Toaster ovens are small-scale conventional ovens and can be used to cook foods other than just toasting. A frontal door is opened, horizontally-oriented bread slices (or other food items) are placed on a rack which has heat elements above and below it, and the door is closed. The controls are set and actuated to toast the bread to the desired doneness, whereupon the heat elements are switched off. In most cases the door must be opened manually, though there are also toaster ovens with doors that open automatically. Because the bread is horizontal, a toaster oven can be used to cook toast with toppings, like garlic bread, melt sandwiches, or toasted cheese. Toaster ovens are generally slower to make toast than pop-up toasters, taking 4–6 minutes as compared to 2–3 minutes. In addition to the automatic-toasting settings, toaster ovens typically have settings and temperature controls to allow use of the appliance as a small oven.
Extra features on toaster ovens can include:
- Heating element control options, such as a "top brown" setting that powers only the upper elements so food can be broiled without heat from below.
- Multiple shelf racks – Having options for positioning the oven shelf gives more control over distance between food and the heating element.