Breakfast isn't complete without a piece of toast. To find the best machine for making this morning staple, we bought 11 of the most highly regarded toasters on the market and made an obscene amount of toast, bagels, and pastries. After carefully assessing every aspect of these toasters, and consuming an amount of carbohydrates that would make Atkins' skin crawl, we've found the absolute best model for every person. Whether you want an inexpensive way to make a good slice of toast, or you're willing to pay a bit extra for absolutely delectable bagels, we have you covered.
The Best Toasters of 2018
Analysis and Award Winners
In our last round of testing we added the very popular BLACK+DECKER TR3500SD to the review. This model performed quite well in all of our tests, but it couldn't quite match the performance of the Oster Jellybean. Therefore the Jellybean remains our top suggestion for those looking for good toast on a budget, but the TR3500SD
Best Overall Toaster
If you're nostalgic for '50s styling and seeking a high-end toaster then look no further than the Smeg 2-Slice. It led the pack in toasting quality and its robust metal construction felt sturdier than that of any other model in our review, which earned it our Editors' Choice Award. The Smeg also produced idyllic bagels, with crispy brown tops and warm, doughy backs, earning a perfect 10/10 score in our Bagel Toasting Quality metric. With a simple interface you can easily control the browning level and select between preset programs for reheating, defrosting, and bagels. In addition to excellent functionality, the Smeg is offered in a wide range of colors so you will likely be able to find one that suits your kitchen.
Read review: Smeg 2-Slice
Best Bang for the Buck
Oster Jelly Bean 2-Slice
We get it, a triple-digit price tag on a toaster can seem a bit outlandish, no matter how good the bagels taste. Enter the Oster Jelly Bean. While this model can't match the outstanding bagels of the Smeg, it can make equally excellent toast, and costs just $35. Sure, that might be a bit more expensive than the super cheap models you can find in any big box store, but we can tell you that the upgrade in toast quality is substantial and well worth the slightly higher cost. The Jelly Bean also backs up that toasting quality with sturdy metal construction that belies its low price, and makes it look great in almost any kitchen.
Read review: Oster Jelly Bean 2-Slice
Top Pick for 4-Slice
Breville Die-Cast 4-Slice Long Slot
If you have a brand new kitchen and don't want to ruin that perfect aesthetic, you may want to consider the Breville Die-Cast 4-Slice Long Slot. Not only does it offer extended slots for artisanal bread or for toasting 4 standard slices at once, it offers a brushed steel body that looks like it came straight out of modern chic magazine. Plus its lift and look feature, which uses the motorized lift to pop the toast up for a second and allows you to decide whether it's ready or if you should let the cycle finish, operates with a single button and was our favorite such feature. Sure the toast is good rather than great, which isn't want you want to hear when you're considering spending this much on a toaster. However, we feel that the versatility offered by its long slots and its pure aesthetic marvelousness earns it a rightful spot in many kitchens.
Read review: Breville Die-Cast 4-Slice Long Slot
Analysis and Test Results
A toaster is a wonderfully simple thing. It is essentially just a chunk of metal or plastic with some basic electric heating elements inside. Yet, at the push of a button or lever, it can turn plain boring bread into crispy on the outside soft on the inside ambrosia. In an age when it feels like every new product on the market is trying to be a do-it-all swiss army knife, toasters have remained refreshingly simple, specialized, masters of a single task.
That isn't to say that this simplicity has shielded them from technological innovation. While electric models have been around since 1910 and basic design principles haven't really changed since the first dual-sided electric model was released in 1926, advances in electronics have brought the aesthetics and functionality of many of today's models clearly into the digital age. This makes choosing a toaster more complicated than ever before. To simplify the process we gave each model we tested an overall score.
These scores were based on real-world tests that we ran in the techGearLab kitchen, which we divided into four testing metrics: bread toasting quality, ease of use, bagel toasting quality, and frozen food preparation. The following sections explain the importance of each one of these metrics and how well each model fared in our testing. For a more detailed discussion about the gauntlet we ran these products through, check out our how we test article.
Bread Toasting Quality
For most people bread toasting is going to be the primary task for their toaster (it's bread and butter if you will), so we afforded it significant weight in our scoring. It will certainly be the most important factor to consider for toast connoisseurs. Bread toasting quality is determined by three main factors; evenness, consistency, and taste. An ideal piece of toast has an even color and crispiness across the entire slice. This means every bite is right at your preferred level of toastiness. Some models tend to burn edges, leave conspicuous white spots near the crust, or toast the bottom of the slice more than the top. Higher performing models are better able to avoid these issues. Similarly, a perfect slice will also have evenly toasted sides. Some models tend to toast more on the inward side than the outward side, producing toast with a light side and a dark side (hitherto referred to as Star Wars toast). Consistency refers to consistency between cycles. If you find dialing in a five on your device produces your most favorite piece of toast, you want to be confident that the five setting will produce the same slice of toast morning after morning. Taste is a bit more complicated. Obviously different types of bread are going to produce different tasting toast. So if you want to get technical we're not really talking about taste here, we're talking about the mouthfeel. Mouthfeel is a term that has come to us thanks to the expanding field of food rheology. It refers to how food physically and chemically interacts with your mouth. In simple terms, for toast, it refers to how delightfully crispy it is.
After making, grading, and tasting an exorbitant amount of toast our testing revealed a fairly tight window of toasting performance, with scores ranging from 5 to 9 out of 10. So while there were some models that clearly toasted bread better than others, all were able to produce decent, edible slices.
If you're a toast connoisseur then the phrase "decent and edible" probably made you gag a little. Those that place a high premium on toast quality should consider one of our top scorers. Surprisingly one of the most inexpensive models we tested, the Best Buy Award winning Oster Jelly Bean made some of the best toast in our test, scoring 9 out of 10 in this metric. It produced incredibly even slices with very few dark or light spots and near identical sides. The only model able to match the Jelly Bean was the Editors' Choice Award-winning Smeg 2-Slice. It also made toast that was almost perfectly even and delectably crunchy.
Following the leaders in our test were the BLACK+DECKER TR1278, the BLACK+DECKER TR3500SD, the KRUPS Breakfast Set, and the best 4-slice model we tested, the Breville Die-Cast Long Slot, all taking home a score of 7 out of 10. These models all made good toast, but with a few more inconsistency issues than the top performers. Both BLACK+DECKER models performed similarly, with some minor inconsistencies on the face of the bread, but overall providing enough eveness to get a good piece of toast. The KRUPS often had some difficulty toasting the area adjacent to the crust. The bottoms of the Breville's toast slices were just a few shades darker than the top, and it tended to burn the vertical edges a bit when toasting a single slice in a slot. In general, the models in this group produced toast that would please all but the most critical of toast eaters.
Multiple models earned a 6 out of 10 in our testing, all showing noticeable but not terrible levels of inconsistency in their toasting. The CPT-420 actually made very even toast, but it wasn't very consistent between cycles. A setting that produced a perfect medium brown one day might make something black and overdone the next. The Darth Vader model sacrificed a good bit of consistency to burn the Star Wars logo into the toast, a worthy goal but one that left some bites being much crunchier than others. The Hamilton Beach Keep Warm tended to burn the top of the bread a bit, which wasn't a huge issue but certainly isn't ideal.
The lowest scoring models in our test, the KitchenAid Long Slot and the Cuisinart CPT-160, both received a 5 out of 10. Each showed more significant inconsistencies in our testing. The KitchenAid tended to over darken tops and edges and toasted inconsistently between sides. The CPT-160 often burned one vertical crust and had trouble properly toasting the difficult area adjacent to the crust. The models in this lower scoring group did not produce bad toast during our testing, but they display enough toasting inconsistencies that even less finicky toast lovers may start to notice them.
Ease of Use
The cold light of morning can be grumpiness inducing for many, making it a time when ease and simplicity are paramount. Thus the last thing you want is a slew of confusing buttons and lever between you and a comforting slice of crispy carbohydrates. We tested user friendliness by having multiple testers complete different tasks using each toaster and then grading how intuitive each was (all before they had their morning coffee, to make things more realistic). We also assessed how difficult each model was to clean.
The one model that shined in our ease of use testing, the Breville Die-Cast, received a Top Pick Award. This user friendly model features a sturdy, easy to remove crumb tray, a well utilized leverless design, a countdown that indicate the time remaining in the cycle, and intuitive controls that provide clear feedback. It also features shade controls that clearly indicate which setting you're in, making it easier to repeat your favorite settings for different items. It also leverages its leverless technology to offer the functionality of taking a peek at your toast without canceling the cycle. Overall this machine makes it incredibly easy to select settings, monitor the process, and come out the other end with your preferred level of toastiness.
The Editors' Choice winning Smeg was the runner up in this metric, earning a 7 out of 10. It keeps things simple with a shade knob, some pleasantly backlit buttons, and an easy to remove crumb tray. The only small downside is the fact that you can't push the lever up to lift smaller items, so you may need a pair of tongs if you're making particularly short pastries.
The Oster Jellybean picked up a 6 out of 10 in this metric. It has a streamlined interface with backlit buttons, but the outside can get quite hot to the touch. This isn't too big of a deal unless you have kids, in which case you'll want to make sure the toaster is well out of their reach both during and after use.
The BLACK+DECKER TR3500SD also earned a 6 out of 10 in this metric. It has a nice interface with backlit buttons, but it uses a trapdoor crumb tray instead of the slide out style. This necessitates moving the entire toaster when you want to empty out the crumbs, which can be quite a pain.
Six different models scored 5 out of 10 in our ease of use testing, including the Cuisinart CPT-160 and the CPT-420, the Darth Vader, the Hamilton Beach Keep Warm, the KUPS Breakfast Set, and the KitchenAid Long Slot. In our grading scheme, a score of 5 denotes average. Accordingly, we felt all of these models provided a typical user experience. In general, their controls were fairly straightforward and got the job done, but didn't offer any supplemental features or functions that made the toasting process more seamless. Some may be surprised to find the Cuisinart CPT-420 in this group, as it utilizes leverless technology. The CPT-420, unfortunately, does not include a function to preview your toast without canceling the cycle. This, in our opinion, is one of the biggest advantages that comes with leverless technology, and we were disappointed that the CPT-420 didn't take advantage of it. If you're interested in one of the models that scored a 5 in our ease of use testing, we recommend you check out its individual review to get a more detailed discussion of its ease of use attributes.
The two below average scorers in our ease of use testing presented specific annoyances in their day to day use that we felt had the potential of causing too many morning frustrations. The Darth Vader model, which scored a 4, has its controls on the backside of the unit, meaning you have to poke your head around to see what shade setting you're in. This could be rectified by placing it on your counter backwards, but we're pretty sure anyone who is interested in this model doesn't want it so Darth can stare at their wall. We found the BLACK+DECKER TR1278, which scored a 3, particularly aggravating to use. It is difficult to push any of its buttons without sliding the entire unit backwards. When a button is pressed there is no feedback, so it's very difficult to tell if you're in frozen mode or not. The crumb tray does not remove, it opened on a hinge, so the entire unit must be held above a trash can when emptying the crumb tray.
Bagel Toasting Quality
10 out of the 11 models we tested included a bagel mode, Darth Vader being the one dissenter. Bagel toasting quality is very similar to bread toasting quality, with the big exception that you only want to toast the cut side of the bagel and not the outside. We looked for evenly toasted cut sides with consistency between slices and between cycles. We also looked for the outsides of the bagel to be warmed but not toasted. And of course, we considered that unique bagel mixture of crunchiness and chewiness.
Honestly, until the Smeg came onto the scene, we thought that slot toasters were incapable of making a truly great bagel. Then this appliance that looks like it's straight out of the 50's came along and made the most perfect crunchy faces and warm gooey backsides we've ever seen on a bagel. Seriously, if bagels are you main morning jam we would strongly recommend the Smeg. It's well worth the extra cost, a perfect 10 out of 10.
If you like bagels but don't want to buy the expensive Smeg the KRUPS Breakfast Set would be a decent replacement. It scored an 8 out of 10 in this metric. Its bagels were toasted fairly evenly on the cut side, but the back sides also got toasted a bit, which was less than ideal. These bagels were comparable to what you'd get from an average toaster oven.
Most of the models we tested scored in the average 6 to 7 out of 10 range in our bagel toasting test. The 3 models that scored 7, the KitchenAid, the BLACK+DECKER TR3500SD, and the Cuisinart CPT-420, performed quite similarly. All toasted one-half of the bagel face a bit more than the other. They both also left the backsides warm but untoasted, which is what we were hoping for. Two models scored a 6 in this test: the Hamilton Beach Keep Warm and the Cuisinart CPT-160. These models also left the backsides of the bagels pleasantly untoasted, but toasted the bagel faces more inconsistently than the models that scored a 6. The CPT-160 also had inconsistencies between slices, toasting one bagel slice significantly more than the other.
The low scorers in this metric were the Oster Jelly Bean, Breville Die-Cast, and the BLACK+DECKER TR1278. The Jelly Bean toasted somewhat evenly, but even its bagel mode left the backside of the bagel quite crunchy instead of the gooey goodness we were striving for. The Breville maintained gooey backsides, but the cut sides were quite charred on the bottom and somewhat underdone at the top. These performances earned both these models a 5 out of 10 in this metric.
The worst performer that could actually toast a bagel was the BLACK+DECKER TR1278. It couldn't help but toast the backsides of bagels, and left the faces very inconsistency charred.
Darth Vader received a 1 on our bagels toasting test. Not only does it not have a bagel function, its slots are too skinny to even fit a sliced bagel. We're pretty sure we heard Darth mutter, "Rebel scum," when we tried to shove a bagel in.
Frozen Food/Defrosting Quality
Surprisingly, the high heat of a toaster often doesn't work well for frozen foods, as it's easy to burn the outside of a pastry while the inside is still cold. The best models get around this problem with a defrosting mode that slowly thaws frozen items before ramping up to full toasting temp. However, not all defrost modes are created equal and some models don't even have them (we're looking at you, Vader). We tested frozen food performance with a nostalgic, double blind taste testing feast of frozen waffles and strudels.
The top scorers in this category where the Editors' Choice Award-winning Smeg 2-Slice and the Best Buy Award winning Oster Jelly Bean, with both models earning an 8 out of 10. These models utilize variable defrost cycles that slowly thaw and then toast, producing golden waffles with minimal scorching and handling frozen bread with ease.
The BLACK+DECKER TR3500SD wasn't too far behind, earning a 7 out of 10. It had a little trouble with frozen toaster pastries, leaving some burned spots. However, it was near perfect with frozen waffles, leaving just a bit of browning on the ridges.
The next level down in defrosting performance is occupied by the Cuisinart CPT-420 and the Editors' Choice Award-winning Breville-DieCast, both of which scored a 6 on our test. The Breville made decent toast from frozen bread but again tended to burn the edges. It also left some tolerable but noticeable scorch marks on frozen waffles. The CPT-420 turned frozen bread into decent toast but had a hard time browning crust adjacent areas. It was able to avoid scorch marks on frozen waffles but did brown some areas much more than others. The Hamilton Beach and BLACK+DECKER TR1278r, both of which scored a five, had slightly more significant inconsistency issues. The Black and Decker was able to handle frozen waffles fairly well, leaving just a few over browned spots. However, when toasting frozen bread one corner often turned out many shades darker than the opposite corner. The Hamilton Beach made decently even toast from frozen bread but tended to burn one edge of frozen waffles while leaving the opposite edge fairly light.
Representing the lower performers in our defrosting test were the Cuisinart CPT-160, Krups Breakfast Set, and the KitchenAid, all of which scored a 4. In general, we felt the defrost setting on these models didn't have enough horsepower to handle frozen goods well. Even on higher shade settings all of them produced somewhat underdone waffles. The BLACK+DECKER TR1278 did turn frozen bread into passable, though considerably uneven, toast. The other two models only managed to thaw the frozen bread, producing no discernable signs of toasting. Obviously, this can be remedied by putting the bread in for another cycle, but a better defrost setting could avoid that annoyance.
Darth Vader again brought up the rear in this metric, scoring a 3. Its lack of a defrost or frozen setting left it struggling to thaw frozen items. Additionally, frozen goods magnified the inconsistencies arising from Darth's branding plate that emblazons all it touches with the Star Wars logo.
Choosing a toaster can often feel like an afterthought when outfitting your kitchen, but putting a little care into your decision can lead to years of much happier breakfasts. We hope our testing results have helped you find the perfect countertop companion. If you're still not sure check out our buying advice article. It lays out a few more strategies for finding that gem in the rough.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.