Here at TechGearLab, we strive to separate our testing methodology from the others by utilizing the most rigorous, comparative, and quantitative tests possible. The thing with toasters, however, is that they are quite simple, and don't really lend themselves to the kind of objectively measurable tests that we like to conduct. The point of a toaster is to produce the most delicious piece of toast possible. It is really hard to draw a straight line from something directly measurable like heating element temperature or power usage to quality of taste.
With this in mind, we focused a large portion of our testing on scoring the resulting toasted products, rather than trying to quantify aspects of the toasters themselves. We added in the rigor by meticulously photographing every piece of toast, bagel, waffle, and strudel that emerged from each of the models we tested, in order to make direct, side-by-side comparisons. This allowed us to tease out which models produce your standard run-of-the-mill toast from those that produce great toast. Mornings are not the time for snafus and irritations, so we also assessed how easy each model is to use. For the full rundown of the models we tested check out our main toaster review.
Bread Toasting Quality
Since bread toasting is the major task for most toasters, we weighted bread toasting quality high in our scoring. We toasted three slices of bread with each model on low, medium, and high settings. We then photographed these slices, noting which side of the toast was facing the interior of the toaster and which side was facing the exterior. Slices were scored on how even they toasted, both across the face of the toast and between the two sides of the toast. We looked for inconsistencies like light spots near the crust, black edges, or burn marks from the toasting cage. We then repeated this process to test how consistent each model performed across multiple cycles. Finally, we compared the photos across models to make sure individual scores were commensurate, and relative to one another across a common scale.
After all of the photo documentation for our tests, we were finally able to eat some toast. No bread from our photographing process went to waste. We made fresh slices in each model and tasted them without toppings to remove any factor that could impart a bias or modify texture.
We specifically looked for the quintessential toast crunch. The kind that has a crispy outside that gives way to a slightly softer center.
Ease of Use
Toasters are generally quite simple machines, and the differences in quality of bread toasting between models may not be discernable to many. However, ease of use or lack thereof can have a very severe impact on an already irritable, hungry, or groggy morning monster, who wants to take the simplest path to prepare a snack with their morning cup of coffee. Therefore, we weighted ease of use, very heavily in our test metrics.
We tested ease of use by having everyone in the office use each model and rate intuitiveness but also had them note any annoyances or difficulties. Our testers also formed strong opinions about each model's general usability through repeated use. Testers also handled and used the crumb trays, to assess how easy each model was to keep clean.
We gave higher marks to models that allowed for easy replication of the same settings day after day. Shade knobs and selectors that were tactile or clearly indicated the currently selected setting generally excelled. We gave higher marks to buttons that offered some sort of feedback, especially a lighted state, to indicate that they had in fact been pressed. It's very frustrating for the end-user to push the bagel mode button, see no clearly indicated change in state or selection, and be unsure whether a bagel is going to be toasted properly. We also gave higher marks to crumb trays that were easy to remove, with even higher marks for better accessibility to crumb trays that were located at the front. Crumb trays accessed from the rear of a unit require moving the toaster to get to, which is a slightly annoying step, and a hindrance to cleaning.
Bagel Toasting Quality
Bagel toasting is a bit different than bread toasting. A good bagel will be much more toasted on the cut side than on the rounded exterior side. Most of the models we tested have a bagel mode that attempts to achieve ideal heating and toasting in this situation. Our bagel tests always made use of a bagel mode set to a medium shade level, for the most relative possible results.
We tested and scored bagel toasting quality much in the same way that we scored bread toasting quality, with the obvious exception that for bagels, we wanted the sliced side to be more toasted than the rounded exterior. The greater thickness of bagels presents unique challenges, with the bagel end towards the bottom of the toaster often getting much darker than the end near the opening.
We kept an eye out for these sorts of inconsistencies and gave higher scores to models that were better able to avoid them. Again, we kept meticulous photo records so we could make accurate comparisons between models. We also repeated our topping-free taste test to see which models got close to that perfect combination of crispy on the top and doughy on the bottom.
In general, we were quite disappointed with the results of our bagel testing. Many traditional toasters just don't excel at toasting bagels. If you want a device that will toast the perfect bagels, then we suggest that you read our toaster oven review.
Frozen Food/Defrosting Quality
Frozen goods are probably the most difficult items to toast evenly, as moisture in a frozen food item doesn't tend to freeze evenly. This is especially true for frozen waffles. These tend to freeze together in sets of two to four, making the sides that are frozen together, significantly colder than the exposed sides. The defrosting modes on some models compensate for this by starting at a lower temperature intended to gently and evenly warm frozen items, before stepping up to higher temperatures intended for toasting.Again, we scored and tested frozen food and defrosting quality in a similar manner to how we did bread toasting quality. We also tested different frozen food items in each model, to get a sense of capability, and consistency. Those base frozen food items we used for testing were frozen waffles, frozen bread, and frozen strudels. We again took photos and gave scores based on the consistency of toasting across the face, between sides, and repeated cycles of the test. We then repeated our topping-free taste tests. For all of these frozen food tests, we used the defrosting mode and a medium shade setting.