Ina Garten's Favorite Kitchen Tool For The Crispiest Possible Hash Browns

Home cooks can generally be divided into two camps — those that love and need the newest kitchen gadget, believing it will make their meals faster and easier to prepare, and bare necessity minimalists who would rather use a chef's knife to mince garlic than invest in a single-purpose tool like a garlic press. Infomercials and big box retailers are filled with one-trick ponies like these, and, until recently, the waffle iron was firmly placed in that category.

Once used solely for its namesake, home cooks are now turning to waffle irons to make more than just the traditional breakfast treat. In Ina Garten's 2020 cookbook, "Modern Comfort Food," Garten claims she dusts off her Belgian waffle maker to modernize breakfast hash browns, and the results are crispier than you can imagine.

Unlike skillet hash browns, where the potatoes are often diced, waffled hash browns are best made with shredded potatoes to ensure the spuds are evenly distributed and fill all of the iron's nooks and crannies. Garten uses fresh russet potatoes, but a package of defrosted shredded potatoes could also work well since she always says, "store-bought is fine." 

Making waffled hash browns takes just a few steps

Making waffled hash browns at home couldn't be easier, and with just a few steps you'll have a perfect gourmet-style breakfast side. No matter which kind of potatoes you use, you'll want to shred and peel them and remove all water by squeezing them with paper towels. Then, combine the potatoes with a beaten egg and a little flour (this will help the waffle hold its shape), and season with salt and pepper as you preheat the iron to medium-high.

Contrary to regular waffles, which expand as they cook, potatoes shrink, so you don't have to worry about overfilling the iron. Depending on the model of waffle maker, you can add roughly ⅓ cup of potatoes to each of the four greased and preheated griddle sections in an even layer, and then close the lid, pressing down to squish the ingredients. 

The sandwiched hash browns will simultaneously cook on both sides without needing to babysit the cooking process, like you might need to do with a skillet. Avoid touching the waffle iron until the potatoes are golden brown and crispy, generally between five and 10 minutes.

If the potatoes are steaming and not browning, it's likely too much moisture is still in the mix. To achieve the Maillard reaction that results in that browed, crispy finish, the water needs to evaporate. So, continue to cook the hash browns, pressing down on the lid. 

Your waffle iron can also make fried rice, cakes, and more

Once your waffled hash browns are ready, you can experiment with how to serve them, such as with poached eggs or a dollop of sour cream. After using your waffle maker in this way, you might want to try other options. Preparing fried rice is a great idea for leftover meat and veggies. It works best with day-old cold rice — combine with diced meat and vegetables in a bowl with soy sauce, grated ginger, and garlic. Grease and preheat the waffle iron, then pack it with the mixture. Press down on the lid and cook until golden brown.

Recipes that are naturally formed into a patty, like crab cakes and falafel (or a fawaffle), cook perfectly in a waffle iron, too. As does pizza dough and bread, resulting in the ultimate grilled cheese. If you have a sweet tooth, you might like red velvet cake waffles with cream cheese sauce. They can be made from scratch or by using your favorite cake mix.

Thanksgiving leftovers will also never be the same once you try waffled stuffing. Pack the surface of the griddle with the mixture and press down on the lid. The thicker the stuffing, the longer it will take, but it's worth it. After about 10 minutes, the exterior will be extra crispy, but the inside will remain tender. Top with slices of turkey, cranberry sauce, and gravy — trying it once will guarantee you'll prepare extra stuffing next year.