Equipment

Yes, Your Toaster Oven Has Hot Spots. Here’s Why It Matters.

Uneven heating in your toaster oven can have unexpected—or risky—results. 
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Published Feb. 22, 2023.

You may know by now that your traditional oven can have hot spots. 

These are places where the heat is more concentrated than other parts of your oven, such as near the door. While this can technically lead to irregular cooking, in general your traditional oven is large enough for the heat to circulate and distribute more consistently.

But on a smaller scale, this is not the case.  

In your much more compact toaster oven, hot spots (and their inverse, cool spots) can greatly impact the results of your cook. And even pose a risk.

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While working as an editor and recipe tester on Toaster Oven Perfection, I learned that disproportionate heating in your toaster oven can cause unevenly baked cookies, or, much more dangerous, undercooked pieces of chicken or pork. 

Yikes. 

Through testing we found that these hot spots can be so targeted that some recipes would emerge with one roasted chicken thigh a perfect 165 degrees, while another—cooked for the exact same amount of time—would come out an unsafe 140 degrees. 

We found the same issue with our maple-brown sugar glazed pork loin and toaster oven-fried wings

The only variable between food that was perfectly cooked and drastically undercooked? Where it was placed in the toaster oven.  

So while a slightly chewier cookie might be acceptable, or maybe even desirable, an undercooked piece of chicken or pork could make someone seriously sick.

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How to Avoid Uneven Cooking in Your Toaster Oven

When using any of our toaster oven recipes, or cooking another recipe in your toaster oven, if it does not specify how to arrange food, keep in mind that generally the outer edge of the sheet pan will be hotter and the middle will stay cooler.

For the recipes above, we worked in a remedy step halfway through the cook. We simply rotated the sheet pan or food at the midpoint of cooking to concentrate the heat on different parts of the sheet.

Our rule of thumb: For cooks of 45 minutes or longer, even if a recipe does not specify, we recommend rotating your sheet part way through cooking. 

How to Find Your Toaster Oven’s Hot Spots

The most effective way to guarantee perfectly cooked food and learn how you should adapt your cooking all depends on your specific oven and its hot spots.

Through our rigorous toaster oven testing we found that hot spots vary greatly from brand to brand and even model to model, so it’s important to get to know your own piece of equipment. You can do this by making a simple heat map of your toaster.

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Here’s how to do it:

  1. Lay out as many slices of white bread as you can evenly fit on your small rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Bake them at 450 degrees for 5 minutes. 
  3. Examine where you see the darkest spots and lightest spots, and note that for future food-arranging. (You can even take a photo of it and keep it near your toaster oven for future reference.)
A small sheet pan with four pieces of toast. Ones in the top left and right corner are more browned than the pieces near the front.

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