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The internet's best waffle maker hacks, ranked

Pizza waffles? Cinnamon roll waffles? Uh, totwaffles? We tested it all and we have some thoughts.

Ryan_Crist2.jpg
Ryan_Crist2.jpg

Ry Crist

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More than just waffles

Most waffle makers are pretty darned good at making waffles, but if you're willing to get creative, they'll cook and crisp just about anything you care to throw in them. After recently testing several of the things while sheltering at home, I couldn't help but wonder -- which waffle maker hack was the best?

So, I gathered up some of the internet's most popular alterna-waffle recipes and cleared my calendar for a week or two of interesting lunches, dinners and snacks. Scroll on through for a step-by-step look at everything I cooked, ranked from worst to first.

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Fifth place: Cinnamon roll waffles

Let's start with one of the easiest hacks: cinnamon rolls. The recipe really couldn't be simpler -- you just grab some ready-to-bake cinnamon rolls, spray your waffle maker's irons with nonstick spray, and plop those bad boys down for about 3 minutes each on medium heat. I even had the exact same Cuisinart waffle maker used by the recipe I followed.

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Tada!

Here's how they look afterward. Kind of tastes like dense cinnamon toast. They're fine, but I prefer the traditional texture that you get by baking them.

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An icing mishap

I do have to make a confession here, though. The recipe calls on you to microwave the icing for 15 seconds or so to soften it up enough so that you can pour it over top of the waffles as a drizzle. I accidentally left the cup in the microwave for a full 30 seconds, which liquefied the stuff, wasting most of it. D'oh!

CNET's Caitlin Petrakovitz had this advice to offer: "Instead of microwaving the cinnamon roll icing, if you put it in a hot bowl of water while the rolls cool the timing is great (and less mess). Then, as you ice the rolls, it'll melt even more and leave you with delicious and picture perfect buns (if done patiently)."

Another option posited by Pillsbury is to mix the icing with milk, powdered sugar and vanilla extract in order to make it into a drizzle without the microwave. That sounds like a good approach if you have those ingredients to hand.

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Mini maker

I also checked to see if the Dash Mini Waffle Maker, a favorite of ours that costs just $10, could accommodate the recipe. It worked, though the front of the lid couldn't close down all the way, which forced me to extend the cooktime and turn the dough around halfway through.

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Hey, not bad!

That said, the end product was pretty good, and doughier than the first because the waffle maker didn't squish the roll down quite so much. It came out kind of like a cinnamon roll waffle biscuit.

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Does the waffle maker make a difference?

I wanted to be sure to try multiple waffle makers with this one, because the Cuisinart and Dash models I started with are designed to make thin, crispy waffles with relatively shallow nooks and crannies. What about a larger waffle maker with deeper nooks and crannies, like this Preso FlipSide?

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Presto!

Here's how it came out. Like before, the finished product popped right off the waffle maker with relatively little mess. And, as you can see, the nooks and crannies are much more pronounced. 

With additional surface area exposed to the irons, it was a crunchier bite than before, and there was more room for icing to pool (not that I had any left at this point. Again, d'oh!). Overall, I think I still prefer the texture of regular cinnamon rolls to that of cinnamon roll waffles, but they're a fun novelty, perhaps.

That said, I sampled three of these from three different waffle makers, and each time, I wished I was biting into an actual cinnamon roll instead.

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Fourth place: Tater tot waffles

OK, if you've made it this far, you're ready for some controversy. I tried tater tot waffles and ended up ranking them pretty low on my list, which will undoubtedly upset the scores of people on Twitter who demanded I test them out as I tweeted about waffle makers this past month.

It's all thanks to a Twitter user named Ada Powers (@mspowahs) who wrote an absolutely hysterical thread about tater tot waffles back in March. She called her invention "totwaffles" and her post went viral, so I decided to give them a try for myself to see what all the fuss was about.

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Defrost 'em

First, you'll need to defrost your tots. As Powers puts it, "You can use the defrost setting or cook them outright. How many minutes? Yes. There is no way to f*** this up."

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Let's cook these things

Powers adds that you want your defrosted tots to be "soft, warm and a little wet," so once you've hit that threshold, you're ready to start arranging them onto your iron. You'll want to crowd them together as much as you can -- and feel free to tear some into smaller pieces in order to fill in any gaps.

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Looking good

You'll want to squish your waffle maker down on the things and let them cook for several minutes, until you've got a nice, evenly cooked waffle. 

While you wait for them to cook, you could consider getting some toppings ready. Powers recommends "syrupchup," which is just equal parts maple syrup and ketchup heated up in the microwave or on the stove. Alas, I had no ketchup handy.

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On the plate

I will say, tater tots make for some fine-looking waffles. They're tasty, too, and super crispy -- sort of like a giant hash brown patty.

So why do I have them ranked in the bottom half of this list of waffle maker hacks? For starters I'd argue that the waffle maker didn't really change much here -- these are still frozen potatoes cooked until crispy. Forming them into a waffle opens up opportunities for toppings and sauce drizzles, but it also forces you to defrost the tots and drag an extra appliance into the mix. I think I'd be happier just tossing a few handfuls into the oven.

That said, my undressed totwaffle is clearly a blank canvas begging for some additional inspiration (and I still have about half a bag of frozen tots in the freezer). I'll report back after trying this one again, perhaps with the addition of some cheese on top or some diced bacon.

Speaking of bacon...

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Bonus: Waffle maker bacon

One of the replies to that totwaffle thread was a call to pair the tots with some waffle maker bacon. You know I had to try that.

Doing so was simple enough -- I literally just loaded a few strips onto my waffle maker and then waited to see what would happen.

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It's... bacon!

The end result looks a little weird, but it's really just... bacon. Like, if you blindfolded me and made me eat it without telling me what it was or how you cooked it, I'd just tell you it was bacon.

Maybe that's enough to get you waffling bacon for breakfast if you're short of space on the stove, but I don't think it's a worthy pursuit. Ask yourself: Do you really want to spend your Sunday morning cleaning bacon grease out of a waffle iron?

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Third place: Mac 'n' cheese waffles

Next up: Waffle maker macaroni and cheese. I was particularly excited to try this one out -- leftover mac 'n' cheese refried into little patties was a childhood favorite of mine, and this had the potential to take things to a whole other level.

There are lots of different recipes out there that take different approaches. This one calls for mixing your mac with some breadcrumbs and eggs in order to help bind things together. This one tells you to refrigerate your mac on a sheet pan in order to create thin layers of the stuff that are perfect for the waffle maker. This one tells you to stuff the middle of your waffles with shredded cheese to help keep things from getting too dry.

Between ideas like that and the choice of cheese, sauce and additional toppings, there's a lot of room for experimentation here.

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Make your mac

Whatever recipe you use, you're going to need to start by cooking a batch of mac and cheese. Bonus points for making your own from scratch, but your favorite boxed macaroni is fine, too. I went with a Kraft white cheddar mac.

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Cheese, please

The mac 'n' cheese I used already included breadcrumbs, so I decided to try the method of adding extra cheese into the middle to help bind the waffle and keep it from drying out. I had some gouda in the fridge, which seemed like a grate, er, great choice.

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Onto the iron you go, little macaroni

With my Hamilton Beach waffle maker hot and ready to go with a little bit of oil brushed across the surface, I plopped a spoonful of mac onto the irons. I went with the Hamilton Beach waffle maker because it features removable, dishwasher-safe plates. I wasn't sure how much mess this was going to leave behind.

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On goes the cheese

From there, I added some of that grated gouda on top, and then finished it off with another half spoonful of macaroni. After doing my best to smush it all together with my serving spoon, I closed the waffle maker lid and hoped for the best.

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End result

Here's what I saw when I opened the waffle maker up five or six minutes later. Promising!

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On the plate

The waffle was crispy and a little too dry. You lose almost all of the creaminess of the cheese sauce when it hardens into a binding agent for the waffle. A separate drizzle of cheese sauce might be in order next time I try this hack out. Maybe some sriracha, too. Who knows. Like I said, there's room for experimentation here.

Still, it was hot, crispy mac 'n' cheese goodness, and way better than any leftover mac I've ever had.

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And another

Here's another mac 'n' cheese waffle that I made using a waffle maker from Breville that cooks waffles a bit thinner, and with nooks and crannies that aren't as deep as the Hamilton Beach model. You get a little more room for the macaroni, plus a crispy burnt cheese crust on both sides.

Unfortunately, it also came out a little too dry for my tastes. Back to the drawing board!

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Second place: Stuffing waffles

I'm not much of a stuffing (aka dressing) guy -- mostly because I don't really care for the mushy texture. Enter stuffing waffles, with a recipe from Food Network that promises to crisp your leftovers into a delicious day-after-Thanksgiving snack. I was intrigued, so I whipped up a quick batch of stuffing, tossed it into the fridge, and gave it a go.

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You'll need two eggs

The recipe calls for two eggs to help bind the stuffing together into a full-fledged waffle. As always, remember to beat those eggs a little longer than you think is necessary.

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Mix it up

Add those eggs to your stuffing and give it a good stir. The recipe tells you add a bit of fresh parsley, too. I didn't have any on hand, but it didn't feel like a tremendous loss.

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To the waffle iron

From there, you just scoop your mix onto the waffle iron and then cook it for several minutes. Longer is better here, I say -- the whole appeal of stuffing waffles is the textural transformation, so get it as crisp as you can.

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On the plate

Pretty good looking stuffing waffle, if I do say so myself!

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Dress it up

The recipe recommends adding a scoop of leftover mashed potatoes, along with a drizzle of gravy and a dollop of cranberry sauce for the full Thanksgiving effect. I only had mashed potatoes on hand. The combo was good, but I definitely would have enjoyed it more with some gravy.

Still, stuffing waffles were a big success. Pretty much everyone has leftover stuffing after Thanksgiving, and I can't think of a better way to reheat the stuff. But as good as stuffing waffles were, they weren't the best thing I tried over these past few weeks...

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First place: Pizza waffles

This brings us to the waffle maker hack I enjoyed the most: pizza waffles! Here's the recipe I followed, and everything you'll need to make them.

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Step one: Separate the dough

After plugging in your waffle iron to get it preheated and spraying it with some nonstick spray (or brushing the plates with a little bit of vegetable oil), you'll need to start prepping your pizzas. 

To do so, just open a can of that crescent roll dough and unroll it onto a cutting board. Pillsbury marks eight triangles for the rolls, and you'll want to use two triangles for each pizza, forming four rectangles like in the picture.

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Step two: Fill the pizzas

Next, you'll want to add your ingredients. Start with a little pile of mozzarella, then add some toppings on top. I went with classic pepperoni, but you can use whatever you like. If it's a watery ingredient, like mushrooms, be sure to strain it and get as much water out of the picture as possible. No one likes soggy pizza.

Oh, and don't forget seasoning. Along with salt and pepper, a little bit of basil goes a long way here.

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Step three: Fold and place

From there, just fold the dough over to make a pizza pocket, then place it right on the waffle iron and shut the lid. You'll need to let it cook on medium heat for about five minutes.

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Five minutes later...

I mean, just look at the results. Look at them.

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On the plate

Once cooked, the pizza should come right off the waffle maker. Did any of the cheese spurt out? Good. Burnt waffle maker cheese is a delicious bonus, and a nice, salty mozzarella burns particularly well.

This is also where the sauce comes in. Serve it in a separate dish for dipping. I added some red pepper flakes to mine, because that is the correct way to season pizza.

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Have a bite

Good lord these were good. If your waffle maker has relatively deep nooks and crannies like the Black & Decker waffle maker I used here, then your ingredients might get "pinched" where the nooks come together. My thin pepperoni fared fine through this, but I wonder how it would come out with chunkier toppings.

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What about the Dash?

Those pinched nooks left me wondering what I'd get from a waffle maker designed to make thinner waffles. I was also curious if the small-sized Dash waffle maker could handle a pizza pocket. Plus, I wanted another pizza. Time to knock out three birds with one stone!    

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A hands-on cook

Like with the cinnamon roll waffle, the Dash cooked the pizza waffles faster in the back than in the front, so I needed to cook it for a few minutes extra and also turn the dough about halfway through.

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Getting warmer

Rotation successful. Almost there...

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On the plate

Boom! Tell me you don't wish you could eat this thing right now.

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The best thing I ate all week

With a waffle iron that doesn't squeeze the pizza quite so much, you're left with more room for filling on the inside. The cheese came out stretchier and less burnt as a result, which made for some incredibly satisfying bites. I would 1,000,000% make this again.

The real hero here is that crescent roll dough. With each pizza I made, it came out perfectly crispy and delicious. If you aren't craving pizza, you could fill it with whatever you like for a quick stuffed waffle -- the possibilities are endless.

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What's inside?

In the weeks since first publishing this gallery, I've had a lot of fun making all sorts of stuffed waffles using that crescent roll dough. For instance, what do you think is inside this one?

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Chicken in waffles

Answer: chopped chicken breast marinated overnight in hot sauce. I gave them a quick sear, then stuffed them inside of a crescent roll dough waffle and topped it with a nice drizzle of spicy syrup. 10/10, would make again.

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Garlic chicken waffle

I've found that buttermilk biscuit dough works well, too -- though you'll want to slice the dough in half like a hamburger bun if you're using thick, Grands-style rolls. That's what I did here, with leftover garlic chicken pasta stuffed between the two halves and waffled to perfection.

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Matcha mochi waffle

CNET contributor Tamara Palmer helped with a lot of the heavy lifting when we were researching waffle makers for our best list. When all was said and done, she went ahead and spent $10 on a Dash Mini Waffle Maker. One of the first things she made? This matcha mochi waffle, the recipe for which you can find here.

"After that, I made a vaguely okonomiyaki style savory waffle with leftover spicy pickled cabbage and mushrooms cooked in butter and a piece of bacon and yuzu furikake sprinkles on top," Tamara told me. "Heaven!" 

Next up on her list: falafelwaffles and fried rice waffles.

"Waffles are now a lifestyle over here! Best $10 ever spent."

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Batter up?

I'm still stuck at home with a house full of waffle makers, so don't expect me to stop making waffles out of things anytime soon. If I uncover any new hacks of note, I'll give this gallery an update, so stay tuned (my Twitter followers have already pointed me in the direction of beer waffles...)

And, in the meantime, if you've suddenly realized that you might be in need of a waffle maker for unforeseen pizza purposes, my waffle maker best list is here to help.

Speaking of pizza, you may also enjoy my CNET colleagues' adventures in pizza making.

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