If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard sudden, impassioned curses shouted by my boyfriend upon realizing he’d burnt the toast, I’d be rollin’ in the cash. If I added on all the times I’d heard the same from my dad (or myself) and included garlic bread, biscuits, and tortillas, I would retire.
Truth be told, “perfect toast” is somewhat of a subjective designation. Some people actually love and purposely shoot for burnt toast, while others like it golden brown and still others just the tiniest bit crisp. Throw in the often inconsistent and inaccurate dials and settings on our various toasting appliances, and “perfect toast” becomes awfully relative. Heck, some days I’m just glad that it’s still edible and that nothing has burnt down.
The pursuit of perfect toast can be mighty frustrating. To aid you in your efforts, I’ve compiled these tips and tricks for getting it just how you like it in each of the three different methods.
1. Don’t take the settings at face value.
The classic toaster typically comes with a numbered dial and sometimes a few general pre-settings, like “bagel” or “defrost.” Do not depend on these—try them out and see how they fare before you assume they’re perfect. The “2” setting on mine (out of nine) produces what I’d call a “4.” There’s almost no difference in toast I make on settings “7” through “9.”
2. Don’t wait for your toast to jump.
I once glanced over and assumed it was still toasting since my bread hadn’t popped out the top, but it turns out that the popping mechanism just decided to take the day off that day. My once beautiful toast had actually been sitting there, getting gradually more charred for several minutes. Two minutes is about all you need for golden brown and up to five minutes for well done.
3. Clean your toaster—not just the outside.
Many assume that since the toasting slots are all full of electrical wires and such, they can’t be cleaned or don’t warrant cleaning. Wrong and wrong. The crumbs and bits that accumulate in there get nastier and more burnt up every time you use it, eventually affecting the flavor of your toast and sometimes even causing smoke. Unplug your toaster, hold it upside down over the sink, and tap the bottom and sides to get the crumbs out.
1. Check your settings.
The toaster oven is a great alternative if you don’t have a classic toaster or are trying to maximize space as it has several functions aside from just toasting. For this reason, it’s important to make sure that you adjust the settings carefully before you toast—bread that accidentally gets baked takes longer and doesn’t crisp up, while bread on broil will turn to blackened dust before you know it. That said…
2. Don’t take your settings at face value.
See above. Toaster ovens have equally as iffy buttons and dials that take time to befriend. What my toaster oven calls “light” is basically raw.
3. Take it up a notch.
One of the great things about toasting in a toaster oven is that you can season and dress your bread as it cooks rather than having to wait until it’s done. Try drizzling olive oil over top and sprinkling with salt and herbs or making caramelized cinnamon toast with butter and sugar. One of my favorite childhood breakfasts was a toast my dad made with a thick slab of tomato covered in salt and pepper and topped with a melting slice of cheese. Perfect toast just got way better.
1. Grease lightly.
Stovetop toasting can offer a wonderful texture that you can’t get elsewhere with more contrast between the crisp outside and still-soft inside. The key to this is a light coat of grease whether butter, oil, or bacon fat. Don’t skimp, or else the toast will discolor and smoke where it touches the bare pan. Don’t overdo it either, or your bread will just soak up that grease. Nonstick pans of course don’t apply. While you can also toast over dry heat, you don’t get the same textural quality.
2. Don’t be tempted to raise the heat.
Sometimes in my impatience to finish up the toast before the eggs get cold, I’ll kick the heat up to the edge of medium or even medium-high. Do not do this. It may work well on one piece, but from that point forward, your pan is too hot, making it more likely to burn the rest.
For all of these methods, the pursuer of perfect toast should always stay alert, avoid distractions (getting pulled away and forgetting about your toast is the most common reason for burning it), and act quickly once their toast is toasted. Each of these tools holds onto heat long after the toast is done, so the longer you wait to pull it out, the darker it will get.