Is your morning fired egg lacking a toasty bed? We bought 12 of the best toasters on the market and ate an unhealthy amount of carbohydrates, all to find the best breakfast companion for your tastes and budget. Toasters are a dime a dozen, and choosing one from the literally hundreds of models available can feel both daunting and like a complete gamble. Luckily we've already been into the weeds, carefully sorting through the proverbial pile of hay to find the few shiny, toast-making needles. Whether you're looking for a good piece of toast, great bagels, or the perfect frozen-waffle machine, we've got you covered.
The Best Toasters of 2018
This month we tested the very economical and impressive AmazonBasics KT-3680. This machine makes great toast, surprisingly good bagels, and costs only $20. For those shopping on a budget, there really isn't a better choice. If you're really particular about the evenness of your toast, the slightly more expensive Oster Jelly Bean is a better choice, but the AmazonBasics KT-3680 will satisfy teh vast majority of people's toast cravings.
Best Overall Toaster
If you want your mornings to be defined by perfect bagels and chic aesthetics, the Smeg 2-Slice is the machine for you. It is the only slot toaster we've found that can get perfectly toasted bagels that are crunchy on the cut side but warm and doughy on the backside. Is also makes near perfect toast, and handles frozen pastries quite well. Back that up with intuitive controls and some sleek, retro styling and you've got a veritable king of the countertop.
The clear drawback to the Smeg is its high price. $150 orders of magnitude more expensive than the average toaster. In fact, it as expensive as many more versatile toaster ovens. If you're not too fussy about your bagels the Oster Jelly Bean makes toast that is just as good for about a fifth the price. But if you really love your bagels and like the way the Smeg will compliment your kitchen's looks, it is well worth the extra money.
Read review: Smeg 2-Slice
Best Buy for Great Toast
Oster Jelly Bean 2-Slice
If you're looking for the best possible toast at a reasonable price, you really can't beat the Oster Jelly Bean. For just $35 you get nearly perfect, crunchy, amber waves of bread. In fact, this model made toast just as well as the $150 Smeg. You also get a sleek metal body that belies the low price tag. We also found this to be one of the best models for prepping frozen goods, so if you like frozen waffles and strudels this is a great choice.
The Jelly Beans's shortcomings are relatively minor. It has some consistency issues when toasting bagels (a common problem)..and that's really about it. Unless perfect bagels are on your must-have list, you're not going to be disappointed with the Jelly Bean.
Read review: Oster Jelly Bean 2-Slice
Best Buy for Bagels
For a long time we thought that truly great bagels were the sole purview of toaster ovens and expensive models like the Smeg. Then we found the AmazonBasics KT-3680. It makes nice bagels that are almost perfectly toasted with warm, doughy backsides. In this regard it is nearly as good as the much more expensive Smeg. It also makes very even toast, and does all this for only $20.
The one real weak point of the AmazonBasics KT-3680 is the fact that it struggles a bit with frozen pastries, often toasting one side much more than the other. Also, while its bagels are very good, there aren't quite as good as those from the Smeg. Our other Best Buy winner, the Oster Jelly Bean, also makes slightly better toast. As far as a budget model goes the AmazonBasics KT-3680 is phenomenal, but it's also not the best in any particular category.
Read review: AmazonBasics KT-3680
Top Pick for 4-Slice
Breville Die-Cast 4-Slice Long Slot
If you like artisanal bread that won't fit in a standard toaster slot, the Breville BTA830XL Die-Cast 4-Slice Long Slot is the best option we've found for toasting that nice slice of sourdough. The slots are also long enough that each can fit 2 standard bread slices at once. The creme de la creme of this model is the leverless technology that automatically lowers and raises the toast, no need to push a lever. On top of eliciting child-like wonder, this lets you raise the toast up in the middle of the cycle to see how it's doing, and then lower it back down without canceling the cycle. This may seem frivolous, but it is actually quite a nice feature for toasting an oddly shaped piece of bread that may toast at an odd speed.
All that cool technology and sleek metal exterior come at a price. The Breville costs a whopping $180, making it one of the most expensive models we tested. For those that want a truly high quality long-slot toaster, it's worth the price. If you're looking for a less expensive option for toasting large pieces of bread, then we would recommend the long-slot version of the Oster Jelly Bean, or, if you have teh counter space, a toaster oven.
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.
Toasters are certainly a category where you can find phenomenal deals if you look hard enough. Case in point, the Oster Jelly Bean and AmazonBasics KT-3680 make incredibly toast and bagels, respectively, while generally selling for south of the $30 mark. If you want truly exceptional performance you can see some gains in spending extra on the likes of the Smeg, which made both the best toast and bagels in our testing. While this more expensive model is clearly superior, we think the vast majority of people will be perfectly happy with the performances of the much less expensive models (unless you're on an epic quest for the perfect bagel).
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.
Falling just slightly behind the top performers with a score of 8 out of 10 was the AmazonBasics KT-3680. It made impressively even, delightfully crunchy toast with just some small inconsistencies between the front and backsides.
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 three 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. The AmazonBasics KT-3680 has a slightly hard to access crumb tray, and the buttons feel a bit flimsy.
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 AmazonBasics KT-3680 is an excellent replacement. It was able to toast bagels fairly evenly while leaving the backsides chewy but not crunchy, earning it an 8 out of 10 in this metric. And it did this while costing only $20. The KRUPS Breakfast set performed very similarly, but costs a bit more at $50.
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.
The AmazonBasics KT-3680 earned an average score of 5 out of 10 in this metric. Ever frozen pastry we toasted came out tasting decent, but one side was very often toasted much more than the other. If you're picky about your waffle,s this probably isn't the best choice.
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.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.