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Time for toasters to go back to basics

A slice of toast with a happy face

The modern toaster can have a multitude of snazzy features, but that’s no use if it can’t make good toast. Is it time for toaster manufacturers to go back to the basics of browning bread?

We’ve just released our online reviews for the latest toasters we’ve tested. A quick scan over all our toaster reviews reveals that, while the majority of toasters we test now have plenty of bells and whistles to sing about, two key areas aren’t really improving.

1. How good the toaster is at its raison d’être of browning bread.

2. How versatile it is when it comes to fitting different types of bread.

As toasters are now disposable items for many people, manufacturers have concentrated on creating stylish toasters with fancy features. But have innovative features now reached their peak? And if so, isn’t it time for manufacturers to start concentrating on the basics?

Tons of toaster features

Of the dozens of toasters we’ve tested over the past couple of years, almost all now have cancel and high-lift functions to help you retrieve items quickly and easily. And the majority also have settings for toasting frozen bread and for reheating toast – reflecting what consumers have come to expect from their toasters.

Many have settings for toasting bagels on one side only, and for warming buns or croissants on top of the toaster. A small minority also now have digital controls, countdown timers and ‘pause and check’ features. I find the latter feature particularly useful, as it naturally reflects my behaviour when making toast (in other words, I’m impatient).

Toast through the years

Some of these innovations might seem superfluous, but it pays to remember how much toasters have improved since their invention. A Which? report from 1967 stated:

‘Today nearly all toasters are of the automatic “pop-up” type… With the older, non-automatic type, you had to turn the bread over to toast the second side and judge yourself when to take the toast out.’

As well as being very basic machines, they were also often unsafe and irritating to use. Of one of the 1967 toasters, we wrote:

‘When the crumb tray was open, bare terminals were exposed, which were live.’ For another we reported: ‘We frequently had to depress the loading lever several times before it would latch down and, even when it did, the heating elements often did not then switch on.’

Back to basics toasters

So, there was clearly room for improvement in the field of toaster design, and many innovations have been welcome. But I can’t think of too many new things that you’d now want or need from a toaster. And yet, we still hear plenty of complaints about them not toasting evenly, or about them not fitting rustic-style breads. I’m still on a quest to find an affordable and decent toaster that will fit a whole pitta bread – surely a basic requirement that more manufacturers could respond to?

In our last toaster conversation, Dieseltaylor commented that ‘as a general rule, the more capabilities claimed [by a toaster], the less well the primary task is done’.

Have toasters become too complicated? Which modern features are the most useful, and are there any others you’d like to see added?

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
Guest
Sophie Gilbert says:
10 April 2013

My toaster has a defrost feature and to date I haven’t been able to distinguish between it and the low setting on the normal toasting feature, and this after trying it with different types of bread and reading the instructions manual over again. It seems that nothing replaces toasting bread/pastry “yourself” one side at a time for evenness and brownness, and defrosting in advance. Even the cancel feature, which I must say I have found useful numerous times, can be easily carried out by just taking the bread out from under the grill… If it weren’t for my husband, who loves toasted bread and understandably in some ways couldn’t be bothered with using the grill instead, I’m not entirely sure I would replace our toaster if it conked out.

Guest

Like other forms of high temperature cooking (barbecuing, grilling and frying), toasting produces carcinogens.

NHS advice is that ‘bread should be toasted to the lightest colour acceptable’, so having a toaster that toasts evenly will help. As the Which? tests show, some expensive models are not the best.

Guest

I didn’t realise that some toasters came with a ‘defrost’ or ‘toast from frozen’ mode. I’ve just been putting my frozen bread directly in the toaster and it seems to work OK for me!

I agree that the most important thing about a toaster is that it toasts the bread evenly – having a slice that’s half soggy and half chargrilled is not the best start to a morning.

Guest

An OUT NOW button is good

Also when popping up it needs enough oomph or pop up space for the toast to be accessible as it is dangerous to go fishing it out with a fork

Yes it should fit pitta bread and hot cross buns

And cook from frozen

Guest

I guess you were not thinking of toasters when you chose your username, Lessismore. 🙂

Guest

Its interesting to note that the Dualit Classic was invented in the 1950’s so was it included in in the surveys you quote from : ) ?

Exasperation perhaps describes my feelings with the associated table of best buys.
Two reasons. The listing of all the colour variants in the linked survey as separate machines seems daft. I don’t see a report on cars showing all colour variants separately.So when you tell me it is a list of the top 33 toasters I actually expect to see 33 different toasters.

Also the faux accuracy of describing in the specifications the date of the test as Jan 1st. I strongly suspect that the toaster was not tested on that day. Surely the spreadsheet can be adjusted to a month or quarter rather than a day. Its obviously bogus and I would expect this not to be repeated in a publication.

Also I note that Which? seems to be testing before launch on one of the Dualit’s.
Launch date 2011 Jan – June
Date tested 2009 Jan – June

Guest

If it was included in the Which? trial, all we would learn (if we did not already know) is that it’s expensive and does not toast as evenly as cheaper products.

Guest

wavechange –
The reason I asked was I think many would find it interesting to see if compared to the same era toasters how it performed and price points. I am also curious to see how encompassing the early Which? tests were.