The Best Toaster 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 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 toaster. In fact, it is as expensive as much 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 could complement your kitchen's looks, it is well worth the extra money.
Read review: Smeg 2-Slice
Best Bang For Your Buck
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 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 its low price tag. We found this to be one of the best models for prepping frozen goods, so if you like frozen waffles or 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 affordable Jelly Bean.
Read review: Oster Jelly Bean 2-Slice
Best Value for Bagels
For a long time we thought that truly great bagels were the sole purview of toaster ovens or 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. And while its bagels are very good, they're not 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
Best for 4 Slices
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 a nice cut 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 might seem frivolous, but it is actually 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 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, 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 so you don't end up with a contraption on your counter that you never really use.
To choose the toasters 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 toaster 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 crumby 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 really changed since the first dual-sided electric model was released in 1926. However, advances in electronics have brought the aesthetics and functionality of many of today's models fully 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 overall scores are based on real-world tests that we ran in the TechGearLab kitchen that were designed to assess 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 one of these metrics and how well each model fared in our testing.
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 Oster Jelly Bean and AmazonBasics KT-3680 make incredibly toast and bagels, respectively, while selling for enticingly low prices. If you want truly exceptional performance you 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 is clearly 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 is going to 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. 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 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 exorbitant 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 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 opposing sides that were nearly identical. The only model able to match the Jelly Bean is 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 is 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 and 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 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 toasted most of the slice evenly, but it 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 significant inconsistencies in our testing. The KitchenAid tends to over darken tops and edges, and cooks 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 this lower scoring group did not produce bad toast during our testing, but they have enough issues 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, which means it's 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 was (to make things more realistic we insisted they do this before they had their morning coffee). We also assessed how difficult each model is to clean.
Most toasters are fairly simple to use, but don't provide clever touches to 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 elevates itself is the leverless design, which automatically lowers and raises the toast at the push of a button. 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. 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 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 had the potential to 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 toaster 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 3 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 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 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, its slots are too skinny to even fit a sliced bagel. One testers 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 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. It was near perfect with frozen waffles, however, leaving just a bit 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.
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 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 again the worst performer in this metric. Like its namesake, this model deals in absolutes, and thus does not offer a defrost function. This left most 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 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 that our testing results have helped you cut through the confusion and find the perfect model for your kitchen.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata