In today's age of all-electric appliances, the idea of a stovetop waffle iron might seem a little out of place -- but for many people there's still a real charm to doing things manually. Going old-school also packs some definite benefits: A stovetop waffle iron is smaller and easier to store than its counterpart equivalent, has almost no moving parts or electrical components that could go bad, and offers you the option of cooking over the campfire or at home when the power is out if you have a gas stove. But the real deal-maker for most people is the fact that, unlike electric models, stovetop waffle makers can be fully submerged (and usually disassembled, too) for cleaning.
Getting just-right waffles with a stovetop waffle iron takes some practice, and for some adventurous cooks that challenge is part of the fun. The process itself, however, is pretty simple, and you don't have to be a professional chef to master it. Pre-heat the waffle iron on both sides, add a touch of cooking oil to help the waffles release, then add the batter and cook for a few minutes, flipping the waffle iron halfway through so the waffles are evenly browned on both sides.
If you have a well-used heirloom cast iron waffle maker that's been passed down through the family, hold onto it like the treasure it is. A well-seasoned cast iron waffle maker (that is, one that's been used a lot with the proper oiling) is a natural alternative to the non-stick coating that some shoppers try to avoid, and always cleans up easily: Just rinse any lingering particles off and dry the cast iron before storing it. Don't buy a new cast iron waffle maker, though, unless you're willing to put in the dedicated, repetitive effort that every new cast iron model requires to establish the proper seasoning.
Cast aluminum stovetop waffle makers, on the other hand, are ready to use right out of the box, although their non-stick coatings work much better if you apply a little cooking oil after the iron has preheated and before you add the batter. For home cooks, the best stovetop waffle iron we found is the Nordic Ware Belgian Waffle Maker (Est. $37), which makes up to four waffles at a time. It earns the top pick from a noted test kitchen, where testers say it makes consistently golden-brown, crisp waffles that come out easily. The Nordic Ware Belgian waffler's thin handles mean it'll lay flat, even on a flat-surface electric stove, and the expert testers say it cleans off easily with just "a quick scrub and rinse."
The Nordic Ware waffler also gets a pick from a leading consumer research magazine and a nod from the editors at BonAppetit.com, who say they enjoy taking the hands-on approach.
Given the inherent challenge in making waffles on a stovetop, the Nordic Ware Belgian waffler's most important endorsement comes from the actual customers using it. Folks with small kitchens, people living in sailboats, and those who simply wanted to be able to give their waffle maker a good scrubbing without worrying about electric shocks are among the hundreds of happy customers who write positive reviews of this waffle iron.
Some of BonAppetit.com editors' favorite points -- beside the waffles, of course -- are the protective sleeve that keeps the Nordic Ware waffle iron's handles cool enough to touch and how easily it lets the waffles go, although some users are surprised to discover that it has a non-stick coating. (The manufacturer does disclose this, but not all retail sites list it in the product description. Also, we found that users often confused "cast aluminum" waffle makers, like the Nordic Ware Belgian waffler, with the "cast iron" waffle makers we already discussed.)
If you'd rather eat your waffles on the road, the two-at-a-time Coleman Waffle Iron (Est. $40) is smaller, lighter and easier to pack, and can be put to work almost anywhere, from campfires to propane tailgating grills and, of course, your stovetop, too. It earns a recommendation from one of the nation's most prominent test kitchens, with a note that medium heat produced golden-brown, nicely crisped waffles (although over low heat, they write, the waffles just steamed).
Feedback from user reviewers is a little more mixed, but the general consensus is that as long as you follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter -- which include preheating the waffle iron and applying cooking oil to enhance its non-stick coating -- you'll get great results.
Like the Nordic Ware Belgian waffle maker, the Coleman waffle iron has slender handles that let it lie flat, even on a flat-top glass stove. And, like the Nordic Ware model, the Coleman waffle iron has no moving parts and disassembles for easy cleaning, so you can expect it to last for a long time. It's made of thinner metal than the Nordic Ware model, though, and you might need an oven mitt or glove to protect your hands from the hot handle. So while the Coleman waffle maker is tops in portability, we advise sticking with the Nordic Ware model if you know you'll be cooking at home.