A toaster is one of those home appliances that many people find themselves using on a daily basis. Toast remains a staple breakfast item for a significant proportion of UK families and, although there have certainly been changes in taste trends over the past decade or so, it’s likely that toast will remain on the breakfast menu for years to come.
But toasters themselves don’t last forever. If your toaster has recently broken and you’re looking for a replacement, then you may naturally be considering making an online purchase. It’s certainly a sensible starting point, given that pretty much all of the leading brands sell online, either direct or via retailers. This means that you’ll have exposure to a considerable range of products and will also find it easy to compare prices.
How should you go about choosing the toaster that’s right for you? This is a question that we get asked pretty frequently and we’re happy to outline some of the key elements that you’ll need to consider. By thinking about your requirements, you’ll soon be able to narrow down toaster options by looking at the individual functions that are in place for each model.
2-slice or more
The standard toaster that many people opt for is the 2-slice toaster and it’s likely that you’ll be familiar with this type. Put simply, they allow you to toast two slices of bread at the same time. A simple thought and a seemingly simple requirement, but there are some elements to think about here.
At the most basic level, you may find that you really would like to toast more than two slices of bread at a time. If you have a fairly large family and a hectic morning schedule, for instance, then toasting at this rate can prove to be an annoying hold-up. You might wish to upgrade to a 4-slice model. The same may also be true if you frequently entertain guests in your home.
One of the more obvious drawbacks of a 4-slice toaster, however, is that it will take up more space on your kitchen worktop than a standard, smaller model. So you will need to think about need versus space in this case.
An additional point to note at this point is that not all 2-slice toasters offer the same capacity. This doesn’t appear to make sense at first glance: surely the very essence of such models is that they should allow you to toast your two slices of bread simultaneously? While that may seem obvious, you might have noticed that it can sometimes be difficult to get bread into the toaster in the first place. Some slices, as you’ll have noted, are bigger than others.
In order to handle such complications, it is possible to buy an appliance with longer slots, making it able to deal with those larger slices of bread.
Time to toast
We mentioned above that one drawback of a 2-slice toaster is that it can leave you waiting around for too long in the mornings. Another key element here is the actual time that it takes for a toaster to complete its toasting program. The faster the program, the quicker the turnaround.
In general terms, it’s often the case that a more powerful toaster will get the business done more quickly. In our own reviews, we do dry to give an indication of this factor, where we have that information available to us, or have been able to run side-by-side comparisons.
Straight from the freezer
It would be lovely to imagine that freshly baked bread would be present in the house each morning. Indeed, that would be a real delight. We appreciate, however, that it’s simply not always possible to have fresh bread available. Busy families may frequently find themselves reaching into the freezer for a loaf of frozen bread and then looking to toast a few slices.
Some people believe that bread toasted from frozen is simply never as good as fresh bread. We don’t necessarily find ourselves in that camp, although we can see why this has emerged as a common conclusion. What matter isn’t whether the bread has been frozen, but how it is to be defrosted.
Now, if you’re fortunate enough to have thought ahead, then it may be that you will have taken the loaf of bread out of the freezer the night before, allowing for an overnight defrost at room temperature. By the morning, what you have available to you is bread that is ready to go straight into the toaster.
But what happens when you are less organised? We’ve all been in the situation when the lack of bread only becomes apparent in the morning and we’re left reaching for that last minute loaf. This is where a good toaster really comes into its own: a decent defrost function should allow you to overcome the lack of organisation and to still emerge with some great toast.
Earlier, we mentioned that one consideration that comes into play concerns how quickly the bread is toasted and we also noted that there is an inter-relationship there with power output levels. But what about the total amount of energy that is used per slice, or per use? This is a figure that many consumers understandably tend to focus on, given the rising awareness of environmental concerns.
If you share those concerns, then it’s likely that you’ll also want to give the environmental impact of your choice due consideration.
The issue of safety is an important one and this probably won’t come as news to you: hopefully you’re not in the habit of using metal objects to extract toast from your toaster. If you are doing so, then you’re putting yourself at unnecessary risk.
There are, however, a number of features associated with particular models that can help to improve safety levels. For instance, the outer surface of the appliance can be dangerous (particularly for children), if it heats up too much. So thin carefully about how the individual model has been produced and whether it represents a safe choice for your own family.
What about that annoying situation when the toasting is completed, but you can’t easily extract the toast from the toaster? That can be incredibly frustrating and, as we’ve already alluded to, also represents a potentially dangerous moment. It goes without saying that you should take care in these circumstances, but some toasters also have functions that are designed to help you out: an extra lift button, for example, can make things that bit easier.
Bells and whistles
We’re using the term bells and whistles to cover additional extras that may go above and beyond the core functionality of your toaster. One of our in-house reviewers wondered about the choice of words here, suggesting that some of these functions are now expected (by them) when buying a new toaster. Well, we’ll let you decide about that, but new developments have certainly expanded the range of options available to home users.
A timer, to take one example, is now built-in to some models. The function here is fairly obvious, since it allows you to know exactly when your toast will be ready. We don’t see this as being a must-have facility, although there are times when it can come in useful. Where we’re found that it does help is when cooking a full English breakfast and wanting to ensure that the toast is ready at the right time. We don’t want to overcook our scrambled eggs and we want to have toast in place for our baked beans. On the other hand, we don’t want the toast ready too early and hence getting cold. Here, a time can be a great added option that clearly serves an evident practical purpose.
What about Peek and Pop functionality that has become increasingly popular. If you’ve not seen a toaster with this option available, then allow us to enlighten you! It basically means that you can take a look at whether your toast is ready (or, at least, how it’s progressing) without needing to cancel the program. A must-have? Maybe not, although we can imagine that it’s seen as being useful in some households.
Finally, for those who are just too impatient to wait for their toast, what about the option of using a Boost button to speed things up. You might not believe it, but such buttons are now available on some toasters!
We’ve discussed quite a number of options above but there are two inter-related elements that we’ve left until last: build quality and price. You’ll undoubtedly want a toaster that will last, but you may also have a budget in mind.
Under normal circumstances, you would hope that if you pay for a more expensive toaster, you would receive a better built product. You might hope that but, unfortunately, it’s not always true! You might equally be paying for extra functions or, in effect, be spending more because you’ve opted for a toaster with a wonderful appearance. When browsing online options, you’ll see the same manufacturers mentioned again and again, so let’s talk you through leading manufacturers and what they have to offer.
Russell Hobbs toasters
We’ll start with Russell Hobbs toasters, since they gave a large range of options and are also, in terms of pricing very accessible.
A Russell Hobbs Futura 2-slice toaster represents an entry level model. Available with a stainless steel silver finish, they look pretty nice within the kitchen and are easily paired with other appliances. If you’re looking for a kettle and toaster set, for example, then you could pair with something like the 1.7 litre Cambridge kettle model.
For an entry level model, you wouldn’t expect too many of the bells and whistles that we describe above. What you’re probably looking for here is basic functionality from a trusted brand and that’s pretty much what you will be getting.
But there are some nice functions provided, even on this seemingly standard model. There’s a crumb tray (to make cleaning that bit easier), temperature control, reheat function, defrost option and a high lift facility. The exterior of the toaster also remains relatively cool to touch, which means that it offers some safety advantages too. Although the Russell Hobbs Futura 2-slice is certainly at the bottom end of the price range, it covers most of the bases that many families are likely to need. We reckon that you could do far worse when selecting a toaster online.
If the Futura provides an entry-level model, then the Russell Hobbs Colour Plus 2-slice toaster might be seen as being the next one up the ladder within this range.
Usually a little more expensive, it boasts the ability to toast up to 50% faster than some other models in the range. It also has a Lift and Look feature, together with extra wide slots. Typically, you’ll find that you’ll pay a little more for this model, but that you’re getting quite a bit of extra functionality for that money.
As the name suggests, you’ll also be able to choose from a range of colours: cream, black, red, grey and what is known as Heavenly Blue. When sticking with the Russell Hobbs range, you can also buy both kettles and microwaves that exactly match the toaster colours.
Overall, the Russell Hobbs Colour Plus gives you additional functions, together with a wider range of colours, meaning that the appearance may be better suited to your kitchen, if you’re looking to match a particular colour scheme.
We would see something like the Russell Hobbs Textures 4-slice toaster as being at the top of the range for this brand, although it’s price point tends to be considerably lower than other brands (based upon roughly equivalent models).
Given that it’s pretty much at the top of the Russell Hobbs toaster range, it offers considerable functionality, as might be expected. Together with a high gloss finish, the Textures 4-slice toaster offers Defrost, Reheat and Cancel options, as well as a removable crumb tray. It also boasts extra wide slots and the top energy rating of A+.
Overall, when we look at the Russell Hobbs range, we see toasters that are generally priced towards the lower end of the market. However, it’s also evident that the manufacturer has put considerable effort into ensuring that there are numerous colour and material choices available. This perhaps helps to explain the popularity of these toasters, which combine low-cost pricing with relatively extensive functionality in most cases.
Having started by considering Russell Hobbs, we find ourselves skipping up the chain to Breville, with prices that tend to be that bit more expensive. The question that will occur to many, at this point in the discussion is: what more will I get for the money?
Towards the bottom end of their range is what is known as the Breville 2-Slice Toaster Perfect Fit for Warburtons. Many retailers actually sell this product with a sticker, emblazoned with the Warburtons brand name. There’s clearly something of a hook-up between the two companies and Breville make a big deal of this association for good reason: what it demonstrates is that this basic Breville 2-slice toaster can handle slices of Warburtons bread, whereas many competitor models don’t have large enough slots to do so.
If you buy this model, the message is saying, you are indeed getting that bit more in return for your money. It might be best to leave aside, at this point in the article, the question of whether you would specifically want to use Warburtons bread. Assuming that you might do, here is a toaster that brings that forward as an option.
It also boasts illuminated control buttons, a stainless steel finish and a high lift facility. Perhaps most impressive of all for a toaster at this relatively low price point is that there is also a Look and Lift function. This does help to allow this particular model to stand out from the crowd.
If a relatively basic model within the Breville range appears to offer so much functionality, then why might you pay more to invest in something that’s higher up the range? In order to opt for a larger toaster would appear to be one answer and the Breville VTT687 fits the bill in this respect.
The Breville VTT687 High Gloss Toaster is a 4-slice toaster that has a stylish appeal. It’s at the top of the range in terms of functionality too, as you can make use of Defrost, Reheat and mid program Cancel options, together with Lift and Look functionality. Perhaps best of all is the fact that the slots allow for variable width slices of bread. This means that you can toast thin slices in one and thicker slices in another, aiming to provide you with perfectly toasted bread every time.
When we look at different manufacturers, we see that a range of prices are on offer. Although basic toaster functionality is expected at all price points, more expensive toasters are expected to have (and often deliver) a wider range of functionality. When considering more expensive brands, you may discover that functionality goes up a notch, or simply that you are paying for design and build quality.
Ultimately, it is possible to buy a great new toaster online. Prior to doing so, spend a few moments thinking about the individual needs of your family. You’ll then be able to set about finding the perfect appliance to match. For more inspiration, you can browse our comprehensive toaster reviews online.