How to Release Stuck Pancakes from Your Pan or Griddle

Learn how to save breakfast once and for all.

Is there anything better than homemade pancakes on a Sunday morning? We think not. Pancakes are comforting, delicious, and perfect for enjoying endless topping combinations. And while the tasty cakes are easy to make, they have a tendency to stick to skillets and griddles. Even the best home cooks will occasionally find themselves stuck with, well, stuck pancakes. Instead of cutting them out from your morning spread, here's how to avoid the situation in the first place, as well as tips on how to fix it should it happen to you.

flipping pancake in pan
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How to Keep Pancakes from Sticking

Setting the tone for perfect pancakes starts before cooking begins. "[Add] fat as an ingredient in the pancake batter, which will help keep the pancakes from sticking," says Olivia Roszkowski, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education​. Let your batter sit for 15 to 20 minutes before cooking, too. "This helps the starch component of the flour hydrate and swell, allowing the gluten to relax," explains Roszkowski. The result is wonderfully fluffy pancakes that are easier to work with.

When it's time to cook, use a nonstick pan, if possible (our test kitchen uses a seasoned cast-iron skillet). "Wipe the pan with a towel before heating and greasing to ensure you have a clean surface. Then, heat the pan on medium-high heat until it's hot," says Roszkowski. "A hot pan will help the outside [of the pancakes] caramelize and prevent sticking." From there, use just enough fat to coat the pan, as this will ensure a crispy, golden bottom while avoiding burnt pancakes. About one teaspoon of fat will do the trick for a medium-sized pan, notes Roszkowski. For larger pans, up to one tablespoon is ideal, according to John Simmons, chef and owner of Firefly Tapas Kitchen in Las Vegas.

Avoiding stuck pancakes also means knowing when to flip. (After all, a pancake that sits on one side for too long will overcook.) To start, "look for bubbling [and] set edges," says Roszkowski. Once the middle starts to firm up and the bubbles increase, push a stiff spatula beneath the pancake, then flip it in one swift move, says Simmons. The second side will cook faster than the first, so keep a close watch and remove the pancake once it's golden brown.

Tips for Removing Stuck Pancakes

If you still end up with stuck (but edible) pancakes, hope is not lost. First, turn down the heat to prevent the pancakes from sticking any further. Reach for a neutral-flavored oil like safflower or canola oil, then pour a small amount around the perimeter of the stuck pancake, says Roszkowski. (She recommends using a squirt bottle for this step, but you can simply drizzle the oil if you don't have one.) "Use a spatula to slightly bend the outer edges of the pancake to help work the oil underneath. The fat should help the pancake release," explains Roszkowski.

But before you grab any old spatula, consider the type of pan you're using. If your pan is nonstick, avoid using a metal spatula, as it will ruin the pan's surface, says Simmons. Instead, "use a stiff, plastic spatula with a hard, sharp edge," he says. "Turn it upside down, press [the edge] against the pan, and push it under the cake. You need to get under that crust with quick little jabs." However, if your pan is not nonstick, a metal spatula will do.

Worried about destroying your pancakes? According to Simmons, the key is to place your spatula at a 45-degree angle and apply a decent amount of pressure with your upside-down spatula. This will help get the edge of your spatula under the pancake, helping avoid a mangled breakfast.

What If the Stuck Pancakes Are Burnt?

If your pancakes are stuck, burnt, and no longer suitable for eating, start by removing any pieces that easily come off, says Roszkowski. Next, "if you're cooking in a pan, add a half inch of water and boil for a few minutes. Then, use a wooden spoon to scrape off remaining bits, similar to how you would deglaze a pan." And if you're cooking in a cast-iron skillet or griddle? "Use a brush tool to loosen stuck pieces," suggests Roszkowski. Then, grease the area with cooking spray and consider re-seasoning the pan before giving it another spin. In either case, "make sure the pan is completely clean of any stuck bits before putting it back [into] pancake action, or else you'll face another sticky situation," says Simmons.

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