It's hard to think of a breakfast (or lunch or dinner) less fussy than toast, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be fussy about your toaster. Everyone has a preference (do you like it barely golden or nearly charred?) and a favorite type of bread or two (English muffins or bagels?). Finding the right toaster will make the whole process a lot easier.
The best toasters can deliver anything from barely warmed to nearly burnt bread. This means they shouldn't heat up and start burning your breakfast after the fifth batch when you have company. You shouldn't have to avoid that back slot on the left, either—every spot should produce the same results. Even if you don't care much about extra features, it's nice to tell when a toasting cycle will be finished or use the bagel setting to avoid accidental fire alarm activation.
There are a few main toaster categories: your basic 2-slice, 4-slice for more capacity, and long slot, which can accommodate four smaller pieces of sandwich bread or two longer slices that you might have to cut in half to fit into a regular 2-slice toaster.
The best toaster with two slots that we've tested is the Breville the 'A Bit More' 2 Slice. It's expensive for a toaster, and you can spend less for a similar performance. However, it offers a premium build and features that set it apart from more basic options. It has a sturdy metal body, and the slots are twice as wide as a slice of regular sandwich bread, so thickly sliced bread or chunky bagels will easily fit. They're on the longer side and deep enough for tall slices. It has a fantastic toasting range, so you can get anything from very light toast to well-browned multi-grain or rye bread in one cycle. It toasts the bread very evenly. The slots all perform the same way, and it's very consistent from slot to slot, although you might notice that the inner face of the toast is darker than the outer face.
Aside from a fantastic toasting performance, it has some extra features that help justify its premium price point. The 'Lift and Look' feature lets you check on your toast without interrupting a toasting cycle. The 'A Bit More' button adds some time to the end of a cycle. Also, unlike most toasters, it has cycle countdown indicators, so you can tell when your toast will be ready.
For a cheaper option, check out the Black+Decker 2-Slice Toaster T2569B. This budget-friendly toaster has fewer useful features than the Breville the 'A Bit More' 2 Slice, and its plastic body doesn't look or feel as high-quality. It has a shorter power cord, so you'll have to find a spot on the counter near an outlet. Still, it has a fantastic performance where it counts the most. It has an incredible range, so you can get everything from golden brown to charred toast from white sandwich bread in a single cycle, depending on the preset. You won't need to run another cycle to get properly browned multi-grain bread or bagels. It toasts the entire surface of the bread evenly, and both slots perform similarly.
It's also consistent after several batches, so you can prepare lots of toast using the same setting without burning it. There are functions for bagels and frozen items, but unlike the previous pick, it doesn't include a way to tell when your toast will be ready. There's no way of lifting the slots mid-cycle to check on your toast. Its slots are wide enough for thickly sliced bread and deep enough for bigger slices. You can lift the slots high enough to reach smaller items like English muffins, similar to the Breville.
If you need more capacity, the best toaster we've tested is the Breville Die-Cast 4-Slice Smart Toaster. This 4-slot toaster is similar to the Breville the 'A Bit More' 2 Slice, with a solid aluminum design, and once again, its premium design and extra features set it apart from cheaper options. It doesn't have a lever to push down the bread—you use a button instead. Otherwise, it has similar features, including 'A Bit More' and 'Lift and Look'. It has a superb toasting range, so you can easily make golden brown sandwich bread or toast denser pieces that take longer without running more than one cycle. Its slots lift higher than the previous picks, making it easier to grab smaller frozen waffles or English muffins. You can operate each pair of slots independently, so it's a good option for busy kitchens.
However, even though it's one of the best-performing 4-slot toasters we've tested, it doesn't toast bread that evenly. Some slots produce darker toast than others on the same setting. It also doesn't compensate very well for the toaster heating up after the first cycle, so if you're making several batches of toast, you'll have to use a lower setting to get the same result after the first batch. It's also pretty heavy and bulky, even compared with other 4-slot models made of metal.
The best budget 4-slice toaster we've tested is the Black+Decker 4-Slice Toaster TR4900SSD. This toaster lacks the previous pick's premium features, like 'Lift and Look' and button-operated slots, but it's still made of metal, with a stainless steel body. Its slots aren't as deep, long, or wide, so it's less well-suited for bigger slices of bakery bread. However, it's a little more compact and has a fantastic toasting performance. Its seven shade settings produce anything from lightly toasted to charred sandwich bread, so it's easy to get nicely golden brown bread or fully brown something like rye bread in one cycle.
It toasts bread more evenly and consistently than the Breville Die-Cast 4-Slice Smart Toaster, so you don't have to turn the dial to a lower setting after the first batch. It does a good job of browning the entire surface of the bread. It has modes for bagels and for thawing and toasting frozen items but lacks cycle countdown indicators, so there's no way of telling when a toasting cycle will conclude.
If a slice of your favorite bread doesn't fit into a regular toaster slot, you might need a long-slot model like the Smeg 4-Slice Toaster. This high-end toaster has a retro design and comes in plenty of glossy colors. Its slots can each fit a couple of slices of regular sandwich bread side by side, are wide enough for chunky bagels, and are particularly deep when pushed down, so it's a good choice for tall slices. It has a good toasting range, so you can get anything from lightly toasted to dark brown sandwich bread with one of the sevens shade settings. However, it might not do denser breads in one cycle. On the plus side, you can add more time to the end of a cycle with the 'reheat' function.
It has settings for bagels and frozen items but no cycle countdown indicators, which is disappointing. This toaster's biggest downside is its expensive price tag, though. If you're not looking to invest in a high-end toaster, the Cuisinart Long Slot Toaster is way cheaper and offers a similar performance. However, its slots don't pop up all the way automatically. You must manually lift the lever at the end of the cycle, or you'll have trouble grabbing regular-sized sandwich bread. Its slots are also quite shallow when pushed down, so taller slices might stick out the top.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best toasters for most people. We factor in the price, feedback from our visitors, and availability.
If you'd like to do the work of choosing yourself, here's the list of all toaster reviews. Be careful not to get too caught up in the details. While no toaster is perfect, most are good enough to please almost everyone, and the differences are often not noticeable unless you look for them.