Bread-and-Butter Choices: Top-Rated Toasters & Toaster Ovens

Manufacturers tweaked toasters with an eye toward convenience and style. Features that once were available only on high-priced models are more widespread. Meanwhile, toaster ovens now are smarter at preparing your food.

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Following in the footsteps of cupcakes and cronuts, artisanal toast has emerged as the latest craze for foodies. Restaurants charge $4 for a thick slice of toasted artisanal bread that’s topped with hand-churned butter or sea salt.

Of course, you can save some bread by toasting your own at home and, increasingly, you can do it in style. The price continues to drop for models that have useful features, and manufacturers today focus more on style by incorporating color, stainless steel accents and retro designs that sit pretty on a kitchen counter.

Among toaster ovens, a few more models than before were transformed into appliances that have features that mimic those of conventional ovens.

TOAST IT. Although widespread innovation among toasters hasn’t emerged in the past few years, you’ll notice a few positive trends. Models that have wide slots that can handle bagels or thicker slices of artisanal bread now are common among all but the most basic models—those that cost no more than $15. In 2011, we found five models at that price that had extra-wide slots.

Further, warming functionality has come down in price, and a few more models now have it. By pressing a toaster’s “keep warm” button, your toast will be warmed in the toaster for up to 3 minutes after the toasting process is complete without any further browning, because the feature generates low heat. (You can cancel the function at any time.)

Toasters that have a “reheat” button do a similar job in keeping your bagels, pastries and toast warm without additional cooking. The difference is that you select “reheat” after the fact. The “keep warm” button is selected before the toasting process starts, which means that you can buy yourself a few extra minutes on a busy morning by not having to hover around the toaster and then press “reheat.”

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DeLonghi, Hamilton Beach and KitchenAid now have four models that have “keep warm” functionality, starting at $35. A few years ago, this was a feature that we found on only two DeLonghi models that cost about $80.

Debra Mednick, who is the executive director of research company The NPD Group, says that, because of increased interest in gluten-free food, toasters that have a “gluten free” button might be next. Gluten is a protein that’s found in barley, rye and wheat and is difficult for some people to digest. A toaster button that’s for “gluten free” food, Mednick speculates, would alter the toasting cycle to toast bread and pastries that are made without gluten.

Sandi Gaertner of Fearless Dining, which is a website that tracks gluten-free practices, says the use of starchy flour in gluten-free bread creates a denser bread that requires a longer toasting time. However, according to National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), which provides news and information about gluten-free products, a separate toaster should be used for people who require gluten-free bread. Even crumbs that are from bread that contains gluten that’s used in the same toaster can contaminate gluten-free toast, NFCA says.

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