After dozens of hours researching and testing toasters—scrutinizing slot size, ease of use, batch-to-batch consistency, features, controls, and overall tastiness—we found the Oster TSSTTRJBBG1 Jelly Bean Toaster is the best. In our tests, this inexpensive and compact two-slot toaster performed as well as models double the price. The Oster’s medium setting evenly browned bread, bagels, and frozen waffles better than most of the competition. And the controls are easy to use and stay cool to the touch, even after toasting multiple batches.
The two-slot Breville BTA720XL costs about $50 more than the Oster, but its strong performance and well-thought-out features are worth the extra cost. The Breville toasted bread and bagels better than any two-slot toaster we tried. Plus, it has a couple of features that make it an absolute cinch to get your toast perfect: one lets you monitor the toast’s progress, while the other can add a little more time to an underdone slice. Also, the Breville’s stainless steel exterior has a classic look that will fit the aesthetic of almost any kitchen.
If you need a four-slot toaster, we think the Oster 4-Slice is the best that we tested in this price range. The Oster 4-Slice has a classic look and evenly toasts batch after batch of bread with rare or nonexistent hotspots. While this model toasts evenly, it does leave a slight border untoasted around the perimeter of the bread. Also, you’ll need to reduce the heat slightly for bagels and increase it a bit for English muffins and Eggo waffles. That said, the Oster 4-Slice still performed better or as well as four-slot toasters costing three or four times as much, so we’re willing to forgive these minor quirks for its reasonable price.
To narrow down our selection of toasters to test, we interviewed experts like acclaimed baker and cookbook author Peter Reinhart. We also spoke to product managers at some prominent toaster manufacturers, and additionally, we read editorial reviews from sites such as Cook’s Illustrated, Consumer Reports, and Good Housekeeping. We also looked at user reviews from online stores such as Amazon, Walmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Finally, we conducted a reader survey to help us figure out what most people look for in a toaster.
For this guide, Brendan Nystedt spent 30 hours researching and testing toasters and an additional 20 hours for our toaster oven guide. Michael Sullivan tested six four-slot toasters for our 2016 update; in the process, he ate more toast, bagels, and frozen waffles than he’d care to admit.
You’re probably looking for a new toaster because your old one bit the dust. Or maybe it toasts unevenly, can’t accommodate bagels, or doesn’t fit with your kitchen anymore. If you use a toaster oven and it dries out your bread, switching to the intense, direct heat of a toaster can give you a nice char while keeping the bread’s texture intact.
If you need something more versatile and capable than a two-slot toaster, you’re better off getting a toaster oven, which can handle some (if not all) of the tasks that a full-sized oven can tackle. However, if you have a large family and you don’t want to invest in (or don’t have room for) a large toaster oven, four-slot toasters are the way to go. With double the capacity, four-slot toasters allow you to produce more toast fast, which is nice if you have a lot of mouths to feed.
Toasters haven’t changed much in the last century or so. When the groundbreaking Toastmaster 1A1 arrived in 1926, it was the first electric toaster to toast both sides of a slice of bread, run on a timer, and then eject the bread when the process was complete. As an appliance, this grandfather of toasters already had the essentials right the first time around. Features have gotten more inventive—we now have bagel modes—but the science behind the heating hardware is basically the same.
The ideal toaster should toast bread evenly and consistently without a whole lot of fuss. Every slot should give you similar performance, and you should be able to toast breads of different types and shapes, which means having a big enough slot to handle thick bagels plus a way to retrieve small English muffins without jamming utensils (or your fingers) into the slots. You should be able to control the toast’s darkness, and it’s essential to have a cancel button that can easily cut off power mid-toast. We thought the ideal toaster shouldn’t get too hot on the outside— at least, the parts you’re supposed to touch.
For this guide, we tested two- and four-slot toasters between $30 and $180. However, in our research, we found that many of the high-end toasters that cost upwards of $100 don’t offer much more than those costing less than half the price. We avoided models such as the Dualit Newgen and the Magimix by Robot Coupe, which cost more than $200. Ideally, we wanted to find a slot toaster for under $50, especially since they are really a lo-fi, single-purpose appliance. In most cases, we were able to make perfectly fine toast with much cheaper machines.
We considered several options for toaster heating elements, but all the products we tested all relied on old-fashioned nichrome wires, a tried-and-true blend of nickel and chromium, to generate their heat. This isn’t the only method of heating up bread—a few options use quartz, which reach temperature a bit faster than nichrome and are generally more expensive. Some restaurant-grade toasters have ceramic heating elements, but they’re even more expensive than premium toasters. We found nichrome was cheap and capable, so the alternates were all dismissed.
When selecting the type of lever that loads the toast in and out of the slot, we looked at the old-fashioned spring-loaded arm and nifty motorized trays that glide down at the push of a button. Motorized toasters offer more convenience, but we think most people will be happy with the traditional manual lever, which is considerably cheaper.
We also looked for toasters with wider slots that could accommodate bagels and larger slices of bread. That said, we didn’t want smaller items, such as English muffins, to get swallowed in slots that were too deep. You run the risk of burning yourself if you have to fish objects out of a toaster with utensils or your finger after the toast is done. We looked for toasters with levers that allowed for the easy retrieval of smaller breads.
We hoped we’d be able to find a toaster that could put out perfect toast without supervision, but it seems even the good toasters need help. We interviewed experts like acclaimed baker Peter Reinhart; even he has to babysit his toaster. “I have to push the lever down twice and sort of accept that,” he says. “It’s a cliche. We don’t expect them to be perfect. You can accept and move on or get angry at the toaster,” says Reinhart. It appears that toaster makers agree—all our finalists had a cancel button—and features like Breville’s “Lift and Look” let you peek at your toast while it continues to cook.
All of the toasters we tested had a “bagel mode,” which may sound gimmicky, but the setting preserves chewiness: a well-designed machine dials back the heat on the outer part of the bagel while heating the cut side with more intense heat. Most toasters with this feature include a legend somewhere on the toaster’s body indicating which direction the cut part of the bagel faces.
For our testing, we used uniform slices of basic white bread from Bimbo and Wonder. We did three back-to-back batches at a middle shade setting, which showed us how consistent the toast could be from model to model and batch to batch. This also showed how well the toasters could self-regulate their temperature1 once they’re heated up—some were up to the challenge, while others overcooked the bread in the later rounds. We didn’t measure toasting time precisely—our test was designed to gauge consistency in three back-to-back tests—but in casual observation, we didn’t notice any one of the slot toasters functioning any faster than the others.
We judged toast on its top-to-bottom and side-to-side evenness. We evaluated the accuracy of the shade settings—would most breakfast eaters consider these results medium, or were they too light or too burned? We also bit into the test toast to evaluate its texture and taste, looking for slices that had a lightly charred and crispy exterior and a warm interior that didn’t feel too dried out or stiff.
To test the toasters’ features beyond basic white bread, we tried out their bagel modes on everything bagels fresh from Murray’s. We went with Murray’s bagels because theirs are fluffier and thicker than traditional New York-style bagels and would show us where the toasters’ slot widths hit their limit. For bagels, we wanted the results to resemble what you get in a deli conveyor belt—lightly toasted on the rounded side and nicely browned on the cut side. We tested the frozen modes on the toasters using plain Eggo waffles (every toaster we tried had each of these modes). The waffles, we hoped, would come out crispy and brown but not scorched or soggy. We also emptied each model’s crumb tray and noted how easy the trays were to clean, and we took a look at the size of each model relative to others in its class.
Our pick for the best toaster is the Oster Jelly Bean. This simple, inexpensive two-slot model toasted bread, bagels, and waffles better than all of the competition in this price range. Unlike some toasters we tested, the slots are wide enough to fit thick, hand-cut bagels without needing to force them down. The plastic controls are easy to use and stay cool to the touch even during multiple rounds of toasting. Also, the Oster was one of the smallest toasters we tested, so it’s ideal for kitchens with limited counter space.
The Oster toasted evenly from top to bottom and slot to slot, while pricier machines with the same nichrome heating element put out inconsistent results. In three successive batches, our Oster toast results were mostly consistent, with some darker patches on the second batch. This wasn’t the case with the Cuisinart CPT-440 we tested, which toasted bread inconsistently from batch to batch.
The Oster’s bagel and frozen settings performed better than most other toasters we tested. Some models such as the Krups Breakfast Set and the Hamilton Beach Cool Touch barely browned bagels inside or out. While the Oster toasted some of the seeds on bagels more than we’d prefer, it toasted the cut side very evenly. The frozen setting toasted Eggo waffles nicely, making them crispy on the outside but not dried out or burnt.
The Oster’s ample slot size is big enough to fit thick slices like hand-cut bagels, which went down without needing to be pushed in. This wasn’t the case with other models we tested, such as the Cuisinart CPT-440, which required us to force bagels down into the machine. Even though the Oster’s slots are deeper, the “toast lift” feature on the lever allows you to easily retrieve smaller items like English muffins without using tools (or getting burned).
The controls themselves are simple, featuring a knob that accurately adjusts the darkness of the toast and buttons that allow you to select the mode or cancel the toast cycle. All the parts you touch and twist on the Oster stay cool, unlike the chrome and brushed stainless Krups model we tested, which gets hot right where you touch it. The speckled gray metal body lends the toaster a little weight, too, so it plants securely on a countertop without wobbling.
The Oster’s compact size and curvy design means it takes up slightly less space than some of the more boxy toasters we tested, which is nice if you plan to store it in a cabinet. If you have a small kitchen and your counter space is at a premium, the Oster is the way to go.
Overall, cleaning and maintaining the toaster was similar to the other models we tried. The built-in crumb tray can be removed and wiped clean for easy cleanup. Also, like many of the other toasters we tested, the Oster comes with a one-year limited warranty. If you encounter problems with the toaster during normal use, contact Oster for a replacement.
We noted above that the Oster’s bagel setting works better than some others we tested, but there was a slight snag when we cooked an everything bagel on the toaster’s middle heat setting. While the cut side of the bagel got nice and brown, some of the seeds on the outer side came out a little darker than we preferred. Upon further review, we found that this is because the bagel mode doesn’t deactivate the outer coils like our upgrade pick, the Breville BTA720XL toaster. We recommend turning the heat down a tad to accommodate for bagels with seeds on the outside.
We’ve found that no matter which toaster you use, you’ll probably need to manually compensate when toasting multiple batches of bread. When the second batch starts, turn the heat down one level from your normal setting so the toaster doesn’t build up too much heat.
After more than a year of use, the Oster toaster still operates like new. Its heating elements and bread-catch cages are functioning at 100 percent, and the exterior finish appears pristine. It has some interior crumb accumulation that’s nothing out of the ordinary. And if you’re toasting whole wheat breads cut in ⅝-inch-thick slices, here’s a tip: We’ve found that the perfect spot on the dial is between the 4 and 5 marks.
If you want a high-end toaster with more features, we recommend the Breville BTA720XL. Though it’s more than twice the price of our main pick, our testers found that the Breville toasts bread and bagels more evenly. The Breville also stands out because it allows you to check the degree of doneness, with the option to add 30 seconds more to the toasting cycle. Also, its handsome steel casing has a classic look that would fit the aesthetic of almost any kitchen.
The Breville delivers a more even toasting performance than the Oster, with uniform browning from top to bottom. While the Oster slightly scorched the edges of the second round of toast in back-to-back tests, the Breville’s results were slightly darker but not burnt. Bagels also turned out better using the Breville, because the toaster’s bagel mode is more precise with how it heats each side of the bagel. If you follow an onboard legend that tells you which direction to insert a sliced bagel, you can get a nicely darkened sliced side and a round side that’s warmed but not overdone.
Beyond the good performance you’d expect, spending the extra money for the Breville buys you two features the other toasters in our tests didn’t have: Breville markets them as “Lift and Look” and “A Bit More.” They’re accurately named. The first one lets you quickly raise the lever to pull the toast all the way up without hitting the cancel button, so you can check its progress, keep the heat on, and put it back down to finish toasting in one fast, elegant motion. The second one, the toaster’s namesake “A Bit More” button, lets you add on a 30-second follow-up round to finish off any underdone toast. The Breville also beeps to alert you when your toast is ready. (You can adjust the volume or mute this feature by following the directions in the user manual.) And while the added features on the Breville are nice, some of our testers liked that the toaster still has a mechanical lever to raise and lower bread into the slots.
The Breville toaster is covered by a one-year limited warranty. Contact Breville if you have issues or need a replacement.
If you need a four-slot toaster, we recommend the affordably priced Oster 4-Slice. This model toasts bread very evenly, even after multiple batches. Like most models we tested, you’ll need to adjust the heat setting slightly for bagels, English muffins, and Eggos, but it provides consistent results every time. Additionally, this stainless steel model has a classic look and wouldn’t be an eyesore if stored on a kitchen counter.
In our tests, the Oster 4-Slice toasted bread almost as well, if not better than models costing three and four times as much. Toast comes out perfectly golden brown, with a crisp exterior and a warm interior that isn’t dried out. (In our tests we found that the 3.5 heat setting is best for toast.) While the Oster 4-Slice toasts more evenly than most other models we tried in the price range, it does leave a small area around the perimeter of the bread untoasted. However, for the price, we don’t think this is a dealbreaker.
The Oster 4-Slice has a very simple, easy-to-use interface with push-button controls, dials for selecting the heat level, and old-fashioned levers for lowering bread into the slots. While this model doesn’t have as many features as the Breville BTA840XL Die-Cast 4-Slice Smart Toaster (such as an option for adding 30 seconds to the cook time), it gets the job done on the cheap. Also, while the levers on the Oster 4-Slice are made of plastic, they were more durable and less flimsy as the ones on the Cuisinart CPT-180.
The retractable cord on the Oster 4-Slice is a nice feature that allows you to keep excess cord from cluttering up valuable counter space. However, our testers found the cord to be a little stiff, so retracting it was somewhat difficult. We recommend pulling it out to the length you need to reach the outlet instead of retracting it after each use.
While the stainless steel Oster 4-Slice has a classic look that we think will appeal to most people, be mindful that it gets hot to the touch. If you have children in the house, be sure to keep the toaster out of the reach of small fingers to avoid burns. Also, we noticed this model shows fingerprints more than our other picks, so you may need to wipe it down more frequently.
The Oster 4-Slice comes with a one-year limited warranty. If you encounter problems with the toaster during normal use, contact Oster for a replacement.
If you want a four-slot toaster that consistently makes evenly browned toast with every batch, the Breville BTA840XL is hands down the best that we tried. Though it’s pricier and takes up more space than the Oster four-slot toaster, the Breville offers more features than any other two- or four-slot model we tested. Unlike the other toasters we recommend, the Breville BTA840XL doesn’t have a mechanical lever and lowers bread automatically into the slots when you push the “toast” button. The “lift and look” button automatically raises the toast just long enough for you to check the doneness, while the “a bit more” option adds 30 seconds more to the toasting time. Like our upgrade pick for two-slot toasters, the Breville BTA720XL, the four-slot Breville BTA840XL has lights that indicate the temperature setting (the lights even count down so you can gauge when the toast will be done). A single beep conveniently alerts you once the toasting cycle is complete. (Like the BTA720XL, you can adjust the volume or mute this feature by following the directions in the user manual.)
Also, the die-cast surface of the Breville BTA840XL stays cooler than the other stainless steel models we tested, which is great, especially if you have children in the house. Like most models, however, you’ll need to increase the heat setting for bagels and English muffins. And keep in mind that this toaster is a tank—it’s large and weighs over 9 pounds—so it’s best for kitchens with lots of counter space.
Cuisinart released the CPT-3000 ViewPro Glass 2-Slice Toaster in late 2015. We’re looking forward to testing it for our next update.
If there’s one major lesson we learned in our toaster roundup, it’s that you need to run a few cycles to break any toaster in. There are coatings on the heating elements that need to be burned off before you make something you intend to eat.
While some of the toasters we tested had break-in procedures in their included instruction booklets, we found enough overlap in the process to make a general recommendation for any new toaster: Crank the heat up to the highest setting, place the toaster in a well-ventilated room, and run it with nothing inside for two cycles. We’re told by Breville that any coatings on the metal elements are intended to protect them from corrosion and rust. From the factory to the warehouse, a newly-built toaster might encounter any number of environments that are out of a company’s control, and these coatings protect the machines from the elements.
Other than that, be sure to clean the crumb tray frequently (while unplugged), inverting the toaster over a trash can while giving it a gentle tap to loosen up any remaining crumbs. Always clean the outside of your toaster according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
The liked how Hamilton Beach Two-Slice Cool Touch exterior didn’t get hot to the touch after multiple rounds of toasting. However, it left bagels looking pale and a bit too dark in our back-to-back toast tests.
The Krups KH732D Breakfast Set did poorly in just about all of our tests. Our testers discovered its chrome exterior is wrapped around a cheap, lightweight interior frame that doesn’t sit securely on a countertop. If you push the lever to bring the toast up to the top, it tips over.
The Breville The Bit More BTA730XL toaster, billed as a four-slice, long slot toaster, was one of the few that we tried that was able to swallow an entire oval slice of rustic sourdough without any of the bread sticking out of the slot. Unfortunately, it overcooked white bread on its middle setting.
According to Cuisinart, the CPT-420 Touch to Toast has the same internal components as the CPT-440 (minus two slots and accompanying electronics, all from the same factory), so we were able to dismiss it.
The Breville BTA830XL Die-Cast 4-Slice Long Slot Smart Toaster toasted evenly, but it left the bottom-lower corners of some pieces untoasted. Since it’s expensive, we expected more from this model.
The Cuisinart CPT-180 Metal Classic 4-Slice Toaster toasted bread unevenly from batch to batch, leaving some pieces pale golden brown and other pieces burned.
The left lever on the Cuisinart CPT-640 4-Slice Metal Toaster we tested was faulty. It couldn’t keep the bread in the slot without popping it up.
The Oster TSSTTR6330-NP 4-Slice Long Slot Toaster toasted bread very inconsistently. Some pieces had hot spots or were burned while others remained pale.
Though the CPT-440 Touch to Toast has motorized slots, individual LCD panels, and countdown timers, this model didn’t toast anywhere near what its steep price tag might suggest. In our tests, it toasted bread inconsistently from slot to slot.
The Frigidaire Professional four-slot toaster performed admirably in our tests, but Eggo waffles came out squished by the toaster’s racks along their bottom edge. The right and left sides also toasted inconsistently from one another.
Originally published: October 28, 2016
3 a.m. milkshakes.