A toaster oven uses fast-warming infrared heating elements on the top and bottom of the device to heat the air in the oven cavity. This toasts the food items placed on wire racks inside the oven.
While a standard toaster oven uses radiant heat that circulates through the oven cavity by way of natural currents, a convection toaster oven uses a fan to disperse heat. The placement of two heating elements is designed to provide even toasting. Some high-end models also include steam settings and a combination of ceramic and quartz infrared heating elements. Standard toaster oven functions include bake, broil and toast, but some models also include more advanced functions such as roast and defrost. A toaster oven consumes approximately 50 percent less energy than a standard oven, according to Food Service Warehouse.
In addition to toasting bread, many electric toaster ovens are capable of performing the same tasks as a standard oven. Users can prepare cupcakes, cookies, roasted meats, small casseroles and pizzas with small pans that fit in the oven. Users can also use the oven to melt cheese, toast sandwiches and reheat food items. In general, a toaster oven takes up as little countertop space as 16 by 8 inches or up to 20 by 10 inches.