In this era of hyper-convenience, the most coveted items for at-home cooks are often wildly outfitted, high-tech multitaskers sold as shortcuts to save time in the kitchen: a “multi cooker” that’s a slow cooker, a miniature oven, and a food warmer; a pressure cooker that’s also somehow an air fryer and dehydrator; and yes, of course, the ubiquitous Instant Pot, an electric pressure cooker and slow cooker (plus a bunch of other things) rolled into one.
But here’s the secret: While I often evangelize for the Instant Pot, I pretty much only use it as a pressure cooker, leaving its rice cooker, yogurt maker, and sous vide functions fallow. Essentially, I’ve turned the complicated appliance from a fancy multitasker into a weighty unitasker, that hyper-specific category of single-use (and therefore not particularly useful) items like a garlic press, a countertop pizza maker, or a salad chopper. Which is a shame, because multitasking kitchen devices are indeed worth owning. But you don’t need one with a million buttons or Bluetooth capability. In fact, the only multitasker actually worth owning is decidedly less high-tech: the toaster oven.
Growing up, my family never owned a “traditional,” just-for-sliced-bread toaster, and we rarely used the microwave. To my mom, the toaster oven was the go-to vehicle for heating up American convenience foods. The toaster oven’s longer cook time would render them far less “convenient,” of course, but undoubtedly made everything taste better: Stouffer’s frozen mac and cheese trays (the top layer of cheese would bubble and broil beautifully), leftover grocery store fried chicken (the breading would crisp up into something oil-boilingly crunchy and not soggy), Hot Pockets (a Hot Pocket in a toaster oven takes an absurd 35 minutes, yes, but gets the crust way crispier than the weird microwave-friendly “crisping sleeve” ever will). For more than a decade as an adult, I lived in an apartment without a microwave. Everything frozen I just cooked in the toaster oven, and I firmly believe my 99-cent pot pie and that pepperoni pizza Hot Pocket tasted all the better for it.
But the toaster oven is more than capable of cooking “actual” foods: roasting vegetables, making kale chips, drying apple slices, toasting nuts and seeds, and (I’m told, though have never personally attempted) baking a small cake or pie. For those who live alone and don’t want to turn on an oven to cook a single-serving item, like a foil-packeted salmon steak, the answer is a toaster oven. If it’s 100 degrees outside and I don’t want to do any “real cooking,” the answer is a toaster oven. To make any sandwich a melt, the answer is a toaster oven. To toast toast, the answer is a toaster oven. It’s a pretty impressive list when compared to the tasks accomplished by that ultimate unitasker: the toaster.
It’s hard to resist the siren song of the Instant Pot and the other multi-use gadgets flaunting their “7-in-1!” and “10-in-1!” bona fides, convincing us we need tools we didn’t even know existed or already own. (Did you know that the hot-ticket countertop item of recent years, the air fryer, is… just a fancy convection oven?)
But really, the only multitasker you need — and maybe the one you already have — is the humble toaster oven. (Seriously, if you’re in the market, get this one.) Everything else is toast.
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