Toast is a British staple and a toaster is an integral part of many kitchens. But the humble toaster comes in all shapes and sizes. How should you decide on the right toaster for the needs of you and your family? Fortunately, we’ve spent a lot of time considering this very question! If you’re thinking about buying a new toaster, then allow us to lead you through the process:
Let’s get the basics out of the way first, by pointing out that most of us tend to have the same initial requirements when it comes to buying a toaster. In essence, what we want to do is to toast our bread in a relatively straightforward manner. We don’t want it to end up getting burnt, of course. But neither do we want it to be under-done, or cooked unevenly. We probably wouldn’t expect to wait too long for the toast to be ready either.
There we have it: an initial set of simple requirements. Thinking about those, it might be reasonable to conclude that every toaster should meet those most basic needs. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. At least, not on a consistent basis. As our reviews reveals, some toasters consistently do a better job than others.
Having outlined the basic requirements, we might also want something more. Maybe we like the idea of being able to cook bagels or crumpets, for instance. In particular, it would be nice to be able to extract them from the toaster, without burning our fingers. How about being able to toast more than two slices at a time? That would be a great bonus, especially if you’re trying to get breakfast ready in the mornings for a large family. Or even when it comes to cooking a fry up for family and friends. So our requirements soon grow from those initial basics.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the options and functions in full, enabling you to make a great toaster buying decision.
Size and space
This often the first question to be answered within the process of identifying your requirements. What sort of size of toaster will you be buying? The answer to this question is often defined by two elements: the available space within your kitchen and how many slices of bread you will wish to toast simultaneously.
A larger toaster can help you to toast more slices of bread in a short time period, but it can look rather over-bearing in a small kitchen. On the other hand, if you aren’t really limited by space, then why not go for a larger model.
The size of toasters is often considered in terms of their capacity. The most common variations allow for 2-slice or 4-slice toasting. In general terms, 4-slice toasters offer greater flexibility. We’ll go into some of the reasons behind that later in the guide. If you’re really looking for a deluxe option, then you’ll find that 6-slice toasters, although less regularly seen, are also available.
The elements are an absolutely critical part of any toaster. These are located within the toasting slots and are used to actually heat the bread. If they are too far apart, then the danger is that you will end up with an uneven finish.
When you are looking at a particular toaster, check that the elements are close enough together to do an effective job.
The greater the power of a toaster, the more rapidly it will toast. This is worth bearing in mind when looking at budget options, which are sometimes somewhat under-powered. The power output is measured in watts and you can take some baseline measurements as a staring point:
- For a 2-slice toaster, you should be looking for a minimum of 1200kW
- For a 4-slice toaster, you’ll need a bit more power. Ideally, you should be looking for a minimum of 1800kW
Those with one eye upon their environmental impact will have noted that a greater power level might be considered more damaging to the environment and more costly to run. This is a potential issue with any toaster, which some manufacturers have been looking to respond to.
If this is a key consideration, then you should see how many of the slots heat up on use. Is there any flexibility here?
Some toasters include functionality that enables you to alter the default situation. By using only the number of slots that you actually require, you can reduce energy usage levels. There’s an additional bonus associated with this functionality too: if both slots heat up, even when you are only attempting to toast one slice of bread, then you may find that your bread is receiving more heat than it actually needs. This can lead to your toast looking rather browner than you actually intended.
Are you finding that you are having to replace your toasters at regular intervals? If so, this may indicate that you have fallen into the trap of buying budget models, where the build quality simply isn’t up to scratch.
It wouldn’t be correct to say that all budget models have a poor level of build quality. But it is often the case that you get what you pay for: more expensive models from established manufacturers do often tend to last longer.
You can also extend the life of your toaster by taking proper care of it. This will mean wiping it down at regular intervals and clearing out the crumb tray too. These simple steps can help to ensure that your toaster lasts for years, rather than months.
Finally, you’ll find that some manufacturers offer a repair service. Although warrantees tend to be relatively limited (reflecting both purchase prices and expected lifetimes), top of the range models are more likely to be accompanied by some sort of repair cover.
The above considerations reflect the basic requirements that we mentioned above. But toaster technology has been moving on at some pace, which means that there are plenty of added extras that you might expect to find. Let’s take a closer look at what they mean and whether they are worthwhile in helping to improve your toasting life!
We expect this to be included absolutely as standard and we’re pleased to say that it’s a rare model that excludes cancel functionality. You don’t want to burn your toast and there are times when you’ll get the initial indications of burning. In these circumstances, it’s vital that you should be able to intervene.
The functionality to Cancel ensures that you can step in, before it’s too late, stopping the toasting procedure with immediate effect. A must-have feature, we believe.
As with the Cancel function, we see this as being an integral part of any modern toaster. The crumb tray corrects loose crumbs that fall from the button of the toaster. By doing so, it helps to protect your kitchen side.
Some buyers don’t appreciate the importance of cleaning out the crumb tray at regular intervals. This is probably the main maintenance task associated with toaster ownership and can help to extend the life of any model, so remember to do so as often as possible.
Let me give you an insight into life in our family: sometimes we toast the bread, only to find that we’re not ready to eat it. It may be that something else has interrupted progress to the table, or it could simply be that we haven’t got the timings right.
This is a particular problem on a weekend morning, when trying to cook a nice, full breakfast. The toast may be ready, but the sausages, eggs or bacon are lagging behind. We’ve all been there. The cooked toast now starts to get cold, which simply isn’t what we want to achieve.
Some toasters offer a handy answer: the option to Reheat. When the bread has already been toasted, the Reheat function allows it to be warmed up again but (and this is crucial) without burning. Typically, this is achieved by heating the toast for a further 45 to 60 seconds.
Is this function a necessity? Maybe not, but it’s certainly very nice to have!
We might more accurately refer to this as the “Defrost and toast” function. It’s a great additional extra and one that we find gets plenty of use.
If you’re not familiar with this function, then you’ll soon grow to love it. It’s sometimes difficult to know how much bread to buy and there’s often a balancing act between the number of visits that you make to the shops and how much storage space you have available. Things then become more complicated if your bread supply is depleted more quickly than expected, perhaps by unexpected (or unexpectedly ravenous) visitors.
Putting a loaf, or even a few slices, of bread in the freezer can represent a good solution. What happens, however, when you suddenly realise that you need to use that bread in the morning. There are various unpalatable options ahead of you. Or there’s the joy of the Defrost function.
What the Defrost function on a toaster allows is for frozen slices of bread to be placed in the slot. They are then defrosted and toasted in a single operation, producing beautiful slices of toast. An almost magical feature and one that we like very much.
Peek and pop
We mentioned above about that situation where you sense that your bread is about to burn. The Cancel function allows you to stop that from happening, but sometimes it can be frustrating.
We’ve probably all encountered situations where we Cancel the toasting prematurely. Now we have a slice of toast that isn’t quite ready. So we need to place it back in the toaster. This is going to start a whole new cycle, meaning that we’ll have to intervene during the second attempt at toasting, otherwise we’ll be left with the dreaded burnt toast.
There is, however, a rather funky solution to this problem: it’s call peek and pop. What this function allows is for you to take a look at how the bread is browning and then to return it to continue the current program. You read that right: it doesn’t reset the toaster. What this means is that you have greater control over the toasting process, which is absolutely always a good thing.
The extra lift function tends to have a very particular use. In order to understand it, allow us to picture the scene.
You are attempting to toast a relatively small item, such as a crumpet, bagel or muffin. You place it in the toaster and all is good. It is toasted to absolute perfection because you have followed all of the tips in this guide to ensure that you have bought the perfect toaster. But there is now a problem. When the toaster program completes, you find that it’s extraordinary difficult to get the toasted items out of the machine. This is one of those nightmare scenarios.
The most obvious solution, of course, is to be able to lift those crumpets or bagels that bit higher. This is the fundamental purpose of the Extra lift option, which makes it easier to extract small items from the toaster.
You can toast a bagel or crumpet in most toasters. But there’s a difference between toasting and toasting properly.
To achieve the latter, you need a bagel toasting setting. What does it do exactly? Allow us to explain: with this function, you can ensure that the toaster only toasts one side of your bagel, rather than both. Imagine that: you can have a soft and squidgy outside, together with a toasted flat inside section. That’s just perfect and it’s why many buyers look for a bagel setting.
Do you want to know how long it’s going to take before the toast is done? This is one of those functions that didn’t seem to add much value, until we started using toasters with this as standard, integrated functionality. The difference that it makes is surprisingly significant.
We particularly found that it came into its own when attempting to co-ordinate the toasting of the bread with other items, particularly when cooking a hearty breakfast. A timer allows you to see precisely when the toast will be ready, making things that bit easier.
Sandwich toasting attachment
We remember a time when sandwich toasters were a must-have accessory in many kitchens. Has that time passed? Possibly, as it certainly seems that separate sandwich toasters are appearing less frequently. But that doesn’t mean that we have lost our love of toasties!
There is, of course, a problem with trying to toast sandwiches in most toasters. What happens is that the great ingredients in the middle (cheese and baked beans, to take two very tasty examples) tend to drip down into the inside of the toaster. That’s messy and also leads to a less enjoyable toastie. The answer here is to use a sandwich toasting attachment, which some toasters make use of, allowing perfect toastie making. Something that needs to be attempted, in order to really be appreciated.
On a similar theme to the sandwich toasting attachment is another element that may be added: the bun warmer. You’re getting breakfast ready and you have some nice pastries that need to be warmed, such as crossisants or the odd pain au chocolat (we’re feeling decadent). Perhaps obviously, they don’t fit inside the toaster.
How are you going to deal with this issue? Will you be pre-heating the oven and using up all that energy, just to warm through those pastries? That seems like a shame, when a bun warmer can be used to do the same job with your toaster.
Is this something that we use on a daily basis? Absolutely not, but it’s a tool that can be useful to have available.
Toasters get hot. This may seem obvious, but children (in particular) may not realise that this is the case. The exterior of a toaster can thus cause a dangerous surprise.
Most toasters with metallic external features suffer from this problem. Some manufacturers are starting to produce toasters with cool walls, which enable the outside of the products to be safely touched. Hopefully more and more manufacturers will roll this out as a standard feature.
High speed toasting
Are you in a hurry? Do you wish that you could grab that toast a bit quicker? Some premium toasters now include rapid toast functions, which literally allow toasting to be undertaken more quickly. There’s usually a cost here, in terms of energy use and the standard of toasting may be less consistent, but this is a feature that is likely to be refined and improved in the years ahead.
Extra long slots
To state the obvious, 4-slot toasters tend to be wider than 2-slot alternatives. That makes things tricky in some kitchens, where there really isn’t the space to fit them in. On the flip side, some 2-slice toasters have slots that are too small to accept all sizes of bread slice. That’s not great either.
If a 2-slice toaster won’t quite do the job, but you don’t feel that you have the space for a 4-slice toaster, then you might consider a model with extra long slots. An extended 2-slot toaster can provide a good option.
We’ve talked about requirements, use and functions. But we haven’t, so far, spoken very much about the issue of price. As you’ll have noticed, if you’ve even had a cursory look at toaster prices, they range from starting prices of less than £10 to those retailing for more than £200. That’s a huge range.
Having discussed core functions and added extras above, it’s evident that you would expect more expensive models to offer better functionality and a better build quality. But the price inevitably also depends on where you are buying the toaster and when. Typically, for instance, you may find that you can make good savings in the January sales. It’s sometimes also suggested that retailers tend to discount these models in the late summer and early autumn, when university students may be looking for cheap toasters.
If you’re toaster has just broken, however, then you may not have much of a choice. In this case, there may be some urgency to your purchase.
You’ll sometimes discover that it’s difficult to get your toasted items out of the toaster. It’s so important that you resist the temptation to use a knife or other metallic item to dislodge that slice of bread, crumpet or bagel.
Instead, you should unplug the toaster and use a plastic spatula or wooden spoon for the purpose. Toasters are great, but only when they are used in a safe manner.