Probably the most important secret you’ll need to learn when you want to make great pancakes is how to get the right temperature on your pancake griddle and how to maintain that temperature.
Of course, it’s important to start with a good pancake recipe or mix. Search the web and you will find many great pancake recipes and making pancake batter from scratch will give you wonderful results. And while some may look over their shoulder when they’re ready to make pancake mixes, it’s usually the cooking that spoils the pancakes, not the mix.
When the kids order pancakes on a weekend morning, and time is of the essence, a good mix and a little water will have pancakes on the table in record time. Poor preparation, rather than poor pancake mix quality, is often the reason boxed mixes are scorned.
Start with a cast iron pancake griddle:
If you want to make consistently great-tasting pancakes with the least amount of mess and cleanup time, a cast iron pancake griddle is the perfect answer. Using this correctly on an electric or gas stove turns your kitchen into a grill just like the ones in a commercial restaurant. A cast iron griddle heats evenly and, due to its weight and mass, maintains its temperature much more evenly while cooking.
Other types of cookware, such as Teflon-coated lightweight pans or electric skillets or griddles, are notorious for having rapidly fluctuating temperature control and uneven heating. A time-tested cast iron griddle is the perfect answer to these problems.
The main reason people have trouble making good pancakes is that they don’t have a good method for determining the proper heat of the griddle before you start cooking. If pancakes are cooked on too low a heat, they become tough and chewy. When cooked at too high a temperature, which is more common, the exterior burns and becomes crispy, while the interior remains raw and moist.
The next time you make pancakes, take a few minutes to determine the proper setting to heat your pancake griddle using the following method. Many cooks know the trick to this method, but they most likely don’t know the science behind it.
The Leidenfrost Effect:
When you drop a drop of water onto a hot pancake griddle, the drop of water will dance and stay in its drop shape as it slides across the surface. The scientific name for this is the Leidenfrost effect. When the droplet hits the hot surface, the water it comes in contact with immediately vaporizes and the steam created pushes the remaining water in the droplet up and away from the hot iron.
This will not happen on a surface that is simply hot. In normal cooking situations, it is accepted that the Leidenfrost effect occurs when the griddle temperature is approximately 325 degrees F.
Find and record the best setting for your stove:
Since the ‘dancing water’ or Leidenfrost effect occurs at 325 degrees F, and the best accepted temperature for cooking perfect pancakes is 375 degrees F, you can use a simple method to determine your stove’s burner settings. Start by heating your pancake griddle to very warm, but not hot. Make sure it’s well preheated, but not hot enough to exhibit the Leidenfrost effect.
Then slowly increase your burner settings until you determine the point at which a drop of water falling on the griddle will ‘dance’. Give the griddle time to heat up on each new setting as you slowly increase the heat by changing the burner settings. You’ll want to make sure the pancake griddle has reached the maximum temperature of its current setting before testing with a few drops of water.
When you see the Leidenfrost effect taking place, make a note of your burner settings so that in the future you can start right away and heat the iron accurately. By knowing these settings, you will always be able to reheat your iron knowing you have an exact set point.
According to some cooking guides, a temperature of 325F or 160C correlates to the ‘medium-low’ setting on your cooktop or stove. Pancake cooking temperature of 375F (190C) is closer to ‘medium-high’.
Record the settings that work best for your range:
Since the dancing water effect can be a bit low for perfect pancake frying, you now need to turn the temperature up a bit before serving your first few pancakes. Try a small increase at first for one or two test pancakes and if you think they are taking too long to finish, increase the setting and give the pancake griddle time to adjust to the new heat setting before trying again.
Once you’ve determined the best pancake setup for your team, write it down. In the future, you will be amazed at how quickly you will be able to make perfect pancakes. All you’ll need to do is put the pancake griddle on the stove, change the burner settings to these default marks, and give the griddle a little time to heat up.
By just using a few drops of water and knowing how the Leidenfrost effect works, you can easily tell if your pancake griddle is ready and at the right temperature. You’ll be whipping up great-tasting and, more importantly, well-cooked pancakes in less time than it will take you to finish your first cup of morning coffee.