A toaster seems like a simple machine, so simple that most of us don’t bother reading the instruction manual, which is why when it starts burning toast, we get frustrated. Perfect bread is great, but sometimes not burnt will do. How can something so simple outsmart us?
To prevent food from burning in a toaster, adjust your toaster-making habits. Clean out the toaster and become familiar with the settings and how different bread is affected by heat. If you adjust how you use a toaster and it still burns your bread, then the problem lies with the toaster, not you.
British researchers toasted 2,000 slices of bread to develop a recipe for a perfect piece of toast. Most of us have neither the time, money, nor patience to toast that much bread, so read on to learn what you can do to get toast that might not be perfect but at minimum edible.
You Could Be Causing it to Burn Food
Fixing a mistake you’re making is easier than disassembling a toaster to replace a part, so let’s start with how you might be responsible for the charred toast.
1. Not Cleaning It Out
Let’s start with the easy fix first.
If you don’t clean your toaster, eventually the crumbs left inside have no choice but to catch on fire. So unless your toaster has a self-cleaning mode, which most do not, you need to clean it every so often.
Unplug it, remove the tray that catches the crumbs, and toss the contents in the trash. Shake out any remaining crumbs, replace the tray, and you are finished. Wiping down the outside is not required, but go ahead and do so with a damp cloth. Your toaster will thank you.
2. Thinking That All Bread Is Created Equal
Contrary to what some people think, you can use bread that has not been pre-sliced in your toaster. Although toasters rose in popularity with the rise of sliced bread in the early 1930s, they had been in use twenty years earlier.
Toasters of the 1920s featured innovations such as swinging toasters that burned a design into the bread and in the late 1920s, the popup toaster. But your toaster can’t tell the difference between a thin slice of light bread and a thick slice of dense bread, so it’s up to you to help it out.
If you want bread that’s crispy on the outside but soft on the inside, you’ll want to cut a less dense loaf thicker to get that perfect piece of toast. Since heavier bread won’t crisp as quickly, it needs to be cut more thinly.
Putting a thick slice of rye bread on the same setting as the one for Texas Toast is a recipe for ruined rye bread.
Also, sweetbreads and dried bread toast more quickly, which is why the setting you used for fresh bread will burn the bread when it’s a couple of days old.
3. You Are Not Adjusting Settings
You can be forgiven for thinking that once you get the settings right for that perfect piece of toast, you shouldn’t change them. However, as simple as toasters are, getting the temperature right isn’t simple.
For starters, some toasters use circuit boards to control heating time, and others use a bi-metallic strip to turn off.
When you press the lever down on a circuit board toaster, a bar presses against a set of contacts, which provide power to the heating elements. A small electromagnet holds the metal on the handle in place until the timer in the circuit shuts off the power to the electromagnetic. Once that happens, the springs pop up, and your toast is ready.
The dark setting is, therefore, a timer. Whether the toaster is cold or warm, the toasting time is the same unless the setting is adjusted. As the toaster gets hotter from repeated use, you’ll need to lower the setting, or your toast will get progressively darker.
A toaster that uses a bi-metallic thermometer relies on a metallic strip to turn off the electromagnet. Bi-metallic strip thermometers are also used in ovens and furnaces. However, the strips in toasters are small and less reliable, meaning that you’ll need to increase the setting or else your toast will come out too light.
So if you increase the darkness setting, the next piece of toast comes out perfect. But if you don’t decrease the setting, tomorrow’s toast will be toast, so to speak.
Here’s a summary of when you should turn your dial up or down:
|Turn Down the Dial||Turn Up the Dial|
|The bread is soft||The bread is dense|
|The bread is old||The bread is fresh|
|The bread is warm (not refrigerated)||The bread is refrigerated|
|The bread is thin||The bread is thick|
|The machine is already hot|
4. You Get Impatient
Sometimes it seems like the toast is taking forever. We get it–you’re ready to eat, so you pop up the toast, see it isn’t ready, and then press the lever down. Then you go on with what you were doing, trusting when the bread is ready, it’ll pop up. In reality, you reset the timer, and the result is burnt bread.
To keep this from happening, learn the settings of your toaster. Or instead of walking away, stay by the toaster, ready to pop up the toast when it’s ready.
5. You Are Not Using a Bagel Toaster
If you toast bagels or English muffins regularly and aren’t using a bagel toaster, your toaster could be part of the problem.
A toaster without a bagel setting heats evenly, but the inside of your bagel needs more heat than the outside. So you squeeze the bagel into the toaster and put it on the highest setting, and when the bagel pops up, it’s burned on the inside and barely toasted on the outside.
Although a bagel toaster has wider slots, the slot size isn’t why they toast bagels correctly. Instead, the bagel setting redirects power to the inner heating elements so that the inside of the bagel receives more heat (You are putting the cut side of bagels toward the inside of the toaster, right?).
The setting does the same with English muffins.
Something Could Be Wrong With the Toaster
If you clean out your toaster and adjust the settings and your toast is still burned, then something is wrong with the toaster.
So let’s troubleshoot the possibilities.
One problem might be that the latch gets stuck. If this happened, bread would continue to toast while inside the machine. Assuming you have cleaned out the toaster and the latch is catching, removing the cover is the first step.
Unplug the toaster first.
To take the cover off, you need to remove the levers and knobs on the end panel. The fasteners can be found on the bottom of the toaster but not always in plain sight. Once you have taken the cover off, inspect the latch mechanism for stuck-on dirt or bent wiring, both of which can be easily fixed.
If the latch mechanism is working correctly, the culprit usually lies with the thermostat, of which, you can try recalibrating. Search for a screw, nut, or knob on the bracket attached to the control switch and turn it to the solenoid switch to shorten the toasting time.
If that doesn’t fix the problem, then the solenoid switch or the solenoid itself is faulty. So unless you are handy with small electronics (you have a continuity tester, for example), it might be time to invest in a new toaster.
Can Burnt Toast Be Saved?
If you burn toast, don’t immediately throw it away.
There are ways to salvage it:
- If you smell it starting to burn, take it out of the toaster and toss it into the freezer.
It stops the cooking process, just like when you dunk cooked vegetables in ice water.
You’ll have to reheat your toast, but reheating is better than throwing it in the trash.
- If the toast can be salvaged, don’t scrape with a knife but grate instead.
Use a circular motion on a cheese grater to remove the burnt layer.
- Use either the burnt crumbles you grated or pulverize the toast in a blender, sprinkling in salt, red pepper flakes, or lemon pepper.
You have a spice seasoning to toss into a soup, on your morning eggs, or use as a binder in meatballs.
What Is the Perfect Piece of Toast Recipe?
The perfect piece of toast, according to British researchers, is probably not within reach of the average person. Still, if you want to make the best toast in town, follow these steps:
- Start with a piece of refrigerated, seeded toast that’s 37.4°F (3°C) and 14 mm (0.55 in) thick.
- Set your toaster so it’ll reach 309℉ (153℃).
- Cook the toast for precisely 216 seconds.
- Spread the correct amount of butter, which is either 0.44 grams (0.02 oz) per square inch or 1/17 the thickness of the bread.
- Cut your toast diagonally and serve on a plate warmed to 113°F (3.99°C). Anything hotter and the bread will continue to toast, and a colder plate will allow condensation to form.
If you ask why someone would go through 2,000 pieces of bread (100 loaves) to come up with a recipe that seems impossible to copy, you’re not alone.