Electric Waffle Makers (Waffle Irons)
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. 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, is also a good choice.