Chances are pretty good you already own an electric toaster, or at the very least have owned one at some point in your life. Toasting bread and other breakfast foods like toasties, waffles, English muffins, and bagels is a regular morning and afternoon occurrence in many homes. But, have you ever stopped to ask yourself, how does a toaster work? Like many people, it is possible you have not. That’s why we did the research and created this article so you can learn all about how a toaster works. You may even quite possibly, have a newfound appreciation for this popular kitchen appliance.
The Inner Workings of a Toaster Explained
What goes on inside an electric toaster while it toasts bread may be a mystery for now but, after you read the following sections, you’ll be calling yourself a pop-up toaster pro. Keep reading, and you may be surprised at how much you learn and how useful this information can be going forward.
What Type of Heat Does a Toaster Use to Cook?
Toasters utilise infrared radiation, which creates heat to toast your bread and other baked goods. You may be most familiar with infrared heat from the sun. When your skin is under direct sunlight, it begins to get warm due to the infrared heat. This specific type of energy or heat is relatively inexpensive to produce and highly versatile when it comes to household appliances.
Infrared radiation is visible when you insert the bread and turn on the power. The red glowing light that you see is the product of the radiant heat. This infrared heat cooks your food primarily on the exposed surface, where the heat causes the toast to turn brown.
With a toaster, as the heat penetrates your bread via light, the molecules in your bread start to move fast, which creates friction. It then generates more heat inside your toast, speeding up the cooking process by utilising conduction and infrared radiation. Eventually, this leads to the interior of your food cooking as well as the exterior.
Interestingly enough, infrared light is also a component in other household appliances and devices such as security systems, remote controls, optical fibres, electric heaters, and thermal imaging in cameras with night vision. However, the process for these devices works in a slightly different way.
A Look at the Toaster’s Heating Element
Heating elements inside the toaster works while only using a minimal amount of energy. The heating elements consist of nichrome wires comprising sheets of mica. A mica is being used in general because it is highly heat-resistant and can withstand the current electricity that runs through the wires.
Nichrome wires have chromium and nickel alloy. It can repeatedly withstand high temperatures and is also rust-proof. When electricity flows through the nichrome wiring and the surrounding plates, it slows down as electrons collide with each other, resulting in its conversion to heat.
This kind of element is relatively common in kitchen and home appliances thanks to the wires’ durability and their ability to heat up and cool down at rapid speeds. Other than an electric toaster, you are likely to see them in hair dryers, water heaters and more.
The Basic Toasting Process
- After plugging an electric toaster into the main power outlet, the toasting process can start on your command by turning on the switch.
- Once your bread slices are loaded, you start by pressing down a handle or button which lowers them inside the toaster.
- As this happens, a wedge inside the toaster pushes two contacts together, forming a connection or circuit between the power supply and the nichrome wires.
- The nichrome wires are also known as electric current. This connection conducts electricity to the nichrome wire and the mica sheets they surround via electrons.
- As the electricity flows, any energy outside the nichrome wiring becomes heat. The excess heat or energy then radiates away from the coils and works for cooking and toasting your slices of bread.
- The closer your slice of bread is to the heating element, and the hotter the part becomes, the faster it will toast.
- Once the toasting process is complete, the switch is released, and the toaster will pop-up.
- You’ve now completed toasting.
How Does a Toaster Know When the Toast is Ready to Eat?
Toasters feature a control dial that typically displays five or six different settings. The settings on the control dial will determine the browning or toasting level you wish to achieve. A level one will only toast your bread a minimal amount. The higher the setting level, the more toasted your bread will be. Once your bread reaches the predetermined level of toastiness, the toaster will pop-up, letting you know your slices of toast are ready to eat.
Toasters have a unique and simple way of knowing when slices of bread are ready to eat. Surprisingly, it does not involve a technical timer. Let’s find out more.
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How Does a Toaster Timer Work?
Most toaster models feature a bimetallic strip that functions as the toaster’s timing mechanism. However, this kind of device is not technically a timer because its release mechanism is based on the amount of heat and not based on a specific amount of time. Instead, the basis used is the temperature and how long the heat temperature lasted.
Here’s how it works. Two different metal strips form a single strip by welding it together. A bimetallic strip is placed in the toaster, close to the heating element, to read a suitable temperature. Each piece of metal heats up at a different rate, causing them to curl. The longer the heat, the more the metal curls. Depending on the browning level you select, the twisted metal will trigger a lever. It will break the circuit and current of electricity, stopping the flow of energy to the wire, and activating the spring-loaded pop-up mechanism, which produces your finished slice of toast.
The higher the browning level you select on your toaster, the strip will need to curl more to trigger the lever. So, while it takes an extended amount of time for a darker setting, you can see now that the mechanism does not depend on time but heat duration. The good thing is that when you use the toaster several times in a row, it won’t take as long to reach the same level of toastiness as previously.
Of course, there is always an exception to the rule. Some newer, more high-end toaster models do contain a timing chip that most toasters do not have.
Electricity and Toaster Safety
While toasters are safe to use, they can pose a severe risk of electrocution if not used properly. Due to the somewhat exposed wire part inside a toaster and the active circuit of electricity. It is crucial to remember that you should never put a knife or any other thing inside while energy is flowing through the electric circuit. If you do, you will almost certainly get a shock from the electricity inside.
Toasters also need to be cleaned regularly to prevent burning or possible fires. Burning can occur when too many crumbs gather at the bottom. Most toasters feature a removable crumb tray in the base to make it more manageable. Remove the tray, and dump the crumbs approximately one or two times per week, depending on how frequently you prepare a toast. The tray should be able to avoid burning your bread. Also, make sure to wait until your toaster is cool and unplugged before extracting the tray to prevent possibly burning your fingers or countertop.
— GoLifeHacks (@golifehacks) July 26, 2018
Toaster: The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread
How does a toaster work? While it may have been a mystery when you started, you probably know by now more about the inner functionality of toasters than you ever thought was necessary. You are now armed with this information and data. The next time you will prepare a slice of bread in your pop-up toaster, you will take a moment to marvel at how seamlessly each internal component functions together to bring you your delicious toasty treat.
Let us know what you think about how toasters work and how it relates to your experience cooking with a toaster in the comments below.