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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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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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

That would certainly be interesting, though maybe not to everyone. I would love to see a TV programme showing some examples of how tests are conducted, both now and in the past.

Very observant for you to spot the strange test dates. 🙂

Thanks Anna. On that basis it is meaningless to put a precise date on a report. Perhaps the month that tests are completed would be the best option.

The website shows only the launch date of a product (month and year) but it would be useful to give the same information for when it is tested. I assume that tests published in Which? magazine are fairly recent, but it’s often convenient just to have a quick look at the website. Manufacturers sometimes correct design faults discovered after launch, so a recent review is more likely to reflect what is on sale.

In the 1980’s I had a Russell Hobbs ( I think) toaster with a browning detector/control and a frozen bread button – very innovative then.
Both controls worked very well producing consistent results with a range of bread types and with frozen slices.
Nothing I have had since has worked anything like as well !
Progress ?

Well, according to various fans on the internet, the Sunbeam T20 (an American model I think) from the 1950s was the ‘Best Toaster Ever’. It has its own website! http://www.automaticbeyondbelief.org/

There are also more videos than you might expect on Youtube of people’s beloved toasters in action… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BiAFTkkZKc

More seriously, the Dualit Classic toaster mentioned has been tested by Which?. You can find the review on our website. It is usually the website which will have the latest test results, plus all historic results where the test is comparable and the product is unchanged and still available to buy.

The best products from the online group are then selected for the magazine depending on the needs of the article, they will not necessarily be the newest, but they will the the best on the market. Hope this helps to clarify things.


Our Kenwood toaster (TT950) must be about 20 years old. I have been trying to replace it for a long time as it so discoloured and the plastic has split.
I want a toaster that EVENLY toasts 4 LARGE slices of bread or 2 pitta breads without it sticking out and having to turn it round to get a half-decent toasted area. I also want it to have a good enough lift to get out small buns without having to stick a knife into it. I don’t care about defrost or other silly gimmicks. I just want a toaster that does it’s job properly.
We also use our existing toaster to warm plates as it has a strong enough bun warmer or whatever it is called to balance them on (which is probably why the top is so split and discoloured).
I know of 2 other people who have had the same toaster. One has had to replace theirs and misses their old one, the other is hanging on the same as me for something similar.
Come on manufacturers, give us a decent toaster that does its job. Why are most toasters only suitable for 2 small slices of bread?

I know this is an old thread, but if anyone is still listening, riddle me this:

British Standards Institute (BSI) issue a standard on Toasters, one feature of which is that it must be ‘cool wall’ (i.e. not burn anyone touching it). It is an old standard, brought in through consumer pressure due to people (and children) being burnt.

It is therefore to my horror to find that the new Russell Hobbs 18117 Deluxe 4 Slice Toaster (Brushed stainless steel) that we just brought is not only ‘warm’ to the touch, but actually burnt the back of my hand when I touched the side of the toaster.

With a 6 Year Old running about, this is Un-Acceptable! Why have we gone back 20 years in safety?! Why do we allow the sale of such goods in the UK (noting that the Kite Mark is a voluntary opt-in service)?

So the toaster is going back and we are looking for a cool-wall one. Didn’t think we needed to, having worked with the man who brought the standard in; it was supposed to be the norm. However, this is proving difficult. 🙁

Tytalus, I take it the toaster did not carry a Kite Mark? The current standard is a European Norm BSEN 60442:1999. This presumably has a wall temperature requirement as part of the safety requirement. As it must be CE Marked for sale in the EU it must comply with the safety requirements. I suggest you ask Russell Hobbs. While the Kite Mark is voluntary, CE Marking is not.

I wonder if you have been sold a counterfeit toaster, Tytalus. If there are any signs of this, it should be reported to Trading Standards.

Which? has tested the Russell Hobbs 18117 toaster. It’s definitely not a ‘Best Buy’, but I’m sure that we would have warned if there was a problem and taken appropriate action if the product was dangerous.

Hi guys,

Malcolm: Yes, I was surprised that it didn’t meet the British Standard, but more surprised that my quick research showed that it didn’t need to, unless it carried the Kite Mark (now I know the worth of it).

It does carry the Euro CE mark (as opposed to the ‘China Export’ CE mark I’ve seen), and was from Tesco Direct, so I hope it isn’t a counterfeit.

Okay, I know I was following the instructions and ‘burning in’ the toaster when I brushed the side with the back of my finger and so it’s as hot as it’s ever going to get, but I was surprised that EVERY surface (bar the leavers and buttons) were as hot as the surface that has left a small burn on the back of my finger.

Not sure that the toaster test measured wall temperatures, and I’m sure the testers had had enough of burns so stayed well clear! But this isn’t a new problem, just that it was solved nearly 2 decades ago (my old boss was very proud of that achievement). In a cramped kitchen, the last thing you want just out of eyesight with a 6YO that runs in behind you is a burn hazard.

Wavechange: Great to see you’re still on here, Toasters are a bit more boring that light-bulbs :).

Either way, it get’s returned today as ‘unsuitable’ and a write up on the Tesco’s website. Something along the lines of “does not meet the British Standard for toasters, got burnt, don’t want it in my kitchen”.

I hope Which? will confirm that they do check the temperatures of toaster casings.

I’m familiar with numerous examples of manufacturers taking good product designs and changing them, introducing problems that did not exist. Fortunately, these are not usually safety issues.

As someone who hates toast, I do find toasters more boring than light bulbs. 🙂

Well well well, did what my wife didn’t (even though she has my Which account details) and had a look at the review (which wasn’t that great) and the comments:

2011-07-04 16:25:06.86 wrote:

Gets too hot

It heats up so that the whole casing gets really hot – too hot to touch & I’d go as far as saying dangerous! Makes great toast, but we’re taking ours back!

So it appears to be a design ‘feature’!
Tesco comments also left, now to get rid of the thing.

IEC 60335-1 covers safety requirements for a number of household appliances including toasters. This only specifies temperature limits on parts that are meant to be held (like handles) or touched normally (like switches); temperature limits are rises of 30 K and 35 K above ambient (generally 25 deg C) respectively. I have seen elsewhere that a 90 K rise limit applies to external metal parts this is hot! 115 deg C) but an article mentions 60335-9 where much lower limits are specified, and manufacturer-applied marking given to warn children and vulnerable people where hot surfaces are present. Can’t get access to this latest standard (2013). Perhaps Which? can tell us the current temperature requirements? Incidentally, a boiling metal kettle will have a case temperature of 100 deg C – I don’t know of any restriction on this, do you?
It is a shame that the public cannot access relevant standards to see what their purchases should comply with (only a few can be viewed online). Whilst they are expensive to produce, and couldn’t be offered for free to be printed, there ought to be some way we could look at them without being able to print them?

Found a 2003 edition of IEC 60335-9 which says:
“The temperature rise of accessible surfaces of metallic sides that are at a height lower than 25mm below the top surface shall not exceed 90 K.”
I suspect changes have been made in later editions.

90K above ambient is scary (115°C) and not far off what I experienced (without putting a thermometer on the toaster, which is now back with Tescos, without any arguments).

There are obviously things that get hot around the home (kettles, ovens, stoves, irons) but toaster’s had been ‘solved’. Our oven gets to 180°C, but is only warm to the touch (double glazed). The Microwave boils things, but is made of plastic and is cool to the touch. The £10 toaster I picked up as an emergency toaster is plastic and barely warm to the touch, but the metallic toaster that replaced another metallic toaster from the same manufacturer takes your skin off. Side/Back panel I may even have lived with: but the front panel gets just as hot!

Glad to be rid of it, time to start looking again.

I would be interested to know how the problem of hot toasters was solved, Tytalus. I don’t like the idea of powerful electric heaters inside plastic cases, so if I was a designer I would try a layer of heatproof insulation, an air space and a metal casing.

Tytalus, you’ve prompted me to look at our Krups toaster – just as well as the crumb tray needed emptying!. The cool-wall design is quite simple – the elements and mechanism assembly are suspended within the outer case – the side wall and one end are plastic – with around 25mm space forming an insulating airflow-gap between the walls and the toasting part. They do not get other than warm in use. Whilst we only normally touch the controls-end of the toaster we do move it around the work tops, often using the sides, so wall temperature is important. It’s been a good toaster for many years – has a defrost setting. a rack for warming on top and a lift-button that gets the toast within easy reach.

Thank you for your comments – I’ve asked our experts about your questions.

We don’t specifically test surface temperature of toasters but our testers at the lab are instructed raise any safety concerns that they have with us. There have been no safety incidences in the recent past, but if there were we would investigate this further and if a Which? member writes in with a specific safety failure, we would look out for any other members with the same issue with that model.

Full safety tests are performed on toasters to the standard by the relevant body before they can go on sale in the UK. As this issue has been raised, we will keep an eye out for other communications on the subject.

Yes, our old Russell Hobbs was excellent (and also often full of crumbs), didn’t have the defrost feature, but the warming rack was great for taking the chill of plates (nobody likes cold toast!).

The emergency one only does 4/5ths of a slice of bread, but will do while my wife looks for a better one (but not at £100-150).