/ 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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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

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…


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!


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.


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.


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 p