Criteria for what makes an ideal waffle are somewhat subjective: I happen to like mine crunchy on the outside but fluffy in the center, but maybe you like yours golden and crispy? Still, some technical standards are pretty universally accepted, and those were what we focused on during our test. A good waffle iron should heat evenly and cook batter consistently from top to bottom and side to side without burnt spots or raw patches. It should allow enough steam to escape during the cooking process as to produce waffles that are structurally firm and not soggy. It should also be reliable, repeating the same results batch after batch, and easy to clean.
I speak from experience: a few months ago, clear out of nowhere, I was struck by a need for homemade waffles. I had to have them—and because I live in New York City and expect immediate gratification, I proceeded directly to my local discount emporium and procured a plastic waffle iron—covered in a thin film of dust—for the sum of $16.99. Back home, I washed it and hastily set about mixing up a bowl of batter. Sadly, this story has a grim ending: even after the the requisite heating and greasing, pouring and griddling, the specimens that emerged from my iron were flabby and pale—hardly deserving of the name waffle and certainly a far cry from the feast of my dreamings.
“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.”
Here are four ads for the Twin-O-Matic. Manning-Bowman always portrayed its products as being used in very fashionable surroundings. If you can't read the third ad, in the Quin cartoon, one Dowager says to the other: "Looks like our cook has been handling these. Thank Goodness I've got an unbreakable percolator." Manning-Bowman products were targeted at the ladies who had time to go to art museums, leaving the dirty work to servants.
We also tested the flip model from Hamilton Beach, the Hamilton Beach Flip Belgian Waffle Maker. It has a drip tray and removable plates for easy cleanup, and, although this unit is larger, the handle folds in for easier storage. Similar to the other Hamilton Beach model, though, this unit did not heat up well, which led to sticking and dense waffles.
If you’re tight on space and money, the Black+Decker offers the most bang for your buck for thin, American-style waffles. It produces waffles that are thin and crunchy on the outside, with some chewiness on the inside; it makes four square waffles, with shallow wells, at a time; and its reversible plates and adjustable hinge convert it into a panini press for toasting thick sandwiches. The unit also opens up to lie completely flat as a griddle for eggs, pancakes, and more, making this a cheap all-in-one breakfast station. The plates are fully removable and dishwasher-safe for fast and easy cleanup.
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.
Electric waffle irons are available in flip and stationary models. Proponents of flip waffle makers suggest that they heat more evenly by better distributing the batter throughout the plates. After testing both styles with different batters to see if this was truly a useful feature, we found that our three high-end picks cooked all the batters on the top and the bottom evenly. There was no difference between our flip model and a high-end stationary model. We did, however, find the flip a useful function when comparing lower-end models cooking the thinner buttermilk batter. Ultimately, we didn't pick any low-end flip models because, although they may have heated more evenly than our budget picks, they cooked the batter so slowly that the waffles ended up too dense and heavy.
The Krups GQ502D, a brand-new model for 2016, is the best waffle maker we’ve found. Not only does it produce beautifully golden, crisp-on-the-outside, evenly browned waffles, but it also has a number of features that make it easier to use than most other machines out there—and make it worth the price. A numbered dial gives you careful control over waffle doneness, and a light paired with a loud beep tells you when your waffles are done. This machine makes four thick waffles per batch, so you can easily feed a crowd (or just one or two). The nonstick plates, which release waffles cleanly without the need for extra oiling, are removable, so cleanup is a breeze. And the compact design allows you to store the Krups either flat or upright, so it fits conveniently in most kitchens.
This Oster model made the most substantial waffles among the waffle makers we tested. About 1¼ inches thick, they looked like the kind you might get at a hotel brunch, puffy and evenly browned all over. Unfortunately, they were a bit dry and cakey, and none of our tasters liked them very much. The two sides cook quickly and then the waffle steams from the middle, creating a pronounced pale crevice where the waffle can be broken apart easily (good for sandwiches?).
Our top waffle makers remain the Cuisinart Round Classic Waffle Maker for American-style waffles and the Presto FlipSide 3510 for Belgian-style waffles; both perform well and are very affordable. We also have recommendations for easy-to-clean waffle makers, stovetop waffle makers, a camping waffle maker and, new in this year's report, the super high-tech BWM640XL Smart Waffle Pro.
Most modern waffle makers run on electricity and can be adjusted to produce lighter or darker waffles. Many, but not all, have indicator lights and audible beeps to cue you through the preheating, battering and cooking stages. Even more important, the waffle maker should maintain consistent, even heat to make sure your waffle isn't overcooked on the outside and mushy on the inside, or cooked in some places but not in others. 
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