Toasters cook more than toast
The days of toasters that only cooked thin slices of bread are over. Now you can toast bagels, frozen pancakes and waffles, toaster pastries and English muffins, as well as thick breads such as Texas toast, or slices cut from artisan loaves. Some toasters even cook eggs and heat up pre-cooked meats so you can make a complete breakfast with just one appliance.
If you have ample space in your kitchen—or, for that matter, if you're in a small space without a conventional oven—you might consider toaster ovens, which can cook a wide range of foods in addition to breads. If you want to create your own bread to toss in your toaster, head on over to our bread machines report to check out our top picks -- we even have a gluten-free bread maker -- or, if you are a fan of hot sandwiches, take a look at our electric grills report for the best sandwich makers.
Toasters fall into two basic categories
Two slice toasters are fine if you have a smaller family, don't make a lot of toast at once, or everyone is on a different schedule. They take up less counter space than a four-slice toaster, and come as basic or as fully-featured as you need.
Four-slice toasters are often preferred by those with large families or people who like everyone's toast to be ready at the same time with a minimum of effort. The main consideration is size -- you need to be sure you have the counter space, or a place to store, a larger unit.
Do you prefer plain or fancy?
While toasters can be as basic as just accepting two slices of bread with a single setting to cook that bread, high-end toasters can have bells and whistles galore. Upscale models might feature LCD displays, automatic lowering functions and digital timers that count down until your toast is ready. One toaster we reviewed has a "Bit More" function, which allows you to add a touch more cooking time to your toast without interrupting the toasting cycle, and a "Lift and Look" button, which lets you check on the doneness of your toast without stopping the cooking process.
Even if you just need a basic toaster, if you eat bagels you'll want to be sure that your toaster has both a bagel setting and wide enough slots to accommodate whatever brand of bagel you prefer -- some bagels are much larger than others. A dedicated bagel setting toasts your bagel on the cut side and warms the other side. These days, most toasters also have defrost or frozen setting that adds cooking time for thawing. A warm or reheat setting keeps your toasted item warm while you're waiting for the rest of your meal to come together, or allows you to reheat it if you've left it to sit too long.
The messiest part of cooking toast is crumbs; nearly all toasters have a crumb tray to catch them. Some trays are removable so you can wash them, while others are hinged and stay connected to the toaster. Cleaning is easier with a removable tray, but either way, it's simple to dump the crumbs and wipe the tray clean. Keeping the exterior of the toaster clean is simply a matter of wiping it with a damp cloth and then drying it.
Matching your kitchen's décor is easy too --many toasters come in different colors and finishes, including the ever-popular stainless steel. Since toasters often liver permanently on the counter, it is important for many that the style match their other appliances.
The majority of toasters tend to fall in the $20 to $100 price range, but some cost less than $20 while other prices soar into the hundreds of dollars. In the case of toasters, high price is no guarantee of quality, as many of the priciest toasters get the most mixed reviews for consistently making good toast, which, after all, is the whole point.
How we chose the best toasters
Toasters are popular kitchen appliances, so it's no surprise that a wealth of professional testing has been done on the subject. We found testing sites like ConsumerReports.org, CNET and TheSweetHome.com to be especially helpful resources; Good Housekeeping and Cook's Illustrated also had informative testing results. Equally illuminating were the owner reviews -- the user experiences detailed on Amazon.com, Walmart.com and BestBuy.com gave us a better sense of how these products hold up in daily, long-term use.