Can You Buy Something Decent for Less Than $30?
This article appeared in the December/January 2006 issue of Cook's Country, sister magazine to Cook's Illustrated.
This is an update of the September 1994 article Building a Better Toaster.
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Look in any fancy catalog and you'll see some pretty expensive toasters. For $250, you can buy a lot of features -- pretty knobs, sleek design, vibrant color -- but in our experience that money doesn't necessarily buy you a good slice of toast. With such a seemingly reasonable goal in mind, we selected 12 two-slot toasters that ranged in price from $15 to $30 and put them to the test.
How they Work: Toasters use infrared radiation to toast bread. To produce that radiation, wires made of nichrome (an alloy of nickel and chromium) are wrapped around mica sheets on either side of the slot. The radiation is produced where the wire comes in contact with the mica sheet; the more wires, the more heat, the darker the toast. When you press the lever a timer is set; when the timer goes off, the slots are released and the toast pops out.
Even Coverage: The best toasters, we found, had a good number of wires (about nine per slot) that were evenly spaced, allowing for even toasting. Low-rated brands either had too few wires (which translated into spottily browned bread) or had wires that were clustered at the bottom of the toaster (which caused the bottom of the bread to burn).
Consistent Performance: Some models failed in this regard, turning out toast that was too dark immediately following a pair of perfectly toasted slices, or vice versa.
"Special" Features: Do you really need a special setting for pastry or waffles? No. We were equally unimpressed with the "bagel" setting found on many toasters. We did like the defrost setting, which defrosted and then toasted bread in one cycle.
Summing Up: We learned that extra features and fancy designs don't make a good toaster. The Farberware FST200 ($19.99) may not be much to look at, but it consistently delivered evenly brown toast, which really shouldn't be too much to ask. Unfortunately, for most toasters it is.
Comments: We were able to brown toast to five different shades, from no color to deep, dark brown. The plastic exterior stayed cooler than the exterior of any other toaster, and the defrost feature worked perfectly. One downside: With the controls on a long side, this toaster took up more counter space than most.
Comments: We were mostly unimpressed with the array of special features on this model (everything toasted just fine at the basic toast settings), though we did like "defrost" and "reheat," which warmed cold toast without adding more color.
Oster 2-Slice Toaster 6325
Comments: Though the slots on this model were long, we did have some trouble with thick bagels. Consistency was good at all but the highest setting, but the exterior of the toaster got very hot. The defrost setting, however, worked well, and the settings were mostly distinct.
Black & Decker Classic Chrome 2-Slice Toaster T6000
Comments: We were disappointed with the defrost feature on this model, which left bagels cold in the middle at all but the highest setting. Consistency, however, was mostly good.
Recommended with Reservations
Toastmaster Cool Touch Bagel Perfect TT2CT
Comments: Consistency was an issue with this model, as the bread sometimes had wide strips of white at the top or was spottily browned. Still, we were able to produce five distinct shades of toast for the five settings. The slots were just a bit too short, causing the bread to catch sometimes on the way down.
Hamilton Beach Classic Chrome Extra-Wide Slot Toaster 22559
Comments: The higher settings of this model were much better than the lower ones, producing mostly consistent toast at varying shades of brown. The chrome got very hot, and the dial was difficult to read. Both "defrost" and "reheat," however, worked perfectly.
Proctor Silex Cool-Touch 2-Slice Toaster 22450
Comments: While consistency was good with this model, we simply couldn't get dark toast in one cycle. Even at the highest setting, the toast was only golden brown. In addition, the bread barely fit into the slots and sometimes needed a little help going down.
Cuisinart Electronic Cool Touch 2-Slice Toaster CPT-120
Comments: Consistency was a serious problem with this model, which toasted bread more heavily on one side, and even that unevenness varied from batch to batch.
GE Classic 2-Slice Toaster 106808
Comments: We liked the large slots and excellent defrost and reheat features, but the toast was often spotty and uneven. Without a "cool-touch" feature, the exterior of this chrome model got very hot.
Rival Bagel Wide Cool Touch Toaster TT9270
Comments: The bread didn't quite fit into this toaster, so we often had to push it down to help it along. Three batches produced at the same setting were inconsistently toasted.