Toasters today are capable of producing more than just a perfectly browned slice of toast. Higher slice capacities, bigger and wider slots and additional features have taken this small appliance mainstay into the 21st century. With more features however, comes more choices and finding the right toaster to meet your needs may be more challenging than you think.
How Well Does It Toast?
Despite all the modern conveniences today's toasters offer, you're still probably purchasing one for its primary purpose: toasting. Basic models still feature dials with preset shade levels and these are still a good choice if you don't want to bother with more sophisticated controls or are keeping to a tight budget. A minimum of five shade settings will be suitable for most households.
If you want more precise control over how brown your toast gets, consider brands like KitchenAid where high-end models have digital readout displays and electronic controls that let you set the temperature to the exact degree you want (bread begins toasting at 310 degrees Fahrenheit). If you make large quantities of toast for several people regularly, you might take a look at models that allow you to toast multiple slices at difference settings simultaneously.
Whether you choose to buy a basic toaster or one with advanced controls, you'll want it to feature self-centering slots. This design makes use of wire mesh to hold the bread slices upright so they brown evenly on both sides.
Features and Functions
One of your primary considerations should be the relation of the toaster's slot size to the items you plan to toast. If you regularly have artisan breads or other odd-shaped loaves on hand, single-slot toasters provide the length you need to fit these slices properly. For bagels, pastries and English muffins, you'll want a toaster with side slots that are least 5.5" deep. Deeper slots reduce the chances that items will get stuck in the toaster; trying to pry burnt toast risks damaging the heating elements.
Your toaster's pop-up mechanism is equally important; you want it to pop the item high enough so you can remove it without burning yourself. Some toasters feature a bread lift, which boosts whatever you've toasted for easy removal. For easy cleaning, choose a toaster that has a removable crumb tray that's dishwasher safe. If you're considering a high-end toaster, look for one with a removable body that lifts off the base for easy crumb disposal.
Additional Settings and Controls
In the modern world of convenience and multitasking, toasters have evolved to keep up with our ever-changing needs. Many of today's toasters include extra features that are useful in a variety of applications. Some are worth the extra cost, others just add to the price without adding usefulness.
Among the most useful additional controls are a bagel setting, which toasts only one side of a food; cancel, which turns off the heating element and ejects whatever's in the toaster; and a keep-warm feature that keeps toast warm until you're able to get to it. Some toasters offer a reheat option, which warms cold toast without further browning.
If frozen waffles or toaster pastries are staples in your house, then it's worth looking at toasters that feature defrosting. The defrost setting adds heating time to the cycle, eliminating the need to push down the toast button again and taking the guesswork out of frozen foods. Pastry settings deliver low heat to fragile treats to produce warm pastries and prevent scorching. If your daily routine doesn't include freezer to plate and you like your fresh-baked goods toasted once, you won't miss anything by skipping these added features.
Do Looks Matter?
Your toaster probably sits in plain view on the countertop. The toaster you choose should fit the space you have available (countertop or a cabinet if you'll be storing it when not in use). Single and dual-slot toasters take up less room than toasters with four slots or more.
If space is really tight, single-slot toasters are the best choice. Not only are the slots long enough for artisan bread slices, but smaller slices can be toasted side by side at the same time. Retro-style and four-slot (or more) toasters are the largest toasters on the market.
Fitting a toaster in your kitchen is the first part of the equation; the second is how the toaster looks. Toaster finishes may be plastic (available in a variety of colors), chrome or stainless steel. Choose a finish you can live with. White plastic may show its age sooner than colored plastics. Stainless steel needs regular polishing to look its best, and chrome is vulnerable to nicks and scratches. If you love a toaster but hate its finish, consider a toaster cover that will blend better with your kitchen.
If you have young children in the house who will use the toaster or have access to it, you'll want to skip plastic-finished toasters, which get warmer to the touch during and after use. Stick to chrome or stainless models that stay cooler or choose a model that features stay-cool tops and sides. You'll also want the bread-lift features. The higher the food, the less likely little fingers will get burned.
Toaster ovens heat up more quickly than a standard oven, which makes them handy to have around. However, you need to follow good safety and maintenance practices when using these appliances.