An electrical impedance tomography (EIT) system images internal conductivity from surface electrical stimulation and measurement. Such systems necessarily comprise multiple design choices from cables and hardware design to calibration and image reconstruction. In order to compare EIT systems and study the consequences of changes in system performance, this paper describes a systematic approach to evaluate the performance of the EIT systems. The system to be tested is connected to a saline phantom in which calibrated contrasting test objects are systematically positioned using a position controller. A set of evaluation parameters are proposed which characterize (i) data and image noise, (ii) data accuracy, (iii) detectability of single contrasts and distinguishability of multiple contrasts, and (iv) accuracy of reconstructed image (amplitude, resolution, position and ringing). Using this approach, we evaluate three different EIT systems and illustrate the use of these tools to evaluate and compare performance. In order to facilitate the use of this approach, all details of the phantom, test objects and position controller design are made publicly available including the source code of the evaluation and reporting software.