What’s Best? Microwave Oven vs. Convection Oven vs. Toaster Oven

Discover the nuanced differences among a microwave oven, convection oven and toaster oven and find out which is best for different uses and food. Detailed article compares and contrasts these 3 popular cooking appliances.
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Photo collage of microwave oven, toaster oven and convection oven.

I’m not too wild about microwave ovens.  I use ours now and then, but fortunately ours doubles as a convection oven, which is great.  While we don’t have a toaster oven, I had one during my single days which served me well for many different types of quick meals.

These days we have a really sweet set up which includes a microwave and convection oven combo built into the wall situated above our main oven.  Having both built-into the wall is a great space-saving arrangement.  Below, I compare the pros and cons of 3 popular cooking appliances: microwave vs. convection oven vs. toaster oven.

A. Microwave Oven

Microwave Oven

Microwaves, big and small, are common in most people’s homes and are used to quickly heat up food. They work by actually heating the water molecules in the food u sing electromagnetic wavelengths. This makes it very easy to heat up food uniformly, so you don’t have hot and cold spots in your meal. They are different from toaster ovens and convection ovens because they do not feature a broiling function.

These appliances are ideal for quickly heating up leftovers or cooking food that has a high water content. In addition, they do the best job at defrosting frozen food quickly and evenly. While they can’t toast food the way that toaster ovens and convection ovens can, they are much better suited for heating up wet items and getting food on the table in a hurry.

Pros

  • This appliance works very quickly to heat up anything from water for tea to a plate of leftovers.
  • They do a great job at cooking and heating frozen food, and most have a defrost ability that will speed up how quickly your frozen meal will thaw.
  • There is a very low chance that you will accidentally burn your food in a microwave.
  • Microwaves are incredibly easy to clean and they easily fit on a counter, making them a great choice in even a small kitchen.
  • The microwave itself will not get hot, so it is very difficult to accidentally burn yourself on the appliance itself.
  • Cooking in the microwave eliminates the need for high calorie oils and also helps to keep the nutrients of the foods intact. This means that you will be enjoying a healthier meal than if you had cooked your meal on the stove or in the oven.
  • It takes a lot less time and energy to heat food or cook food in a microwave, making these appliances ideal if you are concerned about wasting energy or minimizing rising electrical costs.

Cons

  • When you use plastic containers in the microwave, you put yourself at risk of the chemicals from the plastic leaching into your food. This can lead to health problems, so it’s important to only use microwave-safe items in your appliance.
  • They are unable to crisp food or to make it toasty, and everything that you put in the microwave will likely be rubbery or soggy instead of crispy. Cooking in the microwave will never brown your food.
  • While microwaves are perfect for heating up a small portion of food, they are not ideal for a large family or if you are going to entertain. It can be hard to keep a lot of different food warm for a meal and it is almost impossible to cook large meals in a microwave.
  • When cooking in a microwave, it can be very difficult to get flavors to blend through the whole meal. This is in part because there is not as much stirring involved when you cook in a microwave, making it so the food is not always evenly seasoned.
  • It can be tricky to ensure that your food heats up evenly. This is especially true if you use a plate or bowl that is larger than the middle plate of the microwave. In addition, it can be very difficult to control the temperature of your food and the microwave itself.
  • While you can buy some microwaves on a budget, they will not have as many features or be as large as you may need them to be. Quality microwaves that are larger in size tend to be a bit expensive.

Microwave and convection oven combo

FYI, if you can’t decide on whether to get a microwave or convection oven, get a combo unit that is both microwave and convection oven.

B. Convection Oven

Convection Oven

Convection ovens work by heating up food using hot air that circulates throughout the appliance and around the food. They have a fan that runs to circulate the hot air and they do a wonderful job of heating up food without leaving cold spots.

These appliances can actually take the place of a traditional oven and even have some benefits, such as being able to brown food quickly while keeping the interior moist. They are preferable to microwaves when you want to bake or roast your food, or dehydrate items. In addition, they are often faster than toaster ovens at toasting food quickly and evenly.

Pros

  • Many traditional ovens have hot and cold spots in them, and this can make it very difficult to bake evenly. Convection ovens, however, because of their fan, do not have temperature fluctuations in the appliance. They are the same temperature throughout, so you never have to worry about turning a pan to ensure even cooking.
  • No matter how many dishes of food you put in a convection oven, they will still cook evenly. Unlike regular ovens where the temperature drops when you add more dishes, a convection oven ensures that all of the food will be cooked at your desired temperature.
  • Cooking in a convection oven is a lot faster and you can cook at a lower temperature, thanks to the fan. Because of the fast cooking speed, this is an ideal appliance for a busy family who has to get meals on the table quickly.
  • While it’s easy to burn food in a traditional oven by putting it too low, too high, or too close to the sides, you don’t have to worry about placement in a convection oven.
  • You’ll have a lower energy bill when you cook with a convection oven because it will not have to run for as long.

Cons

  • It can be tricky to get bread and cakes to rise in a convection oven when the fan is running. For this reason, look for a model that allows you to turn the fan off and on.
  • It’s impossible to bake recipes without adjusting them or you will have burned food. This is especially true for items like cookies, bread, and cakes.
  • The fan can ruin some foods, such as soufflés and flans, making it a better ideal to cook these foods in a regular oven.
  • While you can put in a number of dishes to heat at the same time, if you block the fan, the appliance won’t work efficiently. Before you cook many dishes at once, it’s a good idea to do some trial runs to see what your appliance can handle.
  • There are two elements that can break and need repair in a convection oven – the fan and the heating element. This means that you have an extra part that may need repair or replacement at some point.

C. Toaster Oven

Toaster Oven

Toaster ovens, while not as popular in most kitchens as microwaves are, do have their place in cooking. They work by using a broiler to heat food. This is the same as a conventional oven, and while it works on a much smaller scale, the end result is similar. Toaster ovens create a hot environment that allows for even browning of your meal and will quickly heat up anything you put in them.

Perfect for people who want to be able to achieve a crispy crust on their food, toaster ovens aren’t as fast as microwaves, but will achieve a different consistency of the food. They’re also great for small batch cooking when you don’t want to turn on your oven, or for heating plates before a meal.

Pros

  • Unlike microwaves, toaster ovens do a great job of browning and crisping food. This is because the environment in the toaster oven is hot and dry, so you will never have rubbery food. They can also caramelize food, which adds an additional flavor dimension to a meal.
  • It’s easy to adjust the level of heat in a toaster oven. Not only does this ensure that you don’t accidentally burn your food, but it also lets you easily keep your food warm for a period of time.
  • Because toaster ovens can do what toasters and microwaves do, they offer a great way to replace two appliances at once.
  • You don’t have to worry about the bakeware you use in a toaster oven – as long as it can go in the oven, it can also go in a toaster oven.
  • Toaster ovens tend to be the smallest countertop appliance available. In addition, they are very light and easy to move, unlike convection ovens and microwaves, which tend to be quite heavy and bulky.

Cons

  • Toaster ovens do not do a very good job of thawing out frozen food. In addition, they require a much longer cooking time due to how they heat up food, and this can actually result in the food drying out and becoming tough to eat.
  • A much less energy efficient option for the kitchen, toaster ovens take a lot longer to heat up or cook food, and because of that, they will increase your monthly power bill.
  • It’s harder to clean toaster ovens, and since the whole inside of the appliance heats up when it is on, it’s much easier to accidentally burn yourself. This means that you have to be very careful when using a toaster oven and you must make sure to monitor any children who may be near it.
  • Even the outside of a toaster oven can become quite hot when it is in use, so it’s important that you don’t touch it and burn yourself and that you keep all towels and rags away from the sides and the top of the toaster oven.




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