/ Food & Drink

Burnt, patchy, underdone: the quest for a decent slice of toast

A survey by market research company Mintel revealed that toast is the most popular breakfast, with eight in ten of us choosing to start our day with a slice. So why’s it so hard to find the perfect toaster?

Last summer I wrote a conversation asking if dishwashers are the least trusted kitchen appliance. Our poll revealed that you actually think toasters should be least trusted to do their job.

Surely a toaster should do what is says on the box – toast bread?

Browned off by uneven toast

Not always. If you saw the number of pictures of toast I have around my desk, you may think I have an obsession with toast (and you’d probably be right). We have a rogues gallery of some really bad toast – uneven, patchy, burnt, under done and the ‘golfer’s tan’ (more on that later).

What also puzzles me, as I gaze over my sea of toast pictures, is why so many toasters don’t fit bread properly, unless you use square-shaped standard supermarket loaves. If you’re a fan of a large bloomer, or make your own bread, then finding a toaster to fit a slice isn’t so easy (a single long slot is the best option here).

The ‘golfer’s tan’ is a common problem with big slices, which is when the whole slice isn’t toasted, and comes out with an underdone strip.

These are all problems that one Which? member highlighted when he contacted me about his toaster, but he thinks he has the solution:

‘In a shop it is difficult to see how large a slice it will hold. I have to part-toast the lower two thirds, and then rotate the slice 180 degrees and part-toast the top two thirds.

When I finally get tired of this palaver and replace, I will go shopping with a test “slice” which will be a piece of cardboard cut to the size of a large slice, to check that the slot size is large enough before purchase.’

The toaster holy grail

When we test toasters we use a benchmark slice of toast. It’s a particular shade of golden brown, otherwise known as the ‘holy grail’. We measure how much of the slice is toasted and the evenness of this browning, plus we check both sides are the same.

An evenly golden-brown slice of toast is surprising difficult to achieve, and many toasters fall short.

The toasters team constantly scrutinise toaster results, making sure the toasters we award Best Buys to are the ones that perform the best. But after working on toasters for seven years, I do know that toast is a very subjective thing.

So, what do you want from a toaster? Do you prefer even browning, or larger slots so you can fit larger slices of bread in? Does it matter if it’s the same shade on both sides?

How do you rate your toaster?

Good - I'm only occasionally disappointed (37%, 370 Votes)

OK - the toast's edible I guess (32%, 327 Votes)

Brilliant - it toasts evenly on different types of bread (19%, 190 Votes)

Terrible - I need a new one! (12%, 123 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,010

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Comments

I did write to Which? after the last survey as it seemed deficient. On one page it gave the average life-span for a cheap toaster and it was also pointed out that it was AFAIR 70%+ of the time that the heating elements failed.

When reviewing toasters it singularly failed to point out that the traditional Dualit toasters could have replacement elements, and the timer quite cheaply. So mine is into its second decade and on average the elements are lasting 6 years – substantially longer than most toasters.

In a magazine on value it seemed an amazing oversight. I am told that perhaps this will [may?] be picked up in the next survey. Which rather begs the question on what happens in the meantime when reading Which? and its remarks on the expensive toasters.

I am very keen on long-lasting appliances but in my opinion, Dualit toasters are far too expensive and do not produce very good toast. Quality does come at a price, but there is no reason to pay a silly price and definitely no reason to pay a silly price for a product that does not do the best job possible.

I do agree that the availability of spares (and ease of replacement) should be mentioned in reports.

Although I hope that my small kitchen appliances will last for a good length of time, it’s not important for my buying decision that I should be able to replace the element or timer if my toaster breaks down. I would probably never try to replace an element – based on my memories of the blinding flash and smell of singeing that accompanied my father’s attempts to ‘fix’ our kettle’s element some time in the early 80’s.
It is far more important to me that a toaster will give me say five year’s of toast done just how I like it, than years and years of mediocre slices. Dualit toasters don’t impress me – the slots are so wide that the slices always buckle or fall sideways and brown really unevenly. I want the thrill of the bread carriage popping up automatically, and I want a timer that makes it easy for me to opt for ‘lightly toasted’ or ‘nigh on charcoal’ without the guesswork of a mechanical timer.
I may be out of step with other Which? readers but I quite enjoy the opportunity to buy something new when a small appliance finally croaks – I get to look through the Best Buys and work out which ones will suit my very particular requirements. My tastes change and the appliance that I fell in love with may no longer match what I think is stylish now. I’m delighted that I finally gave up on the noisy, slow, impossible to keep clean and heavy kettle I used to have – even though it still functioned – to enjoy the greater versatility of my lovely easy to clean Best Buy.

The late Hollywood heartthrob and movie star Stewart Granger
always brought his own toaster when having breakfast in hotel
room.

Toasting to the precise level you want on your automatic toaster
is easier said than done, find use of grill pan helpful in that regard.

Sophie Gilbert says:
23 February 2012

The grill pan does the trick for me too when I want something evenly done.

I like a toaster you can fit a bagel in without having to prise it out with a knife, and a toaster that will evenly cremate my toast on both sides (not one well done and one soggy) and – lastly – a toaster where you don’t have the turn the toast upside down as it’s too short to toast the whole piece. In my experience, there is no such thing as a toaster that does all of this.

Fussy. Moi?

I agree Joanna – I want all my toaster to have all these things and it doesn’t seem possible for some reason.

After struggling with several toasters which I couldn’t fit bread in properly, I bought a big 4-slice toaster. If you put the bread in on its side and only toast two slices at once, then you can fit decent-sized slices in.

It still doesn’t brown the toast evenly though…

My Russell Hobbs gave me 14 years of faithful service
and with adjustable settings gave me toasts the degree
of browning/doneness that I want almost all of the time.
Almost because with frozen sliced bread never white, it
sometimes lost its sense of timing and bread popped
up when not quite done.

Those cheapy budget ‘Made in China’ ones are not
good at all. Also prone to breakdown.

Dualit toasters much in use in boarding schools
and uni halls of residence/student hostels and they
were quite/very robust.

I was given a toaster recently after my own went bang, turned the lights out and frightened my niece.

We have to prise the slices out and the tea cakes out and it is really annoying. It just doesn’t seem to have enough spring.

I’d always want one that I can toast a variety of things in including pitta bread.

If I didn’t have that initial problem with it I might notice how even the tanning was!

The Which? report said that toasters lasted for an average 3 years and this was reducing. I have checked the date on my Dualit TOASTER and it was produced and bought in 1993. Anyway being very familiar with the toaster I can easily gauge how much time to dial for different breads and frozen and unfrozen – and even account for stale.

Common toaster problems are: Element stopped working 69% ,Carriage level stopped working 12%
Toaster blew up 7%. So with replaceable elements and a foolproof carriage system most toasters could be functional for much longer.

I should make the point my toaster is a toaster – it is not a bagel warmer or muffin toaster and therefore the slots are designed solely for toast. The Vario design etc. is no doubt less efficient.
As a general rule the more capabilities claimed the less well the primary task is done. And with more capabilities the chance of things going wrong increases and repairing diminishes.

Whilst Victoria is happy for the chance to keep buying small kitchen appliances I think many will are unhappy with the continual trashing of resources.

Let us push for a ten year parts & labour warranty provided by the manufacturers of toasters. This will help ensure that they are well designed, made using quality parts, and reliable.

I would not advocate this for computers or other items where the technology is changing fast, but that does not apply in the case of toasters, kettles and the like.

It is better to be the proud owner of a toaster inherited from your parents and reject the demands of our profligate society’s unsustainable desires to have everything new. I am certainly not saying that everything old is good but is well known that even appliances in perfect working order are thrown away in favour of new ones.

One thing that I learnt from project managing and writing up some of the Which? toaster tests is that even the quest for the Holy Grail is small fry compared to trying to find one toaster that is good enough to please all Which? members!
I remember writing the fateful line: ‘this toaster is a Best Buy because it produces evenly browned toast on both sides and…’ to be greeted by a deluge of emails and letters from Which? readers who prefer their toast done on only one side.
Much as we refine and develop our test programmes to get closer to what the perfect toaster should be, so many people expect so many different things that it is probably not possible for one single appliance to deliver them all.
I remember responding to feedback from Which? members that they wanted to be able to fit a wider range of different breads into their toaster. I caused many raised eyebrows in the office when I went to the supermarket and bought a load of common loaf types and spent the afternoon creating cardboard templates of different types and thicknesses of bread. This helped our lab to standardise our approach to reporting what kinds of bread you can fit in a toaster. As the comments above show, some people just don’t care about bagel and crumpets, but other people will, so walking the right line between them is a very challenging process.
I don’t envy Lisa in her lonely quest for the perfect toaster – I’m not even sure that such a thing has ever, or will ever, exist. Good luck Lisa – keep up your dedicated search!

I am interested in your long experience on the subject as maybe you can tell me if replaceable elements has been mentioned before in a report on toasters.?

I was amazed that you had received mail from those who only want toast done on one side! Surely a grill is what they want. Anyway how much is a deluge?

Incidentally I was reminded that the J.Lewis guarantee on the traditional Dualit is 5 years, 3 for other brand premium toasters, and a year for the cheaper models. Makes you think they know something on breakdown rates.

I’m keeping my 14-year-old Moulinex toaster until the day it dies, which hopefully will be a long time in the future. I will NEVER buy any of these modern toasters because they are all made in China or some other low-wage country, even Dualit toasters apparently have Chinese parts – despite the label on some Dualit models claiming the toaster is made in the UK!! None of these new toasters last long and are appalling flimsily made. The older toasters last decades.

If I have to replace my toaster, I will buy an old second hand toaster that will outlast the modern ones. I don’t use my toaster everyday and I have to turn the slices sideways to brown evenly, but at least it works properly and it’s made in Spain to a decent standard.

I keep it clean inside and out. Fingers crossed I don’t have to replace it for a very long time.

I solved this problem for me – I hate over and undercooked toast and dislike butter – so I stopped eating toast.

I don’t eat toast either, and my comments above are from watching others make it.

I hate eating any form of grease, including butter, marge, spreads, mayonnaise. Who needs grease on nice multi-grain wholemeal bread with plenty of chewy bits? The only benefit of putting grease on bread seems to be to prevent tomatoes soaking it, but I just have my tomatoes separately.

Toast makes me think about the carcinogens created by high temperature cooking, but the main reason I don’t eat toast is that I don’t enjoy it. If visitors want toast then the grill does as good a job as any toaster I have seen in action, and I keep the grill clean.

Steve says:
24 February 2012

Toaster makers should talk to bread maker manufacturers. We’re going round the shops with a cardboard cutout of a slice of bread from a bread maker. As one of your other commenters says, only long 4 slice toaster will fit.

I find it very strange that no-one has ranted about the dials on toasters which invariably only allow for dark brown to on fire toasting. As far as I can tell with mine the numbers on the dial refer to minutes. Why on earth would I toast bread for 6 minutes??
I seem to spend my time hovering over the top of my toaster sniffing for that perfect toasty smell or for any hint of burn.
I have to admit I hadn’t given much thought to having to turn my toast the other way up to get it all toasted. I’d put it down to me being particular (obsessive). I fell better knowing that the man with the cardboard cutout of a slice of toast is far more particular than me.

shirley baker says:
24 February 2012

Whilst the toasters I’ve tried have all of the faults mentioned, my main gripe is that after using any new toaster for a very short while, they take longer and longer to make a decent slice of toast. Unfortunately I can’t use the grill in the top of my electric oven because it smokes the house out and yes it is cleaned to within an inch of its life! And, the grill in your ‘Best Buy’ Cookworks oven is worse than useless after 3 months!

JamesAard1 says:
24 February 2012

Fussy? We should be! Which has the place and the space for all to respond with their quick reports of what they have bought and what is right and wrong with it. The manufacturers will soon have to change if even one manufacturer made something which worked perfectly at the same price as the ‘tat’.
Back on the toast front, why can’t we have proper heat to TOAST instead of the slow drying out period we have now? Another one would be colour-controlled pop-up! Light-brown? Certainly, here you go. ‘When I were a lad’, I could drop down the front of the coal grate and pop a slice of toast onto a toasting fork and- as if by magic (physics) the toast was toasted perfectly in about 5 seconds per side; crumpets were about 20 seconds. Cracking job, Gromit! If only we could have 7kw toasters, hmm?

johnny says:
24 February 2012

Not strictly a toaster, I know, but my Aga makes perfect toast

Sonya Conlin says:
24 February 2012

While I agree with all the complaints about toasters that have already been given my real hate is the fact that the crumb catchers are so absolutely inadequate and even if you empty it the toaster is still full of crumbs. Why is it that the toaster is 4 inches wide but the tray is only 2.
I live alone and do not wish or want to buy a four slice toaster so that I may turn it into a two slice because the bread can only fit sideways.I think that the real problem lays with the designers not knowing the size of a British sliced loaf the rest of Europe do not have the large slices that we have in a precut loaf.

Bruce says:
24 February 2012

Our Dualit toaster has been durable. The clockwork timer is easy to use. It is possible to set it to toast or four slices.

However, the two centre slots toast faster then the outside slots. It toasts unevenly and we now stop halfway and turn slices round both vertically and horizontally to ensure an even finish. The ejection control is by a manual lever which has its benefits but, because it is hinged on one side of the slot, it can make extracting small slices diffiicult. The mechanism can also crush or crumple slices of bread making intact extraction impossible.

It looks good though!

HayTay says:
24 February 2012

I bought a Krups 2 slice toaster online in Nov 2010 for £38. I had not heard of the make but at that price thought it worth taking a chance. We use it every day and it has been excellent. It has a defrost facility, a warming tray and an easy eject lever should the bread slice too small to lift out. We highly recommend it.

Anything emanating from Krupps has got to be
seriously/good.

Read a book The Arms of Krupp by William
Manchester.

madeleine says:
24 February 2012

Why waste kitchen space with a toaster if you have a cooker with grill?
The toast is visible, so its easy to get the result you like.

JamesAard1 is right: Yes! Yes!! Yes!!! for colour-contolled pop-up! I’ve thought for some time that a clever inventor should come up with a way of getting feedback from the bread itself as to how toasted it is Can’t be beyond the capabilities of science, and with mass electronics this sort of control shouldn’t be too expensive. The ‘Browning Control’ on toasters is a misnomer, and getting a perfectly toasted piece of toast with any toaster is just a gamble (even with the expensive brand that’s controlled by a mechanical timer!), particularly if you use a variety of breads. How about taking on this challenge, toaster manufacturers?

Crumbs – that’s a good idea! You should patent the idea and set up your own company to manufacture Britain’s first high-tech toaster.

GillyMac99 says:
24 February 2012

A few people have mentioned the challenge of getting teacakes etc out of the toaster. Lakeland sell a giant pair of bamboo tweezers (called Toast Tongs) for £1.99 that make the task very easy 🙂

I was just going to say that!!

They have a little magnet so they’re permanently attached to my toaster ready for action.