The household toaster serves a simple purpose, but some models do it better than others. At CH we take this responsibility very seriously, and in hopes of separating the best from the average, we recently pitted four models from different manufacturers in a head-to-heat toast-off and recorded our highly subjective results. The toasters we used were the Alessi SG68, Viking VT200, Breville Smart Toaster BTA820XL and Krups TT6190. We tested each toaster using two different types of bread, and tasted them with both butter and jam. All of which succeeded in the base-level function of making our bread warm and crispy, but each had its own advantages and pitfalls. We took our combined impressions and then arranged the toasters from first to worst.
Breville's new "Smart Toaster" does everything besides making the bread. Not yet on the market, it has an LED panel that counts down and also employs a robotic function that slowly submerges the bread into the glowing coils and raises it again after an abbreviated two minutes (at the medium setting) of toasting. It even boasts a button labeled "A Bit More" to ensure your personal level of toasting excellence. The experience of using the toaster elicited the most "oohs" and "aahs," with several commenting that it seemed to have a personality. And the resulting product was admirable itself. The bread had an unrivaled level of evenness, with a consistent brown color from crust to golden crust. A formidable challenger, the Breville would be tough to beat.
Our second favorite didn't have the most features or the fastest toast. It didn't have a perfectly even toast either, but what it lacked in technology, it made up for with an attractive style and capable simplicity. As with the rest, the Alessi ($200) was a two-slice toaster but spaced lengthwise (which seems to be a purely aesthetic choice, unless you intend to brown an entire length of French bread). It also was the only toaster to include a removable top-level rack for warming things too big to fit inside or toast for a crowd. But where the Alessi really shined was on the taste test. After eating the resulting toast, it was unanimously hailed as the taste champion. And despite concerns with limited availability, it would look striking in any kitchen and reliably produce a quality product, which is all we really ask for.
The Krups model ($60) was also big step forward in the feature department. With a bright display and digital toasting levels, you could precisely time toasting intervals from one to nine and countdown to the exact second it would pop. That said, the openings were too short to accommodate even slight variations in bread size. Also, the Krups took one-third longer to finish than the other brands, equaling a definitive minus. Even with all the features under the sun, nobody wants to wait any extra time for their toastable breakfast pastry.
The Viking ($275) had a dismal rank in the size-per-feature ratio (not to mention cost-per-feature). A bulky toaster, it offered the bare minimum of options while looking similar to an industrial washing machine. It seemed solid enough to withstand the most demanding kitchen, but had few other remarkable pluses befitting its hefty pricetag. The Viking's toast was altogether pedestrian, and was soon lost amidst the other, shinier appliances.