Probably the most important secret that you will 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.
It’s important of course to start with a good pancake recipe or mix. Search the Web and you will find many excellent pancake recipes and making pancake batter from scratch will give you wonderful results. And while some may look down their nose at ready to make pancake mixes, it is usually the cooking that spoils the pancakes and not the mix.
When the kids are begging for pancakes on a weekend morning, and time is of the essence, a good premade mix and a little water will have pancakes on the table in record time. Poor preparation rather than the poor quality of pancake mix is usually the reason box mixes are looked down upon.
Start out with a cast iron pancake griddle:
If you want to make excellent tasting pancakes consistently with the least amount of mess and cleanup time, the perfect answer is a cast iron pancake griddle. Using this properly on an electric or gas stove converts your kitchen into a grill just like the ones in a commercial restaurant. A cast iron griddle heats evenly and because of its weight and mass it maintains its temperature much more evenly as you cook.
Other types of cookware such as lightweight Teflon coated frying pans or electric fry pans or griddles are notorious for having rapidly fluctuating temperature control and uneven heating. A time tested cast iron griddle is the perfect answer to take care of these problems.
The main reason people have trouble making good pancakes is that they do not have a good method of determining the proper heat of the griddle before they start cooking. If pancakes are cooked at too low a heat they turn out tough and chewy. When cooked at a temperature that is too high, which is more common than not, the outside burns and crisp while the inside remains a raw and soggy mess.
The next time you make pancakes, take a few minutes to determine the proper settings for heating your pancake griddle with the following method. The trick to this method is known by many cooks but most probably don’t know the science behind it.
The Leidenfrost effect:
When you let a drop of water fall onto a hot pancake griddle, the water drop will dance around and stay in its droplet shape while it skitters across the surface. The scientific name for this is the Leidenfrost effect. When the drop hits the hot surface the water that comes in contact is immediately vaporized and the steam created pushes the remaining water in the drop up and away from the heated griddle.
This will not happen on a surface that is merely warm. In normal cooking situations it is agreed that the Leidenfrost effect occurs when the temperature of the griddle is at 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 pancakes that turn out perfectly is 375 degrees F, you can use a simple method to determine the setting for the burners on your stove. Start by warming up your pancake griddle to a very warm, but not hot temperature. Make sure it is preheated well but it is not hot enough to exhibit the Leidenfrost effect.
Then slowly increase the settings on your burners until you determine the point where a drop of water landing on the griddle will ‘dance’. Give the griddle time to heat to each new setting as you slowly increase the heat by changing the settings of your burners. You will want to make sure that the pancake griddle has reached the maximum temperature of your current settings before you test with a few drops of water.
When you see that the Leidenfrost effect is taking place, make a note of your burner settings so that in the future you can start right off and heat the griddle precisely. By knowing these settings you will always be able to reheat your griddle knowing that you have an exact point of reference.
According to some cooking guides, the temperature of 325F or 160C correlates to the ‘medium-low’ setting on your stove or range. The pancake cooking temperature of 375F (190C) is closer to ‘medium-high’.
Record the settings that work best for your stove:
Since the dancing water effect might be a little low for perfect pancake frying, you should now increase the temperature a little before your pour out your first pancakes. Try a small increase at first for one or two test pancakes and if you feel that it takes too long for them to finish increase the setting and give the pancake griddle time to adjust to the new heat setting before trying again.
Once you have determined the best pancake setting for your equipment make a note of it. In the future you’ll be surprised at how quickly you will be able to turn out perfect pancakes. All you will need to do is put your pancake griddle on the stove, turn the burner settings to these predetermined marks and give the griddle a little time to heat up.
Just by using a few drops of water and with knowing how the Leidenfrost effect works, you will easily be able to tell if your pancake griddle is ready and at the right temperature. You’ll be able to turn out great tasting and most importantly properly cooked pancakes in less time than it will take you to finish your first cup of morning coffee.