This is a debate as old as Waffle House itself. Waffles or pancakes? Pancakes or waffles? We all have a preference. I live in a house divided because my wife is #TeamWaffle and I’m #TeamPancake. Despite this, we’re very happy, and the difference of opinion keeps breakfast exciting. I will also say that, while I rarely get the waffles, Waffle House is one of my favorite eating establishments out there.
But instead of just giving you my correct opinion on the subject, I’ll go through the arguments for both and allow you to come to your own conclusion. Hopefully it will be the correct conclusion.
The biggest advantage waffles have over pancakes is that the waffling traps syrup and so theoretically the waffles have a more consistent syrup distribution and less messy cleanup since the syrup is unlikely to just flow freely. And I will admit that the syrup distribution of a waffle is probably superior to that of a pancake.
Traditional waffles also come in more different forms than pancakes do, and some people find the variety alluring. As a breakfast-only food, waffles have more variety than pancakes. You can get thin waffles like the ones they have at Waffle House. You can get big Belgian waffles with a fluffier batter and deeper pockets. You can find the chewier, denser Liège waffles. There’s the very Dutch cookie-style stroopwafels. And, of course, there’s the great frozen blandness of an Eggo.
Of course, there are downsides to the waffle. For one thing, you need a specialized piece of equipment to cook it. For pancakes, the only thing you need is a flat surface and a heat source. For waffles, it’s something extra cluttering up your pantry, taking up space on your counter, and being a real pain in the ass to clean. I’ve talking to dozens of people who got waffle irons as wedding gifts, but I have literally never talked to someone who bought a waffle iron for themselves. Why bother?
The other disadvantage is the filling. Sure, you can add the same stuff to waffles that you do pancakes: chocolate chips, blueberries, peppermint candy, bits of other fruits like apples and bananas, etc. However, when you cook those waffles the bits in the batter can get macerated, which is not always a good thing. I like my morning cakes to have minimal leakage from whatever filling is in them. I don’t like when the fruit juice spreads too much into the batter and changes the color of the batter. Plus, the fillings that do get squashed in the iron are going to stick to the iron and make it harder to clean, which is already difficult because, again, it’s a specialized piece of equipment.
The last disadvantage is fluffiness. Pancakes can be made to be very tall and very fluffy by adjusting the cookware accordingly. You can bake pancakes in a mold, cook them in a pan over lower eat to let everything rise more slowly, or otherwise adjust the actual cooking hardware itself. With waffles you are completely at the mercy of the waffle iron. Maybe it’s one that allows for tall, fluffy waffles. Or maybe it isn’t. Either way, it’s your problem.
Pancakes have some major advantages over waffles. We’ve already discussed fluffiness through cookware, but let’s talk about the cookware itself. Any griddle or pan will do. Hell, I’ve seen people make silver dollar pancakes in muffin tins before. As long as there’s heat and a vessel, pancakes can be made. They can even be made in the microwave, though I’ve done this and they tend to get chewy so I wouldn’t recommend it. But really all you need is a flat surface and some heat, and you can make pancakes.
Then there’s the variety of pancakes. Sure, if we’re sticking with the breakfast-style pancakes, waffles have the variety advantage. But if we’re just talking in general, then it’s pancakes with the upper hand. Like waffles, there are many different types of pancake. Unlike waffles, some pancakes are savory and can therefore be served with a meal and not just as a breakfast food or evening snack. In addition to the regular wheat-flour-based pancakes there are corn pancakes, potato pancakes, crepes, buckwheat cakes, Russian oladyi, and plenty of others. Almost every culture on earth developed some form of pancake in their evolution. That means that wherever you go, there’s a pancake to try.
Pancakes can also be more easily customized. Big, fluffy, Japanese pancakes can be made just as easy as the thin, huge Dutch baby pancakes. You can also add anything you want to them and no risk overcooking or ruining a waffle iron. I’ve had pancakes with all the normal staples of fruit, nuts, and chocolate in them, but I’ve also had pancakes with bacon, sausage, hash browns, and vegetables in them. Pancakes are a great vessel for savory things because the sweetness of the batter plays well with a lot of savory flavors.
Pancakes don’t have little wells in them to hold syrup, which is unfortunate. It’s also more difficult to get pancakes that have a light crispiness like some waffles do. Typically if someone gets a crispy pancake it’s because the pancakes are burnt. However thin pancakes cooked on high heat can get that crispiness, but I don’t find it worth the effort.
Pancakes also have two huge disadvantages in the consistency and usage departments. Waffles can be used for cookies and cones, and pancakes can’t. No one is getting their Rocky Road ice cream in a pancake cone. No one is going to Amsterdam to get a Nutella/banana pancake that’s easy to eat on the go.
Well, that’s not for me to say, is it? Up at the beginning I even said I wasn’t making this decision for you. I tried to be as balanced as possible, and I told you I am #TeamPancake, but I feel like I was as objective as I could have been.
So celebrate National Waffle Iron Day by having some fried dough, possibly even some that was made in a waffle iron. But whatever you do, enjoy it.