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Electric Waffle Makers (Waffle Irons)

From The Ultimate Sticky Buns
Update: January, 2017
Cuisinart has terminated its Waring Pro line. Our winning Belgian waffle iron, the Waring Pro Double Belgian Waffle Maker (model WMK600), is now called the Cuisinart Double Belgian Waffle Maker (model WAF-F20B). We purchased the new model, tested it, and, despite a minor cosmetic change of the heat-control knob, its status has not changed; it remains our favorite.

How we tested

Historians believe that the Belgian waffle was introduced to the United States by the Bel-Gem company at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Producing waffles that are taller than conventional waffles and have deeper pockets, the European import became wildly popular. 

Today’s market is glutted with Belgian waffle makers, so we decided it was time we found the best one. We focused on the newer, more prevalent flip- and rotary-style models, in which the machine either turns on a hinge or spins 180 degrees on a stand, but we also included several conventional stationary models. We set a price cap of $100 and tested 13 irons, making batches of both a Belgian-style yeasted waffle batter and the batter for our everyday Cook's Illustrated Best Buttermilk Waffles in each machine. We were looking for an iron that consistently produced tall, evenly browned waffles with crisp shells and moist crumbs without any trial and error on our part. We also looked at how easy the machines were to use, clean, and store. 

Belgian waffles are, by definition, tall, so we set the bar for waffle height at 1 inch—anything shorter and we docked points. In terms of cooking, very few of the irons were able to make waffles that were uniformly brown. Many of the irons heated unevenly or ran too hot or too cool, producing waffles that were variously wan, burnt, patchy, gummy, or dry. 

For insight into why some models performed better than others, we attached temperature probes to the irons’ interiors to analyze their heating cycles. The best irons maintained an average interior temperature between 400 and 435 degrees Fahrenheit at their recommended settings. Waffle makers that couldn’t get up to 400 turned out pale, floppy specimens no matter how long we let the waffles cook, while those that ran hotter than 435 degrees frequently overcooked their waffles, which resulted in a cardboard-like texture. 

Timing was an issue, too. Several models that functioned within the ideal temperature range still failed to make good waffles in a moderate period of time. Some irons quickly signaled that the waffle was done, yet the results were spongy, undercooked specimens. Others took too long: We subtracted points from any iron that took more than 5 minutes to make a waffle, as they tended to turn out leathery, stale-tasting waffles. Our recommended irons were able to regularly produce perfectly cooked waffles in 3 to 4 1/2 minutes.

We awarded bonus points to machines that had one or both of two special features: a good drip tray that contained crumbs and overflowing batter for quick cleanup, and audible and/or visual alerts that told us when our waffles were ready, which nixed the need for constant monitoring. By the end of our month of testing, we could have thatched a roof with the piles of subpar waffles the machines turned out. Eight out of the 13 models were so flawed we couldn’t recommend them at all, and we can only recommend three of the irons without any reservations. All our top performers were flip or rotary models. (Though their manufacturers made various claims as to why this design was best, we could unearth no reasonable scientific explanation that linked their superior browning and texture to this design.) Our winning iron made picture-perfect waffles, two at a time, in under 5 minutes. While it lacked a removable drip tray, it had a good, loud alert. At $90 and almost 10 pounds, it’s large and pricey, but it’s well worth the investment if you make Belgian waffles regularly. For those who want a cheaper or smaller alternative, the Presto Flipside, our Best Buy at about $45, is also a good choice.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*