Ask LH: What Do The Numbers On The Toaster Dial Represent?

Ask LH: What Do The Numbers On The Toaster Dial Represent?
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Hey Lifehacker, What do the numbers on the toaster dial represent? Thanks, Browned Off

Picture: JD Hancock

Dear Browned Off,

It would be lovely if the numbers on the toaster dial represented what we think they should: the extent to which our toast will be cooked. Unfortunately, what experience teaches us is that this is rarely the case. Even using the same bread and the same setting two days in a row, you’ll find one piece charred and the other slightly underdone. This can be irritating at times, but it is the sad reality of the modern toaster. We can send a probe to Mars, but we can’t always brown bread evenly.

Ultimately, what the numbers on the toaster dial represent is our imperfect control of the universe. We cannot dominate all circumstances; we cannot be sure how everything will turn out. We can only do our best. And at least we have toast.


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  • If your toaster charred toast one day, and lightly browned it the next you either have an extremely full bread crumb tray, or your toaster is past it’s useful life and needs to be chucked (or charred)

    • Unlike Lifehacker, Gizmodo actually gave the correct answer:

      Different toasters use different methods to time time their heating — be it a bi-metallic strip that changes shape to measure temperature increase or a capacitor that’s charged and makes your slices pop up when a given voltage is reached.

  • I suppose Gizmodo is technically a different site.

    To summarise the video: If you pick a lower number, the toast will be in for less time. If you pick a higher number, the toast will be in for more time. Do not count on the numbers being meaningful across different brands of toasters.

    Of the different toaster types they tested in the video @flubbly links, the really expensive one toasted for exactly 2 minutes at a setting of 2. The others toasted for various times from about 30 seconds to a bit over a minute.

  • The thing that always confuses me is the temperature setting on my fridge/freezer. I want the temperature to be the lowest i.e. coldest. To do that, the logical thing would be to put the “Temp Control” setting to the lowest i.e. lowest temp = coldest. But no – I need to put the “Temp Control” to the highest to get the coldest. It’s inverse and doesn’t make sense.

    Why isn’t it called “Coldness Control” or “Coldness Setting” and not “Temperature Control”.

    Check your fridge/freezer and see if it’s the same as mine. Mine is an NEC fridge. Maybe it’s just an NEC thing.

  • My toaster always toasts evenly, and with the same bread, the same level of toasting from day to day.

    If you’re toaster doesn’t, 1 of 3 things – You bought an elcheapo toaster, your toaster is faulty, or your toaster is full of crumbs

  • Cover your bread with a thin layer of margerine / butter befor toasting. It soaks in, and acts as a a buffer (cooking the toast at depth rather than just the surface).

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