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As part of Cooking Week, we set out to test some of the most niche (and, in some cases, ridiculous) kitchen gadgets we could find. We wanted to know if these impressive-looking appliances actually do what they claim and if they’re worth the splurge. These are our findings.
Some devices, through their longevity, ubiquity, market saturation and the frightening power of economies of scale, have become essentially unimprovable. Among these, arguably, is the humble toaster — a product which has in the 130-odd years since its invention become so thoroughly standardized and affordable that most consumers probably could not tell you what brand of the thing is sitting on their kitchen counter. They all do the same thing (turn bread into crunchy bread) and they’re all somewhere in the neighborhood of $30.
Does such a device truly need to be improved upon? The team at Revolution evidently believe so, or one assumes they would not have spent time and money developing the InstaGLO R270 smart toaster.
Out of the box, the InstaGLO’s distractingly bright touchscreen has a number of settings for the level of desired toasting based on different kinds of bread (sourdough, multigrain, bagel, etc.) or different states of bread readiness (fresh, frozen, reheat.) Then again, so does my fully analog $30 Cuisinart. And in the defense of the cheaper option, I’d feel comfortable with and capable of disassembling that toaster and replacing anything that broke while the InstaGLO presents an impenetrable enigma of unnecessary engineering complications.
The foremost of these is perhaps the most obvious feature upon use: there’s no lever AKA the sticky-outie plastic tab you press down to carry the bread into its miniature furnace. Tapping ‘BEGIN’ on the front plate sends the bread gently downward all on its own, and shortly thereafter the same mechanism levitates it back up to a comfortable grabbing height, “so you never have to reach into the toaster with a fork again,” so says Revolution’s marketing copy. Grabbing hot food from the toaster has never presented much of an obstacle for me — perhaps I’m just built different! — but that is a problem easily solved by wooden toast tongs, which can be had for around $5. Or leftover takeout chopsticks, for free. Or just allowing the passage of time to cool the toast to a handleable temperature. Also free. (I can’t recommend sticking a metal fork into an electrical device.)
Of course if moving carbohydrates up and down a few inches was its only selling point the InstaGLO would be a transparent racket. No, the foremost stated innovation is faster heating, which Revolution claims “sears” bread rather than drying it out — crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, or so I’m told. While it certainly does manage to put a frozen slice of country wheat through the Maillard reaction a bit faster, whatever promises of a softer interior had been made were either unrealized or undetectable by my toast-stuffed mouth. And if several hundred dollars of unrealized toast dreams are already burning a hole in your pocket, maybe try one of those steam-based ones that were (are?) popular in Japan. Never tried it, but I hear good things.
It’s possible — likely even — that there are more discerning toast connoisseurs who would notice, appreciate and feel comfortable paying a premium for that experience. The time saved was essentially immaterial to me, as I typically spend the time the bread is cooking to feed the cat, make tea or whatever other morning puttering needs doing. If money is no object and you absolutely have to choke down a slice of crisp multigrain between your morning spin class and 9AM executive meeting, sure, do what makes you happy. But that speedier toasting time also presents a major flaw when it comes to the InstaGLO’s accessories. (Yes, there are now dongles. For a toaster. What bold and unprecedented times we live in.)
For a jaw-dropping $80 you can separately purchase a miniature panini press — another kitchen apparatus that can be had for $30 to $40 from any number of no-name manufacturers. Despite having two toasting slots, the InstaGlo Panini Press only works in the right-hand side, and in truth does a better job of smooshing bread into the approximate shape of a panini than actually cooking one. After several attempts using fresh and frozen bread, lightly oiling the insides of the press (or not), I was met with disappointing results every time. Not only did the exterior fail to reach the crunchiness one expects with a pressed sandwich, I suspect the faster cook time is to blame for the failure of the cheese to melt. At all. I gave this thing the easy task of thinly sliced, low-moisture mozzarella and it just couldn’t stick the landing.
Notably, too, the InstaGLO Panini Press is tiny. Some fussing is required to fit even supermarket-style square loaf slices inside. And while I tend towards the Alton Brown axiom of never buying unitasker devices for my (small, already crowded) kitchen a true panini press — or hell, even one of those George Foreman things — can comfortably fit slices from the center of a boule (as god intended) or a halved baguette (if you’re in a desperate situation. I’m not here to judge that.) And it bears mentioning, this problem isn’t limited to the panini add-on either. As with any cheap, conventional toaster, and longer slices will require a flip-and-retoast maneuver, somewhat undermining Revolution’s promise of “no double toasting needed.”
The Warming Rack ($30) sits over top of the device and, despite the toaster as a whole having the ability to cook bread for varying amounts of time, the rack simply has no options whatsoever. It does its thing and if your pastry or whatever is not warm enough, either cycle it again or deal with it. I tested this with a slice of some banana bread I’d made a few days prior. The exterior facing the heating elements wasn’t even warm enough to melt butter; the top was room temperature.
Should you buy a fancy toaster? Hell, we’re probably heading into another major recession, but who am I to tell you what to do with your money. And this model’s shockingly bright touchscreen (which as best as I can tell can never be turned off) makes a good night light if you’re trying to find the bathroom at 3am. Despite bold claims though, there’s very little that’s revolutionary about the InstaGLO.