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What to know before buying a toaster

Two-slice or four-slice? Old school or space age? Here's what to consider when it's time for a new toaster.

person taking a slice of toast out of a toaster

A simple slice of toast is a hard thing to get wrong, but we've all been there, scraping off the burnt crumbs into the sink. Our experts have gone through many a loaf of bread testing a variety of toasters for consistent browning and ease of use in order to name the ones that'll make for a reliable addition to your benchtop.

Whether it's a budget two-slice model you're after or a statement piece for the kitchen, we can help you work out your must-have toaster features.

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Fancy toaster features

Toasters are very simple machines, but these days they tend to come with some impressive features. We've come across toasters in our labs that have:

  • LED lights, giving a progression bar or timer countdown
  • a high-lift carriage, which allows you to raise smaller items above the toaster slots
  • motorised lifts, which gently raise the toast instead of popping up abruptly
  • alerts to let you know your toast is ready
  • a lift'n'look feature, which slowly raises the toast and lowers it back down so you can check how it's going midway through.

Do you need a two-slice or four-slice toaster?

This depends on the size of your household and how much toast you eat. Families will probably find a four-slice toaster more useful, but these of course take up more bench space, and in some four-slot models the two inner slots can heat up more than the outer slots. Look for four-slice models in our toaster reviews with good evenness and repeatability – those are the toasters that will help you avoid that particular problem.

Some toasters will have longer slots, allowing you to accommodate handmade, artisan bread or longer slices of sourdough.

What else to look for in a toaster

Ease of use: Basics such as storage for the power cord and non-slip feet will make your toaster much simpler to use and store.

Controls: The controls should be easy to read and operate, and positioned away from hot areas.

Dual controls: Separate controls for each slot, or each pair of slots, allow you to carry out two different toasting cycles, and are useful if you're using two different types of bread.

Defrost: A defrost/frozen setting is handy if you toast bread straight from the freezer. It adds time to the toasting cycle to allow the bread to thaw.

Crumb tray: A crumb tray should be easy to slide out and insert back in after emptying, as well as have no places for crumbs to accumulate in the toaster over time which can affect its performance. Empty and clean the crumb tray frequently to avoid build-up and insects, and occasionally shake the toaster upside down for a more thorough clean, unless the instructions advise otherwise.

Exterior: Look for an easy-to-clean exterior with no crevices where dirt can be trapped, and no sharp edges that could scratch the benchtop (or you) when moving it. While stainless steel may look more attractive than plastic, it often takes more effort to clean.

Touching temperature: The temperature of the exterior during toasting should remain cool enough to touch, and not exceed 60°C. We don't recommend models that reach excessive temperatures.

The inside: The toasting chamber should be wide and long enough to insert and remove a variety of bread shapes and sizes. If you like long slices of toast, a long-slot toaster is the way to go.

Glass sides: If you have an elderly parent or relative they may have experienced the not uncommon event of setting off their smoke alarm from burnt toast. A simple solution to this could be a glass-sided toaster that allows the user to see the toast browning.

Crumpet and bagel settings: Activating this setting means that the heating is concentrated on the inner, cut surfaces of a sliced bagel or crumpet.

Reheat function: This gives a little boost of heat if you've forgotten to take your toast out and it's gone cold.

Style: A traditional stainless steel toaster is most common (and it'll complement a similarly-styled kettle without needing to be from the brand's own 'collection'). But for something different, you may want to consider one with an unusual colour or finish.

Repairability: Most toasters are cheap and are designed to go into your e-waste at the end of their life or get replaced completely under warranty, rather than repaired. However, at the time of writing, some brands (such as Dualit and Milantoast) do sell toasters with several replaceable, serviceable parts and five-year warranty periods (compared with the typical one or two years). While they cost significantly more upfront, they could outlast several years' worth of cheap toaster purchases. Some brands sell basic parts such as new crumb trays.

How much do toasters cost?

The models in our latest toaster reviews range in price from $25 up to $500, but our testing has found that price isn't always an indicator of performance or product quality. Several of the models we recommend cost under $100 (and a couple are even under $60).

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.