Most people will think this question is a bit silly – “what is a toaster?”. We’ve all seen them. We all probably own one. They’re cheap, useful, and really don’t take up much space. But how would you explain it to an alien who had no concept of toasters, toasting, or toasted snacks?
Even more than that, do we just take this knowledge for granted? If you had to break down what a toaster actually doesn’t, how would you explain the differences between a toaster’s uses and a toaster oven’s uses? It’s a little more difficult now, isn’t it?
We’re going to look at what makes a toaster a toaster and how the different toaster settings and their history change shaped this common kitchen appliance.
Table of contents
- What is a toaster used for?
- What settings does a toaster have?
- What is a toaster oven used for?
- What settings does a toaster oven have?
- Toaster oven temperature conversion
What is a toaster used for?
A toaster is for making toast. Done.
Not quite, actually. Historically, toasters have been used to be brown bread using heated elements to caramelize the natural sugars that are produced by yeast during the breadmaking process. But now we have multiple products which we can cook with our toasters.
Although we don’t generally associate toasters with doing anything but toasting, there are multiple new products that are designed just to be used in toasters. This means that you can make bagels, artisan toast, and pop tarts in a toaster. Handy, right?
What settings does a toaster have?
Depending on your toaster, you can have a range of settings. Some have multiple heat settings that allow you to cook your bread exactly how you want it. Some even have extra “bagel” or “bun” (for our British readers) settings that get you a great toasted finish on a different kind of snack.
If you heard someone asking “how do I work a toaster?”, you might think it’s a silly question. But it’s not – a lot of people don’t know what the dial is for, let alone how to use the more complex settings! Think about all the different functions and how they can actually build up to make the sophisticated but simple piece of equipment we all keep in our kitchens.
If you are buying a product that isn’t just a standard toaster, there should also be three other keys settings:
- Reheat, and
These three settings mean you can do a lot with your toaster.
Exactly what it says on the label. If you like to freeze bread but need your toasted snack in an instant, this is a necessary button for you. It will thaw out and partially cook your bread, perfect for a full toasting.
Basically an extremely low cooking setting, this will warm up toast or toast shaped snacks that you put in the toaster. This is great for people who are always forgetting about their breakfasts (like me…) and still want to eat it when it’s gone cold. Finding a higher powered toaster will help you make sure that you get crunchy toast even with a reheated piece.
Perfect for the indecisive toast fan. This setting will stop the toaster half way through a cook and pop it out for you to enjoy. This is especially useful if you have set the toaster on the wrong setting and need to get it out now.
If you have a toaster with these settings, you can make sure you get the toast that you want.
What is a toaster oven used for?
New toaster ovens are like toasters in some ways but bear a lot more similarity with the other half of their names – ovens. Like small ovens that can go on your worktop, there are grills that can cook a variety of foods in a relatively short time.
The grand variety of toaster oven designs and makes can make it difficult to describe them properly. You can find some which are specifically designed as small pizza ovens – they have a 12-inch disk shape which allows pizzas to fit nicely under the grill. You can also find ones that are designed for roasting, usually with a glass door to lower over the front of the oven.
Regardless of their special features and gimmicks, toaster ovens also cook toast. They are designed to give you great toast, just like from under the grill. If you don’t mind trading toasting time for versatility, we just made the question “what is a toaster for?” much more difficult.
What settings does a toaster oven have?
This greatly depends on the product you have bought. We can say that they usually have more uncommon with a standard oven than a toaster, though. They will have specific knobs and dials to give you specific temperatures and timings.
Some also come with add-on toaster slots, meaning you get all the functionality and versatility of the toaster oven and a high-quality toaster. This all depends on your budget and what you want out of your new piece of kitchenware.
Toaster oven temperature conversion
Just like its visual design, the toaster oven is designed to function like a small oven. This means there is very little “conversion” done on a toaster oven if you are cooking oven dishes. If the dish needs you to cook at temperature x, you cook at temperature x.
If you are planning to use your toaster oven like a larger toaster, think about how long you would cook toast in an oven. Allow for preheating and then give the bread between 5 and 9 minutes to char nicely. You will get the best toast possible out of this hybrid machine.
Has the toaster always been like it is now?
No, not at all. In fact, if you look at some old toasters, they look like death traps. In fact, again, the first toaster ever made (the Eclipse, invented by Alan McMasters) was the cause of the first ever electrical fire death. It’s safe to say that we’ve come a long way since then.
Although it would be a difficult task to give you a short history of the toaster, just know that the protective shell wasn’t invented until 50 years after the first toaster was. This means that the elements (the hot things on the inside of the toaster) were exposed while cooking, potentially leading to injury or (like McMasters’ invention) death.
The difference is especially staggering when you know that the pop-up mechanics, thermal sensor (that stops the toaster cooking when the bread reaches a certain heat), and double sided elements are relatively new developments for the toaster. Most people wouldn’t recognize a classical toaster if it was right in front of them!
A toaster toasts bread. But it’s a lot more than that now. It is a series of small developments that turned a strange household novelty into a mainstay of kitchens all over the world.
From the basic toaster that you can buy for $20 to the top of the range toaster oven, answering the question “what is a toaster?” is better phrased as “what can a toaster not do?”. Do you think the inventors of the first toasters ever considered roasting a chicken in their inventions? Unlikely.