The Reason Toaster Ovens Cook Food More Slowly Than Microwaves

Microwaves seem to be one of the most common kitchen appliances in the modern world. According to Quartz, 90% of Americans own microwaves. They first appeared in kitchens back in 1947 and their ability to quickly and easily reheat and cook foods made them a permanent fixture (via Popular Mechanics). While they are highly versatile and inexpensive these days, there are certain ways their limited competition wins out.

In some categories, toaster ovens have microwaves beat. They can even be an alternative to them for those who may not want too many appliances crowding their counterspace. Toaster ovens sit in the middle of a venn diagram between an oven, a toaster, and a microwave. They can be used to reheat, cook, or toast a wide variety of foods (via Gadget Review). Their one downfall? They cook much more slowly than microwaves. But why is that? Haven't we come far enough along in toaster oven technology that we should be able to speed this process up?

Toaster ovens use a slow, direct heat

A toaster oven's slow pace has to do with the way it heats foods. Microwaves work by beaming electromagnetic waves through the cooking chamber, instantly exciting the molecules in foods (via Britannica). Because they are heating on a molecular level, microwaves are able to heat the entire thing at once and instantly raise temperatures.

Toaster ovens, on the other hand, operate by heating a series of metal coils within the cooking chamber (via Gadget Review). That heat then radiates from those coils onto the surface of the food. It takes time for the coils to heat, transfer that heat, and even then, they are only cooking the surface of the food. This means it takes more time, and usually a lower temperature, to adequately heat something from the outside in without burning the surface. This is why toaster ovens are so much slower — but this also gives them their greatest advantages. The toaster oven's heating method allows it to brown and caramelize the surface of foods, bake small cookies and cakes, and because it can maintain an even temperature, toaster ovens can keep food warm, too.

So, while toaster ovens may never compete with microwaves in cooking speed, they have plenty of great features that make them a great substitute, or even alternative.