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Use your toaster oven to cook these 5 foods

It's time to graduate from toast and frozen pizza. Your toaster oven can do so much more.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Toaster ovens are great at tackling breakfast, but they can do so much more. Not just frozen snack warmers, these appliances are essentially countertop mini ovens. They may be small, but they're nimble, versatile and surprisingly capable. Toaster ovens preheat much faster than their larger counterparts and usually don't make your kitchen as hot (great for hot summer days). Some models can air-fry food too, thanks to extreme convection.

You can use them to bake tasty pizzas. They also roast veggies until they're nice and crispy. Toaster ovens can tackle meat and sausages as well. And when your sweet tooth acts up, pop a few cookies in them. It's a sensible alternative to baking a full-size batch.

Of course, toaster ovens have limitations. For piping hot food in a flash, your microwave is still the go-to appliance. And nothing can speed up lengthy cook times quite like an Instant Pot. Still, that doesn't mean you should limit yourself to just fish sticks and chicken nuggets. This guide suggests items you may not have thought a toaster oven could handle. After you try them though, I'll bet you'll wonder why you didn't before.

Frozen mozzarella sticks are fine but your toaster oven can do better. 

Brian Bennett/CNET

Typical toaster oven fare

Let's talk basics first. Besides breakfast toast, bagels and sandwiches, toaster ovens are typically tasked to warm frozen snacks. These span everything from frozen pizza and chicken nuggets to spring rolls and mozzarella sticks. Here's a hit list of tried-and-true toaster oven treats.

  • Spring rolls
  • Chicken nuggets and tenders
  • Mozzarella sticks
  • Pizza rolls
  • Sandwiches (regular or open-faced)
  • Pretty much any solid food with melted cheese

Roast your veggies

Dinner time is in half an hour away, and you'd love to serve a side of veggies with the main dish. Your toaster oven can help. Prep the vegetables you have, but in a smaller roasting pan. Many countertop ovens come with their own pan accessories, right in the box.

The $400 Breville Smart Oven Air, the appliance I used for this guide, ships with plenty of extras. They include a roasting pan (9 by 13 inches), broiling rack, and pizza pan (13-inch). Breville even throws in a mesh basket rack for proper air frying.     

I love roasted brussel sprouts, and a toaster oven will provide them.

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Brussel sprouts

I love this vegetable, though I'm aware some don't share my enthusiasm. If roasted and minimally seasoned, however, they're fantastic. To achieve this, all it took was 16 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius), plus a short 5-minute preheat.

My sprouts came out just how I like them; crispy and nicely browned, yet slightly soft on the inside. For a more toothsome bite, try taking them out a minute or two early.

Toaster oven baked potatoes had crispy skin and were light and fluffy inside.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Baked potatoes

I admit, potatoes are more starch than healthy veggie. However, when you cook them in your toaster oven, they taste so good you won't mind. Inspired by ToasterOvenLove, I rinsed and brushed two large russet potatoes. And while that was going on, the toaster oven was preheating to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 Celsius). Next, I gave my spuds a coating of olive oil, plus a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

After giving each a poke on both sides with a knife, I roasted them for 50 minutes. Then I carefully removed them, cut them open, and gave their insides a quick fluff. Finally I added a pat of butter plus shredded cheddar for decadence. The result was fabulous. The skin of my potatoes was crispy, while their interior light, fluffy, yet richly satisfying.

If you're in a hurry, lean on your microwave for help. I was able to cut the roasting time down to just 20 minutes. All it took was a prebake nuking of 6 minutes.

toaster-oven-brats-2

You can cook bratwurst in a toaster oven, too.

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Bratwurst

Sometimes, nothing else hits the spot like a brat. When the urge strikes, enlist the aid of your toaster oven. There's no boiling necessary, either. I just tossed my pack of smoked cheddar bratwurst, fresh and sourced from Kroger, onto a roasting pan.

It took a quick 5 minutes to preheat the Breville Smart Oven ($180 at Amazon.com) to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 Celsius). Thirty minutes later, my sausages were cooked through. I recommend roasting them for 5 to 10 minutes longer though, if you prefer more caramelized casings with crunch.   

Use a little caution, too. These links tend to squirt juice as they heat up. Be ready to shut the oven off at the first sign of smoke, or worse, fire.

Baby back ribs finished in the toaster oven came out sticky, sweet, tender and delicious.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Ribs

I don't suggest you cook racks of pork ribs entirely in a toaster oven. That would take a lengthy 5 to 8 hours. Instead, prep them in your Instant Pot first. Hit them with some seasoning (salt, pepper, spice rub). Next sear them on saute mode. Then pressure cook them. Thirty minutes is a nice ballpark figure for baby back racks. Tougher St. Louis-style racks about need 45 to 60 minutes. Don't wait for the pressure to naturally release either.

Take those the ribs out of the pot ASAP. Next, pat them down fast with paper towels and give them a coat barbecue sauce. The plan is to finish them in the toaster. I cranked everything up on the Smart Oven (full convection, 580 degrees Fahrenheit or 300 Celsius) all the way. Ten minutes later I had baby backs that were moist, tender, and sticky with caramelized sauce.

No, they weren't flavored by the ambrosia of true wood smoke. But to enjoy ribs this fine, and in just over 1 hour (1 hour, 14 minutes), I'll take it.

Can you really bake cookies in a toaster oven?

Brian Bennett/CNET

Cookies and treats

Next time you crave something sweet, use your toaster oven instead of your full-size appliance to bake small batches of cookies, brownies and other treats. Cleaning up will go faster, plus you won't have lots of tempting sweets sitting around to taunt you.

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Yes, you can bake cookies in a toaster oven. And you don't have to make a huge, tempting batch all at once.

Brian Bennett/CNET

There are three things to keep in mind when baking in the toaster oven. First, you'll see on most all packages of parchment paper (used often for baking cookies) to not use it in the toaster oven. It's because there is a bigger risk of the paper coming in contact with the heating element and igniting. If you choose to put parchment in your toaster oven, be aware of this risk.

Second, many glass dishes (like Pyrex) shouldn't go into the toaster oven either. Pyrex points this out on its website. So if you are baking brownies or cake in the toaster oven, stick with a metal pan.

Third, because baking requires more precise temperatures than roasting, you'll want to check that your toaster oven is getting to the right temperature.

You can use an oven thermometer to get exact temperatures or experiment with a batch of cookies. If you go with the cookie route, try baking at a slightly higher temperature or slightly longer cook times than the recipe calls for until you get your desired result.

Leftover pizza and fries

Cold pizza zapped in the microwave turns into a soggy mess. A similar fate awaits leftover french fries that you nuke. Avoid this sorry situation by using the toaster oven.

Outside of an air fryer, no countertop cooker can revive these foods quite as well. The oven heats items through, while it restores crispness and crunch to their outside surfaces. Honestly, you'll never go back to microwaving your pizza once you try it.

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