Here at TechGearLab we strive to separate out testing methodology from the rest of the pack by utilizing the most rigorous, comparable, and quantitative tests possible. The thing with toasters, however, is that they are quite simple, and don't really lend themselves to the to the kind of objectively measurable tests that we like to conduct. The point of a toaster is to produce the most delicious piece of toast possible. It is really hard to draw a straight line from something directly measurable like heating element temperature or power usage to quality of taste.
With this in mind, we focused a large portion of our testing on scoring the resulting toasted products, rather than trying to quantify aspects of the toasters themselves. We added in the rigor by meticulously photographing every piece of toast, bagel, waffle, and strudel that emerged from each of the models we tested, in order to make direct, side by side comparisons. This allowed us to tease out which models produce your standard run of the mill toast from those that produce great toast. Mornings are not the time for snafus and irritations, so we also assessed how easy each model is to use. For the full rundown of the models we tested check out our main toaster review.
Bread Toasting Quality
Bread toasting will be the major task for most toasters, so we weighted bread toasting quality high in our scoring. In our testing we toasted three slices of bread in each model on low, medium and high settings. We then photographed these slices, noting which side of the toast was facing the interior of the toaster and which side was facing the exterior. These slices were scored on how even they toasted, both across the face of the toast and between the two sides of the toast. We were specifically looking for common inconsistencies like light spots near the crust, black edges, or burn marks from the toasting cage. We then repeated this process ad nauseum to test how consistent each model is between cycles. Finally, we compared the photos across models to make sure our relative scores were matching up with our results.
After all that photo taking, we were finally able to eat some toast (we promise all that bread from the first step didn't go to waste, we have the empty nutella jars to prove it). We made fresh slices in each model and tasted them without toppings to assess their texture. We were looking for that classic toast crunch, with the crispy outsides that gives way to a slightly softer center.
Ease of Use
Toasters are quite simple machines, and the differences in quality of bread toasting between models will only be appreciated by the more discerning toast eater. Therefore, we feel that ease of use, or how difficult it is to travel the path from an irritable and groggy morning monster to a well fed and energetic morning conqueror is one of the most important factors to consider when buying a toaster. We tested ease of use by having everyone in the office use each model and rate how intuitive the interface was and to note any annoyances or difficulties. Our testers also formed strong opinions about each model's general usability through repeated use. We also fiddled with the crumb trays to assess how easy they were to clean.
We gave higher marks to models that allowed for easy replication of the same settings day after day. Shade knobs that clicked into each setting or had some sort of readout of the current selected setting excelled at this. We generally gave higher marks to buttons that offered some sort of feedback, namely lighting up, to indicate that they had in fact been pressed. Its very frustrating to push the bagel mode button, not see anything change, and be unsure whether your bagel is being toasted properly. We also gave higher marks to crumb trays that were easy to removes and accessible from the front. Crumb trays that are accessed from the back require moving the toaster to get to, which is a slightly annoying step.
Bagel Toasting Quality
Bagel toasting is a bit different than bread toasting. A good bagel will be much more toasted on the cut side than on the round side. Most of the models we tested have bagel modes that attempt to achieve this ideal. In our testing we always used the bagel mode set to a medium shade level.
We tested and scored and bagel toasting quality much in the same way that we scored bread toasting quality, with the obvious exception that, in the case of bagels, we wanted one side to be more toasted than the other. The greater thickness of bagels presents some toasting challenges, with the end towards the bottom of the toaster often getting much darker than the end near the opening. We kept an eye out for these sorts of inconsistencies and gave higher scores to models that were better able to avoid them. Again, we kept meticulous photo records so we could make accurate comparison between models. We also did our toppingless taste test to see which models got close to that perfect combination of crispy on the top and doughy on the bottom.
In general, we were quite disappointed with the results of our bagel testing. It seems to us that traditional toasters just don't excel at toasting bagels. If you want a device that will serve up heavenly bagels we suggest that you read our toaster oven review.
Frozen Food/Defrosting Quality
Frozen goods are probably the most difficult items to toast evenly, as they don't tend to freeze evenly. This is especially true for store bought frozen waffles. These tend to freeze together in sets of two to four, making the frozen together sides significantly colder than the exposed sides. The defrost modes on some models compensate for this by starting at a low temperature to gently and evenly warm the frozen good, before stepping up to a higher toasting temperature.
Again, we scored and tested frozen food and defrosting quality in a similar manner to how we did bread toasting quality. In each model we toasted frozen waffles, toaster strudels, and frozen bread. We then took photos and gave scores based on the consistency of toasting across the face, between sides, and between cycles. We also did our toppingless taste tests. For all of these tests we used the defrosting mode in a medium shade setting, with the exception of Darth toaster. Darth doesn't have a defrosting mode, so we just used a higher shade setting.