What the best waffle iron does
- Provides consistent, even heat. There's no point in making waffles unless they turn out crispy and golden-brown every time. Having the right batter makes a huge difference in how your waffles turn out, but the best waffle makers are less finicky about the batter.
- Allows you to control the heat. If you're using a stovetop waffle maker, it should conduct heat evenly across its surface and be easy to hold and turn over the burner. Electric waffle irons should heat evenly across the surface and respond appropriately to any temperature adjustments.
- Makes just one waffle style. Waffles should be either thin and crispy, with relatively shallow pockets (American style) or thick and fluffy inside, but still crispy outside, with deep pockets that can hold plenty of syrup or fruit (Belgian style). The best waffle irons will make just one style or the other; those that fall in between are usually judged mediocre at best.
- Stays cool to the touch. This is especially important if you're dealing with a stovetop waffle iron, in which case the handles should be cool enough to touch.
- Tells you when the waffle is done. This only applies to electric waffle irons. The best models either beep or flash an indicator light to let you know when the waffle is done, saving you the trouble, and potential waffle damage, of lifting the lid to check.
- Release waffles easily. There's no point in making waffles if you have to scrape them out of the waffle iron in hunks.
- Comes with removable grids. Removable grids make the cleaning process so easy that we're mystified as to why they're such a rare feature. If you have an electric waffle maker without removable grids, you can't submerge it for a thorough cleaning -- you're limited to wiping the grids down with a damp rag or a soft-bristle toothbrush.
Know before you go
How much cabinet space do you have? Multi-slice waffle irons make it easier to cook for a large gathering, but they also take up more space on your kitchen counter or in the cabinets. If you're really pinched for space, stovetop waffle makers are the most space-efficient models out there, and can still cook up to four waffles at a time.
How do you feel about non-stick coatings? Almost all waffle irons come with a non-stick coating to help the waffles release quickly and completely. Not only does this create prettier waffles, it also makes cleanup much easier, especially if you're dealing with an electric waffle maker that cannot be fully submersed for cleaning. If you want to avoid non-stick coatings, a cast iron waffle maker is the natural alternative -- but they require consistent, repetitive seasoning to establish the iron's natural non-stick quality.
Have you found a good batter recipe? If you're getting so-so results with your first few batches of waffles, it might not be your waffle maker's fault at all. A poor batter recipe will make even the best waffle maker produce duds; one of the most common user comments we found was to beware the waffle mix recipes found on the back of some pancake mix boxes. Instead, head to sites like SeriousEats.com, FoodNetwork.com and AllRecipes.com to find batter recipes that have already been thoroughly vetted.
Waffle irons aren't just a one-trick-pony
Waffles are one of the few kitchen products left that you can't make with a clever Pinterest hack; there's just no way around buying that waffle maker. But once you have it, there's no reason to stop at "just" making the standard sweet breakfast waffle. Try adding bacon or other savory ingredients to the waffle, or get really creative and use that waffle iron to make anything from cinnamon rolls to cookies, French toast and "waffled" toasted sandwiches. Check out this list of eight non-waffle things to make in your waffle maker for some clever ideas.