Toaster reviews: Features explained
Which size to choose?
Although some toasters come in two or four-slice versions, in most cases you'll need to decide if you can make do with two slots or if your demand for toast is high enough to warrant paying a bit more for extra capacity.
These are the most popular type of toaster, usually with two toasting chambers side-by-side. They tend to be quite compact, but toasting a lot of bread can take a long time.
There's a huge variety of styles and colours around, although stainless steel is currently the most popular finish.
Some have a single slot mode, which means only one slot will heat up, so you won’t waste energy when you toast just one slice.
These are particularly good for families or people who often cook large breakfasts for many people, as you can brown more toast at the same time.
There are two main types:
- Toasters with four single-slice slots, which tend to be quite chunky and take up a lot of room on your work surface
- Those with two longer slots which will fit two slices each, and which are longer but fairly slim. This makes them a good choice for narrow worktops.
We particularly like four-slice models with independent controls for the left- and right-hand pair of slots.
This allows you to use just two slots at a time, choose different settings for each pair of slots or toast different types of bread in either side.
There are fewer styles of four-slice toaster to choose from than two-slice ones.
Slot size and versatility
If you like home-made bread, bagels, teacakes or crumpets you'll want to choose a toaster that makes it easy to cope with these different kinds of bread.
The perfect toaster has slots that are long and deep enough to accommodate large slices of bread, and a big heating element to ensure that both the top and bottom of each slice gets browned.
The slot should be wide enough to accommodate thick slices, but contain a cage which automatically holds the bread in the middle of the toasting chamber so you don't get burnt bits where the slice tips to one side.
The cage should be robust, but the bars shouldn't be so thick that they block the heat from reaching your bread, and cause grid lines on your toast.
Finally, the bread carriage should come up high enough that it's easy to remove small items without burning your fingers.
The most useful toaster features
Defrost settings aim to take the guesswork out of toasting frozen bread, defrosting it first then switching to the toasting cycle so you don't have to change the browning settings.
Some defrost buttons need to be pressed before you push the bread carriage down, but others are pushed once you've already activated the toaster.
If your toaster doesn't have a defrost setting, you could simply turn up the browning control instead.
Crumb trays make it easier to clean your toaster and most simply slide out and slot back in again.
However, some crumb trays are more convenient than others. Some are stiff and fiddly to remove, while the best ones slide out with little effort.
Fancier versions are spring-loaded and pop out like a CD drawer. They usually take more effort to open and close than the ones that slide out, so they don't offer much benefit.
Most toasters have an extra lift facility which makes it easier to remove small items like crumpets by raising the bread carriage.
Bagel settings are increasingly common; these brown just the cut side of the bagel.
One of the newest features on the block is 'pause and check'. Toasters that have this feature allow you to use the cancel button to let the toast pop up so you can see how brown it is. If it is not brown enough, pressing the lever down within five seconds will start the programme where it left off, not back at the beginning.
Features which add little extra value
Countdown features to help you judge the amount of time left until your toast is ready are becoming increasingly common, while other models bleep repeatedly when your toast is done.
Some models count down by the second, and others have built-in safety systems which kick in if your bread gets jammed.
Many toasters have a reheat feature, which is handy if your toast pops up before your beans are ready.
However, it's a tricky balance to achieve. Some reheat settings are too long, so the toast gets browner, while others are too short and don't heat the toast enough to melt butter.
You could achieve the same effect by popping the toast back down on a very low setting.
Your toaster might come with a bun warmer, either as a separate rack which clips on top or a pop-up version which rises out of the toaster with a flick of a lever.
Integral versions aren't any more or less effective than those that clip on, but they're great if you're prone to losing things, and mean you won't have to rummage through your cupboards to find them.
We've found some effective bun warmers although this can be a bit hit and miss.You might prefer to heat your croissants in the oven, and probably wouldn’t miss this feature too much if your toaster didn’t have it.