During the research that I’ve done when writing reviews of toaster ovens I have noticed that owners of various toaster ovens often recommend using aluminum foil in a variety of ways. While there are ways to safely use foil when cooking in a toaster oven, there are precautions that you must take unless you want to court disaster.
My mom taught me that aluminum foil has the potential to be dangerous when used in ovens and toaster oven, but I didn’t know specifically what the dangers were. Therefore, I contacted every toaster oven manufacturer I could find and asked them. Their answers were very educational and I learned quite a bit from what they told me.
First, I am going to share with you what they said so you understand the potential dangers of cooking with foil. Next, I will explain how you can safely cook with foil. Lastly, I will offer alternatives to using aluminum foil.
POTENTIAL DANGERS OF ALUMINUM FOIL IN TOASTER OVENS
- Aluminum Foil Can Spark – Foil is a metal, and if it comes in contact with a hot heating element, it can spark. The spark can damage the toaster oven and/or cause a fire.
- Aluminum Foil is Flammable – Okay, maybe this is common knowledge, but I admit that I didn’t know that aluminum foil can catch on fire. You should never allow aluminum foil in such to come in direct contact with a heating element because doing so could get it hot enough to catch on fire.
- Aluminum Foil Conducts Heat Very Well – Did you know that aluminum foil is the third best metal for conducting heat, behind copper and silver? Metals that conduct heat well get hot. Very hot. That is why so many cooking items, such as pots, pans, and baking sheets, are made of aluminum.When it comes to using aluminum foil inside a toaster oven, there is the possibility that the foil itself will increase the internal temperature because of how well it conducts heat. The danger posed by this is the very real possibility of raising the temperature higher than what a toaster oven is meant to withstand. Temperatures that are too high will overheat a toaster oven, which can shorten the oven’s life or render it inoperable.
- Aluminum Foil Melts – Now that you know that foil is flammable, it should come as no surprise to learn that it also melts. Although rare, foil can melt onto heating elements if it touches them. It is very difficult to safely remove melted aluminum from an element, and the aluminum will cause the element to function improperly because it will no longer be able to disperse heat as it was meant to.You also should not allow foil to touch the interior walls of a toaster oven. The foil can melt onto the surface of the wall, which is both difficult to clean and will prevent the interior from heating up properly, and maybe even permanently damage the toaster oven.
- Doesn’t Aluminum Pose a Health Risk in Any Form? – This is a controversial question, and I won’t pretend to know the definitive answer because I don’t. There are plenty of websites that will try and convince you that aluminum will cause a wide variety of health problems, with Alzheimer’s as the most discussed disease, and others that say the opposite.Aluminum is a naturally occurring mineral that is in far more things than you might realize and come in contact with on a regular basis. A lot of cookware and bakeware is made from aluminum, and you will find aluminum in deodorant, soda cans, aluminized baking powder and the foods made from it, over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin and antacids, shampoos and conditioners, sunscreen, even lip balm.It is understandably scary to think that you can ingest aluminum without even knowing about it. It is even scarier to think that aluminum can lead to health problems, up to and including Alzheimer’s. Does all of this mean you should not use aluminum cookware or foil?I don’t know.According to some people “in the know”, aluminum that has been heated during cooking causes trace amounts of aluminum to leech into the food that is touching it. This includes aluminum baking trays, pots and pans, as well as foil. The fact that aluminum is toxic to humans is not in doubt. Whether or not cooking with aluminum poses a risk to your health is.According to research done by the United States FDA, it is “generally safe” to cook with products made from, or containing, aluminum. You can read their complete report on this matter here: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=1076&tid=34Personally, I do not cook with aluminum cookware or bakeware, but I do occasionally use aluminum foil. I encourage you to do your own research so you can decide for yourself about the potential risks involved with cooking with aluminum.
What I Found in My Mom’s Toaster Oven
I recently flew out to my mom’s for a short visit with her. While in her kitchen I could not resist taking a look inside her toaster oven. It was quite dirty inside, but that wasn’t what made me gasp. My mom had wrapped her crumb tray in aluminum foil, which was placed directly under the heating elements. Not only that, the foil was coated in grease from food that had dripped onto it.
First I took a picture of the dangerous situation so I could share it here. Next, I took the crumb tray out of the toaster oven and went to explain to my mom that she was lucky she hadn’t started a fire in her toaster oven!
Not only was the foil on the crumb tray dangerously close to the bottom heating elements, but the grease was also a fire hazard because it could have ignited from being so close to the heating elements.
HOW TO SAFELY USE ALUMINUM IN TOASTER OVENS
Okay, you may now be sufficiently freaked out enough to never again use aluminum foil for cooking. The good news is that you can safely use foil in most toaster ovens, as long as you follow certain precautions. The precautions listed below are meant to prevent an electric shock, melted foil, or a fire, as well as from accidentally ingesting aluminum with your food.
- Read The Manual – Before you consider using aluminum foil in a toaster oven, read the manual to make sure you can, and how you can. If the manual does not answer any questions you have about how to use foil in your toaster oven, contact the manufacturer for clarification.
- Do Not Touch Heating Elements – Never let aluminum foil touch a heating element. If you want to cover your food with foil, make sure there is 1” between the foil and the top element(s).
- Do Not Touch the Sides – When using foil make sure that it will not touch the interior sides of the toaster oven.
- Do Not Cover the Drip Tray with Aluminum Foil When Broiling Meat – The drip tray is used when broiling meat to collect the fat that drips off the food. If the drip tray is lined with aluminum then it can get hot enough to cause a grease fire.
- Do Not Cover a Crumb Tray Unless it is Safe to Do So – Almost every instruction manual that I have read says to never use foil on the crumb tray to prevent overheating. Did you know that some manufacturers may void your warranty if you line the crumb tray with foil?FYI – You may not know this, but this is also true of conventional ovens. You should never line the bottom of an oven with aluminum foil to prevent overheating.
- Wrap Foil Tightly Around Cooking Equipment – If you line the wire rack, crumb tray (if it’s okay to do so), or baking pan with foil, make sure the foil is tucked tightly around it so that it won’t touch the sides or heating elements.
- Do Not Wrap Foil Tightly Around Food – Never totally enclose food with foil. Wrapping food with foil will insulate it from the heated outer air, which will result in longer cooking times and uneven heating of the food.
- Do Not Let Food and Grease Build Up on Aluminum Foil – This mainly applies to people who line their crumb trays with foil, but also for people who like to line baking trays with foil (like my husband). Frequently change the foil to prevent the build up of foods and grease. Grease fires on aluminum foil do happen.
- Use Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil – Not only do you need to put thought into how you use foil, but also into what type of foil you use. Food commonly sticks to foil, and aluminum is a toxin that you should never ingest. The best type of foil to use to line a baking pan, dish, or tray is heavy duty foil because it is much less likely to stick to food.
- Use Cooking Spray or Olive Oil – Another way to help prevent food from sticking to foil is to spray it with a nonstick cooking oil or wipe it with olive oil.Did you know that baking cookies on a tray covered in aluminum foil will result in crisper, browner cookies? If you spray the foil with a nonstick cooking spray then the cookies will end up nice and brown, and you can easily remove them from the tray.
ALTERNATIVES TO USING ALUMINUM FOIL IN TOASTER OVENS
If you would rather not use aluminum of any kind in your toaster oven then you will be glad to know that there are alternatives you can use.
- Parchment Paper – Bakers and chefs have long know about the benefit of using parchment paper when baking and cooking. Parchment paper is a heavy paper, sold in rolls like foil, that is resistant to grease and moisture. It is most often used to line baking trays and cookie sheets, and keeps foods from sticking to it.Instead of lining a tray or pan with foil, you may be able to use parchment paper. Parchment paper does have limits on the temperature used for cooking and baking, and the maximum cooking temperature will be printed on the box it came in. I use parchment paper in Breville BOV800XL toaster oven, and the box says it can withstand temperatures up to 420° F.This may be obvious, but it is much easier to burn paper than foil. Take care to make sure the parchment paper doesn’t touch the heating elements.
- Alternative Materials – Instead of using baking trays and dishes made of aluminum, look for trays and dishes made from other materials. I do not have any aluminum bakeware. Instead, I have a pizza tray made from stainless steel, and several trays and dishes made from Granite Ware.Pyrex may be a tempting alternative, but it should be avoided. Pyrex products heat unevenly in toaster ovens, and often crack or shatter from the radiant heat of the heating elements. I’ve dealt with shattered glass while cooking and can tell you that it isn’t anything you want to clean up.
- Covered Roasting Pans – Instead of covering food with aluminum foil, use a covered roasting pan if your toaster oven is large enough for one. Just as with foil, food will remain moist in a covered roaster. And, as with foil, you can remove the lid shortly before cooking is done to crisp and brown the food. I have a Granite Ware covered roasting pan that I use often in my Breville BOV800XL toaster oven.
- Toaster Oven Liners – Toaster oven liners are nonstick mats that are made for use in a toaster oven and can withstand the high temperatures of being close to heating elements. You can use them to line the crumb tray, as long as it isn’t too close to the element where it might melt or catch fire, or line a baking tray.If you place a toaster oven liner on your crumb tray, watch it closely the first time you cook with it. It will smoke, smell, and eventually catch fire if it is too close to the heating element. I had this happen once and the fire it caused was scary, and the stench from the burning rubber lasted for hours.
Some people assume that the only reason why manufacturers give warnings about using aluminum foil in toaster ovens is simply precautionary, to protect them from legal litigation. After reading about the potential dangers of using aluminum foil in toaster ovens you can see that, while this may be partially true, there really are good reasons for the warnings.
Incorrect use of foil can lead to electrical shocks, it can melt on interior walls or heating elements, or it can cause fires. However, safely using aluminum foil can result in easy cleanups and moist, tender food. And, for those of you who would rather avoid the risks entirely, I shared alternatives to aluminum foil or aluminum cookware.
Remember, the best thing you can do is to read the instruction manual any time you get a new toaster ovens. Manufacturers want you to enjoy cooking in their toaster ovens and will almost always include information about when and how you should or should not use aluminum foil.