With its sleek housing of brushed metal, the Breville BTA840XL (Est. $180) looks great in contemporary kitchens, and it's a real treat for tech lovers. There's no manual lever on this toaster -- instead, it has an internal smart chip that automatically lowers and lifts bread. It also comes in a two-slice version, the Breville BTA820XL (Est. $120).
The Breville comes with a unique "Lift and Look" feature that allows you to take a look at your toast without interrupting the toasting cycle, and it also has the "bit more" button if you decide you want just a touch more browning. Its LED panel illuminates to show toasting progress according to the setting you've selected on the variable browning control. Rather than a single control for all four slices, the Breville has independent controls with five browning settings for each pair of slots. It also has bagel and defrost settings.
Expert testers have put the Breville through its paces and found that it browns toast evenly with each successive batch. Owners also praise the toaster's consistency, and several users remark upon its sturdy, solid construction. This toaster is heavy -- 9½ pounds -- so you may want to find another option if you want something you can easily move. It has an easy-to-remove crumb tray and a cord wrap, and it's backed by a one-year warranty.
If you like the idea of the Breville's features but can't stomach the price tag, the Cuisinart CPT-440 Touch to Toast (Est. $80) hits more of a budgetary sweet spot and still provides some nice extras. Like the Breville, it has a sleek stainless steel finish and is available as a two-slice model, the Cuisinart CPT-420 (Est. $65), discussed in our section on two-slice toasters.
Testers with YourBestDigs.com praise the Cuisinart for its "incredibly consistent" toasting and say the slots are wide enough to easily accommodate bagels and thick breads. Features include a motorized lift, a backlit LED display, and dedicated settings for toasting bagels, defrosting and reheating. There are seven browning settings and, like the Breville, each pair of slots can be operated independently. Some reviewers do say the toaster is on the slow side, though. At 5½ pounds, the Cuisinart isn't as heavy as the Breville and it has a cord wrap to keep counters and cabinets uncluttered. There is a removable crumb tray and it's backed by a three-year warranty.
If all you need is a basic four-slice toaster, thousands of owners say the Hamilton Beach 4 Slice Cool Touch Toaster (Est. $30) is a great choice that's easy on the wallet. It comes only in basic black but is also available as a two-slice model, the Hamilton Beach 2 Slice Cool Touch Toaster (Est. $20).
The Cool Touch has dual controls that allow users to operate each pair of slots independently. It has dedicated settings for bagels, frozen bagels and frozen toast. The 1.5-inch slots are plenty wide for big bagels or all but the thickest slices of bread, and the toaster gets kudos for even browning. The automatic toast boost makes it easier to get bread out of the slots, a popular feature among reviewers, and there are removable crumb trays for cleanup.
There are scattered reports of durability issues such as busted heating elements. Users also warn that this toaster may get quite hot on top, though most say the sides are still cool enough. It's backed by a one-year warranty.
If you need a toaster that can do some morning multi-tasking, the West Bend TEM4500W Egg and Muffin Toaster (Est. $70) is more than worth a look. It can toast four slices of bread, cook eggs and even warm pre-cooked meat. Available in black or stainless steel, it also comes as a two-slice version with a smaller egg cooker, the West Bend TEM500W (Est. $35).
In addition to toasting, the West Bend can poach or scramble two eggs, or hard/soft boil eight eggs at a time. It has bagel, defrost, egg and egg/toast settings. Wide slots allow users to toast bagels or thicker breads. When cooking toast and eggs, it keeps the toast warm until the eggs are done. The West Bend also has a high-carriage bread lifter, which makes it easy to remove smaller breads, and dual controls to operate each pair of slots independently.
If space is at a premium in your kitchen, note that owners warn that the West Bend takes up a lot of real estate on the counter. It also gets mixed reviews for ease of cleaning, though there is a slide-out crumb tray. The cord also wraps underneath the toaster for storage. It's backed by a one-year warranty.
If you already have a toaster or want a breakfast sandwich maker that's a little more compact, the Hamilton Beach 25477 Breakfast Electric Sandwich Maker (Est. $24) has legions of fans for its ability to quickly turn out a complete, tasty breakfast. Available in black, silver and red, the sandwich maker is easy to use and clean, reviewers say.
Though it's not large enough to warm regular bread, the Hamilton Beach is ideal for sandwiches made with English muffins, croissants, biscuits and bagels; some owners also report using small pancakes or trimming down waffles to hold fillings including pre-cooked meat, vegetables and cheese. The sandwich maker also includes a cooking plate for a single egg. A green light tells users when the appliance is hot enough – after that, it takes only five minutes to cook a breakfast sandwich.
All of the Hamilton Beach's removable parts are dishwasher-safe for easy cleanup, but many reviewers say it's simple enough to rinse the nonstick surfaces, which do a good job of keeping egg or cheese from crusting on. At about 7 by 7 by 9 inches, the sandwich maker is also more compact than a typical toaster, so it's easy to store in a cabinet. Some reviewers grouse about the lack of an on-off switch -- you have to unplug it -- and a few others say the nonstick surface is prone to scratching and flaking. The warranty is one year.