Are we reduced to discussing toast?
I am aware of the tendency of photographers (especially amateur) to place more emphasis on discussing their choices of photographic tools than on the scientific and artistic processes involved in the past-time known as photography; it is generally a pleasant, and harmless tendency; and I have been known to engage in it myself.
But I must insist that the detailed discussion arising in your readers' comments to your blog of the design features of their personal choices in creating heat sources by passing electric currents through resistance and applying them to slices of bread is JUST TOO MUCH! It is neither pleasant, nor harmless; but it is banal, and boring, and moreover demonstrates nothing more than the DECLINE AND FALL OF THE VERY SOCIETY IN WHICH WE LIVE.
I, sir, sincerely remain your faithful blogee,
Several years ago I had purchased a bad toaster (that is, I had purchased a toaster) and fell into writing about toasters:
My toaster illustrates part of the utility of Amazon. Even though I didn't buy it from Amazon, I wrote not one but two scathing indictments (several months apart) of my awful new toaster, to warn future innocents about to be duped by its perfidious enticements. It was satisfying to express the depth of my disdain.
But I live with it. Know why? Because it's a toaster. And toast isn't that important to me. I consider myself stuck with it. The $42 is gone, the bad choice is made, and I'm not throwing any more cabbage at that problem.
Oh, so wrong.
Little did I know how very wrong that last statement was to be; and how shaken to its foundation my self-identity as a wily shopper and crafty reviewer were to be before the Great Toaster Quest could mercifully be called over.
I have bought a number of toasters since then, and read, I think, hundreds of thousands of words about toasters, scrutinizing reviews and perusing rankings all over the Web.
I bought a very cheap toaster and a very expensive toaster, a very new toaster and a restored antique toaster (really: see the seventh item down on this page. It came with a certificate). I bought—well, as a Christmas gift, for S. who loves toast—this futuristic device, on which the lifting and lowering functions are motorized. That last one is designed in Australia and manufactured in China; I also chased down the last great all-American-made toaster. But did not buy one (it's a commercial Hobart made by Polytron and costs $1,172.29).
The Toaster Axiom: There is almost no such thing as a good toaster.
When websites do "roundup" style reviews of toasters, sometimes every candidate flunks. Is there another class of consumer goods of which this is true? Have you ever read a group review of, say, a type of automobile, where the reviewers had to conclude that none of the cars were any good? As I said earlier, toasters are to the engineering profession what the common cold is to medicine: the stubborn perpetually insoluble puzzle.
It may be the only class of consumer goods in which price bears almost no relation to quality. Some of the best, sleekest, most beautifully designed, most elegantly functioning toasters nevertheless do not toast bread consistently and evenly.
One of a great many things I learned in the Great Toaster Quest: breads with high sugar content toast readily, and most toasters toast them more evenly. When testing for evenness, a bread with no sugar added is more revealing of problems. No-nonsense Amish-made white bread is the perfect test material: nothing in it but white flour, yeast, salt and water.
When I shop for cameras or lenses, yes, I'm just as fickle, just as picky, just as hard to please—but at least I have fun along the way. Searching for a good toaster (I almost wrote "the perfect" toaster, but those words just do not go together) was simply unsettling, vaguely irritating, with no upside.
The vintage Toastmaster I have considers the "pop-up" function at the end of the toasting cycle to be optional. The map of when it pops up and when it doesn't constitutes the elusive perfect randomness generator. It nearly set the house on fire not long ago...and inadvertently tested another household product, namely the smoke alarm. The smoke alarm will go off multiple times when broiling a tenderloin, but remains inscrutably silent as the whole lower floor of the house is filled with too much burning-toast smoke to see clearly through. A troublesome result.
It is over
It is over, however. I am ready to pronounce. After two years and quite a lot of "cabbage" and way too much obsessing, I have found a toaster I...like.
The Russell Hobbs TR9198S two-slice toaster, available in cream,
red, and stainless
Russell Hobbs is a British company founded by Bill Russell (d. 2006) and Peter Hobbs (d. 2008), based in the unfortunately named town of Failsworth. The company has been through many different owners over the years. My British toaster is manufactured in the exotic Oriental land of China, a locus of fabrication so fashionable and desirable that many Westerners stuff their homes and clothe their very bodies with things made there. Nevertheless it works a treat, and I am pleased with it.
Three cons mentioned in reviews:
- The surfaces get hot. So, okay, refrain from moving the toaster while you're using it.
- The slots are only 5 5/8th inches long, which is generous for bread fashioned into loaves, but it won't easily fit some bread slices made from boutique-style (sometimes called "Farm Style") bread baked in lumps instead of loaves. If you like that kind of bread, the Breville linked above or any other four-slice toaster configured with two long slots would be your ticket.
- Toasts more on one side than the other. Yeah, but this is not a bug but a feature—it's so when you spread butter or jam on the more-toasted side, it still keeps some toasty crunch.
Some reviewers say the cord is too short, but that's like saying their pants are too short. On a shorter person they wouldn't be. How can you say a cord is too short? Doesn't that depend on where every individual wants to site their toaster? Actually, for me, the cord was too long. The cord is 25 inches long.
And on the plus side, get ready for this—I know it's shocking—it toasts well. Astonishing. A feat rarely achieved by engineering science. Bread stays nicely moist inside and is evenly toasted over its whole surface outside.
The Russell Hobbs two-slice toaster works smoothly and conveniently, is handsome, and "only" costs fifty bucks, which seems rather dear for a toaster only to the non-toaster-obsessed. It's even available in Britain, where it comes in more colors (but not stainless; go figure. Too industrial?). Five stars and an A, and I am done with investigating toasters. I think.
(Thanks to Bear)
Previous posts in the Great Toaster Hunt saga:
I thought I wrote a review of the restored 1950s Toastmaster—I know I photographed it for a post—but I guess I never got around to that.
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Steven Major: "Respectfully, I avoid toast. Toast is crummy."
Mike replies: And crumb-y.
Andy Radin: "Just in case people are complaining that there is no link between photography and toasters."
Mike replies: I'll bet Oprah has one of those.
Speed: "My grandmother in West Virginia had a toaster that received vertically oriented raw bread in one end, transported it past heating coils and dropped it out the other perfectly brown on both sides. Two or more slices were cooked in series rather than parallel as is common in more modern and less successful designs. Degree of brown was controlled by regulating the speed of the transport mechanism—a fascinating (to a six-year-old) set of saw teeth that alternately rose and settled moving forward and back advancing the bread a fraction of an inch closer to the exit with each cycle—was varied by the operator. There was a small (one inch or so), round glass window for observing the process and progress of browning."
Dave Kerr: "Next up...vacuum cleaners."
Mike replies: Nope. Already did that.