Best Toaster of 2021
$189.95 at Amazon
|$180 List||$70 List|
$49.99 at Amazon
$26.30 at Amazon
$22.99 at Amazon
|Pros||Great toasting performance, incredible bagels, stylish looks||Great user interface, lift and look function, aesthetically pleasing||Inexpensive, toasts 4 slices at once, toasts bagels evenly||Good toast, decent bagels, inexpensive||Good toasting performance, good bagels, inexpensive|
|Cons||Expensive||Expensive||No specific bagel mode, toasting can be slightly inconsistent overall||Hard to clean crumb tray||Mediocre froze pastries, difficult crumb tray access|
|Bottom Line||The perfect choice, particularly if you're a bagel fan and love unique design||This 4-slice model boasts amazing design, good toasting performance, and a great interface||The best option we've found for people seeking a 4-slice or long-slot model on the cheap||A good, inexpensive option that does just about everything well||This toaster delivers the best bagels you can get at such a low price|
|Rating Categories||Smeg 2-Slice||Breville Die-Cast 4...||Elite Gourmet ECT-3100||Black+Decker TR3500SD||AmazonBasics KT-3680|
|Bread Toasting Quality (35%)|
|Ease Of Use (35%)|
|Bagel Toasting Quality (15%)|
|Frozen Food Defrosting Quality (15%)|
|Specs||Smeg 2-Slice||Breville Die-Cast 4...||Elite Gourmet ECT-3100||Black+Decker TR3500SD||AmazonBasics KT-3680|
|Dimensions (L x W x H)||12.7" x 7.7" x 7.6"||15.3" x 7" x 7.8"||14.7" x 7.1" x 7.7"||10" x 6.5" x 7.4"||10.7" x 6.4" x 7.6"|
|Available with Long Slot?||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Available in 4 slot?||No||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Color/Finish Options||Cream, Red, Black, Chrome, Pastel Blue, Pink, Pastel Green||Stainless Steel||Black Plastic/Stainless||Stainless Steel||Black Plastic/Stainless|
|Exterior Housing Material||Coated Steek||Stainless Steel||Stainless Steel||Stainless Steel||Plastic|
|End of Cycle Indicator||None||Beep||None||None||None|
|Manufacturer Warranty||One Year Limited||One Year Limited||One Year Limited||Two Year Limited||One Year Limited|
Best Overall Toaster
The Smeg 2-Slice is our favorite toaster due to its sleek aesthetics and the perfect bagels it produces. If these sound like appealing additions to your morning routine, this is the machine for you. It is the only slot toaster we've seen that can make an ideal bagel that's crunchy on the cut side yet warm and doughy on the backside. It also creates near-perfect toast and handles frozen pastries adeptly. That's all backed up with intuitive controls and some slick, retro styling, so you're left with a veritable king of the countertop.
The clear drawback to the Smeg is its exorbitant price. It is several orders of magnitude pricier than an average model, which means that it costs as much as more versatile toaster ovens. If you're not too fussy about your bagels, there are more affordable options that can produce similarly stellar toast. However, if you're bagel-obsessed and appreciate the way the Smeg could complement your kitchen's aesthetic, then it might be well worth the extra money.
Read review: Smeg 2-Slice
Best Bang for the Buck
If you're looking for a capable and versatile toaster at a low price, the Black+Decker TR3500SD fits the bill nearly perfectly. In our testing, it provided consistently good toasting performance across all the breakfast toaster staples, from bread to bagels to frozen pastries. The sleek all-metal exterior makes it a bit of a chameleon, seamlessly blending into almost any modern kitchen decor. And it does all this for significantly less than many competing models.
Our biggest complaint with this toaster is the crumb tray. Instead of sliding out for easy crumb disposal, it swings open on a hinge, requiring you to pick up the entire toaster and hold it over the trash can. Additionally, while it toasts everything adequately, it doesn't toast anything exceptionally well, so if you're particular about your bagels, you may be a bit disappointed. For most people, we think these downsides will be relatively minor and that the Black+Decker TR3500SD will provide great performance at a budget-friendly price.
Read review: Black+Decker TR3500SD
Best Bang for the Buck: 4-Slice
Elite Gourmet ECT-3100
We think the Elite Gourmet ECT-3100 is one of the best bargains on the market, especially for a baker that wants to toast an artisanal loaf or for a family that wants to be able to make lots of toast at warp speed. In our tests, this toaster performed great, producing good toast, delicious frozen waffles, and even browning bagels consistently — a feat many other models weren't able to achieve. We're also pleased with the built-in warming rack that can help you bring your croissants or other pastries to the next level.
This model's drawbacks are minor. First, it does not have a specific bagel setting. This means that even though it can brown a bagel well, both sides will be toasted, and this conflicts with conventional wisdom that says only toasting the cut side makes for a better bagel. Additionally, we observed some minor inconsistencies in the toast in general. However, these complaints are small and did not detract from the overall fantastic experience that the Elite Gourmet ECT-3100 provided in our tests.
Read review: Elite Gourmet ECT-3100
Best for Bagels
For a long time, we thought that truly great bagels were the sole purview of toaster ovens and exorbitantly expensive slot models. 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 options on the market. It also makes impressively even toast and does all this for a surprisingly low price.
The one potentially fatal weakness of the AmazonBasics KT-3680 is its defrost setting, which in our testing often left one side of frozen waffles a bit charred while the opposite side was still slightly underdone. As long as frozen toaster pastries aren't a staple in your house, this toaster is, in our opinion, one of the best ways you can spend your money.
Read review: AmazonBasics KT-3680
Best for 4 Slices
Breville Die-Cast 4-Slice Long Slot
If you often find yourself toasting long slices of sourdough that don't fit in a standard slot, check out the Breville BTA830XL Die-Cast 4-Slice Long Slot. This toaster is the best option we've found for artisanal bread. Its slots are also long enough for each of them to fit two standard bread slices at once. The pièce de résistance is this model's leverless design that automatically raises and lowers the toast. This can inspire child-like wonder even in full-grown adults, and it also allows you to raise the toast in the middle of the cycle to check on progress without having to cancel the cycle. This may sound a little unnecessary, but it's a feature we appreciated when we were toasting irregularly shaped bread that cooked at a less predictable speed.
All that cool technology and the sleek metal exterior come at a cost. The Breville has a hefty price tag; it's one of the most expensive models we tested. However, for those seeking a truly high-quality long-slot option, we think it's worth the price.
Read review: Breville Die-Cast 4-Slice Long Slot
Why You Should Trust Us
Steven Tata and Max Mutter have been testing and reviewing kitchen appliances for nearly 4 years. In that time, they've used and abused more than 100 of the best toasters, coffee makers, espresso machines, pressure cookers, and waffle makers. In doing so, they've become experts in how certain appliances can improve your kitchen, and what pitfalls to avoid to prevent you from purchasing a contraption that takes up precious space but rarely sees action.
To choose the models worthy of inclusion in this review, we researched more than 100 models by combing through user reviews and analyzing specification sheets. Once we'd selected the cream of the crop, we bought them all and lived with them in our testing kitchen for more than a month. In that time, we made more than 300 pieces of toast, almost 200 bagels, over 100 frozen waffles, and nearly as many frozen pastries. Throughout that process, we kept careful notes on toasting consistency and quality, how convenient each model was to use, and how much of a crumbly mess they made.
Related: How We Tested Toasters
Analysis and Test Results
A toaster is a wonderfully simple thing. It is essentially just a chunk of metal or plastic with basic electrical heating elements inside. Yet, at the push of a button or lever, it can turn plain old boring bread into a 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 multifunctional wonder-machine, 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. Electric models have been around since 1910, and their basic design principles haven't changed much since the first dual-sided electric model was released in 1926. However, advances in electronics have brought the aesthetics and functionality of today's models into the digital age. This makes choosing a product more complicated than ever before.
The metric scores are derived from real-world testing conducted in the TechGearLab Test Kitchen. Our tests are designed to assess a model's performance across four specific metrics: bread toasting quality, ease of use, bagel toasting quality, and frozen food preparation. The following sections explain the importance of each metric and the relative performance of each model.
Related: Buying Advice for Toasters
Toasters are a device where it's possible to find an awesome deal if you look hard enough. For example, the AmazonBasics KT-3680 and Black+Decker TR3500SD sell for affordable prices while creating exceptional bagels and toast, respectively. If you desire outstanding performance across the board, you could enjoy a few extra benefits by spending a lot more on the Smeg, which produced the best toast and bagels in our tests. Even though this expensive model outperformed the rest, we believe the vast majority of shoppers will be completely satisfied with the performance of a much less expensive model (unless you're on an epic quest for the perfect bagel).
Bread Toasting Quality
For most people, bread toasting will be the primary task for their toaster (it's the 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. Certain models produce less desirable toast that can have burnt edges, uneven sides, and conspicuous white spots near the crust. Higher performing models are better able to avoid these issues. 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 continue to 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. This is a term that has come to us thanks to the expanding field of food rheology.Mouthfeel refers to how food physically and chemically interacts with your mouth. In simple terms, it refers to how delightfully crispy the toast is.
After making, grading, and tasting an excessive amount of toast, our testing revealed a fairly tight window of toasting performance, with scores ranging from 5 to 9 out of 10. Although some models clearly toasted bread better than others, all could produce decent, edible slices.
If you're a toast connoisseur, then the phrase "decent and edible" probably made you scoff a little. Those that place a high premium on toast quality should consider one of our top scorers. The Smeg 2-Slice would be our top recommendation. It manages to produce nearly flawless toast with barely any traces of inconsistency. At the far opposite end of the price spectrum, the AmazonBasics KT-3680 also provides impressively even toast. Sure there are some minor differences in darkness between the two sides, but for the most part, it offers premium toasting performance at an enticingly low price.
In the above-average bracket, the Krups Breakfast Set generally produces an even piece of toast. However, its toast is not perfect and often displays some small cold splotches near the crust. The Breville Die-Cast Long Slot displayed the opposite problem, often leaving the crust just a tad blackened, but otherwise creating evenly toasted slices.
The Elite Gourmet ECT-3100 was also a slightly above-average performer in our tests. It displayed some minor inconsistencies spread over the slices we made, but for the most part, it created a consistent crunch throughout.
The CPT-420's toast came out quite evenly toasted, but we found the browning level to be a bit inconsistent between cycles, meaning that the same setting isn't always going to get you the exact same shade.
The Darth Vader burns a whimsical logo into the toast, which is fun, but it makes some bites of the slice much crunchier than others. Otherwise, it does a good job of keeping the toasting level fairly consistent.
The Hamilton Beach Keep Warm produced a mostly even slice of toast, but it tends to burn the top just a tad. The enjoyment of the resulting toast was only lightly impacted. The minor inconsistency of the product knocked a few points off the score.
The lowest-scoring models in our test, the KitchenAid Long Slot and the Cuisinart CPT-160, showed significant inconsistencies in our testing. The KitchenAid tends to over-darken tops and edges. This model also proved to cook inconsistently between sides. The CPT-160 had trouble properly toasting the difficult area adjacent to the crust and often burned one vertical crust. The models in the lower scoring group produced fine toast. However, we found enough issues that even fairweather toast-lovers may pinpoint the hiccups.
Ease of Use
Mornings can be hard. Simple and straightforward kitchen appliances can make your morning that much easier. The positive effect makes these principles paramount when selecting a new appliance. The last thing you want is a slew of confusing buttons and levers between you and a comforting slice of crispy carbohydrates. To test user-friendliness, we had multiple testers complete a variety of different tasks with each model. To keep it realistic, we recommend they did this before they had any morning coffee. Each model received a grade based on the intuitive nature of its design. We also assessed how difficult each model is to clean.
Most models are fairly simple to use but don't provide clever touches to make the toasting process more convenient. These appliances received fairly average scores in this metric. The one model able to really differentiate itself from the pack is the Breville Die-Cast. It has all the features you might expect from a well-designed toaster, like an easy to remove crumb tray and clear shade controls, but its leverless design sets it apart from the others. This model uses a button to automatically lower and raise the toast. While this might sound a bit gimmicky, Breville utilizes this technology for a helpful purpose: allowing you to slightly raise the toast up and down without interrupting the toasting cycle. This lets you get a sneak peek at your toast mid-cycle to make sure it's not in danger of burning.
The Smeg was the runner-up in this metric. It keeps things simple with a shade knob, some pleasantly backlit buttons, and an easy to remove crumb tray. The only minor downside is the fact that you can't push the lever up to lift smaller items, so if you're making particularly short pastries, you may need a pair of tongs to retrieve them.
The Black+Decker TR3500SD has a nice interface with backlit buttons, but it utilizes a trapdoor crumb tray instead of the slide-out style. This necessitates moving the entire toaster when you want to empty the crumbs, which can be somewhat inconvenient.
The Elite Gourmet ECT-3100 provides a fairly basic user experience, with easy to decipher buttons and a simple slide-out crumb tray while even providing a built-in warming rack for pastries. However, it lacks some features present on many other models, most notably a bagel mode for those that like to toast only the cut sides of their bagels.
Six different models squarely average in our ease of use testing, including the Cuisinart CPT-160 and the CPT-420, the Darth Vader, the Hamilton Beach Keep Warm, the Krups Breakfast Set, and the KitchenAid Long Slot. In general, their controls were fairly straightforward to get the job done, but they 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. Unfortunately, the CPT-420 does not include a function to preview your toast without canceling the cycle. In our opinion, this is one of the biggest advantages that should come with leverless technology, and we were disappointed that Cuisinart didn't take advantage of it when designing this model.
Bagel Toasting Quality
Most of the models we tested included a bagel mode. 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.
So far, the Smeg is the only slot-based model we've come across that can rival the quality of a toaster oven for prepping bagels. Its bagel mode managed to perfectly brown the cut sides of bagels while leaving the backsides warm and gooey, without any crunchiness. This juxtaposition of textures is, for many people, what makes bagels such a decadent breakfast staple, and the Smeg is the only model we've found that ensures a bagel is able to reach its full potential.
If you like bagels but don't want to fork over serious cash for the expensive Smeg, the AmazonBasics KT-3680 is an excellent alternative. It was able to toast bagels fairly evenly while leaving the backsides chewy but not crunchy. And it did this while costing far less than most of the competition. The Krups Breakfast Set performed very similarly but costs a bit more than the AmazonBasics model.
The Elite Gourmet ECT-3100 toasted bagels incredibly evenly in our tests, much to our surprise. However, it does not have a bagel mode, so both sides of the bagels end up getting toasted. This may be disappointing for those seeking cafe-style bagels that are typically only toasted on the cut side of the bagels, leaving the backsides a bit softer and more tender.
Most of the models we tested scored in the average range in our bagel toasting test. 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 also left the backsides warm but untoasted, which is what we were hoping for. Scoring slightly lower, Hamilton Beach Keep Warm and the Cuisinart CPT-160 also left the backsides of the bagels pleasantly untoasted but were more inconsistent about toasting the bagel faces than the models that scored a bit higher. The CPT-160 also showed inconsistencies between slices, toasting one bagel slice significantly less than the other.
Frozen Food/Defrosting Quality
Surprisingly, a toaster's high heat frequently doesn't work well for frozen foods because it's easy to burn the outside of a pastry while the inside remains 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 scorer in this category was the Smeg 2-Slice. This model utilizes 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, though it had a little trouble with frozen pastries, leaving some burned spots. It produced almost perfect frozen waffles but was hindered by a small amount of browning on the ridges.
The Elite Gourmet ECT-3100 did quite well with frozen bread and frozen waffles in our tests. However, for more irregular toaster pastries, it tended to burn the edges a bit while the centers were still very soft.
Darth Vader was the lowest scorer in this metric as well. Like its namesake, this model operates in absolutes and thus does not offer a defrost function. This resulted in most frozen toast being underdone or slightly burned and charred.
Toasters are one of those products that you use most days, yet probably don't think about too much when you're shopping for one. And that is completely reasonable because any real or digital retail shelf is going to instantly bombard you with hundreds of options, all of which seem to be roughly the same. However, we have found that not all these machines perform equally and that an informed decision can bring you more breakfast happiness per dollar. We hope our comprehensive review has helped you navigate the world of toasters and find the perfect model for your kitchen.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
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