Belgian and American waffles differ in size and thickness, which means you can’t use one waffle iron to make both kinds. Belgian waffles are taller—1 to 1½ inches thick—and have deeper wells than their thinner American cousins. Traditionally, they’re also made with a different batter. As Kathleen Purvis writes in the Seattle Times, “Most Belgian waffle recipes are yeast-based, to get that crispy texture.” But you can certainly put yeast-raised batter in a regular waffle maker (as we did in our tests). Likewise, you can put regular old Bisquick, baking-powder-leavened batter, or even pancake batter in a Belgian-style waffle maker. The resulting waffles will just have a different texture and flavor than those made with yeasted Belgian-waffle batter. Any kind can be crispy, depending, as Maichel told us, on the recipe you use and how hot the waffle maker gets: “The more oil [or fat] in your recipe, the higher the temperature you cook it at, the crispier your waffle will be.”
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.
In 1887,Thomas Edison built a research laboratory to be devoted to the "rapid and cheap development of inventions." Eventually, about 200 scientists, engineers, and technicians were employed there to invent to order, “useful things that every man woman and child wants… at a price they can afford to pay.” The "Edicraft" line came close to fitting this paradigm -- it was developed in the late 1920s when electric appliances were a growing industry that generated high profits. The "Edicraft" line included a clamshell type toaster, a sandwich grill, a waffle iron [below], a combination grill/waffle iron and a coffee urn/water heater (the “Siphonator”.) The entire line was of high quality but were expensive, on the order of $25 per unit -- equivalent to $800 in 2011! The Edison Company stopped production of appliances in 1934.
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Waffles are preceded, in the early Middle Ages, around the period of the 9th–10th centuries, with the simultaneous emergence of fer à hosties / hostieijzers (communion wafer irons) and moule à oublies (wafer irons). While the communion wafer irons typically depicted imagery of Jesus and his crucifixion, the moule à oublies featured more trivial Biblical scenes or simple, emblematic designs. The format of the iron itself was almost always round and considerably larger than those used for communion.
Cleanup is simple. After grids have cooled, brush crumbs from the grooves, and absorb any excess cooking oil by wiping with a dry cloth or paper towel. You may clean the grids by wiping with a damp cloth. To clean exterior, wipe with a soft dry cloth. After you are done, wrap the cord under the bottom of the unit and then turn it on its side for compact storage. It comes with a three-year warranty, as well as a recipe book.
Today there are many (many!) Belgian waffle makers on the market. We set out to find the best one by making hundreds of waffles and by going the extra waffle-making mile by consulting a postdoc in MIT’s mechanical engineering program to learn the basic thermodynamic principles at work in waffle irons. After a month of waffles for breakfast and for lunch, we had a solid winner—an iron that made picture-perfect Belgian waffles, two at a time, in under 5 minutes.
“This sweet little baby waffle-maker is a dream. I swear, I squeal every time I pull out a perfectly made baby waffle because they are just so darn cute! Uncomplicated, easy to use and clean. Not a lot of bells and whistles here, but it does the job just right. They’re the perfect Eggo size, not huge like some waffle-makers, and get perfectly crisp. Sometimes, when I’m feeling crazy, I add in some blueberries or chocolate chips. If you’re making a lot, or want to do them quickly, I do suggest getting two, as you can only make one small(ish) waffle at a time with this.”
As always, though, with any kitchen appliance, user reviews are king because they tell how the appliance does under real-world conditions with a real person at the helm -- and how long they hold up under that real-world use. Combining all those terrific resources with our own kitchen experience led us to our recommendations for the waffle irons that are easiest to use and clean, and, of course, make a perfect waffle.
What we liked: The Cuisinart waffle maker was the hottest of all the irons we tested, making waffles in just over three minutes. The waffles it produced were light and fluffy on the inside, with a delicate and crisp crust. They had deep divots for holding lots of syrup and butter, and a traditional round shape. Because the iron gets so hot, the adjustable temperature is actually a useful feature, unlike on most of the other waffle irons we tested.
This illustration anthropomorphizes the Twin-O-Matic and notes that post-war demand for small appliances will be a "half billion dollars" (about $100 billion in 2005 dollars), and encourages dealers to sign up to sell Manning-Bowman appliances. This is actually a very sad artifact, because the Manning-Bowman company was in deep financial distress because they could not get materials -- particularly chrome -- during World War II. This was an attempt to sign up dealers so that credit and financing could be obtained to last out the materiel shortages imposed by the War. It did not work, and soon thereafter, Manning-Bowman sank into a sea of red ink. The company's assets, including its spectacular Art Deco designs, were sold to the Bersted Corporation of Fostoria, Ohio. Berstead watered down the designs and made low-priced "drug store" versions of many Manning-Bowman appliances. (The Sandwich Grill on our Kitchen Aplliances page is a good example of this "cheapening" process.) Alas, Manning-Bowman met an inglorious end, but it was merely a foretaste of the vast wave of shoddy appliances made in faraway dictatorships that suffocate the American marketplace today.