/ 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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Actually there are many people patenting “improved” toasters over the years – the above being samples rather than a list of all. Unfortunately hi-tech costs and there is little guarantee that people would pay sufficient when it came to the crunch.

Most of us would not wish to invest a minimum of a couple of hundred thousand pounds, three years of our lives, and go through regulatory tests on the basis we can sell sufficient toasters at £200+ a pop. Oops I forgot I have to build the factory or pay a manufacturer, oh and the 100% store mark-up, and the advertising ………

However it is an interesting insight into the economics of replacing something that is relatively cheap and works reasonably well! Our only hope is a petition to Dyson … though cheap it won’t be.

Barry Phillips says:
24 February 2012

All I want is a toaster that has long, deep, slots that can take and adjust to all sizes of bread slices from the very small to the largest door step, and which can accomodate buns, crumpets etc as required.

A toaster that is easy to clean, remove the crumbs from, and has easy to use controls that feel solid and not made out flimsy thermoplastic.

Most importantly of course is the essential no-nonsense requirement to produce evenly toasted bread, time after time, that one can be assured to enjoy, and not ever be disappointed by.

Why oh why don’t toaster manufacturers actually ask consumers what they really want from a toaster, and then produce the toasters that do the required job well, and that consumers actually want to buy.

I live in hope!

Paddy Murphy says:
24 February 2012

Have the Russell Hobbs one slot recommended toaster. It is slow, larger slices poke out of the top when two slices inserted. One slice you can lay it on it’s side. It’s main positive is that it browns the toast more evenly than any other toaster I have had..

The reason why a lot of toasters are not big enough for a slice of bread from a normal size British loaf is that they have been designed to sell in mainland Europe where the standard loaves tend to be of square section. These toasters are imported cheaply into the UK because they are mass produced for a larger market. You can buy toasters designed for the British size of loaf, but you’ll probably pay more for it. I havn’t checked the Which? reports lately, but they used to include this in the specifications.

It’s highly unlikely any manufacturer now will make a solid and reliable toaster that: has a 10 year guarantee, is repairable, is made outside of China and deep/wide enough to properly accommodate 2 or 4 slices of British sized bread! Anyway, would people have the worktop space for a larger toaster?

If my 14 year old toaster breaks, I might just use my grill and not buy another toaster. The grill may be the slower option, but at least you can wash away all the crumbs from the grill pan or place it in the dishwasher. Every toaster seems to leave crumbs everywhere, even those with crumb trays! My own toaster has a crumb tray, but I still have to clean the toaster and its surroundings of crumbs regularly.

Ryton Car Sales says:
25 February 2012

Hi first post ever with Which.
We don’t have a toaster anymore as they are rubbish. We set the timer on our electric oven so when we come downstairs in the morning grill is hot, and we have our toast on which ever bread as we like it. So bin the toasters and use your grills its much better.

If you try the grill, it’s best to switch on the grill and let it warm up first while you get out the bread, butter, make coffee etc. If I make cheese on toast – then obviously I can’t use the toaster and must use the grill only. I know from experience that the grill toasts bread more evenly and much faster when the grill is hotter, so it’s a good idea to watch your bread so you can immediately remove the grill pan when the bread is toasted to your liking. Toasting the other side is very quick – by then the grill is nice and hot and the bread is already cooked on one side.

If you are only grilling 1 or 2 slices, your grill may allow you to use part of it to save energy. My electric grill allows me to use one half or both.

Last tip – make sure the bread is within the perimeter of the heating area. You’ll be surprised how evenly a grill toasts bread!

We have only had about 3 toasters during over 30 years of marriage but then we don’t make toast quite every day for breakfast. However, our priority is to have a toaster that takes buns, pitta bread and hand cut bread. We had two Tefel Think & Thin Toasters but they don’t seem to make them anymore so our present one is a silver Kenwood with one long slot on which you can adjust the width with a very simple lever. It has a lift out section to hold the bread so is really easy to use and it even has a reasonable size crumb tray. One visitor was so impressed she referred to it as a Rolls Royce of toasters!
I am hoping it has a long life as no doubt we will have trouble getting another.

Bob says:
1 March 2012

I have been reading all the comments re: toasters and can concur with the majority that modern toasters these days are a huge disappointment and rarely last longer than a few years, do not toast evenly and will not take the size of a bloomer slice unless one has the one / two long slotted type. Our soft touch 2 long slotted Dualit which died on us a few months ago ( within its 3 year guarantee ) has never toasted our bread evenly and has not warranted it’s high cost ( despite its “chic” design ). As it is a soft touch model, we have been told that there no spare replacements for this type of model. Hence I too am surprised that Dualit has been rated highly by the Which toaster reviews. Perhaps the reviews should make readers aware that there can be huge differences between different models . As Dualit have discontinued the soft touch model ( I can understand the reasons !!! ) I am left with no other choice than to get a refund and blow it on very cheap models frequently as they “die” and add more carbon footprints to the environment 🙁

I also have a Tefal Avanti 4 slot toaster. It’s pretty good actually, even making a decent stab at toasting the unevenly cut door-wedges I throw at it!

The comment above about setting the grill to timer for perfect toast in the morning…. wow, you must be a disciplined lot, getting up at the same second of the same minute every day! That just sounds to me like a house-fire waiting to happen!

A grill should never be left unattended for any amount of time. Having it set on a timer is asking for a fire!!!!

An electric grill works best if it has been pre-heated for at least 3 minutes first, plenty of time in which to make a hot drink first then put the bread under the hot grill. I’m sure a gas grill will work better after about 1 minute of pre-heating?

Whether you use a grill or a toaster, I would NOT recommend leaving either of them unattended. Toast can get stuck and catch on fire – it has happened to me, luckily I was there to deal with the problem.

How can you get “perfect” toast by guesswork anyway? You must keep watching it as it cooks and browns to the level you want it.