HOW TO BUY THE RIGHT TOASTER
Before buying a toaster, consider the type of items you usually toast, how many people use the toaster and how much space you have in your kitchen.
What do you like to toast? Thick sliced bread from uncut loaves, toasted sandwiches, crumpets and bagels will need wide or adjustable slots. A bagel or bun setting gives the option of toasting on one side, warming on the other. Accessories like warming racks are sometimes available for toasting items such as croissants or pancakes. If you regularly toast small items like toasted tea cakes or crumpets, a high lift bread carriage will make it easy to remove them from the slots without burning your fingers, or use a sandwich cage if one is available.
If you need a toaster for commercial use, such as in a hotel, B&B, café or canteen, then your considerations will more likely differ slightly. The toaster's output, for example, could be the deciding factor.
WHAT TO CONSIDER
2 slice and 4 slice are the most widely found toaster sizes. If there are more than a couple of people using the toaster at the same time, then a 4 slice will be most useful or for large families a six slice. Dualit's Classic Toasters are available to buy in two, three, four and six slice versions. Safety Tip: When in use, there should be nothing above the toaster that could cause the heat produced to accumulate, so make sure you have space in your kitchen where the toaster can be used that isn't under cupboards or near curtains.
How many watts does the toaster operate on? The higher the watts, the faster it toasts. A low wattage that gives a slower toasting speed will more likely produce toast that is chewy, rather than crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside. A good power level for a two slice toaster would be 1000W or above and for a four slice toaster, 1800W or above. However, the type of bread you toast has the greatest effect; different varieties toast at different speeds, with different outcomes.
The elements that are fitted inside a toasting slot is what heats and browns the bread. The element is wrapped with wire and this is the part that heats up. Although you can't test a toaster before buying, you can probably look inside the slots and see the elements - the more spaced out and less wire there is, the greater risk of uneven browning and hotspots. Fewer gaps between the wire will produce more even toasting.
An option to choose how many slots heat-up will help to save energy when only toasting one slice. It will also make toasting a lot more even; if there are two slots heating but only one slice of bread toasting then one side will always brown faster.
Independent slot function
If you choose a toaster with four slots, then a separate timer for each pair is useful if you and your family members have different browning preferences or like different bread types.
Peek & Pop
This allows you to lift the bread to check it without resetting the browning cycle.
Warms the bread then toasts it in one cycle. Ideal if you regularly need to toast from frozen.
If your bread finishes toasting and cools before you get to eat it, the reheat function will warm the toast without leaving it soggy or burning the bread.
Crumb trays should be easy to remove and clean to stop the build-up of bread crumbs, which can be a safety hazard.
Style and colour
Toasters can come in a huge range of styles, from cutting-edge modern designs to those with retro appeal. If co-ordinating appliances are important to you, look for toasters that come in a variety of colours and that offer matching kettles.
This will be influenced by the quality of the elements, the build quality and material. These factors will in turn affect the price. Take a look at the fittings, switches, dials etc. Does the manufacturer operate a repairs service? Are replacement parts available? There are things you can do to help maximise the life of your toaster; clean the slots regularly with a soft brush to remove bread particles and any oils from the bread, empty the crumb tray regularly and keep the toaster in a dry place where heat and condensation cannot cause damage.