Getting started - Toaster guide
Your first decision will be whether to buy a basic pop-up toaster or a countertop toaster oven that can do more. Think about your cooking habits and your budget. If counter space is a concern, a two-slice toaster is the most compact choice. But if you often cook for a crowd and need extra oven capacity, a toaster oven can assist. Use this toaster and toaster oven guide to make your decision.
Toasters and toaster ovens will brown a piece of bread. If that’s all you want, go with a basic toaster. Most toaster ovens, on the other hand, will melt a cheese sandwich, broil a hamburger, or roast a 4-pound chicken. But toaster ovens generally don’t toast bread as well as toasters do. They leave stripes on one side and take longer—4 to 6 minutes, versus 2 to 3 minutes for a toaster on a medium setting.
Decide what you're willing to spend
Toaster ovens are generally more expensive than toasters because they’re bigger and can do more. If you want to economize, you’ll find top-performing toasters for as little as $15. Low-priced toaster ovens that did well in our tests cost about $70 to $80.
Types of toasters
Toasters are pretty basic. But even these humblest of appliances are being designed to look at home in custom kitchens. Design gurus seem to have devoted less attention to toaster ovens, which tend to be boxy, though some have fairly sleek trim and details. When deciding what type of toaster you want, you might want to consider style as well as substance.
Of the 12 million toasters sold annually, two-slice models outsell four-slicers by about 3 to 1. Toasters come in a variety of exterior finishes, such as chrome, copper, brushed metal, and colors.
Toasters have morphed beyond the square metal box. Retro and contemporary designs abound, as do models that look perfectly at home in high-end designer kitchens. But great looks don’t necessarily equal great mechanics: Many upscale toasters we tested were middling performers.
Toaster ovens come in two types: countertop models that entail a tradeoff between counter space and capacity, and models that mount underneath cabinets. The "footprint" a toaster oven leaves on your counter might be a concern if you’re tight on space. The smallest toaster oven we tested leaves a 16 x 8-inch footprint; the largest is 20 x 10 inches. But the smaller the toaster oven, the smaller its capacity.
More than 90 percent of toaster ovens sold are equipped with a broiler function—a handy feature if you want to cook burgers.
If speed is of the essence, consider a toaster oven that uses infrared heating, which speeds toasting. For ease of use, select a model with an electronic touchpad and a porcelain interior. Some toaster ovens come with nonstick pans.
Manufacturers are making toasters with more electronics, including LCD displays and toast shade indicators and countdown time displays. Other toaster and toaster oven features include defrosting and frozen pastry toasting, LED function display, variable browning and others.
The best toasters provide a wide range of "doneness," from very light to very dark, They also produce consistent color in all the slices of a batch; if you're popping in piece and after piece on the same setting, the bread doesn't get lighter or darker over time.
Two slices or four
If you decide on a two-slice toaster, you can choose between two side-by-side slots or one long slot for two slices. A four-slice model is bulkier but can save time if you've got a big family and there's a morning rush in your kitchen.
In the past, Toasters with a plastic housing were less likely to retain heat and feel hot to the touch than metal versions but that was not true of our recently tested models. Automatic shutoff for the heating elements when toast gets stuck is also important; all the toasters we tested have it.
Electronic touchpads and numbered dials are best. A shade dial is less exact, and a dial with unlabelled symbols can be hard to decipher.
If you favor oblong bread, look for deep slots. Some toaster slots are less than 5 inches deep; others are deeper and can accommodate larger slices.
Slide-out crumb tray
A removable crumb tray is easier to clean than one that's hinged and attached to the toaster.
A bread lifter
This is a handy option on many toasters. Once the toast has popped up, you can push the lever from underneath so the toast juts farther out of the slot for easy retrieval.
All the toasters we tested can fit a packaged bagel that is split. If you like big, fat bagels from a bakery, look for wider slots. Some toasters have a "bagel" setting that toasts on one side only, so you can brown the cut side and keep the other side softer.
Some models have indentations into which you can wrap the cord to keep it under control.
Some toasters have special settings to warm, reheat, and/or defrost food.
Two of the more expensive toasters we tested don't pop your toast up automatically. When the toast is done, the KitchenAid Pro Line dings, and the Dualit simply turns its timer off with a click. With both, you have to push the toast lever up. The toast may stay warm in the slots, as KitchenAid claims, but the extra step is a nuisance.
West Bend's toaster takes a different tack. You insert the bread into a top slot and it moves slowly down and past the heating element. It then emerges in a tray at the bottom. The design works, but no better than many other toasters.
This feature is important for a toaster oven if you'll be cooking burgers or chops.
If speed is important, consider a toaster oven that uses convection cooking, which speeds roasting and baking, or infrared heating, which speeds toasting.
The "footprint" a toaster oven leaves on your counter might be a concern if you're tight on space. But the smaller the toaster oven, the smaller its capacity.
Look for a toaster oven with a nonstick or porcelain interior, which is easy to wipe down.
Some toaster ovens light up from the inside when they're on so you can monitor the cooking.
Multiple rack positions
Most toaster ovens have two rack slots. The Kenmore we tested has four for more-precise positioning.
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