Best Toaster of 2020
Best Overall Toaster
Our experience with Smeg 2-Slice was summarized with perfect bagels and slick aesthetics. If you want your mornings to be defined the same way, this is the machine for you. It is the only slot toaster we've found that can produce perfectly toasted bagels that are crunchy on the cut side yet warm and doughy on the backside. It 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. It is orders of magnitude more expensive than the average model. It is as expensive as much more versatile toaster ovens. If you're not too fussy about your bagels, there are other less expensive options that can produce similarly stellar toast. However, if you really love your bagels and like the way the Smeg could complement your kitchen's looks, it is 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 near 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 quite well it doesn't toast anything exceptionally well, so if you're very 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 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 like artisanal bread that won't fit in a standard slot, the Breville BTA830XL Die-Cast 4-Slice Long Slot is the best option we've found for toasting a nice cut of sourdough. The slots are also long enough that each can fit two standard bread slices at once. This model's creme de la creme 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 lower it back down without canceling the cycle. This might seem frivolous, but it is a nice feature for toasting oddly shaped bread that may toast at an odd speed.
All that cool technology and the sleek metal exterior come at a price. The Breville costs a whopping figure, making it one of the most expensive models we tested. For those that want a truly high-quality long-slot option, 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 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. 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. To simplify the process, we gave each model an overall score.
The metric scores are derived from real world testing conducted in the TechGearLab Kitchen. The test aims 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 from each model.
Related: Buying Advice for Toasters
Toasters are certainly a category where you can find phenomenal deals if you're willing to look hard enough. Case in point, the BLACK+DECKER TR3500SD and AmazonBasics KT-3680 make incredibly toast and bagels, respectively, while selling for enticingly low prices. If you want truly exceptional performance, you'll enjoy some modest gains by spending extra on the likes of the Smeg, which made both the best toast and bagels in our testing. While this more expensive model proved to be superior, we think the vast majority of people will be perfectly happy with the performances 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. 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 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 gag 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 prejudice 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 inconsistencies in darkness between the two sides, but for the most part it offerspremium toasting performance at an enticingly low price.
In the above-average, 7 out of 10 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 cust just a tad blackened, but otherwise creating evenly toasted slices.
The CPT-420 picked up a 6 out of 10 in our toast tests. Its 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 also earned a 6 out of 10 in this metric. The logo it burns into the toast is whimsical, 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 did cost the machine a few points earning it a 6 out of 10.
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 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 the middle of the road toast-lovers may pinpoint the hiccups.
Ease of Use
Mornings can be hard. Simply and easy to use kitchen appliances can make your morning that much easier. The positive affect 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. Thus, most models 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. It differentiates itself with a leverless design. The 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, 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 if you're making particularly short pastries you may need a pair of tongs.
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 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 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 a little inconvenient.
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 an average user experience. 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 the CPT-420 didn't take advantage of it.
The below-average scorers in our ease of use testing presented specific annoyances in their day to day use that we felt could cause 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 backward, but we're pretty sure anyone interested in this model doesn't want Darth staring at their wall. The AmazonBasics KT-3680 has a slightly hard to access crumb tray, and the buttons feel a bit flimsy.
Bagel Toasting Quality
Ten out of the 11 models we tested included a bagel mode. The only dissenter was Darth Vader. 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 can reach their 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, earning it an 8 out of 10 in this metric. 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.
Most of the models we tested scored in the average 6 to 7 out of 10 range in our bagel toasting test. The three models that received a 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 were more inconsistent about toasting the bagel faces than the models that scored a 7. The CPT-160 also showed inconsistencies between slices, toasting one bagel slice significantly less than the other.
The low scorer in this metric was the Breville Die-Cast. It maintained gooey backsides, but the cut sides were charred on the bottom yet somewhat underdone at the top. These performances earned both these models a 5 out of 10 in this metric.
Darth Vader received a 1 in our bagels toasting test. Not only does it not have a bagel function, but its slots are also too skinny to even fit a sliced bagel. One tester swears he heard Darth mutter, "Rebel scum," when he tried to put 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 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, earning a 7 out of 10. 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 Breville-DieCast earned a slightly above average 6 out of 10 in our frozen food tests. It generally deals well with frozen bread, pastries, and waffles, but always leaves some noticeable scorch marks.
The Cuisinart CPT-420, which also earned a 6 out fo 10 in this metric, tends to leave the edges of frozen items a little underdone. This can be fixed by extending the toasting time, but then the centers of frozen bread slices and waffles can get overdone by the time the edges start to brown.
The Hamilton Beach picked up an average score of 5 out of 10 when our frozen food testing was said and done. It performed quite well in turning frozen bread slices into toasty goodness, but it often burned one side of frozen waffles.
The AmazonBasics KT-3680 also earned a 5 out of 10 in this metric. It tends to toast one side of frozen items more than the other. Although we didn't find this to be too much of an issue when it came to the overall taste, it definitely downgrades the texture a bit.
The Cuisinart CPT-160, the Krups Breakfast Set, and the KitchenAid, were the lower performers in our defrosting test all of which scored a 4. In general, we feel the defrost setting on these models doesn't have enough horsepower to handle frozen goods very well. Even on higher shade settings, all of them produced somewhat underdone waffles.
Darth Vader was the lowest scorer in this metric as well. Like its namesake, this model deals in absolutes, and thus does not offer a defrost function. This resulted in most frozen toast being underdone or slightly burned and charred(also like its namesake).
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