Toaster Oven vs. Microwave – What’s the Difference?

Toaster Oven vs. Microwave

As more and more home cooks try to save energy by switching from full-size appliances to smaller and more energy-efficient cooking appliances, the toaster, and microwave ovens are becoming more popular.

While for many users the differences between the two might seem obvious, you will be amazed by the huge chunk of potential buyers that still find it hard to decide which one to buy.

Because both will be very useful to have around the house, here we take a closer look at the factors that set them apart to help you decide which one to buy.

Toaster Oven Overview

Toaster Oven


Toaster ovens can be best described as a smaller version of the traditional conventional oven as they are designed to do everything the latter does on a small scale.

These ovens will make use of a conventional heating method with the heat supplied by the heating element at the top or bottom of the unit, but some models will have the heating elements at both top and bottom.

The oven-like heating that you get with these ovens makes them ideal for everything from grilling to roasting and browning foods. With a good model, you can even bake small cakes and sauté vegetables.

Toaster ovens will also not limit you to using specific cookware and bakeware like microwave ovens as they can work with almost any provided it can withstand the higher heat output that these ovens will generate.

Better yet, these ovens provide a highly precise temperature control that allows you to cooks at both high and low temperatures, and they will heat up quite fast to ensure faster cooking. And if you are looking for an oven for your everyday meal cooking, the toaster oven will be perfect.

However, these ovens seem to be a little less energy efficient when compared to the microwave ovens and like the full-size conventional oven, cleaning them takes a little more effort.


  • Provides more traditional oven-like heating
  • Work with most cookware and bakeware
  • More effective at crisping and browning food
  • Good for everyday use


  • Less energy efficient
  • Harder to clean

Microwave Oven Overview

Microwave Oven

Photo: Toshiba

You will hardly find any modern home that does not have a microwave somewhere in the kitchen as they have become one of those must-haves thanks to their efficiency and convenience.

Microwave ovens will heat food faster than many other oven types because they will not rely on traditional heating elements. Instead, they use electromagnetic waves that will heat the food from the inside.

Overall, microwave ovens are more energy-efficient than toaster ovens and most other oven types. And they will also almost be effortless to use because. You only need to place the food on the tray and push a button to start cooking with no pre-heating required.

For everyday tasks like heating snacks and making quick and simple meals, there is almost no oven type out there that can outperform the microwave. Better yet, there will not be much clean up to do afterward as these are also super easy to clean appliances.

But, if most of your cooking will involve toasting, baking, browning, and crisping foods, a microwave will be very disappointing as it does not do either of these things well. Also, it falls short when it comes to the kinds of foods that you can use it to cook and hence making it less versatile.


  • Great for quick food heating
  • Overall more energy efficient
  • Easier to clean
  • Perfect for quick, everyday food heating tasks


  • Not good for baking, toasting or browning
  • Less versatile appliance

Comparison Chart

Toaster Oven

Microwave Oven

How it Works

Uses top and bottom heating elements

Uses electromagnetic waves

Countertop Convenience

Lighter and more space-saving

Larger and takes up more space

Best Uses

Browning, crisping, toasting and keeping food warm

Defrosting and reheating

Energy Efficiency




Greater risk of burns

Overall safer

Cleaning and Maintenance

Quick and easy

More tedious


$60 to $400

$40 to $300

Toaster vs. Microwave Oven

Because the toaster and microwave oven are often used for the same things, you will still have a useful appliance regardless of which you choose. However, it is always great to have an appliance that is specifically built for the applications you want and to choose between these two ovens, you will only need to watch out for the following things.

1. How it Works

The main difference between the toaster and microwave ovens is how they work, and understanding this should help you decide which one will suit your specific cooking needs best.

Toaster Oven

Toaster ovens are a smaller version of the traditional conventional ovens which means that their work mechanism is pretty much the same.

These ovens will cook the food by heating the interior using heating elements which are often at the top and bottom. And while some models will only have one or a couple of these heating elements, others can have as much as 6.

Also, it is worth noting that with the toaster ovens, food will be cooked starting from the outside part and going to the inside section since the outer part is what first comes in contact with the heat.

Microwave Oven

Unlike toaster ovens which will rely on the conventional heating element, microwaves will cook using electromagnetic waves.

The electromagnetic waves will excite the water molecules in the food causing them to vibrate which in turn produces heat and heats the food. And because all the water molecules are heated up at the same time, microwave cooking is often faster.

Unlike the toaster oven, microwave ovens will heat the food more uniformly given the even distribution of the water molecules. But some foods will be heated from the inside.

2. Countertop Convenience

Space is always on the decline with many homes as more and more houses come in smaller sizes given the sharp decrease in land sizes in most places across the world. Hence, you need to make sure you maximize every space you have including in your kitchen.

What this means is that when trying to decide whether to go for the toaster or microwave oven, you need to consider the countertop convenience that each offers.

Here the toaster ovens tend to be the more convenient tools as they will often come in lighter and more compact designs that ensure they take up little space. Also, a typical toaster oven can easily fit under most kitchen cabinets.

Microwave ovens tend to be relatively larger when compared to toaster ovens which mean they will take up more counter space, and this is more so if you go for the larger capacity models.

3. Best Uses

What the oven can do is perhaps the single most important determinant of what will work best for you. But here, the choice should be easy because despite these two ovens being able to do some similar tasks, each has its specific best uses.

With the toaster oven, you get a more versatile kitchen appliance that will be very useful for different cooking methods from grilling to roasting and even baking. However, the toaster oven seems to excel when it comes to toasting, browning and crisping foods.

Microwave ovens, might not offer you the versatility of toaster ovens, but they still have their best uses. Key among these uses is reheating food as they will heat food much faster than toaster oven. Also, microwave ovens will be a perfect appliance for defrosting different kinds of food.

4. Energy Efficiency

Both toaster and microwave ovens are often recommended as a more energy-efficient alternative to the full-size ovens. However, given their different work mechanisms, these appliances will not use the same amount of energy.

Toaster ovens are generally less efficient than the microwave ovens. Most will operate at between 1,200 and 1,800 watts which means it will cost between 0.15 and $0.22 top operate a toaster oven per hour in most places. And in places where electricity is more expensive, the cost of operating a toaster oven can be over $0.25 per hour.

With the microwave ovens, most models are built to use 700 to 1,300 watts which translates to a cost of around 0.08 to $0.16 per hour. And this makes them significantly cheaper to operate when compared to the toaster ovens.

But, it is also worth noting that there are more energy-efficient toaster ovens out there that can use significantly less electricity than the microwaves.

5. Safety

Safety is another element that you cannot afford to overlook when using ovens, and so you need to consider it when deciding whether to go for the toaster or microwave oven.

Overall, toaster ovens will pose a greater risk than microwaves just like the full-size ovens. These ovens can get quite hot when in operation, and so the exterior can easily burn your hand in case you were to touch it accidentally.

Microwaves will not generate any significant heat on their exterior surface which means there is almost no risk of burns at all. However, for a long time, there has been a notion that microwave ovens can leak harmful radiation.

But the truth is that there is still no concrete evidence that microwave ovens pose any serious health risk as their design ensures the electromagnetic waves always stay inside.

6. Cleaning and Maintenance

If you make a mess when cooking, you can be sure there will be a lot of cleanup work to do afterward regardless of the oven type that you are using.

However, the toaster ovens will often be more tedious and time-consuming to clean when compared to the microwave ovens.

Toaster ovens will require you to wait for a long time for the heating elements to cool down before you can clean them. Also, these ovens will include other things like glass door, wire rack and crumb catcher all of which will need to be cleaned. And worst yet, these ovens have many nooks and crannies where food particles can get trapped and hence giving you a harder cleaning job.

Microwave ovens will be super easy and quick to clean because, besides soap, water, and a clean kitchen towel or sponge, there is nothing much you need. They will often also come with a removable glass tray that you can easily clean on the sink.

7. Cost

Since both the toaster and microwave ovens are smaller size ovens, they will not cost as much as the full-size ovens. But with that said, their prices differ significantly.

Toaster ovens seem a little more expensive because even when you just want an inexpensive basic model you should be ready to part with at least $60. But, for a basic model of the microwave oven, you can get something good enough for as little as $40.

When it comes to the mid and high tier models, both oven types will have a wide variety of options in different price ranges. However, you will hardly spend over $300 on the best microwave ovens while to get a top-quality toaster oven, you need to part with $400 or more.


Toaster and microwave ovens are great for different things and will hence be very useful to have at home. However, you do not always need to have both because chances are you will only end up using one a lot.

But, to make sure that you choose the right one for you between the two, you need to consider factors like how they work, the foods that you can cook with either, and other things like the energy efficiency and cost which we explain above in more detail.

With these differences in mind, the toaster oven will be great if you want something smaller to replace your large conventional oven as it can do pretty much everything the latter does. But if you want something for warming and defrosting food quickly, go for the microwave oven.