How to buy the best toaster
By Matt Clear
How much do you need to spend to get a decent toaster? Are Dualit toasters worth it? Our expert guide will help you find the best toaster.
The best toasters will give you tasty, evenly browned toast every morning, no matter what type of bread you're using. But surprisingly few toasters are able to do this, so you need to choose carefully to make sure you don't end up with a dud.
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How much do I need to spend on a toaster?
Toasters range from £5 for a no-frills, plastic, own-brand model to more than £250 for a premium metal toaster with lots of extra features. But you don't necessarily need to splash out - we've found Best Buy toasters for less than £40.
The January sales, or September - when retailers seek to tempt students heading to university to stock up on budget kitchen gadgets - are good times to look for a toaster bargain. Buying a matching kettle and toaster set might also save you money, compared with buying both items separately.
Take a look at our toaster Best Buys to discover the models that we recommend.
Dualit toasters vs cheaper toasters
Dualit is the UK's most popular toaster brand, but its classic retro-look toasters don't come cheap, often costing hundreds of pounds.
We test models from all the big toaster brands, including Breville, Delonghi, Morphy Richards and Russell Hobbs - as well as cheap and cheerful own-brand toasters from Wilko, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Argos.
Four-slice toasters vs two-slice toasters
Most toasters are large enough to accommodate two slices of bread, usually with two toasting slots side by side. Two-slice toasters are the most popular and widely available option, and will be compact enough to fit snugly on your kitchen worktop.
Four-slice toasters are also available and are particularly good for families or busy households. On the downside, a four-slice toaster is inevitably bulkier than a two-slice model and will take up more worktop space. Look out for slim toasters with two longer slots to fit four slices of bread for a space-saving alternative.
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.
Toasters for speciality breads, bagels and crumpets
If you like a nice slice of toasted home-made bread, or smaller treats such as bagels, teacakes or crumpets, you'll want to choose a toaster that can easily handle different shapes and sizes of bread.
The perfect toaster has slots that are big and wide enough to fit large slices of bread, and it should automatically centre the bread when toasting for even browning. We've found that many toasters struggle to fit all but the most basic slice of bread, although long-slot toasters often prove the most versatile.
For smaller items such as crumpets and teacakes, a good toaster will have a high lift feature so you can retrieve your treats without burning your fingers.
Most toasters come with common features such as being able to reheat toast and defrost frozen bread, or cancel toasting mid-cycle, but fancier models offer a range of extras. We explain the different features below, to help you decide which are essential, and what you can live without, to narrow down your choices.
Standard toaster features
Most 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.
This standard option aims 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.
Crumb trays make it easier to clean your toaster by capturing any stray crumbs during toasting. Most simply slide out and slot back in again, but some can be stiff and fiddly to remove, resulting in crumbs sprayed all over your worktop when you try to clean them. We test how easy they are to remove and clean as part of our ease of use testing.
Again, most toasters offer this basic option, which allows you to stop toasting mid-cycle, for example if you put the bread on too high a setting and need to stop it from burning to a crisp.
Useful toaster features
This raises the toasting carriage extra high, making it easier to remove small items such as crumpets without burning your fingers.
Bagel settings are increasingly common; these brown just the cut side of the bagel. Also useful for other smaller items such as teacakes. Some premium models also have special settings for crumpets and fruit loafs.
This feature is variously branded as 'lift and look', 'peek and pop' and other variations. All do the same thing though, which is to pause the toasting cycle and allow you to quickly check how well done your toast is, without having to restart the toasting cycle. This should prevent scorched toast.
Countdown features to help you judge the amount of time left until your toast is ready are becoming increasingly common on more high-end toasters. They can be a handy way to check how long you have to make a cup of tea or prepare your breakfast, before your toast needs attention.
This may either be a separate rack which clips on top of the toaster or a pop-up version that 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 every time you fancy a toasted bun.
We've found some effective bun warmers but they can be a bit hit and miss. We don't think this is a particularly useful extra - you're probably better off warming buns or croissants in the oven.
Sandwich toasting cage
These hinged metal cages allow you to make toasties quickly and easily. They have a solid bottom to prevent ingredients such as cheese dripping into the toaster, but open sides to allow the sandwich to toast. If you're a fan of a toasted sandwich, they are a useful extra, and save space compared with a dedicated toastie maker.