how to make pancakes, pancakes recipe, buttermilk pancakes

Everybody (except my 11 year old son) loves pancakes, but nobody seems to know how to make them so that they come out looking like they do on billboards and TV commercials. It’s actually very easy to get those beautiful, evenly golden-brown little hot cakes that melt in your mouth and don’t require a steak knife to get into.

There are essentially two ways to make pancakes, from a mix or from scratch. Let’s explore both. I want to start with how to make pancakes from scratch so that you have read the whole article before taking the easy way out and just make the boring mix.

Pancake Science

There are a ton of recipes for pancakes, but they all follow some basic scientific principles. Yes, science. All cooking really is just about chemical reactions.

The general idea is that you take flour, richen it up with some fat, get it just wet enough to make a batter, add something to make it rise, add heat, and voila! Here is a basic recipe for buttermilk pancakes.

The purpose of buttermilk in the batter is to add an acid to help baking soda make the cakes rise and become fluffy. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand you can make a substitute with 1-cup of regular milk and 1 tablespoon of an acid, like white vinegar, or lemon juice.

If for some reason you just really don’t want to use buttermilk or substitution, you will have to remove the baking powder and increase the soda to 1 and ½ teaspoons.

Buttermilk Pancakes

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 dash salt

1 egg

3 tablespoons of melted butter

1 cup of buttermilk

First things first, sift the dry ingredients together. If you don’t have a flour sifter use a fine strainer.

flour sifter, best flour sifter, flour sifter purpose

Next, add the butter, egg, and buttermilk. Mix until it is a smooth batter, but with some lumps. Don’t over mix as this will make the tough pancakes that you need a steak knife to cut up.

mixer attachment, mixing dough

Preheat a griddle (or a pan for eggsto a low medium; too cool and they won’t cook or look right, too hot and they are black. I usually make 1 test cake to check my heat. The next step is the most important part in getting those beautiful restaurant style pancakes. Grease your hot griddle by taking an old, ugly towel and apply a thin layer of grease.

This is important. If you dump a ton of oil on the griddle you are making fry bread not pancakes. The oil is just a thin barrier between batter and metal, not a cooking medium. I use a towel so I don’t put too much on, and I ensure even coverage.

seasoning griddle, electric griddle

Now you can ladle on your batter. I use a 6-ounce ladle because I like big stacks of pancakes and I don’t like making 20 little pancakes to feed 4 people. Pancakes are delicate little suckers. If you flip them prematurely they get tough and look bad, so you want to wait for bubbles to appear on top and start popping before you even think about flipping.

Then, use the edge of your spatula to gently lift one side of the first cake you poured and look for a good golden brown.

big ladle, spatula

If it’s looking good, flip. Use the same technique to check the other side as well. This side will look more flat and shiny.  I call it the plate side.

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The finished product.

Notice the even color and the nice height of the cake. So will the people you serve them to. If you are making multiple batches make sure to use your towel and re-grease the griddle. If you don’t you will have sticking issues.

How to Make Pancakes – the Lazy Way

Now, if you decide to take the easy way out and buy a pre-made mix, some of the rules change. Always follow the recipe on the box or bag, somebody got paid really well to figure out the ratios for you. Also, if you noticed, we started with the dry ingredients when we were making the real deal.

With a mix you want to start with lukewarm water in the bowl first. It’s important that the water is warm, as the leavening ingredients in the mix need some heat, not too much, to start the leavening process. We achieved this with the buttermilk in the scratch recipe. Other than that, the process is identical. The batter should still be slightly lumpy, the griddle the same temperature, etc.

Finally, if you screw a pancake up and no one sees, put it on a plate and call it your “tester”. Then everyone will think you really know what you’re doing, just don’t make 3 or 4 “testers”. Happy cooking!

If you think that your pancakes are pretty good as well …? Tell us below!


Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

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