The best toaster has

  • Wide slots. Wide slots allow you to cook a variety of breads -- bagels, English muffins and artisan breads -- as well as frozen waffles, pancakes and French toast.
  • Bagel setting. A bagel setting is designed to toast the cut side of the bagel and simply warm the other side.
  • Defrost setting. This adds extra cook time so the item thaws before toasting.
  • Reheat setting. The reheat setting keeps your toast warm, which is handy when the rest of your meal is not ready at the same time as the toast.
  • Separate cancel setting. This keeps toasting simple because some toasters don't allow you to lift the lever to stop the toasting cycle.
  • Shade-setting dial. This function, usually on a dial, controls the lightness and darkness of the toast.
  • High-carriage bread lifter. This feature lets you lift the bread-lifting carriage up so smaller toasted items rise above the top of the toaster for easier removal, thus avoiding burned fingers.
  • Removable crumb tray. A crumb tray that slides out from the front is the best option because it can be emptied and cleaned while the toaster is hot. If the tray is located in the back, you will need to move or lift the toaster to access the tray.
  • Cord storage. For safety's sake, it is best to have the cord stored on the toaster so it does not hang off the kitchen counter. Some toasters have storage cleats on their underside around which the cord is wrapped. Others have retractable cords.

Know before you go

How much toast do you cook? If you've got toast popping out of a two-slot toaster non-stop for a half hour every morning, you might want to consider switching to a four-slot toaster. On the flip side, if you have a four-slot toaster and only use one or two slots at a time, consider downsizing.

How much room do you have to display or store the toaster? If your space is limited, the two-slot toaster is obviously the smaller option. The four-slot toaster might be the most convenient, but consider first if you have room for it in your kitchen.

Do you want a toaster that does more than cook breads? Some toasters cook eggs and heat pre-cooked meats as well as toasting breads. Would that make your breakfast routine easier and quicker? Again, consider if you have enough space in your kitchen for this larger appliance.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

Buying a toaster does not need to break the bank. Some models cost under $20, while others' prices soar into the hundreds of dollars. Most are less than $100. Generally there are no extras to buy, except for a replacement crumb tray. The exception is our best-reviewed four-slot toaster, the West Bend 4-Slice Egg and Muffin Toaster TEM4500W, which includes replacement parts for its egg cooker.

Keep things in perspective -- if you use your toaster all the time, get one that will last. The toasters we reviewed come with warranties, with Cuisinart offering the longest warranty period of three years.

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