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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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2  
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
up vote 17 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

Some people claim that temperature regulation is worse in a toaster oven. That simply isn't true. It's actually easier to control temperature precisely in the toaster oven because the space is so small so the temperature sensor can get a sense of the entire oven. In a large oven, especially a home gas oven, where would you place the sensor? If you place it too near the flames then it would measure the flames. And it certainly can't be placed in the center of the oven with the food is. Keep in mind that home gas ovens use mechanical thermostats that is hard to put remotely. Some better electric ovens use a wired probe that you can actually place into the food. Otherwise, there is no way to actually measure the temperature of the food. In the small space of a toaster oven, there is much less of a temperature difference between the food and wherever the sensor is located.

Furthermore, many better toaster ovens use electronic controls and multiple temperature sensors. The Breviile and Cuisinarts use multiple variable heating elements, multiple sensors and electronic controls. For example, some have 2 elements on top and 2 below, all of which are regulated individually and precisely. Try that with a gas oven! A convective fan can also help, evening out the heat.

As for the complaint of potters, the problem isn't temperature control, but rather the small space. When you place a 3D object in the small space, where some parts and edges are much nearer the elements than others, you'll get uneven baking and burning. It's why you don't want to bake a large turkey in a toaster oven. But most foods like the above fish sticks are flat and uniform, thus will heat evenly.

Someone also mentioned thermal mass above. That's a non-issue since one almost never opens a toaster oven during cooking. The small space and electric light makes food easy to see without opening the door. It's still a non-issue in those rare cases where you need to baste, add ingredients or position the food. That's because much of the heat in a toaster oven is radiant, not convective. It's why you don't really need to preheat toaster ovens. The small space and radiant heat mean that foods reach the desired temperatures quickly. There is no need to reheat the internal air every time you open the door, as would be the case in a conventional oven.

For those who forget their physics, radiant heat is how sunlight gets to us. The heat is nearly instantaneous since there is no need to heat up the air between the source and the target. If heating the air is required, heat from the sun would never reach us since there is no air in the vacuum of space. Toaster ovens use a combination of radiant heat and convective heat, where the air is heated. As such, minimal preheating is needed and the oven quickly returns to the target temperature if you open the door. That's why thermal mass is not a real issue.

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The reason is simple. If it uses plastic or paper packaging for cooking, the radiant heat of an electric oven is too hot and will melt the plastic and possibly ignite the paper. In a normal oven, the majority of the heat is not radiant but convective, and the heat source is relatively far away. If you don't use plastic packaging, food cooks just as well in the toaster oven. When I cook fish sticks I simply use aluminum foil or a metal pan, and discard the included paper or plastic tray. There is no pre-heating, and I usually finish by toasting for an extra crispy crust.

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I have a Breville Smart oven and it's actually more accurate than than my reg. oven. There's only the 2 of us and unless we have company, I use the toaster oven. I do reduce the temp. by 25 degrees because of the smaller volume of space an closeness to the elements. I haven't had any problems at all.

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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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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

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

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