5/15/22 Update – Added new entry from Mitsubishi Electric
10/24/22 Update – Added new entry from Milan Toast
The demise of the toaster
I remember growing up my parents used to have a closetful of Westinghouse Toaster Ovens. No, we didn’t have a toaster in every room. But any time someone’s wedding came up, they’d just go to the closet, take out a box, wrap it, and boom! Perfect present for the new couple that was so solidly built it would probably outlast the couple’s marriage.
The toaster may not have been the best invention since sliced bread, but sliced bread certainly changed for the better since it was invented. Specifically, the first electric toaster was invented in Scotland by Alan MacMaster. While not a success, his invention led to Charles Strite from the United States to invent the first pop-up bread toaster in 1921 (patent #1,394,450). This led to a golden age of golden, crispy toast. If you grew up between 1950 and 1980, chances are you have fond memories of a workhorse in your kitchen that just never quit.
Sadly, since manufacturing started going offshore, quality declined. American and European manufacturers started closing their domestic plants and opening them overseas in Asia; this way they could slightly reduce the price of their products while increasing their profits (and their personal net worth). Over time, these companies realized that if the toaster was cheap enough consumers didn’t really care if their toaster broke down after a year, they’d just dump their old one in a landfill and buy a new one.
Countries like Taiwan and Japan respected intellectual property laws. But not China. Look at the new “fake” brands on Amazon like BUYDEEM, IKICH, REDMOND, CUSINAID (really?) and you’ll notice that China manufacturers have copied everything (likely producing their toasters off the same assembly lines as the US and European brands) and are now in the process cutting out the middleman by exploiting Amazon’s distribution channels and their lax attention to fake reviews. Within a few years, brands like Cuisinart and Oster will be but fond memories.
Can you get a Toaster Not Made in China?
Sadly, it’s getting harder. Virtually every US and European brand, including high end brands like Cuisinart, KitchenAid, Krups, and Breville and other “familiar” brands like Oster, Hamilton Beach, and Black and Decker are completely manufactured in China (often trying to mislead you with the “Designed in America, Manufactured in China” line. And of course, if you search Amazon for “Toasters Made in the USA”, Amazon completely ignores your search intent and shows you China-made toasters.
Even if you Google “Toasters not made in China” or “Toasters made in the USA”, you’ll find bloggers hocking brands like Cuisinart, Black and Decker, and even AmazonBasics (really?). In some cases these bloggers are just lazy, taking Amazon search results at its word. In other cases, there’s some deliberate search engine manipulation going on (e.g. a page named “Toasters made in USA” but with the headline “Toasters you can buy in USA”.
There is only one manufacturer left that is hanging on–a UK-based firm called Dualit that’s been making toasters for over 70 years. According to the manufacturer’s Web site, all of the toasters in the “Classic Range” are “hand-built” in the UK. A lot of people complain that this is misleading, since most of the parts are sourced from China, but I give Dualit a pass here–one of the unintended consequences of American and European companies breathlessly giving away all their manufacturing to China is that now China controls every aspect of manufacturing, down to making heating elements, mechanical parts, and circuit boards. And what’s frightening is that what started with outsourcing production of TVs and toasters is now spreading to pharmaceuticals, our food chain, and even parts for defense contractors.
Specifically, there are a handful of toasters in the Dualit Classic range that are “hand built in the UK”: The 3-slice Vario toaster, the 4-slice NewGen toaster, the 6-slice Classic toaster, and Classic special editions.
There is some debate as to whether the 2-slice toaster is made in China or not; it seems that the confusion arises because they sell at least three variations of 2-slice toasters: the “Dualit Toaster”, the “Domus” and the “NewGen”. Of these, only the NewGen is mention on their Web site as being made in the UK.
There’s actually another source for toasters not made in China, a brilliant site called Toastercentral.com. It’s run by a gentleman named Michael Sheafe in New York City; his business is refurbishing and selling vintage toasters from as early as the 1920s, to models that you probably grew up with (I was thrilled to see the old Proctor-Silex juicer my dad used every week featured–a workhorse I’d take over any of those flimsy plastic juicers today).
Aside from being an amazing living museum, his site lists actual products for sale that he has personally repaired and refurbished. And because these were built in the golden age of American manufacturing when products were built to last, most of the products he’s selling will outlive anything made in China today.
Best Toasters Not Made in China
1. Dualit 2-Slice NewGen Toaster – Best Overall
Amazon’s listing is a bit misleading, as there are two listings for “Dualit 2-Slice Toaster”. This one you want is the “NewGen” variation in the Classic range, which is most certainly manufactured in the UK.
If the Amazon reviews are any indication, this toaster is a workhorse. People who use it properly say that it toasts perfectly every time (crispy outside, soft inside as long as you use it properly (for example, unlike other toasters, you need to manually raise and lower your toast when the heating element shuts off). The secret is in their filament, which heats at a slightly lower but more controlled heat than other toasters. Users also love the “old school” tactile responsiveness of the controls and how it’s just an old school toaster, not a ridiculous gizmo with digital displays, wi-fi enabled, and thousands of flashing buttons. They speak of how care and pride clearly went into building it.
By the way, do yourself a favor and sort by “most recent” to see the latest reviews; earlier reviews seem to be from customers who had isolated problems as happens with any product (in most cases due to user error because they didn’t take time to learn how to use their toaster properly). And then their negative reviews were downvoted en masse by the same China-based minions who are writing positive reviews for their own brands. And yes, that’s a thing even though Amazon doesn’t police it very well.
One thing I love about DualIt toasters is that if a part breaks down, you can order the parts and replace them; while others are dumping their cheap toasters into landfills once they break down, you’ll be able to keep yours running for years. Do a YouTube search and you’ll see how easy it is to DIY.
Another thing that makes these toasters stand out is their ProHeat elements, unique to the industry. It’s a protective layer that covers the heating filament, making them pretty much indestructible. It also has a defrost setting, options to toast buns and bagels, and a removable crumb tray. You can even purchase an optional sandwich cage to toast entire sandwiches at once.
If you have a big family, the 4-slice toaster is a must-have.
Some of the best finds for consumer electronics come from Japan. While most Japanese brands have outsourced their low-end products to China just like American brands, there is a handful of higher end products in a handful of categories that remain made in Japan–usually because the brand is smart enough to keep at least some of its domestic factories running. This toaster, which some have called the ”Rolls Royce of Toasters” is one of them.
Reviews are off-the-charts good. Here’s an example:
“A toaster gets a double wow? Yep, it will truly change your life and how you look at a slice of toast. beautifully browned and satisfying crunch on the outside and a pillowy soft, fresh out of the oven insides. To truly appreciate this, slice your own bread about a half to 5/8″ thick and you’ll experience the wonder of Japanese excellence in toast!”
Check out the photos on Amazon as well as this video from AvE to learn more about this toaster.
Because this was made for domestic use in Japan, you’ll need to purchase a transformer to use it in the US or elsewhere. You’ll also want to double-check that the seller is a legitimate one from Japan with good reviews. h/t to a poster on Slickdeals for turning me on to this model.
One poster suggested an alternate Japan brand called Balmuda but sadly, those are all made in China now.
The iconic Milan Toast Classic Sandwich Toaster has been handmade in Italy since the 1960’s. Most people in Italy are familiar with it, most people in America are not, presumably because MilanToast has enjoyed success in Italy and has never really felt the need to bother with setting up shop in America (which, ironically, probably would have pushed them into compromising their brand to China manufacturers like other Italian companies like SMEG).
Milan Toast doesn’t plan obsolescence in their toasters like most brands that outsource to China; their toaster last, and if anything goes wrong every small part can be serviced or replaced. This means if you pay $400 for a toaster now, you’ll get high quality toast from the same toaster for years while others around you are buying what essentially amounts to disposable toasters.
Of course, if you have a really, really big family, you can consider this 🙂
A lot of industrial kitchen equipment has largely escaped the “made in China” phenomenon. Why? It all has to do with supply and demand. Restaurants, cafeterias, hotels, and other businesses with big kitchens don’t want to have to re-purchase their equipment every few years, so they’re less price sensitive than consumers (who have been duped into expecting it). They’re willing to pay a premium price for premium quality.
Of course, most individual buyers won’t need a conveyor bread toaster, nor will be able to spend over $1,300 for a toaster. But I include it here just to make the reassuring point that the USA still does manufacture some high quality equipment, and let’s hope it stays that way for a long time. Star Manufacturing creates these commercial toasters that you’ve probably seen in hotels or restaurants out of their plant in Smithville, Tennessee. Hobart used to be another US manufacturer who made toasters, but sadly they don’t seem to be in that business anymore.
Do you have any experience with these toasters? Or have you found another manufacturer who has not sold out to China? Let us know in the comments below!