Just like other small appliances, finding the right toaster can be confusing. In this article I will present you with the history of toasters giving you a perspective of how they have evolved through the years and leave you with the idea of what’s the best toaster or toaster oven for me.
What’s the History of Toasters?
Before the development of the electric toaster, sliced bread was toasted by placing it in a metal frame or on a long-handled toasting-fork and holding it near a fire or over a kitchen grill. Utensils for toasting bread over open flames appeared in the early 19th century, including decorative implements made from wrought iron.
The first electric bread toaster was invented in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1893. The primary technical problem at the time was the development of a heating element which would be able to sustain repeated heating to red-hot temperatures without either breaking or becoming too brittle.
Early attempts at using iron wire as a heating element were not successful, because the wiring easily melted and was a serious fire hazard. Meanwhile, electricity was not readily available, and when it was, mostly only at night.
The problem of the heating element was solved in 1905 when a heating element was designed made from an alloy of nickel and chromium, which came to be known as Nichrome.
The first commercially successful electric toaster was introduced by General Electric in 1909.
In 1913 a toaster was developed that actually turned bread over so it could be toasted on both sides. Prior to this bread was toasted on one side and then removed from the toaster turned over and toasted on the other side.
In 1921, the first automatic pop-up toaster was invented. The first pop-up toaster could brown bread on both sides simultaneously, set the heating element on a timer, and eject the toast when finished.
Toasters Continue to Evolve
By the middle of the 20th century, some high-end toasters featured automatic toast lowering and raising, with no levers to operate – simply dropping the bread into one of these “elevator toasters”, such as the Sunbeam Radiant Control toaster models from the late 1940s through the 1960s, began the toasting cycle.
A number of projects have added advanced technology to toasters.
In 1990 “The Internet Toaster” was developed which could be controlled from the internet. In 2001 a toaster was created in England that could toast a graphic of the weather prediction (limited to sunny or cloudy) onto a piece of bread. The toaster dialed a pre-coded phone number to get the weather forecast.
In 2012 a toaster was developed using color sensors to toast bread to the exact shade of brown specified by the user.
A toaster which used Twitter was cited as an early example of an application of the Internet of Things.
A hot dog toaster is a variation of a toaster that will cook hot dogs in two middle slots and toast buns in two slots on the outside of the housing.
In pop-up or automatic toasters, a single vertical piece of bread is dropped into a slot on the top of the toaster. A lever on the side of the toaster is pressed down, lowering the bread into the toaster and activating the heating elements.
The length of the toasting cycle is adjustable via a lever, knob, or series of push buttons, and when an internal device determines that the toasting cycle is complete, the toaster turns off and the toast pops up out of the slots.
Beyond the basic toasting function, some pop-up toasters offer additional features such as :
- One sided toasting, which some people prefer when toasting bagels
- The ability to power the heating elements in only one of the toasters several slots
- Slots of various depth, length, and width to accommodate a variety of bread types
- Provisions to allow bread to be lifted higher than the normal raised position, so toast that has shifted during the toasting process can safely and easily be removed
Toaster ovens are essentially small-scale conventional ovens. A frontal door is opened, horizontally-oriented bread slices (or other food items) are placed on a rack which has heating elements above and below it, and the door is closed.
The controls are set and actuated to toast the bread to the desired doneness, whereupon the heating elements are switched off.
In most cases the door must be opened manually, though there are also toaster ovens with doors that open automatically.
Because the bread is horizontal, a toaster oven can be used to cook toast with toppings, like garlic bread, melt sandwiches, or toasted cheese.
Toaster ovens are generally slower to make toast than pop-up toasters, taking 4-6 minutes as compared to 2-3 for the pop-up type.
In addition to automatic toasting settings, toaster ovens typically have settings and temperature controls to allow use as a small oven.
Extra features on toaster ovens can include:
- Heating element control options, such as “top brown” setting that powers only the upper elements so food can be broiled without heat from below.
- Multiple shelf racks – Having options for positioning the even shelf gives more control over distance between food and the heating elements.
Conveyor toasters are designed to make many slices of toast and are generally used in the catering industry, restaurants, cafeterias, institutional cooking facilities, and other commercial food service situations where constant or high-volume toasting is required.
Bread in these toasters is toasted at the rate of 300-1600 slices an hour. The doneness of the bread is controlled by adjusting the speed of the conveyor.
Toasters cause nearly 800 deaths annually due to electrocution and fires.
Poking knives and other objects into a toaster is dangerous; aside from the risk of electrocution, such insertion can damage the toaster in ways that can increase the risk the toaster will later start a fire. Even without such tampering, toasters can cause house fires.
What’s the Best Toaster for Me?
The best toaster for you, will be the toaster that fits your needs. Do you want the speed of a pop-up, the extra slots for breads, 2-4 slots or are you going to be cooking breads with toppings in which case you may desire a toaster oven. Remember with the toaster oven you also have the option of using it as a small conventional oven. There are even toaster ovens available today that offer convection style cooking as well. So, “what’s the best toaster” for me? It will be the toaster that fits your needs based on your cooking needs. You may actually require both a toaster and a toaster oven. Happy Shopping!