In the last 4 years we've conducted hands-on testing of 25 toasters. For this 2020 update we focused our efforts on the 11 best that you can buy today. We've made and consumed over 400 pieces of toast, as well as bagels and breakfast pastries, to find the best contraption for your kitchen. There are a seemingly endless number of toasters on the market. With most of them looking identical, it can be hard to pick the best one for your needs and budget. Luckily we've done the hard work for you, sorting through the endless sea of terrified toasters to find the few brave little ones that can provide the perfect, toasty bed for your morning fried egg.
The Best Toasters of 2020
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 produce perfectly toasted bagels that are crunchy on the cut side but 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 toaster. In fact, it is 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 an attractive price you get nearly perfect, crunchy, amber waves of bread. In fact, this model made toast just as well as the very expensive 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 a surprisingly low price.
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 figure, 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 the counter space, a toaster oven.
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, toaster ovens, pressure cookers, coffee makers, espresso machines, and waffle makers. In doing so they've become experts in how appliances can improve your kitchen, and what pitfalls to avoid so you don't end up with a contraption on your counter that you're never going to use.
In order to choose the toasters worthy of inclusion in this review, we researched more than 100 models by combing through user reviews and analyzing spec 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 toaster pastries. All throughout that process we kept careful notes of toasting consistency and quality, how convenient each model was to use, and how much of a crumby mess each 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 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.
Related: How We Tested Toasters
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 selling for an enticingly low price. 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.
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, often displaying 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 levels of browning to be a bit inconsistent between cycles, meaning 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 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 keeps most of the slice evenly toasted, but tends to burn the top just a tad. While this doesn't impact the enjoyment of the resulting toast too much, it lost the machine a few points, earning it a 6 out fo 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 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 levers 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 iss (all before they had their morning coffee, to make things more realistic). We also assessed how difficult each model is to clean.
Most toasters are fairly simple to use, but don't provide specific touches that make the toasting process any more convenient than one would expect. 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. Where it really elevates itself is the leverless design, which automatically lowers and raises the toast at the push of a button. While this might feel a bit gimmicky, Breville utilizes this technology for a helpful purposes, allowing you to slightly raise the toast up and down without interrupting the toasting cycle. This lets you get a sneak peek at your toastmid-cycle to make sure you're not in danger of over cooking.
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 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.
The 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 backward, but we're pretty sure anyone who is interested in this model doesn't want it so Darth can stare 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
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.
So far, the Smeg is the only slot toaster we've found that can rival the quality of a toaster oven when it comes to prepping bagels. Its bagel mode managed to perfectly brown the cut sides of bagels while leaving the backsides warm and gooey but, importantly, not crunchy. 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 allows bagels to reach their full potential.
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 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 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 and the Breville Die-Cast. 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.
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 Breville-DieCast earned a slightly above average 6 out of 10 in our frozen foods tests. It generally deals with frozen bread, pastries, and waffles well, 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 bit underdone. This can be fixed by extending the toasting time, but then the centers of frozen bread slices and waffles get a bit 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, which also earned a 5 out of 10 in this metric, tends to toast one side of frozen items more than the other. While 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.
Representing the lower performers in our defrosting test were the Cuisinart CPT-160, the 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.
Darth Vader was again the worst performer in this metric. Like its namesake, this model deals in absolutes, and thus does not offer a defrost function. This generally left frozen toast coming out either quite underdone or a bit 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 actually buying one. And that is completely reasonable, as any real or digital shelf is going to instantly bombard you with hundreds of options, all of which seem to be vaguely the same. However, we have found that not all these machines perform equally, and that an informed decision can bring you much more breakfast happiness per dollar. We hope that our testing results have helped you cut through the confusion and find the perfect model for your kitchen.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata