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The $50 Toaster Oven Is the Unsung Hero of the Kitchen

It’s time to leave your microwave on the curb and level up

Last week, GQ’s Gabriella Paiella wrote a thoughtful, impassioned analysis of Oven Burrito People: the “hedonists” who willingly choose to cook frozen burritos in an oven.

As a Microwave Burrito Person, Paiella tested out the prolonged experience of cooking a burrito in a conventional oven. She wasn’t converted: “When I finally sat down to eat mine, I found that there was a crispness to the tortilla that the microwave simply could not replicate. Otherwise, it was just… fine. It was fine! Was it worth an extra 53 minutes of cooking time? No.”

Her argument is airtight, well-sourced and compelling, but the problem is, she’s flat-out wrong.

I want to make something very clear: I do not stan a conventional oven. No, there’s a different god I serve in the kitchen. One that always leaves me crisp and toasty.

Of course, I’m talking about the humble toaster oven. It is the unsung hero of the kitchen. It is cheaper than the microwave, more versatile than a toaster and faster for reheating than a conventional oven. The toaster oven is doing what other kitchen appliances won’t.

“C’mon, if given the option of a crisp bagel bite over a soft one, you’re going crispy every time,” says James Hirschfeld, a 24-year-old video producer from Miami, when asked why he prefers toaster ovens to microwaves.

The perfect cooking setup is a conventional oven and toaster oven working side by side in harmony. They are siblings, after all. I would never attempt to cook a steak in a toaster oven, just as I would never reheat bagel bites in a conventional oven. Neither would Hirschfeld. “I’m not a psychopath,” he says. “That’s a bit over the top.”

I’m also specifically talking about reheating foods, be it a frozen burrito or last night’s pizza (which hopefully was originally cooked on a Pizzazz rotating pizza oven, but that’s a secondary battle to wage another time).

Yes, a microwave heats food faster. Paiella, who prefers the two-minute burrito, says waiting almost an hour for a frozen meal in a toaster oven is a “fundamental misunderstanding of why someone would buy a frozen burrito in the first place.”

She’s not wrong. It is more efficient to microwave a meal, but I’m here to tell you that waiting the full 55 minutes for a golden-brown, perfectly toasted burrito or Bagel Bite is worth it. “It all comes down to patience and willingness to wait for the higher-quality outcome,” Hirschfeld adds.

For this investigation, I had to take my inquiry about toaster ovens to the one person I know who has made this kitchen appliance a part of his social media brand: T.J. Slipko, a toaster influencer. He didn’t choose the toaster-oven life; it chose him.

“I’ve been microwave-less for about seven years, and I’m a better person for it,” says Slipko, a 29-year-old content programmer. When he moved into his first Los Angeles apartment, there wasn’t enough counter space for a bulky microwave. Fortunately, his roommate had already squeezed in a more petite toaster oven. In the years and apartments that followed, Slipko’s necessity has turned into a lifestyle.

For him, it’s simple: “Microwaves unevenly reheat food, and I deserve better. We deserve better.”

What about leftover pizza? I get it, it’s tempting to have a hot slice in the span of a Real Housewives ad break. But you’re better than this. “What it does to that crust is offensive to carbohydrates. It gets rubbery and then ROCK HARD and inedible in a matter of seconds,” Slipko says.

(Alternatively, just eat it cold. But never let that crust enter the microwave. Your great-grandparents didn’t emigrate from Naples to watch you besmirch your heritage like this.)

Deep-dish pizza? “Should be a federal felony. It’s TOO THICK and TOO deep to be heated properly.”

Hot Pockets? “I grew up my whole life under the impression that Hot Pockets were overrated” — largely because they exit the microwave molten on the sides and frozen in the middle. “Put that baby in the toaster oven and you have a delicious, EVENLY HEATED pocket of delicious stuffing.”

I know there are plenty of soup-microwavers out there. No, the toaster oven is not your friend. Stovetop that shit. You’re an adult.

I get it. Most of us grew up on microwaves. But it gives me hope that the younger generation is embracing happiness and quality and delayed gratification. “It just always seemed better to me, I guess,” Kennedy, a 20-year-old college student from San Antonio, Texas, says of the toaster oven. “It’s something that my mom told me when I was younger. I didn’t like reheated pizza because it was soggy, so she said to put it in the toaster oven and I’ve been doing it ever since.” And, honestly, who am I to disagree with Kennedy’s mother?

The broke postgrads out there might also be delighted to find the Wirecutter‘s toaster oven budget pick is just $50, while its cheapest recommended microwave is a whopping $75.

My Twitter friend Mike Naple sums it up: “A microwave can’t make toast.” QED.

Microwave? Sweetie, you’re just not that girl.