Brian, I am so glad I’m not alone in regards to the chaos in the kitchen! You most definitely need to get on the waffle iron flow. I totally understand why you don’t have one, though! There’s so much food one can consume and often there’s no time to make the same recipes over and over again each week. The waffle iron is definitely a piece of equipment that won’t get a ton of love compared to a stand mixer or a food processor, though I highly recommend getting a good one that’s inexpensive (got mine for $20 when it was on sale on Amazon); you’ll have some good waffle moments with it. Even non-waffle recipes would be fun to try in one!
The machine works fine, but there are lots of nooks and crannies that are difficult to clean. And the noise to tell you a waffle is "done" is horrific. It's an emergency alarm type sound so every time we use it, the sound nearly sends me running out of the house with my child thinking something awful is happening. I never get used to it. And to top it off, the alert timing is wrong so it serves no functional purpose. If it had no alarm or one that could be disabled, the rating would be 4 stars.
Finally, beyond the structural superiority of the All-Clad's waffles—their lovely architecture and delicate texture—there was one more winning factor that pushed them over the top: they just tasted better. I can't explain the chemistry behind it—as I said, we used the same batter for every test—but the waffles from this machine seemed to have nuances the others lacked, like apparent notes of vanilla and caramel and a toasty depth of flavor. They tasted like $200 waffles.
This did the job, but it sure wasn't streamlined. Here is a photo from a World War II era training pamphlet. The subject was "How to use electrical appliances." Many rural households were just getting electricity due to the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) and the pamphlet was intended to get folks up to speed with the rest of the country. This photo shows the Government-approved method of "seasoning" a waffle iron (you put oil on it and let is burn in, creating the organic equivalent of Teflon). Any vegetable oil will do.
I hate myself for how much I loved this machine. I don't think anyone should have to spend $200 on a waffle maker, and I was actively rooting for another, more budget-friendly model to best or at least match it. But after a full day of testing and eating, I cannot in good conscience recommend any waffle iron more enthusiastically. None of the machines we tested even came close. The All-Clad has ruined all other waffle makers for me.
There are two other key subjects to consider, both related to the cooking process. First, you shouldn’t have to wrestle with your waffles (or have to pry them out with a sharp knife) when they’re ready to come out of the machine. That doesn’t mean a waffle maker must have non-stick surfaces, but we’ve found that non-stick coatings usually make all the difference. A good alternative can be a cast-iron waffle maker, but continually seasoning a cast-iron appliance calls for another level of care and work.
First off, the build: this thing is a tank. Made of the same 18/10 stainless as All-Clad's prized cookware, the 4-square model we tested weighs in at about 14 pounds, so lifting it will give you a nice little bicep workout to offset all that maple syrup. (A smaller, slightly less expensive 2-square model is also available; it weighs closer to 10 pounds.) That said, the exterior dimensions are not considerably larger than other 4-square models on our list (in fact, it was smaller than some)—so, though heavy, the All-Clad doesn't seem like it would take up appreciably more storage space. Ultimately, because its heft seems like a result of quality and sturdiness, we decided that the extra weight was an issue we would be happy to live with.