There are few things more heartening than the smell of toast in the morning, except perhaps the smell of coffee! When you've had to reluctantly pry yourself from your bed, a body needs a bit of encouragement to get on with the day – a plate of warm, buttery toast straight from the toaster is just the gentle nudge along that you need.

But there's also little that's more disappointing than getting your hopes up as you wait for that perfectly golden slice, only to have a piece of charcoal pop out at you. We help you pick the perfect toaster for your home, to make sure your breakfasts are nothing but golden from here on in.

The toast, all the toast and nothing but the toast

A simple slice of toast is a hard thing to get wrong, but we've all been there – scraping the burnt stuff into the sink. CHOICE tests a variety of toasters for ease of use and consistent browning (yes, we get to eat the toast afterwards), so we can tell you which ones perform best. Read on, and we'll tell you what to look for when shopping for a new toaster.

But I want my toaster to answer emails and fly my kids to school

Toasters are very simple machines, so if all you need is something that gets the job done well, skip to the next section below to find out what you should look for in a basic toaster.

If you'd like some fancier features with your toast, here are some of the more impressive things some toasters can do these days:

LED progress indicator

Yep, you read that right: some toasters even have LED lights, giving a progression bar or timer countdown. Necessary? No. Cool? You bet!

Carriage

A height-lift carriage allows you to raise smaller items above the toaster slots. 

Motorised lift

Don't like the potential for toast to pop up suddenly and take your eye out? Okay, so that's not likely, but for those who don't like surprises, some toasters now have motorised lifts that gently raise the toast so you can stay semi-asleep until the accompanying coffee works its magic.

Alerts

To supplement that whisper-quiet motorised lift, you'll need an alert to tell you your toast is ready so you don't miss out on that butter-melting warmth.

Lift'n'look

Like your toast a particular shade that's hard to get right? Look for a feature that slowly raises the toast and lowers it back down so you can check out how it's going. For that micro-manager in all of us.

What to look for in a basic toaster

Two-slice or four-slice?

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

Ease of use

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

Controls

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 useful if you toast bread straight from the freezer. It adds time to the toasting cycle to allow for thawing of the bread.

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. 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.

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. While stainless steel may look more attractive than plastic, it often requires more effort to clean.

Touching temperature

The temperature of the exterior during toasting should remain cool enough to touch, and not exceed 60°C.

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.

Cost

They range in price from $20 to over $500.