/ 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

Loading ... Loading ...
Comments
Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

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.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

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.

Profile photo of Victoria Pearson
Member

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.

Profile photo of ArgonautoftheSeas
Member

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.

Member
Sophie Gilbert says:
23 February 2012

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

Profile photo of Joanna Pearl
Member

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?

Profile photo of Matt Clear
Member

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…

Profile photo of Lisa Galliers
Member

An effective high lift feature is what’s needed to get small items out safely, and a long slot toaster is the most versatile for fitting things into; and Matt’s tip is a good one – if a slice of bread doesn’t fit properly, try turning it sideways and it may fit in better.

Personally, I’m not fussy about my toast being even on both sides, or toasted evenly over the same side, as I tend to slather it in spread and marmite anyway, but I hate toast that’s overdone – yuk!

Profile photo of ArgonautoftheSeas
Member

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.

Profile photo of lessismore
Member

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!

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

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.

Profile photo of Lisa Galliers
Member

Hi dieseltaylor,
Thanks for your comments. I think it’s the small domestic appliances reliability survey, which we run in April, that you mention? The new one is actually due out next month.

Based on member replies for our April 2011 survey, we calculated a toaster should last around seven years before it needs to be replaced, and those brands at the top of our reliability survey should last an two extra years. It’s manufacturers who say small appliances should last for around three years – dependent on use, of course.

The survey results are from owners of particular brands, so I would guess that Dualit owners would be taking the replacement elements into account when they’ve replied, and contributes to the reason why Dualit toasters do so well in the reliability rating. You’ve given us a very good point to think about though, as it would be really interesting to know how many times toaster owners have had to change their toasting elements, and we can think about taking this into account in future surveys, so thanks for your feedback.

I think the point is, that while Dualit toasters get the highest reliability score in our survey, our tests have shown they don’t always give the best toasting performance, but we know Dualit toasters are very poular, that some members love their Dualit and perfectly even toast isn’t that important to them.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

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.

Profile photo of Victoria Pearson
Member

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!

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

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.

Profile photo of Dave494
Member

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.

Profile photo of richard
Member

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

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

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.

Member
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.

Member

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.

Member
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!

Member
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?

Member
johnny says:
24 February 2012

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

Member
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.

Member
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!

Member
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.

Profile photo of ArgonautoftheSeas
Member

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

Read a book The Arms of Krupp by William
Manchester.

Member
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.

Profile photo of david h
Member

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?

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

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.

Member
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 🙂

Profile photo of kermit
Member

I was just going to say that!!

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

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

http://www.freepatentsonline.com/5771780.html

http://www.freshpatents.com/Electric-toaster-dt20081113ptan20080279998.php

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.

Member
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!

Member
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..

Profile photo of judo
Member

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.

Profile photo of Dave494
Member

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.

Member
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.

Profile photo of Lisa Galliers
Member

While I’m actually quite pleased with my current toaster, I might actually try the grill on my oven just to see what the difference is.

Profile photo of Dave494
Member

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!

Member

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.

Member
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 🙁

Profile photo of abmscopes
Member

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!

Profile photo of Dave494
Member

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.