What 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. If the slots aren't wide enough, you'll wind up forcing thick-cut bagels and breads into the toaster, and then trying to tear them out.
- Bagel setting. A bagel setting is designed to toast the cut side of the bagel and warm the other side.
- Defrost setting. This adds extra cook time so the item thaws before toasting. It is useful for things like frozen waffles.
- Reheat or warm settings. These settings reheat or keep your toast warm, which is handy when the rest of your meal is not ready at the same time as the toast, or if you've gotten distracted and let it sit.
- Separate cancel setting. Some toasters don't allow you to lift the lever to stop the toasting cycle, so you need this if you want to cut the process short.
- Shade-setting dial. This function, usually on a dial, controls the lightness and darkness of the toast. Some toasters have electronic touchpads.
- High-carriage bread lifter. This feature lets you lift the bread up so smaller toasted items rise above the top of the toaster for easier removal, 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 after it cools down.
- 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 the bottom. 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 nonstop 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? If your space is limited, the two-slot toaster is obviously the smaller option. If you don't want to keep it on the counter, be sure it fits in the available storage space.
Do you want a toaster that does more than cook bread? Some toasters cook eggs and heat pre-cooked meats as well as toasting bread. Again, consider if you have enough space in your kitchen for this larger appliance.
Do you care about design? Since toasters are often a permanent fixture on the counter, consider whether you want one that will blend with your décor. It's not hard to find modern stainless-steel casing, retro flair, or bright colors like red, aqua, yellow and lime green.