I’m a pretty big breakfast person – any breakfast food, almost any time of day. But my favorite? Waffles, hands down. From big crunchy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside Belgian waffles to lean mean Waffle House fare, I could eat ‘em all day long. But waffles are also the one piece of breakfast food that most kitchens aren’t equipped to make, since waffle irons can’t really be used to do anything else. That said, if you’re a waffle lover, too, a good waffle iron really does deserve a place in your kitchen – especially if it’ll save you a few trips to Ihop every week! So what should you look for?
This is largely a question of personal preference, but probably one of the first things you’re going to have to decide on. Typically square irons are American style waffles and round ones are Belgian style, but that isn’t universally true. Be certain, though, that when you’re picking, you get one that makes the style waffle you like. I personally like big, square waffle irons because you can make a lot of waffle at once and split it between a group. That said, round ones like this highly-acclaimed, ultra-fast Chef’s Choice 840 distribute batter more easily, letting it spread evenly all the way to the edges whereas square ones tend to miss the corners. Regardless of which style you choose, look for a wide well around the edges to prevent the batter spilling over, and plastic or rubber handles to protect you from the hot metal.
This one is actually pretty simple – plastic waffle irons, like this one from Hamilton Beach, tend to be the least expensive, and also quite lightweight, but that’s because the parts are made of lower quality materials and often have fewer heating coils, which can lead to uneven heating. Instead, if you’re on a budget, opt for a less expensive metal iron – though you should look to spend at least $40. The heavier it is, the better. I’m partial to my own handy dandy Classic Cuisinart, which is small but heats and cooks quickly, and is very hefty for its size.
The least expensive waffle irons come with hardly any features, and some really only have a plug or on/off switch. At the other end of the spectrum are pricier models that come loaded with buttons and gizmos that you might not need. So what should be sure to get? You definitely want an iron that has at least some kind of temperature control to get the right level of crispiness, a light indicator to let you know when the unit is heated and when your waffle is done cooking, and maybe one with an alert noise as well, so you don’t have to keep your eyes on the iron while you’re cooking. This Presto Flip Side goes even one step farther and gives you a digital timer that counts down to waffle time, which is nice, but anything more won’t really do much to improve the taste or texture of your waffle.
Size, Shape, And Design
One of the biggest drawbacks of most waffle irons is that you can only make one waffle at a time, which can put a damper on big family breakfasts. Double sided waffle irons seek to remedy the problem by making two waffles at once, one on top and one on bottom with an iron that flips. Unfortunately, these generally don’t have enough oomph (with the exception of the pricey KitchenAid Pro Line Waffle Baker), to make both waffles crisp on the outside while soft on the inside, and turn out slightly floppy waffles.
A better alternative is this Black&Decker model, which makes a regular sized waffle that tears or cuts easily on perforated lines into several smaller waffles. For those that prefer round waffles, you can get waffle makers like this Chef’s Choice that make heart-shaped waffles. There are also some that make custom animal shapes, which can be nice for kids, but are much much less efficient than ones that take advantage of the whole heating area. If you’re looking to put out as many waffles as you can as possible, opt for one with a larger cooking surface, like this Cuisinart 6 Waffle Maker.
This is one I’m personally torn over. I think waffle irons like this Waring Rotating Waffle Iron that you fill, close, and flip to cook are pretty fun – it’s the kind I grew up with, and in theory turning the iron over helps distribute the batter better for a more evenly cooked waffle. That said, in practice there really isn’t much difference between expensive “pro” models that you flip and regular open-and-close models, and I’m a strong believer that the fewer the moving parts, the better – and the longer your machine will last. Which brings me to…
Electric Or Manual
This is definitely the oddest option, and probably one you hadn’t even considered – but there are some perks to buying a totally manual waffle iron. Manual waffle irons, like this Nordic Ware Griddle, can make one or multiple square or round waffles, just like regular irons, but have no electronic parts. Instead, they’re made of one or two pieces of shaped cast aluminum or cast iron or other dark, non-stick metal. Because they sit flat and disassemble, manual irons store in a much much smaller space than their hefty plug-in counterparts, which makes them great for a crowded kitchen.
The catch is, you have to heat the plate or plates over a gas or electric stovetop (or campfire, for you campers out there), and then finesse some batter into waffle form over the heat. This takes a little practice (no timer and no pre-set heat controls to help!), but can also give you a much greater control over the consistency of the final product once you get the hang of it. Plus, they’re much, much easier to clean than traditional irons since you can submerge and soak them in water.
Finally, you want to look for a waffle iron that comes with a good set of instructions (and recipes, of course!). This may seem a little silly, but not all waffle irons are completely intuitive, and knowing how long your iron SHOULD take can help you adapt your existing recipes and keep you from being tempted to peek! What kind of waffles do you like? Do you opt for Belgian or American style? Crispy or soft in the middle? Are you looking to replace an existing iron, or are you shopping around for your first one?