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Toaster Oven vs. Microwave: Which One Should You Choose?

Learn how to choose between a toaster oven and a microwave when your kitchen space is limited. Abt lists the features and advantages of each appliance to determine which is best for you.
Person shutting microwave door

Getting Started

When you need to reheat leftovers or quickly make a warm snack, you usually turn to one of two essential appliances: a toaster oven or a microwave. But when space is limited in your kitchen, you may not have room for both. Each of these appliances has its advantages and features, but which one is best for you?
We break down the classic toaster oven vs. microwave debate below and discuss the pros and cons of each.
Cup of tea in Microwave

Cooking Process

Toaster ovens cook foods using infrared radiation produced by coils with an electric current. Individual ovens may have one or several coils to warm the interior and heat food throughout the inside and outside. Because the coils heat food directly, toaster ovens can caramelize or crisp your food—not just toast! If you're solely comparing these two appliances by taste of the heated food, toaster ovens are the better option.
Microwaves bounce electromagnetic waves that heat the water molecules within foods. While they cook food faster and more thoroughly, they lack the same crisping qualities, leaving foods like bread and meat much chewier. But a microwave can efficiently heat water for tea, bring soups up to temperature, or quickly reheat coffee.

Cooking Time

Direct heating using a toaster oven means longer cooking times. The temperature must get hot enough to cook the food while staying low enough to prevent the outside of the food from burning.
Microwaves, however, can cook food quicker than toaster ovens. One thing to note: microwave power and heating ability depend on wattage, which we'll dive into later.

Installation

Toaster ovens and microwaves are both available in countertop models and models that can be hung underneath your cabinets (usually over the stovetop). Over the range microwaves free up your counters and give your kitchen a streamlined look. If you choose to hang your appliance, be sure to choose the correct size to fit the space and to allow enough clearance from the stovetop. Since this requires electrical work and you'll need to account for exhaust ducting, you'll likely want to opt for a professional installation. This also ensures you'll stay in line with building codes and the minimum spacing required for installation.
An in-between option is to install a countertop microwave into a nook in the cabinets and surround it with a trim kit, giving it a custom look. This option is usually not available for countertop toaster ovens, due to the amount of heat the small appliance emits.
Open toaster oven with toast inside

Size

Toaster oven sizes are measured by the number of bread slices they can toast, such as four-slice or six-slice models. When it comes to countertop space, most toaster ovens are 16 inches by 8 inches, with larger models reaching 20 inches by 10 inches.
Microwaves are measured by wattage, cubic feet, and range. For instance, microwaves range from 700 - 1,200 watts, and 1.4 - 2 cubic feet. The larger of the two appliances, microwaves average about 24 inches by 19 inches, so make sure you have the appropriate space.

Costs

A regular toaster oven can be as low as $30 for a four-slice model or $50 - $70 for a six-slice model. However, these prices represent models with only basic functions. Should you want a more aesthetically pleasing toaster with more bells and whistles, prices are typically around $80 - $150. Convection features will most likely add $100 to the total cost. There will also be extra hardware costs for under-cabinet installation.
The costs for microwaves tend to be more variable. For a 700 - 1,200 watt microwave, expect to pay $50 - $170. However, it's essential to realize that this price will only increase with more wattage and cubic feet. As with a toaster, a specialized finish or more cook settings will increase the cost as well. For a built-in microwave, you can expect to add $300, and over-the-range microwaves will increase by $50 - $100.

Energy Efficiency

Toaster ovens and microwaves offer homeowners a more energy-efficient option and come in a variety of EnergyStar models. Toaster ovens use more energy (1,200-1,800 watts) compared to microwaves (700-1,300 watts). Further, since toaster ovens have longer cooking times, that energy will be used for an extended period. The microwave is a more energy-efficient appliance, regardless of EnergyStar certification or not.

Maintenance

Cleaning kitchen appliances can be a pain, and can factor into which one is better for you. Microwaves are best if you have kids who tend to leave giant messes everywhere. Cleaning a microwave is much easier compared to a toaster oven. A toaster oven has more individual components that need to be cleaned, like a rack, crumb catcher, and glass door. On the other hand, a microwave has a bare interior with a removable glass tray that you can clean with a simple solution of soap and water or vinegar. Most glass trays can also slide into the dishwasher.

Safety

Microwaves will generally be safer than toaster ovens. The outside of a toaster oven can get hot as the inside warms, while a microwave will usually stay cool—unless you're cooking something for a very long time. For this reason, you should also leave room on both sides of a toaster oven, and never stack things on top of it. Food is also less likely to catch fire in a microwave than a toaster oven.
When using a microwave, you should be mindful of heating styrofoam and some plastics—which can release harmful chemicals—as well as foil-wrapped leftovers or an accidental fork, which can cause sparks and create a dangerous atmosphere.
Still not sure which one to purchase? Check out Abt's comprehensive Microwave Buying Guide and Toaster Oven Buying Guide to explore more.

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  • My order was received so fast! Everything is great! The microwave I got is excellent! I would recommend this company to anyone!
    Diana C. - Ocala, FL
    May 8, 2021
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