Not so long ago, choosing a bread maker mainly meant looking for an appliance that would look nice on your kitchen counter and make basic bread, perhaps with some interesting add-ins. Today, there are loads of options, with some of the best bread makers offering a variety of innovative features that really encourage you to exercise your creativity in the kitchen.
We’ve written this bread maker buyer’s guide in hopes of providing you with the insight you need to make an informed decision, so you shop not just according to price, but by features. Ultimately, taking a little time to compare top bread makers with one another will help make the shopping process faster and easier, and it’ll leave you with a machine that meets your needs instead of one that gathers dust.
Types of Bread Makers
If you’ve ever used a bread maker, then you know that the appliance’s basic function is to transform ingredients (flour, water, sugar, salt, and yeast, usually) into bread. All of the bread makers we’ve reviewed perform certain steps:
- Mixing ingredients into dough
- Raising dough in a warm, moist environment
- Baking the raised dough into a loaf of bread that’s ready to serve
Most of the bread makers that made it onto our list of favorites perform some additional functions or offer upgraded features:
- Let you choose a program that’s suitable for the type of bread you want to make
- Have a special setting for making gluten-free bread
- Let you make items other than bread; i.e. jam, cake, or meatloaf
- Have a setting for adding special items such as seeds, nuts, or dried fruit at the right time during the preparation cycle
- Offer a keep warm feature
- Have a delay timer that lets you set up the machine hours in advance
All bread makers offer convenience, and all of them take the difficulty and mess out of the bread making process. Now that you know about some of the most popular features, let’s make a quick side-by-side comparison of popular features you’ll find on different bread maker models.
If this is your first time choosing a bread maker, you might not even be aware that there are different sized loaves to choose from! This isn’t at all surprising – older models generally served up one loaf size only, and some still do.
In comparison, the Breville BBM800XL bread maker and the West Bend 41300 Hi-Rise bread maker let you choose between four different loaf sizes, with the smallest at 1 pound and the largest at 2.5 pounds. The Conair Cuisinart CBK-100 is marketed as a 2-lb. bread maker, but in actuality, it offers you three size options.
1. The Pros of Single-Loaf Size Bread Makers:
Who doesn’t love an up-front bargain? In most cases, old-fashioned bread makers that offer no loaf size option cost a bit less than the ones that give you several options.
Second, it’s really easy to memorize your favorite recipe and make a quick loaf of bread without giving too much thought to the process. Of course, this is something you can do with any bread machine.
2. The Pros of Multiple-Loaf Size Bread Makers:
Sometimes you want fresh bread for a small group of people; sometimes you need to feed a crowd, or you’d like your bread to last through a few meals instead of just one.
Second, fresh homemade bread doesn’t contain preservatives, so it becomes stale within just a few days. If you’re trying to be conscientious about your health but aren’t part of a large family, you can be in control of what goes into each of your loaves without making so much bread that you’ll feel obligated to overeat. When you have guests or want to share, then you can make a bigger loaf. It’s good to be in control!
If you’re on a budget or aren’t terribly interested in options, then a single-loaf size bread maker will probably work well for you. Then again, you’ll pay about as much for the Hamilton Beach HomeBaker 29882, which makes 2 loaf sizes, as you would for a decent single-loaf size bread maker.
Automatic Fruit and Nut Dispenser
What makes this feature so popular? If you’re a seasoned baker, then you already know that you have to add things like herbs, nuts, and dried fruit at a certain time during the baking cycle, since adding them too soon can alter the finished loaf’s texture and quality. Bread makers with automatic fruit and nut dispensers add these extras at precisely the right time during the baking cycle, making for true automation even when you’re doing interesting things with your bread. The Panasonic SD-RD250 is one of these.
Automatic fruit and nut dispensers are all about convenience. If you’re going to be using the delayed baking cycle a lot, and you tend to like a lot of extras in your bread, then it’s probably worth a few extra dollars to choose a machine with this option.
Also, when the machine adds the extras for you, you know that you’re going to get a good quality product in the end. Some machines do sound an alarm when it’s time to add extras, but that prevents you from making those special recipes when you’re not going to be within earshot of the machine.
Still others leave it up to you to remember to add extras on your own. We recommend that you set an alarm if you want to do this, since it’s crucial that you add nuts, seeds, etc. at a certain time or risk ruining your loaf.
Price is the main detractor here. When you stop to consider that your bread machine – even a top-rated model like the Breville BBM800XL will pay for itself pretty quickly, you might decide to spring for the automatic fruit and nut dispenser.
If you like extras in your bread, then an automatic fruit and nut dispenser is probably something worth looking into. If you like plain Jane sandwich bread and really don’t care about seeds, nuts, cheese, or herbs, then skip the dispenser since it’s something you probably won’t even use.
Gluten Free Setting, Pizza Dough Setting, and Other Special Modes
Gluten-free baked goods are all the rage these days, and it looks like they’re definitely here to stay. Homemade pizza is fun to make, and it lets you control what goes into your family’s meal while allowing for endless creativity. These are just a couple of the settings that you’ll find on different bread makers.
Multiple settings give you the opportunity to transform your home’s kitchen into a bakery that produces everything from soft pretzels to cake. When you have a bread maker like the Zojirushi BB-PAC20, which features an extensive menu of options, you’ll find yourself using it to make a wide selection of foods, meaning you’ll really get your money’s worth.
Second, if your family has special dietary needs, then having the ability to make gluten free bread at home will save you quite a bundle while allowing you to enjoy a variety of delicious baked goods that might not otherwise make it onto your plate.
If you’re technically impaired, then you might have a little trouble deciphering the modes. Luckily, there’s a solution to this problem: automatic settings. Many bread machines have them, so you still get the convenience of simple operation. The Panasonic SD-RD250 bread maker is among the easiest we found to operate, although it’s worth mentioning that none of the top models were difficult to use.
Top manufacturers are putting a lot of time and effort into building bread machines that people will want to use for different things. Who doesn’t love the idea of making fresh jam to put on your homemade bread? Don’t let the technology intimidate you. It really is easy to use these machines.
Consider Your Reasons for Wanting a Bread Maker and Read Reviews
Before making a selection, be sure that you spend at least a little time thinking about your reasons for wanting a bread maker. Your goals may have changed now that you know a little bit more about what some of these appliances are able to do! By making a quick checklist, you can compare your needs with the models available.
Once you’ve narrowed your choice down to just a few options, read some reviews to see what others have experienced while using the bread makers that you’re considering. Taking a little time to learn what people have to say will almost certainly pay off. Some tips for bread maker reviews critically follow:
- Look for reviews that talk about various features on the bread makers you are considering, and don’t give too much weight to general reviews that simply say the appliance is good or bad without providing details that explain why the reviewer feels as he or she does. You want to learn as much as you can about the models that have caught your attention.
- Pick a few different bread makers to compare. Although this type of careful side by side comparison will add a little time to your decision making process, it will give you a much better feel for what is available at different prices. You may find that keeping a few notes will help make it easier to keep all the details straight.
- Look for bread maker reviews that break the machines’ features down and provide specific information about how they work. Do they give you a few options or are there more than a dozen to choose from? Can you select crust color if you want to? How big are the loaves? Can you make dough in the machine and then shape it into rolls or artisan loaves? You’ll be surprised at the kinds of details you will find when you start reading detailed reviews.
- Recognize that as with all appliances, manufacturing defects are possible, and the same defects are likely to be repeated across the spectrum. Even the best bread machines sometimes fail right out of the box due to a factory defect. Do not let a few bad reviews detract from the overall picture. If you’ve had a bad experience in the past or are concerned that you might get a lemon, pick a bread maker that comes with a good warranty.
Where to Buy a Bread Maker
While a few department stores and big box stores keep a good selection of kitchen appliances including bread makers in stock, you are likely to find more to choose from by shopping online at sites that carry a wide variety of merchandise, i.e. Amazon. Remember to consider the unit’s cost, ease of use, features, and of course quality as you make your decision. After all, a good bread maker is an important addition to your kitchen, and it’s something that can make a positive difference in your health as well as your food budget. The best bread maker is the one that comes with a price tag that appeals to you, delivers fantastic baked goods, and pays for itself by letting you make a variety of wonderful foods at home during the months and years to come.