The Best Bread Machines of 2020
If you are looking for a bread machine that can outbake the rest, then look no further than the Virtuoso Plus by Zojirushi. This top-notch machine made some of the tastiest bread in our tests and took home the prize for making the most consistent and aesthetically pleasing loaves. In addition to making some of the best-looking bread of the bunch, this is the only model that we tested that has two separate kneading blades, ensuring that all of the ingredients thoroughly mix into your dough and there isn't any residual flour. The Virtuoso has a ton of different preset settings and is unique in the fact that it has memory functions, allowing you to customize the knead, rise, and bake times to match your preferences.
Regrettably, the Virtuoso Plus is one of the most expensive machines we have tested to date, as well as being one of the bulkiest and heaviest products of the group. It requires a significant investment on your part in terms of both money and kitchen counter real estate. We strongly think the Zojirushi is the best baker of the bunch but it might be a bit too much for many people if they aren't willing to pay a premium for the best of the best.
Read review: Zojirushi Virtuoso Plus
If you saw the price tag on the Zojirushi and started to panic, then the Hamilton Beach HomeBaker might be a much better bread machine for you. This appliance costs a fraction of what the Virtuoso Plus does, all while delivering comparable loaves in terms of taste and texture. The crust is usually fairly uniform and the overall appearance of the bread is fairly nice. The nonstick pan is also a breeze to clean — even being safe to put in a dishwasher — and the bread pan's handle will lock into the folded down position, making it easy to dump out the bread once it is baked.
This discount bread machine does make a few concessions to keep the cost down. The HomeBaker has a much smaller set of presets than many of the other ones and struggled a bit with some of the more specialized loaves in our test, with the whole wheat bread and the gluten-free loaf collapsing a bit. While it does have some significant drawbacks, it's harder to find a better bread-making appliance than the Hamilton Beach if you are shopping on a budget.
Read review: Hamilton Beach HomeBaker
If you are considering purchasing the Hamilton Beach, you may want to also consider the Sunbeam Programmable bread machine. This is another great bargain option that performs almost the same as the HomeBaker. It did very well with more difficult to bake types of bread, like the gluten-free loaf — even without a specific gluten-free preset. We also found that the bread will rise quite a bit more in this machine than in the others, leading to some exceptionally large and airy loaves that were hard to remove in some cases. It's got a decent set of presets and a delay function that can be handy if you want to measure the ingredients in the morning and ensure the bread is ready right with your dinner.
Unfortunately, we did find that the top of the bread would tend to collapse and sink in quite a bit. This bread maker also didn't completely incorporate all the dry ingredients every time. However, both the Sunbeam and the HomeBaker are excellent budget options and we would honestly recommend either if you are shopping on a budget, just check which is cheaper when you are ready to buy.
Read review: Sunbeam Programmable Bread Maker
The Breville The Custom Loaf is a sleek and stylish — or at least, as sleek and stylish as you can get with a bread maker — that is a great option if you buy premium kitchen appliances. It has tons of features and functions, allowing you to choose between a ton of different preset programs and even create up to 9 custom options for your recipes and preferences. This bread maker has an interface that is exceptionally clear and easy to read, makes great bread, and is the only model we have tested that as an integrated automated dispenser to add mix-in — like dried fruit or nuts — at the appropriate time. The Breville also has a backup power supply that can hold your place for up to 60 minutes — it won't continue baking or kneading, but it is quite handy if you accidentally unplug the device or your power flickers.
While The Custom Loaf has a ton of handy features, but there are a few things that we weren't enamored with. The bread maker has a collapsible paddle that is supposed to minimize the hole at the bottom of the bread, but we found this didn't really help all that much and just made it harder to remove the bread pan. Additionally, the bread pan is a bit hard to clean — Breville recommends that you don't submerge it and only wash the interior of the pan. However, the Breville is a good option if you make bread with tons of mix-ins, but we still found the Zojirushi to be a slightly better pick if you are going to be spending top dollar for a bread maker.
Read review: Breville The Custom Loaf
This bread machine is jam-packed with preset functions, including things like oatmeal, cornbread, yogurt, beer bread, and a desert setting. It has backup protection to resume your place for up to a 15-minute interruption in power and it produces bread with a very even crust color. It also gives you the option to delay the start of the baking process for up to 15 hours and even includes a measuring cup and spoon.
Unfortunately, this bread machine did have a few somewhat significant drawbacks. It has a ton of presets, but it isn't the best when it comes to baking bread. While we initially thought that its vertical bread pan would make it easier to mix, but the SKG struggled significantly when it came to incorporating the dry goods, usually leaving leftover flour or cornstarch on the outside of the finished bread. The SKG is a good bet if you want to try and make other things besides bread in your bread machine, but there are both better baking and better budget bread makers out there.
Read review: SKG Automatic Bread Machine
The Oster Expressbake thoroughly failed to impress us, making it our least favorite bread machine we have tested to date. While we must admit that it did earn some accolades for making one of the better looking gluten-free loaves, this was completely outweighed by its subpar performance in our other tests. It is one of the lightest machines of the group and has a few handy features but we overall found the cons of this product to vastly outweigh its pros.
We honestly struggled to think of a compelling reason to recommend this machine if you aren't exclusively making gluten-free bread. It isn't a great bargain option and we found it to be somewhat difficult and inconvenient to use. We would strongly recommend considering other options unless you found the Oster at such a bargain that they would practically be giving it away.
Read review: Oster Expressbake
Why You Should Trust Us
To find out which bread machine is the best of them all, we researched and compared tons of different models, then bought all the products that had the most potential to test head-to-head. Our testing and reviewing team, composed of Austin Palmer and David Wise, have extensive experience testing and scoring home and kitchen appliances, having reviewed hundreds of different appliances over the past few years, covering everything from vacuum sealers to ice cream makers. Both are avid home cooks and bakers, lending their expertise to this review as well.
We extensively tested all of the appliances with a series of rigorous side-by-side tests, ranking and scoring the whole wheat, gluten-free, and white bread produced by each product. We had a panel of judges — some with a professional culinary background — rate the color, crumb, crust, and overall appearance of each loaf, as well as the taste. We also evaluated each product on the amount of effort it required to clean out each product after you are done baking with it.
How to Choose a Bread Machine
Bread machines aren't the most technically complex or difficult kitchen appliances out there, but there are still a few key differences you will want to consider when shopping for a new one. The first thing is deciding if you even need a kitchen appliance dedicated to baking bread and what is different when using one versus baking in a conventional oven.
Bread Machine vs. Traditional Oven
While both one of these kitchen appliances and a traditional oven can bake great bread, the finished product undeniably comes out quite a bit different. Bread baked in a conventional oven is usually a freeform loaf, meaning the dough is briefly shaped after rising and baked without a pan on a baking stone. Freeform bread has a much airier and less dense internal structure — the "crumb" of the bread — and a thicker and crunchier crust, as it is exposed to much more intense heat than what is generated in a bread maker.
Bread baked in a machine tends to be a bit heavier. It has a spongier crumb with an ultrathin crust that makes it perfect for sandwiches. It's very similar typical bagged sliced sandwich bread that you get in the grocery store. It is important to note, you can achieve a similar effect in a conventional oven if you cook your bread in a traditional loaf or Pullman bread pan, but it is almost impossible to replicate the taste and texture of a freeform bread baked in a traditional oven in a bread maker. We aren't advocating for one type of bread over another, it all comes down to personal preferences. However, if you find that you can't stand pre-bagged grocery store bread, you might be a little disappointed in the results from your bread machine.
Regardless of whether you prefer bread from a machine or a conventional oven, bread machines undeniably have a huge advantage over traditional baking: convenience and ease of use.
Ease of Use
One of the main things that prevent home bakers from attempting bread is the huge amount of hassle involved. Between mixing, kneading, proofing, and proofing again, it can turn into an enormous amount of work to make something that you can pick up for a few bucks at the local grocery store.
With a bread machine, you simply — in theory — measure the ingredients exactly according to the recipe and dump them in and hit go. Give it a few hours and you have freshly baked bread, ready to go. Many of these machines even have delay timers and warming functions, allowing you to measure and add ingredients for standard bread — no recipes that require perishable eggs or dairy — in the morning and set a delay to coincide with the bread finishing right when you are getting ready to sit down to eat dinner. This allows you to go about your day as usual and ensure that you get the treat of freshly baked bread with dinner with a bare minimum of effort on your part.
Ease of Cleaning
The next thing you may be wondering about is how much effort it is to clean out a bread-making kitchen appliance once you are done with it, as specialized kitchen appliances like this tend to be a bit of a hassle when it comes to cleanup time.
Fortunately, we found cleanup to be a breeze for most of the machines, though there are a few differences. This mainly manifests when it comes to cleaning out the bread pans. Some of them are safe to stick right in the dishwasher, where others can only get wet on the inside of the pan and can even be damaged if you submerge them fully. You are going to want to go with the former option if you hate doing dishes by hand.
However, we found that even the most difficult to clean bread pan still doesn't take all that much time and effort to render it spotless, so ease of cleaning shouldn't be too much of a deciding factor when making your choice between different models. However, it is a bit of an inconvenience to clean the models that don't permit you to completely submerge the bread pan, as it does add some unnecessary stress to what should be an otherwise simple task and can make it difficult to remove any stuck-on dough or bread.
After considering cleaning, the next factor when picking out the perfect bread maker for your kitchen is looking at the amount of available storage you have and the size of your prospective purchases. These products are not small; they take up a significant amount of counter space and most people will probably not be using them frequently enough to warrant being left out on the counter.
Additionally, these appliances are on the heavier side, so you might want to store them somewhat close to your kitchen. You also will want to think about how much you will end up using one of these appliances and if that will justify sacrificing all the space they take up.
The last thing to consider when deciding which bread-making appliance you are going to buy is what else you can use them for. In addition to baking bread, many of these appliances have additional settings, allowing you to make things ranging from cakes to yogurt. Based on user experiences, it seems that using these appliances to make homemade jam or jelly, yogurt, and cakes appear to be the most popular. Most people probably won't use these features all that much compared to baking bread but it is worth considering and getting a machine that has additional functions if you are hoping to push the envelope when it comes to what food you can make in one of these products.
Hopefully, you should have a pretty solid idea at this point of which bread maker is going to be the best bet for you, what to search for when looking for a new one, and if one of these products is even the right choice for your kitchen. We bought all the products in this review and tested them side-by-side, so you don't have to and so you can find the absolute best choice for your budget and baking endeavors.
— Austin Palmer and David Wise