One thing you should know off the bat: The perfect toaster is a myth. In combing through the thousands of reviews we found for toasters, it's hard to ignore the fact that $100 toasters usually end up with the same average score as $20 toasters. In almost every case, the main complaint is uneven toasting. For our report, we read deep into user reviews, trying to pick out toasters that did better than others in this respect. Spending more on a toaster doesn't necessarily get you better toast -- but it does get you more convenience features and a nicer-looking design, which might be important if you're leaving your toaster on your countertop all the time.
On the high end of the spectrum, the Breville Die-Cast 2-Slice Smart Toaster BTA820XL (*Est. $130) gets high marks from editors at one professional reviewing organization and comes out on top with testers at CoolHunting.com and the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. Nifty features include an auto-lowering holder that can be lifted up halfway through for inspection, then lowered again without interrupting the toasting cycle. The BTA820XL also features bagel, defrost and cancel settings, a countdown display and an end-of-cycle signal. Except for the price, none of the expert testers could find a downside to this high-tech brushed-metal toaster. However, owners posting user reviews sure could. Despite the high price and nifty features, we found some user complaints about uneven toasting -- but found fewer for this toaster than for others.
We also found a few detractors who note that the Breville Die-Cast 2-Slice Smart Toaster BTA820XL toasts too slowly, even compared to models that date back 10 years. Some reviewers say their toasters died after just a year or two of use, which they find unacceptable given the high price tag of this model. Still, these complaints are isolated compared to the more than 130 owner-written reviews contributing to a 4-star average rating (out of a possible 5) on Amazon.com. The vast majority of owners praise the look of the toaster's housing -- brushed stainless steel -- and many say the toaster does a great job with frozen items like waffles.
Breville does make a less expensive toaster, the Breville Ikon 2-Slice Toaster CT70XL (*Est. $70) , which also earns mostly positive marks from owners. The Breville Ikon 2-Slice Toaster CT70XL has a brushed stainless-steel housing and an audible noise to indicate toast is done -- but quite a few owners say the beep is annoying and there's no option to turn it off. The Ikon toaster has a manual dial rather than digital controls, and there's no auto-lowering bread holder (though there is a high-lift feature). More than 115 owners contribute to an average rating of 4 stars out of 5 on Amazon.com. Most owners say it toasts evenly, but a few detractors say that after about a year of use browning becomes less even and some units stop working altogether.
If you're not much interested in toasting specialty items like bagels and frozen waffles, and mainly just want to toast regular bread, we can't see much reason to spend a lot on a toaster. The Cuisinart Compact 2-Slice Toaster CPT-120 (*Est. $30) is a simpler toaster. It has a plastic exterior (in white or black), with all the standard features -- reheat, defrost and bagel settings. However, there's no cancel button; to interrupt the toasting cycle you have to manually force the lever up. This Cuisinart toaster has a slide-out crumb tray and an LED display that indicates toasting level; the latter is the source of many owner complaints, as users say it's hard to read. The display is also on all the time, even when the toaster is not in use, causing owners to fear that the machine is pulling electricity all the time.
As with all toasters, we found a chorus of uneven-toasting detractors. Overall, more than 25 percent of 370 owners posting to Amazon.com give the Cuisinart Compact 2-Slice Toaster CPT-120 a 1-star rating. Still, among inexpensive two-slice models, the Cuisinart CPT-120 fares better than others. Many praise its ability to stay cool to the touch during toasting, and say that its wide slots are ample enough to toast bagels and that both the bagel and defrost functions work well.
It's a little odd when you first see it, but we found the fewest number of complaints for a novelty toaster -- the Back to Basics TEM500 Egg and Muffin Toaster (*Est. $40) . Essentially, this model is a little breakfast sandwich maker, simultaneously making toast and poaching or hard-boiling an egg. A warming tray can reheat breakfast meats like precooked sausage or ham, and everything cooks in about five minutes.
Mariette Mifflin, About.com's guide to housewares and appliances, reviews the Back to Basics TEM500 Egg and Muffin Toaster in detail in an individual review, praising its multi-functions and ability to perform several functions simultaneously or separately. She also points out that the egg function also works well for boiling up to four eggs at a time. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
The Back to Basics TEM500 Egg and Muffin Toaster gets solid reviews across consumer review sites such as Amazon.com, Viewpoints.com and Target.com; in fact, it stands out as one of the top-rated toasters across each of these sites. Overall, the Back to Basics TEM500 Egg and Muffin Toaster earns average ratings of 4 stars out of 5 or better, in nearly 880, more than 75 and over 115 reviews, respectively. Users say it creates the perfect breakfast sandwich. One downside, according to users, is that precooked bacon can become soggy from rising steam and meat juices can drip upon the egg. There had been complaints about flaking of the nonstick surface in the egg pan, but they appear almost exclusively in older reviews. The surface of the egg pan is dishwasher-safe, and users say that it's easy to clean. The toaster has a crumb tray, a cancel button and touchpad controls. There's also a four-slice version of the Egg and Muffin Toaster, the Back to Basics TEM4500 (*Est. $60) .
One foodie magazine recommends the Kalorik Aqua 2-Slice Toaster (*Est. $60) . Editors call it "an all-around good toaster" and say the controls are "well marked and intuitive." Another bonus is the glass panels on the sides, which stay cool to the touch. This two-slice toaster offers cancel, defrost and reheat/bagel functions with LED indicator lights, although the controls are manual. The Kalorik Aqua 2-Slice Toaster has 1.5 inch-wide slots and a slide-out crumb tray to ease cleanup. There aren't many user reviews on this model, but it does maintain a good average rating of 4 stars out of 5 in just under 20 owner-written reviews at Amazon.com. Most reviewers agree that the Kalorik Aqua 2-Slice Toaster has an attractive, modern appearance, but like all toasters, there are some complaints of uneven toast. A few reviewers also note that the glass keeps the sides cool, but the metal ends become very hot during use.