I've never lived on a submarine, but I've cooked in what I imagine are the equivalent kitchen conditions for three years. While there’s some convenience in the ability to reach every pot, pan, and dish you own while barely unfurling your arm, the novelty wears off quickly.
Like oxygen, water, and good customer service, it’s impossible to truly appreciate kitchen counter space until there is none to be had. I’m not exaggerating when I describe the single six-inch wide “prep area” that my wife and I were forced to reckon with in our galley kitchen. Ah, the charms of city living.
Adversity breeds creativity, though. We learned that it was, in fact, possible to live rich culinary lives without acres of granite countertop—two multi-day Christmas feasts can attest to that, thank you very much. One simply has to pare down to the essentials.
I’ve managed without a toaster since my first post-college apartment—opting instead to use the broiler in the oven. At first it was a matter of economy. I had pennies to my name and the oven was already there. A toaster seemed profligate.
Within a month or two of using the broiler for my toast, I never looked back. I came to enjoy the quaint, lo-fi process: keeping an eye on the browning, flipping the slices by hand. Plus I prefer the taste. I’m half-convinced that the steam, which is a byproduct of the burning gas, adds moisture to the toast. (Our Head Scientist has assured me that I’m quite deluded on this.)
A small exception may be made for toaster ovens, which do offer some tangible conveniences when a full-size oven is simply too unwieldy or time-consuming: reheating leftovers or making side dishes. They do, however, take up even more space than a pop-up toaster, so don't expect to see one in my kitchen any time soon.
Besides, we're talking about making toast here, not casseroles. And I love toast. How much do I love it? With some minor variations, I've eaten the same breakfast every morning for 15 years. Toast is central to the whole operation. By my back-of-the-napkin tally, I've cooked 9,750 pieces of toast using an oven broiler.
In that time, I've come to scorn the very existence of toasters. What is a toaster, really, but a broiler that never made it to the big time? “Control” dials that offered little in the way of useful control. Neglected and crumb-ridden on untidy counters, heaped in garbage cans, their white plastic yellowed from the heat, as disposable as the very toast they purport to specialize in.
Give us this day our daily bread
Fortunately I was able to convince my wife of the virtues of oven toasting, which was never really a great challenge. That’s because we share a common belief—a creed, really—that one should never buy junk.
By the time we moved into an apartment with enough counter space to actually fit a toaster, the idea was beyond the pale. The oven was not only sufficient, it was superior.
My guiding principle for life as a consumer is to determine exactly what you need to do a task and then buy the best version of that thing you can reasonably afford. Take care of it, and it will last you far longer and cost far less in the long term than the cheap throwaways.
In regards to my toast methodology, friends ignore me. Co-workers disagree with me. That’s fine. Socrates was mocked in his day and now he is credited with laying the groundwork for Western thought. I feel my broiler and I will have our day in the sun as well.
If you must, the Panasonic Flash Xpress is a solid choice
My colleague and fellow holder of overly-strong opinions on typically benign subjects, Keith Barry, has a special place in his heart for the Panasonic Flash Xpress toaster oven. With his endorsement, I recommended it to an aunt and uncle, who are absolutely smitten with it. With all the aesthetics charms of an aged VCR, the Flash Xpress is nonetheless a cult favorite for its unparalleled performance.
I think I've made it clear by this point that I have no intention of bringing a toaster back into my life. But by all accounts, if you absolutely insist on a toaster in your own home, consider this one.