Contact Toasting and Radiant Toasting: What’s the Difference?

Toasting can improve the taste and quality of a number of menu items, but the type of toaster also has an impact on the end product. Understanding the differences between radiant and contact toasting options can help ensure you’re using the correct method to garner the best results.

Radiant Toasting

Radiant toasting extracts the moisture from the bread. The process of drying up the moisture within the bread is what causes it to turn brown and gain that “toasted” appearance. Also at work is what chefs and restaurateurs know as the Maillard reaction – the chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars in the starch that makes food taste differently when it is browned. Radiant toasting also provides a deeper crunch.

This toasting method is especially appropriate for items like English muffins, bagels and croissants; diners love it when the nooks and crannies of the English muffin are crispy. The top rim is nice and dry, but the interior of the crater is a little softer. Think of radiant toasting like warming up near a fireplace — the closer the product gets to the heating element, the more heat energy it will absorb.

Contact Toasting

Contact toasting, on the other hand, makes complete contact between the heat source and the food product. Antunes’ contact toasters ensure that the product is cradled along the heat source, making full contact on one or both sides and creating a sealed finish.

Think of a crème brûlée: the flame cooks the sugars inside the cream, creating a smooth caramel exterior. The same process happens to the starches inside a food product that goes into a contact toaster. If you take your finger and run it across the surface of a bun that has been contact toasted, you notice how smooth the surface is.

The reason why many restaurants use contact toasting is the consistency of the finished product. Contact toasting ensures a high level of consistency from bun to bun. Second, and most important, the sealed surface of a well-toasted, caramelized bun acts as a shell around the soft interior. This is critical for restaurants when they take a hot, juicy hamburger patty and place it on the bun with condiments to serve it to the customer. Without that nice caramelized seal, the juices and condiments can penetrate the bun and make it soggy over time.

When you consider the high ratio of drive-through customers to in-house diners in QSRs, and how drive-through orders are consumed after 10, 15 or 20 minutes of travel time, keeping that bun crisp, fluffy and appetizing — not soggy ― is vital to maintaining quality, consistency and a delicious product that will reflect well on your brand and encourage repeat visits.

Toasting Type Benefits Best Suited Bread Types
Radiant Toasting A nice, deep crunch on toasted products and a sealed finish Bagels, croissants, muffins, English muffins and sourdough
Contact Toasting An exterior caramelized seal that can keep breads from getting soggy. The entire surface area of the product is against a flat surface that is the same temperature, promoting a higher degree of consistency. Brioche, hamburger buns and other buns used by QSRs for sandwiches

Operator Considerations

When looking at radiant and contact toasting options, an operator should consider the diner’s ideal experience for that particular menu item. Will the diner be eating it now or later? If later, will the juicy hamburger patty or cooked chicken soak into the bun? Will the customer be looking for a menu item with a lot of crunch or something with a caramelized surface? The application is what drives the toaster choice. Another factor is the flavor profile of the bun. A brioche bun that is toasted by radiant heat will taste a little different from one that is toasted by contact heat, and that resulting flavor profile may complement another ingredient better.

To learn more about Antunes’ toasting solutions, check out these videos: