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My toaster oven has a temperature gauge just like my oven 200-450 degrees. I opened a package of fish sticks and the instructions said "Do not cook in microwave or toaster oven." It only had instructions for cooking them in a regular oven. Do you have any idea why a toaster oven that can be put at the same temperature would not be good to use?

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I cook fishsticks in the toaster oven all the time....maybe I've never noticed that on the box and I've been daily risking my life! –  rfusca Jan 11 '12 at 2:34
    
I do the majority of my cooking in a toaster oven, I always considered notes like that to be part of some kind of conspiracy. I'm not baking though, just reheating or broiling so you need less consistency / control in temperature. For this use, I think a toaster oven would be fine, just keep a close eye on them. –  Katey HW Jan 18 '12 at 17:05

5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Possible reasons:

  • Horrible temperature control - this is simply a problem of cheap construction. One could theoretically build an excellent toaster oven with precise temperature control, but why would you?
  • Low thermal mass - If you get an oven to 400F and open it for long enough to put in food, the result is an oven at very slightly less than 400F, and which will quickly return to 400F. Do that with a toaster oven, and who knows what temperature you'll get, or how quickly it will get to your desired temperature (if ever, see #1). This is not a slam at toaster ovens, this is just due to them being approximately 2% of the volume of a standard oven.
  • Closeness to elements. It's easy for toaster ovens interiors to vary by nearly 50F from middle to edge, simply based on distance to elements

Now don't get me wrong, I once made some kickin' Oysters Rockefeller in a toaster oven, when I thought that they would be the difference between serving an appetizer and being allowed to serve breakfast the next morning (wink, wink). If you know what you're doing, and watch carefully and continually, a toaster oven can be an excellent source of high(ish) direct heat. But they are extremely difficult to control, and extremely unforgiving of errors. I can't think of a circumstance where a toaster oven would be my first choice of cooking tool (and that includes microwave, campfire, plumber's blowtorch).

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Nice call on the thermal mass. That occurred to me, too. Then I forgot while I was typing. –  dmckee Jan 11 '12 at 3:24

There are two differences that could be involved:

  • A fair number of toaster ovens have really bad temperature control. It's common knowledge in the polymer clay community that there are relatively few models that can be relied upon to bake your clay without producing clouds of foul black smoke.

  • The food is much nearer the element. When I cook fishsticks they end up frying slightly in a film a greese. Sometimes they pop a little. Could that be a fire hazard?

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I'd lean toward the fire hazard explanation, since you can definitely do things like baking cookies in toaster ovens, and I don't think fish sticks are more temperature-sensitive than cookies! –  Jefromi Jan 11 '12 at 1:47
    
I've done stuff like fishsticks in my toaster oven, but it takes a couple tries to get the timing and temperature right. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 11 '12 at 3:19

re toaster oven cooking :

I called frozen food co and the answer was the fear of the plastic container melting.

She suggested removing food from plastic and placing in reg cooking dish and maybe lowering temp 25º but keeping same time. I've been doing that for a year now (but not lowering temp) and it's been really convenient.

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and the container was suitable for oven cooking? Maybe this goes back to the issues w/ less precision in a toaster oven's temperatures? (and thus, could be significantly higher than the temp you had set in any given place in the oven ... or just a proximity to the elements) –  Joe Dec 17 '13 at 20:02

I use my toaster oven all the time to cook during the summer so, as not to heat up the whole kitchen. I have never had a problem. Actually, I think it is more heat balance than my gas oven.

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Just curious what brand/model is your toaster oven. I'd be interested in getting a toaster oven that might be more heat balanced than an gas oven :) –  Jay Jan 11 '12 at 14:16
    
@Jay: Cooks Illustrated likes the Breville Smart Oven, and says the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Toaster Oven with Convection Cooking is nearly as good (but much cheaper). Pretty much everything else they tested had issues. –  derobert Jan 11 '12 at 16:53
    
@Jay - I have the Breville and it rocks. –  uncle brad Jan 12 '12 at 20:41
    
I use a cheap yard-sale toaster oven. Works great for me. I've used more expensive toaster ovens, also with great results. –  Les Dec 18 '13 at 13:36

The two issues I have had when baking in a toaster oven are precision and temperature curve. (disclaimer: I build and repair commercial ovens so if this gets complicated you can ignore it.) These problems are well documented by hobbyists using toaster ovens as reflow ovens. you can retrofit a more precise temperature controller if you want to over come the precision problem, but if the elements are undersized it takes longer to first get the oven to temperature and then when you introduce a large cold mass into a small warm mass you get a large temperature drop and then a longer time for your food to reach temp. you can overcome some of this by preheating, cooking smaller amounts, and cooking for longer times. A thermometer is often a great way to determine if it has finished cooking.

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