In this age of high-end stoves, smart refrigerators and turbo blenders, it should come as no surprise that the Belgian waffle iron has undergone a high-end makeover in recent years. Manufactures like All-Clad, Breville and Kitchenaid have raised the a bar with high performance stainless-steel models; some so sleek in their design they could rival a sports car. Features include digital readouts and constant temperature baking, but with price tags reaching the $300 mark, are these luxury kitchenwares really worth it?
We decided to make a foray into this price point by testing the All-Clad 2-Square Belgian Waffle Maker (model 6061-WD702), which retails exclusively at Williams-Sonoma for $180. While other retailers carry this model, we were told by All Clad that Williams-Sonoma is the only authorized seller. For two years, All-Clad worked very closely with the San Francisco-based retailer to develop a 2- and 4-square Belgian waffle maker as well as a round standard waffle iron.
Quality & Design
Quality is evident just by lifting one of these units. The 2-square model weighs over eight pounds, and the 4-square model comes in at a whopping 12 pounds. The all-stainless exterior accounts for a great deal of the heft. All Clad uses the same 18/10 grade stainless clad aluminum used in their iconic cookware, which also provides a beautiful luxe sheen. Despite their weight, these waffle makers have a rather compact design and can be stored upright to conserve cabinet space. From an aesthetic perspective, All Clad has achieved a tasteful balance of retro and minimalism. Rounded corners are reminiscent of a vintage chrome Toastmaster toaster. The oversized browning dial is the lone control. There are no buttons or digital readouts to clutter the face.
Despite the old school looks, there are plenty of modern features. The manufacture’s website touts “advanced heating technology” to ensure even brown, but at the time of this writing, no one could provide us with a clear understanding of that that technology is or how it exactly works. They also market the “steam-release system” that prevents the build-up of condensation. There are seven browning levels, a lighted indicator and audible signal to alert when the optimal temperatures have been reached, a top-quality TPFE non-stick cooking surface, and a batter overflow cup.
Two features we would like to have seen on a model of this price are removable heating plates and automatic shut-off. Otherwise, this waffle maker is built to make some serious Belgian waffles. Each batch produces two 4½-inch square, 1-inch thick waffles with deep pockets. Those feeding large families might want to consider the 4-square model, which sells for just $20 more.
Let’s face it. Beautiful design and fancy technology can be quite seductive. But what good are these features if they don’t equate to better waffles? To keep us grounded, we decided to compare the performance of the All Clad to that of a more reasonably-priced rival. We shopped around and settled on Amazon’s top-selling Belgian waffle iron, the Presto FlipSide Belgian Waffle Maker. It lacks most of the features of the All Clad model, but Amazon customers give it high marks. It retails for $50, and we were able to pick one up for $32. With a savings of $148, it’s easy to overlook the Presto’s shortcomings, especially if it produces delicious waffles.
Consistent even heating is the hallmark of a good electric waffle maker. The target temperature is about 400°F. So you want an iron that stays as close to that temperature as possible. The heating elements of most waffle makers cycle on and off in an attempt of hold the temperature within a range. To determine average temperatures and temperature ranges, we repeatedly measured the cooking surfaces of both models using an infrared thermometer. The All Clad model performed extremely well. It maintained an average temperature of 404°F with a range of 370-450°F. Our inexpensive rival had an average temperature of 378°F with a range of 350-420°F.
Interestingly, the All Clad model with an output of 850 watts (the larger 4-waffle model uses 1650 watts) took over 8 minutes to heat up when first plugged in, while the Presto, with its 1100 watts, was ready in just under 3 minutes. Once heated, however, the All Clad cycled through less frequently than the Presto, which means the All Clad did a better job at holding the temperature.
We made several batches of our favorite yeasted Belgian waffle recipe and tested the All Clad model along side our thrifty competitor. In full disclosure, we had our bias. We were pretty convinced the Presto would hold it’s own, but in the end, it wasn’t even close. The All Clad model consistently produced perfect waffles time after time. The Presto couldn’t hold a candle.
The distribution of heat and the nonstick surface proved to be the real differentiators between these two products. Waffles made with the All Clad cooked to the perfect golden brown on both sides and from the center out. They had a crispy exterior and a light moist interior. The Presto waffles did not cook as evenly on the outside. We found that one side tended to brown a little faster than the other, and the outside edges seem to cook much faster than the center. In fact, we could not get a single waffle from the Presto that was cooked as well as the All Clad waffles. We began to wonder if there wasn’t something wrong with our waffle batter recipe. But when we tried a commercial waffle mix, we had similar results.
The non-stick surface on the All Clad’s also out performed that of the Presto. We initially seasoned the surfaces of both models with some vegetable oil. We made dozens of waffles in each, and not a single one stuck to the surface of the All Clad model. After about three waffles, the Presto model needed oiling again and with each waffle thereafter.
A difference in taste turned out to be the biggest surprise. When we tested the commercial waffle mix, the waffles made with the All Clad model had delightfully subtle flavors. We were able to taste vanilla, almond and yeast notes that were completely absent in the waffles made on the Presto model. In fact, the Presto waffles tasted just like pancakes. We’re not sure why this is, but we suspect it goes back to the way the two products manage heat. The Presto seemed to use too much “brute force” heat in short bursts, slightly burning the waffles in the process.
Ease of Use
Before the advent of electricity, most waffles were made on the stove top with a heavy device that consisted of two cast iron plates hinged at one end. Using these contraptions was no easy matter. Even heating was a challenge and excess batter spilled onto the stove top. Electric waffle irons took much of that fuss away, and it’s fair to say that most are “easy” to use. Just pour in the batter, close the lid, and wait.
Features like the All Clad’s indicator light and audible signal help to tell the home cook when the waffle is ready, but we still found ourselves opening the lid from time to time to assess progress. We found when the heating level was set to “5”, the indicator light and signal alerted us prior to the waffles being done. When the heating level was set to “6”, the light and signal alerted us a little too late.
The big challenge of most electric waffle makers is clean-up. It can be difficult getting crumbs and oil out of the nooks and crevices of the waffle grid. Cuisinart and Croquade both offer Belgian waffle makers with removable dishwasher-safe plates. A feature that we think should be standard on all waffle irons.
Still, clean-up was fairly easy with the All Clad. Here again, the high-quality nonstick surface paid off. We were able to easily sweep out loose crumbs with a pastry brush and simply wipe down the plates with a damp cloth. The overflow cup also did a good job of directing the excess batter away from the cooking. Batter did not get caught along the edges or hinges as it can with some waffle maker designs. We experienced no spillover onto the counter. When finished, we simply rinsed the cup out, and threw it into the dishwasher.
We surveyed more than 30 different Belgian waffle irons and found an average price of $75. At more than twice that amount, the All Clad is a bit steep for most home cooks. If Belgian waffles are only an occasional treat in your household, it may be difficult to justify the expense. However, because of the product’s solid construction and excellent performance, as well as the manufacturer’s 2-year limited warranty, we have to say that it does represent a good value.
So we are happy to admit our bias was wrong and that the All Clad 2-square Belgian Waffle maker is more than just a pretty face with fancy features and a big price tag. It actual does produce an outstanding Belgian waffle. We give it 8.5 out 10.