly cooked meals.

Toaster Oven Demonstration

The Main Purpose of a Microwave Oven

Microwave ovens are mostly used to reheat, defrost, thaw, or melt various foods such as butter, cheeses, etc.

Although they are a great way to cook food, they are not as versatile as toaster ovens or built-in ovens. Food groups which don’t have a high concentration of water don’t fare well inside microwave ovens.

Microwave ovens also don’t have a convection fan. Because of the way the waves interact with each other inside the microwave oven, your food may get cooked unevenly. Placing the dish on the outside of the rotating plate usually helps with this.

toaster oven with croissants on rack


The Main Purpose of Toaster Ovens 

Toaster ovens were designed as alternatives to conventional ovens, and they can quickly cook smaller quantities of food in a more energy-efficient way.

Toaster ovens can be used to make anything from regular toast to air-fried home-made fried chicken. The range of recipes you can prepare depends on the power, customizable settings, and size of the toaster oven.

Related Content: How to Use a Toaster Oven - Tips for Every Home Cook

Differences in Cooked Food

Microwave ovens should be used to make soft, cooked meals, and they aren’t a good option for other types of food.

For example, microwave ovens can be used to make toast, but the results are often disappointing. The bread may become rubbery rather than crisp, and the surface won’t turn a nice brown color. However, some microwaves come with a grill which lets you prepare crunchy meals.

A good toaster oven has no problem helping you prepare crispy food, browned veggies, pizza, and more. Assuming you can adjust the temperature and fan speed, toaster ovens can also handle recipes where the goal is to cook something until it becomes soft.

Maintenance and Convenience

When it comes to cleaning, a conventional oven poses the most problems. Many of its components have to be removed and cleaned separately. Even then, there’s a large surface area which you need to scrub thoroughly to keep your oven clean.

Toaster ovens don’t have removable elements if you don’t count the tray or baking pan. Microwave ovens have nothing inside but a glass tray (or grill). Both types of ovens are significantly easier and faster to clean.

One major upside of microwave ovens is that you can use most ceramic, glass, and plastic containers. They won’t melt as they would in a conventional oven.

A green plug with green piggy bank and a light bulb with small green plants / Green energy and saving environment concept

Energy Efficiency

Both types of countertop ovens can help you save power by using your conventional oven less often. However, microwave ovens are known to be more energy efficient.

The typical power consumption of a microwave oven is between 700 and 1,300 watts. Toaster ovens might consume between 1,200 and 1,800 watts, sometimes even more.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. You can opt for smart toaster ovens which cost more but excel at energy efficiency. Some of them could be more energy-efficient than a poorly built microwave oven.

Another aspect which ties into energy efficiency is cooking time. A toaster oven needs to be preheated, meaning that you have to waste some energy while the oven reaches the desired temperature.

Microwave ovens work a lot faster. The water molecules that are in the food all heat up at the same time, which cooks the rest of the surrounding food. Coupled with the lower power draw, this enhances energy efficiency.

Oven Size

No matter how big your kitchen is, your countertop space is limited. If you have to choose between a microwave and a toaster oven, note that a toaster oven will often be smaller.

Most toaster ovens are sized according to the number of slices of bread that fit inside. Microwave ovens are sized in cubic feet and sometimes by wattage too.

When it comes to medium or large countertop ovens, microwave ovens tend to be larger. Small models can go either way, depending on the design, power, and capacity of either oven. But remember that even the smallest toaster oven (which fits four slices) is more versatile than a small microwave oven.

A person dropping money in pink piggy bank

Which Type of Oven Is Cheaper?

Energy consumption aside, there’s also a big difference between microwave ovens and toaster ovens when it comes to pricing.

Low-end models can be very similarly priced for both types of ovens. Microwave ovens get more expensive when the wattage and cubic feet capacity are higher. Toaster ovens get more expensive when they offer more cooking features, more space, and so on.

Another aspect to consider is whether or not you want a convection toaster oven. The convection feature alone could double the cost of a toaster oven.

Safety Concerns

Most manufacturers recommend leaving a few inches on each side of your countertop toaster oven, so you can avoid getting burned. Even so, heat-related injuries are common.

Microwave ovens don’t have this issue. However, it is imperative to make sure that the door is intact. If the door is damaged, radiation could leak when the oven is in use.

Microwaves or Conductive Cooking? 

Although microwave ovens and toaster ovens do similar things, they are not interchangeable.

Microwave ovens are better suited as complementary appliances which help you cook, melt, or reheat certain food items quickly and without wasting energy. Toaster ovens can sometimes replace your conventional oven, especially if they’re large enough and if they’re also equipped with a convection fan.

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