Most of us love our toaster ovens because they’re convenient to reheat leftovers and cook small meals. However, there is a lot of misunderstanding on using one, including whether or not reheating is necessary.
You are supposed to preheat a toaster oven when an even oven temperature is required, such as when cooking raw meat like chicken or pork. However, it’s not usually needed when reheating food and inappropriate if toasting bread, as preheating might make your bread burn.
This article will consider when you should preheat a toaster oven and when you shouldn’t. In addition, some toaster ovens may not require preheating despite your intended use. Finally, I’ll give you some tips on how to preheat your toaster oven when it’s needed.
Preheating Is Necessary if You Are Cooking or Baking Raw Food
As a rule of thumb, you should preheat the toaster oven when you use it for cooking foods from their raw state, which might be a basic appetizer or a whole chicken.
If you don’t preheat in these situations, your food might not have the optimal taste or texture once cooked. This problem is similar to what happens when you overcook something in the full-sized oven or nuke it in the microwave for too long.
Toaster Ovens Are Similar to Your Regular Range
An easy way to decide if you should preheat the toaster oven is to think about whether or not you’d do that with your regular range in the same situation. Toaster ovens used for cooking act similarly to a full-sized oven.
While they don’t have the same level of temperature control, the principles are the same.
These days, toaster ovens have become so much like regular ones when cooking that some manufacturers like KitchenAid call them “countertop ovens.”
One reason for this is that technology has advanced significantly. Today, you can get a toaster oven that does much more than toasting and reheating. There are even models that double as air fryers.
Besides this, Toshiba has included air frying capabilities and digital technology, making this an excellent multipurpose kitchen tool.
Preheating Helps Your Food Taste Better After Cooking
Although cooking food has been around for many thousands of years, it has always involved heat. Whether you use steam, a fire pit, hot oil, or some kind of oven, heat changes the food from its raw state.
As a result, the size, texture, flavor, and other properties of these edibles are added or altered in the process.
Scientifically speaking, these changes in food take place when the proteins, starches, and sugars are altered. Heat causes the compounds in food to change and interact with each other. Particularly important for our discussion here, heat needs to be appropriately applied for optimal results.
For instance, former TV chef Joseph McCray points out that preheating an oven before cooking chicken helps the food cook evenly, which applies to other foods as well, from steaks to vegetables.
Other experts have pointed out that preheating improves the ultimate color and flavor of your food.
It Is Essential To Preheat Your Toaster Oven Before Baking
While your toaster oven is likely too small for baking large items, many people use it for cookies and pastries. A few brave cooks will even craft rolls in their countertop oven.
In this situation, preheating is essential to ensure satisfactory results.
There are several reasons why this is the case. Once you expose food to heat, it will start cooking, and if the oven isn’t preheated, you’ll start baking those cookies at a temperature that’s too low.
Many cooking experts are quick to point out that this can ruin most baked goods. Leavening agents, such as baking soda or yeast depend on the right amount of heat to work properly.
Even if your baked goods don’t get ruined by exposure to the wrong temperature, they’ll probably be less browned when done baking, because it is heat that makes food brown.
If you want an excellent example of this principle, consider the most basic use of a countertop oven: toasting bread products. The higher the browning setting, the longer your bread will sit in the toaster.
Preheating Isn’t Always Necessary When Reheating Pre-Cooked Food
On the other hand, if you are reheating food, you may not need to preheat the toaster oven. Remember, the food is already cooked, so you don’t need to worry about the taste and texture changes.
Instead, the primary focus is evenly heating your meal before you eat it. Some frozen food manufacturers will recommend preheating, while others won’t.
Here are the considerations when deciding to preheat or not:
Consider the Type of Food
You can quickly reheat some foods without taking the time to preheat your toaster oven.
At the same time, they generally don’t recommend using the microwave unless you’re OK with a soggy crust. Full-sized and countertop ovens do a better job.
Using what we’ve learned about how food cooks, let’s evaluate this recommendation.
One feature of pizza is that it is made of bread, which you want to be a little crisp and browned. Oven heat does an excellent job of crisping bread, but the browning happened when they originally cooked the pizza.
Since preheating aids browning, you risk getting the crust too dark if you preheat the oven.
On the other hand, some foods do better when you preheat the toaster oven. For instance, you’ll often see this recommendation on foods that are stored frozen.
Seattle-based Pot Pie Factory recommends that you preheat the toaster oven, then start with a fully frozen pie. This approach is recommended because it helps optimize the texture and taste of their crusts. Here, they count on the extra crust to brown and cook accordingly.
Toaster Oven Functions Affect Preheating
Another thing to consider is the toaster oven function that you are using. In some cases, your oven setting precludes preheating. For others, it’s simply an unnecessary step.
In situations where preheating isn’t needed for your oven function, you’ll waste time and electricity by preheating. It’ll also result in extra browning of food that you don’t want.
Let’s look at one example of this principle in action.
It even has a touchscreen, which allows for effortless operation. As incredible as this oven is, though, let’s look at the owner’s manual.
One page lists the preset functions available and indicates what temperatures and cooking times to expect. It also offers advice on whether or not to preheat the oven. Recommendations are consistent with the principles above on when to reheat or not.
Keep in mind, though, that some functions don’t allow preheating.
The most notable example of this is traditional toasting. Because you are trying to brown the bread, bagel, or English muffin, you get very high heat for a short amount of time. If you look at other oven types or brands, you will see the same thing.
Think About Your Desired Food Texture
Of course, the type of food and your oven aren’t the only considerations.
In some situations, you may decide whether or not to preheat the toaster oven based on food texture.
For instance, maybe your pizza slice has a very pale crust, and you love it extra crispy. In this situation, you can get a crispier crust by preheating the toaster oven.
Here’s another example:
Let’s say that your casserole leftovers were nicely browned in the initial cooking. Here, you probably don’t want it even more browned. By not preheating the oven, you’ll get a gentler preheating of your casserole. This approach lets you enjoy the flavors of a second-day dish instead of ruining it through overcooking.
How To Preheat Your Toaster Oven
Finally, let’s talk about preheating your toaster oven.
While most manuals will tell you where the functions are on your countertop oven model, this doesn’t always tell you everything that you need to know. In addition, for baking, you might want to be sure that your oven is at the right temperature before adding food.
Set the Temperature on Your Toaster Oven First
In most cases, the first thing to do is select the proper temperature on your oven controls.
While some models let you fine-tune that temperature, many still have a basic dial at 25 or 50-degree intervals.
So, until you get used to your new toaster oven, you should set the temperature to either the owner’s manual recommendations or that of your food packager.
Over time, you might find that adjustments get you the best results.
Take Note of the Preheating Time
Some manufacturers give an estimate of how long it takes for the oven temperature to reach its target, based on your selections. However, you should remember that Amazon and other website reviews are also excellent guides for your oven model.
For instance, Amazon customer comments on several models note high temperatures being reached in five minutes. Typically, the time required is much less than it would take in a full-sized oven.
Consider Using an Oven Thermometer
Finally, if the toaster oven temperature is critical, you can check with an oven thermometer before placing your food inside.
Again, there are several options, including the Rubbermaid Stainless Steel Instant Read Oven. This one is food service certified, and at the same time, it’s easy to use. With an instant temperature reading, it’s hard to go wrong with this selection.