The great news about bread makers is that it's hard to find one, even an inexpensive one, that doesn't get pretty good reviews for performance. Of course, you won't get as many bells and whistles in sub-$150 basic bread makers as you would in those machines that cost more, but lots of reviewers say that many of those extras aren't really necessary to make great bread.
However, if bells and whistles are what you want or need, you'll want to read our discussion of the best bread machines, where you'll find everything you ever needed to know about the top-rated Zojirushi's. And if you can't tolerate gluten, have no fear, we cover gluten-free bread machines in this report as well.
While a lot of less expensive bread machines get good reviews, none get the kind of love that the Panasonic SD-YD250 Automatic Bread Maker with Yeast Dispenser (Est. $130) does. Its biggest selling point is right there in its name -- the automatic yeast dispenser. With most bread machines you're supposed to add the liquids first, then the flour to seal, then add other dry ingredients, then add yeast. However, many bakers worry about the seal, and it is possible for the flour seal to breach and the mix to not work properly. A yeast dispenser keeps the yeast separate so this doesn't happen.
Even aside from that nice extra, users say the Panasonic SD-YD250 offers great performance and a solid array of features, including three loaf sizes and a choice of dough, cake or bread, allowing for a seemingly endless combination of baked goods. Some consider the lack of a viewing window a negative, but most experienced bakers don't really care about that as it's more of a "fun" feature, they say.
This Panasonic bread maker gets great reviews for durability, with users saying it's a sturdy, flexible machine that makes flavorful loaves, and they praise its ease of use and cleanup.
Another mid-priced machine that gets good reviews from owners is the Black & Decker B6000C (Est. $95). It's a great choice for bigger families, they say, because it makes loaves up to 3 pounds, as opposed to the 1, 1.5 and 2 pound loaves most machines make. It's also a two-paddle machine, which is almost unheard of in this price class. The Black & Decker B6000C has 10 programmable settings and an automatic temperature adjustment for light to dark crust. Some reviewers say it's a bit fiddly to get your bread just right, but plenty of owners have posted helpful pictures as a guide. The B6000C gets panned for being harder to clean than other bread makers in this report, but, once you get past the learning curve, owners say this is a worthy, but much cheaper, alternative to a Zojirushi.
Just because a bread machine is cheap, doesn't mean it's won't perform well. The Sunbeam 5891 2-Pound Programmable Breadmaker (Est. $60) gets rave reviews from owners for its high-end performance at a price that pays for itself fairly quickly – especially if you have a large family or just love bread. This bread maker is a simple but versatile machine that is particularly popular with those who are just starting the process of making their own bread. It's easy to use, and if the new baker decides they want to go back to supermarket or bakery bread, they're not out much, expense-wise.
Plenty of very experienced chefs buy this Sunbeam bread maker just to use it to knead dough, saying it does a great job and saves them time and effort. Others, even those who usually like to customize practically everything they do say this machine is still a great choice to take a loaf of bread from start to finish because it produces evenly cooked bread with a nice crust. The Sunbeam 5891 also has a great array of features for the price, including dough-only, bake-only and jam settings, as well as a signal that lets you know when to add dried fruit or nuts. The one big complaint we saw with this Sunbeam bread maker is that the recipe book is terrible. Most reviewers suggest ignoring it and getting a well-reviewed cookbook devoted to bread machine recipes.