Microwave or Toaster Oven, Which Is the Greener Kitchen Gadget?

Clean kitchen with a microwave and a toaster oven

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So you've noticed that you can save a lot of energy by switching from ovens to smaller cooking devices like a microwave or toaster oven when reheating food. But...which is better, the microwave or the toaster oven? We're taking a closer look to see which is the better of the two.

Energy Use of Microwaves and Toaster Ovens

When it comes to energy consumption, the competition between a microwave and a toaster oven, well, really isn't much of a competition. A microwave uses on average around 750-1100 watts. A toaster oven uses around 1200-1700 (EnergySavers). Essentially, when using a counter top device rather than an conventional oven, a toaster oven will use about half the energy, while a microwave uses about one third of the energy.

It's easy to see that you'll be using less energy over all if you go with a microwave. The real trick is in how you will use it, and how you want your food cooked.

Uses of Microwaves and Toaster Ovens Vary

A microwave and a toaster oven are used for different purposes. If you want something hot now, and you don't care much about how the food turns out other than being hot, then a microwave is the way to go. But if you want to imitate oven cooking, then a toaster oven is the way to go, heating food more slowly but also more evenly. Either way, you're saving money and energy over a conventional oven if you're using the devices to reheat food or cook small, quick meals.

However, there's a difference not only in how the food turns out, but also in how much time is spent with the power on. A microwave is normally used for reheating food or cooking frozen meals. Unless you don't use an oven at all and are cooking frozen lasagnas, which take around 25 minutes, you're probably only using a microwave for a few minutes at a time. An average daily use is about 15 minutes total on high for reheating food. Assuming an average price of $0.10 per kilowatt hour, that adds up to .36 kwh, or $0.04. (Consumer Energy Center)

For a toaster oven, it takes more time to heat up food. Usually a toaster oven is preheated for a few minutes, then the food is baked or broiled. For instance, reheating a piece of pizza takes about 2 minutes in a microwave, but about 5 minutes at 350 degrees in a toaster oven. An average daily use for reheating food is about 50 minutes at 425 degrees, which adds up to an average of .95 kwh, or $0.10. (Consumer Energy Center)

Decision Time

Is it worth the additional energy bill to have food that feels and tastes like it just came out of the oven? Ultimately it's up to you. Both a microwave and toaster oven have a variety of settings allowing you versitility in cooking. In a microwave, you can do everything from reheating pasta to boiling water to defrosting a chicken breast to popping pop corn. With a toaster oven, you can bake, toast, broil and so on.

A rule of thumb is if you want your food heated fast and with the least energy use, go with a microwave. But if you want your food heated well while still using half the energy of the oven, go with a toaster oven.

Of course it is also possible to have both devices and use them according to your needs, maximizing the energy savings of the microwave where appropriate, and the quality of the toaster oven where appropriate, and avoiding a conventional oven altogether in many instances.

Tips for Buying and Using a Microwave or Toaster Oven

There are a few things to keep in mind so that you can get the most energy efficient device.

When purchasing, keep eye on the wattage when comparison shopping. Go for a device that is on the lower end of the power consumption range. Just because it's a higher watt device doesn't automatically mean it will cook better. Also, if you're going to be using the device on a daily basis, go with convection - the air circulation will cook food more evenly and at a more thorough temperature.

For microwaves, use them for reheating food or for food that cooks quickly, rather than larger meals. Cooking up a frozen lasagna or a potato in a microwave is actually not more efficient than using the oven.

For toaster ovens, treat it like an oven. For instance, preheating can be helpful but not always necessary. If you feel you have to preheat, minimize the amount of time spent warming up the toaster oven. Also, it's better to use this for reheating and smaller meals. For large meals, go for a big one-potter in the conventional oven or crock pot so you have left-overs. It will ultimately be more energy efficient.