7 Mistakes You're Making With Your From-Scratch Pancakes—and How to Avoid Them

For the fluffiest, lightest pancakes every time, follow our easy tips.

Gluten-Free Buttermilk Pancakes
Photo: Bryan Gardner

You should always aim to make pancakes from scratch. Doing so isn't more difficult than using a pre-made mix—it's actually just as easy and quick to prepare homemade pancake batter as it is to use a box, and it is infinitely more enjoyable. All you have to do is grab some common baking ingredients that you likely already have on hand.

Start with our tried and-true basic pancake recipe, which truly is anything but ordinary in terms of flavor and texture. Don't surrender if your first pancake isn't the prettiest; the first pancake is a test (so give the second a shot!). It takes a beat to get into the groove with the right amount of heat, fat, and batter, but once you get flipping, you'll make that perfect pancake every time.

So, what is the perfect pancake? It is round, even, soft, and delicate with a fluffy interior and light, crisp golden outside—and it's totally achievable. If you're missing the mark, know that the most common pancake mistakes also happen to be incredibly easy to fix. There will be no more tough, dry, flat, greasy, misshapen, or burned pancakes if you follow our tips.

Not Measuring Carefully

Perfect pancakes start with a great recipe. Look to one with accurate measurements and the correct ratios of flour to all the other ingredients, especially leaveners (which help with the perfect fluffy rise; too little or too much will make the pancakes flop). Once you nail down a great recipe, stick to it. Don't opt for a dash of this or a heaping cup of that—use exactly what the instructions call for.

Use the Correct Measuring Cups

Once you start making the pancakes, measure everything out carefully; use the correct dry and liquid measuring cups and level off ingredients to make sure they are measured properly.

Over-Mixing the Batter

A slightly lumpy pancake batter is actually a good thing. Sure, our natural instinct when mixing a batter is to make sure everything is nice and smooth—but resist it. Over-mixing develops gluten in the batter, which means heavier, chewier pancakes, rather than light and fluffy hotcakes.

Combine Ingredients Gently

Gently whisk, stir, or fold the wet and dry ingredients together just until the flour streak disappears, leaving small lumps in the batter. Don't worry—the lumps will work themselves out when the pancakes cook. And if you have a little extra time, use it: Rest the batter after you mix it, for anywhere up to 30 minutes, to let the gluten in the batter relax.

Over-Greasing the Pan

Don't just glug oil (or drop butter) into the skillet; for uniform pancakes, the fat must be evenly distributed. And, you don't need nearly as much as you think—just a light coating prevents greasy, weighed down pancakes.

Use a Thin, Even Layer

Fold a sheet of paper towel in half and place oil (or melted butter) in a bowl. Moisten the towel in the fat, then carefully rub the skillet with the oiled paper towel to create a very thin even layer of oil. You can also use a pastry brush to lightly oil the pan.

Butter or Oil?

If you find that butter is browning too fast, switch to oil. Typically, we prefer to cook pancakes in a neutral oil like grapeseed, vegetable, or canola, rather than using butter. Oil has a higher smoke point and it won't brown or burn like butter does once it gets too hot.

Forgetting to Preheat the Skillet

Preheating the skillet is essential. If you skip this step, your pancakes won't get that golden brown top; they will soak up the fat, making them dense and greasy. And once you reach optimal heat, don't just keep it there and hope everything works out. Adjust the heat to ensure the skillet is kept at optimal temperature. Some pans continue to build heat as they sit on the stovetop; others might cool down a bit as batter goes into the skillet.

Use the Right Pan and Preheat It

Use the correct skillet, one that is similar to the size of the burner and has a flat bottom for even heat distribution. Select a pan that is nonstick or opt for a well-seasoned cast iron griddle. If you have an electric griddle, start cooking the pancakes at 350°F, then adjust as necessary.

Preheat the pan over medium heat to ensure it is evenly hot; this should take about two minutes. (Unsure if it is at the right temperature? Test with a tiny pancake first.) When you're cooking, adjust the heat in very small increments—up or down—if the pancakes are cooking too fast or not browning fast enough. You'll get into the groove and understand this as you go, developing an almost natural pancake instinct.

Not Measuring Out Batter for Each Pancake

Pouring batter from the bowl or haphazardly spooning in any amount can cause misshapen pancakes that are not uniform. The perfect round pancakes you seek are achievable with minimal extra effort and the right tools.

Use a Ladle or Measuring Cup

Select a tool that holds about ¼ to ⅓ cup (for an average sized pancake) of batter at a time, such as a ladle, cookie scoop, measuring cup, or large spoon. Release the batter into the skillet, then immediately use the bottom of the utensil to smooth the pancake into the perfect circle. Don't press down hard.

To keep pancakes from combining in the skillet, don't overcrowd them. Typically, this means making one to three pancakes at a time, depending on the size of the pancake and the pan you're using.

Impatiently Flipping

Pancakes should only be flipped once. Flip too early, and you'll get an awkwardly shaped, deflated result, giving up that nice golden brown top for one that looks sad or raw. Flip too late, and you go from golden to too dark.

Wait Until Bubbles Form

For the perfect flip, use a thin offset metal spatula that easily slides under the pancake. If you are using a nonstick skillet, opt for a thin offset silicone spatula instead, so it won't scrape. Wait for bubbles—but don't flip at the first sign of them. Pause until a bunch of bubbles form all over the surface of the pancake and don't pop or disappear. That's when it's time to flip.

Not Keeping Pancakes Warm

Sometimes the simplest things make the biggest difference, like serving a warm stack of pancakes dripping with maple syrup and a melting patty of butter versus cold ones. Pancakes cook in batches, so if you leave the first batch on the counter by the time you get to the last pancakes, you'll have a cold stack.

Preheat the Oven

Use your oven to keep the pancakes nice and toasty while you cook the rest of the batter. Preheat your oven to 200°F and transfer cooked pancakes from the pan to a baking sheet or heatproof platter. Cover the pancakes loosely with foil to prevent them from drying out.

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