The "Belgian waffle" is strictly an American convention, an adaptation of the "Brussels waffle" that you can still find in Belgium today. Belgian waffles are thicker and fluffier than their American-style counterparts, but still nice and crispy on the outside. They also have larger, deeper pockets than American-style waffles -- perfect for holding lots of syrup, whipped cream or fruit.
Our landslide winner in this category is the Waring Pro WMK600 (Est. $90) is a double Belgian waffle maker that the editors of Chowhound.com describe as "a waffle-churning workhorse." They like its solid feel and that it's so easy to use right out of the box. "After we got the heat setting right, all our waffles turned out crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, with no sticking," they write. Their biggest concern is the WMK600's size: It stands more than 15 inches tall with the lids closed, and about 20 inches with the lid open -- tall enough to bang into some low cabinets.
Users love the Waring Pro WMK600 too; we found well over a thousand user reviews praising its crisp-but-fluffy, "restaurant-style" Belgian waffles and their inch-deep pockets. Home users love being able to turn out two waffles in four minutes or less, especially since you can adjust the browning/doneness independently for each waffle. Each side of the cooker has its own large green light and audible alarm (loud enough to hear, but not annoying) that let you know when the waffle is ready, and at the beginning of the session the WMK600 will beep six times to let you know it's reached cooking temperature.
The Waring Pro WMK600 even comes with a measuring cup that's the perfect capacity (3/4 cup) for each waffle grid. The plates are not removable, but the non-stick coating releases waffles easily -- which makes for easy cleanup -- as long as you "season" it with a light brushing of oil before the first use. We found a batch of user complaints about broken components from a few years ago, usually the result of having turned the waffle maker the wrong way; the manufacturer solved this by adding an arrow to indicate the right turning direction, and the entire thing is backed by a one-year warranty.
If you just can't do without removable (and thus washable) plates, users and experts alike love the Cuisinart WAF-300 (Est. $90) Belgian waffle maker and its interchangeable pancake plates and waffle plates, both of which are dishwasher safe (although hand-washing will help preserve the non-stick coating). Like most non-stick waffle irons, you also need to "season" the plates with a light brushing of cooking oil before the first use.
"The Cuisinart WAF-300 and a good recipe are all you need," write the editors for a noted consumer testing organization, which tested six waffle makers and found the Cuisinart to be the most consistent and reliable at both high and low heat settings. Users agree with that assessment, saying it never disappoints. Because it cooks up to four waffles at once, it's a great choice for large groups.
Usability features include good-size "ready to bake" and "waffle done" indicator lights plus audible beeps, and the box-shaped Cuisinart WAF-300 stores upright to save cabinet space. Most users say this machine is solid and will last a long time, and it's backed by a three-year limited warranty. However, the few complaints we did find about durability usually also say that Cuisinart's customer service isn't very good.
If you're a frequent waffle cooker, both of the aforementioned models are the type of investment that guarantees your hundredth waffle will be as good as your first. If you only plan to make waffles occasionally, though, you might prefer the Hamilton Beach 26030 (Est. $40), which also has removable grids and generally retails for half to a quarter the price of the competition.
In return for a good deal you give up some build quality, an audible "ready" or "done" indicator, and cooking speed (most users say it takes about 5 minutes to cook a waffle with the Hamilton Beach 26030; the manufacturer says 5 to 8 minutes). The Hamilton Beach 26030 does have "on" and "ready" lights, though, and most users are happy to set a timer (or watch for the waffle to stop steaming) so they know when it's ready. They also say the browning is sometimes a little uneven, thanks to a C-shaped heating element, but those who get a model that works well tend to be very happy with it, say it lasts a long time under occasional use, and really appreciate the value it represents.