A good toaster must be able to consistently brown bread over a full spectrum of shades
Toasters with centring devices ensure even toasting
Toasters with electronic moisture sensors often toast more consistently than those without
Toasters with removable crumb trays are easy to clean
Extra long and wide slots can accommodate a wide variety of breads
The simplest pleasures in life are often the greatest, and this is especially true with toast. Toast, however, is also one of those little pleasures that can be easily ruined. Nothing kills a quick breakfast like the five minute delay caused by a batch of burnt toast, and nothing frustrates a sandwich more than a piece of toast that is crunchy on one side and soggy on the other. Unfortunately, toast is one of those few dishes that can not easily be made by hand. The quality of your toast will always depend on the quality of your toaster.
If you look inside a toaster you will notice a grid of little wires running back and forth along the walls of the slots. These wires are made of a high-resistance nickle-chromium alloy that both generates and withstands an impressive amount of heat as it is run through with electrical current. This is the material used in the heating elements of electric ovens, electric hair dryers, and your electric toaster. Nice even rows of these nichrome filaments are the first indicators of a good toaster as they will ensure an even delivery of heat.
A good toaster must also be able to toast a piece of bread evenly on both sides. We recommend looking for a toaster with a centering device, generally a metal cage that clasps the toast and holds it perfectly straight and at an even distance from each wall of the slot. Some toasters may feature a “bagel mode,” a special function that applies more heat to one side of the bread than the other. We like toasters that offer this optionally, but we find toasters that are specifically designed for bagels can be inconvenient as they require you to turn a piece of bread halfway through the toasting to achieve even brownness.
The third mark of a good toaster is one that can consistently toast bread to varying levels of brownness, from pale and crisp to burnt black. Traditionally toasters used timing mechanisms to control the length of the toasting process. Although timers will provide consistent toasting cycles, they require you to know exactly how long you want your bread to toast. Many modern toasters feature electronic sensors that adjust cooking times around the moisture levels of your bread, and we find these regularly deliver more even results.
Here are some other things to consider when choosing a toaster. Toasters with removable crumb trays are often less messy and easier to clean than those with hinged crumb trays. Toasters that allow you to stop the toasting cycle at any point give you more control over your toast, and those that require you to manually lift the toast out of the slots will keep your toast warm until you are ready to butter it. Toasters with extra-wide and extra-long slots are ideal as they can accommodate a wider variety of breads and pastries. And toasters with some form of undercarriage storage device for the electrical cord are less bothersome to store.
Other Toaster Information
Recent advancements in toaster technology include an iToaster that can be operated remotely via the internet, and a toaster than can brown a picture of the weather forecast on your morning bread. The latter, not surprisingly, was invented in England.