Looking for the best pancake recipe to make for a cozy brunch or breakfast in? I tested 9 popular recipes in search of the fluffiest pancakes, the most buttery pancakes, and the easiest to make!
If you’re looking for the best pancake recipe on the internet, you’re in luck! The purpose of this bake off (or cook off) was to make a variety of pancakes side by side to test out different techniques. Read on to find out which my tasters liked the best!
All pancakes were made fresh, delivered straight to the plate of each taster. Nine friends came over to taste and rank for the below scores. Each taster ranked each pancake on a scale of 1-10 for taste and texture, and then answered whether they would like to eat the pancake again. Last, they had to arrange each pancake in order from favorite (1) to least favorite (9) (although we omitted these scores from the below chart for simplicity’s sake–the results were nearly identical to the average overall rankings).
- Gold Medal flour
- Kroger sugar
- Land O Lakes butter
- Full-fat buttermilk
- McCormick vanilla extract
- Diamond kosher salt.
I used 2 pans to make the pancakes, one nonstick and one cast iron. The main difference: the nonstick got much hotter over time while the cast iron remained fairly evenly heated.
There are what feels like millions of pancake recipes on the web. I focused on “buttermilk pancakes” or plain, buttermilk-style pancakes, since some recipes didn’t use buttermilk. I’m saving whole wheat pancakes, ricotta pancakes, etc. for future standalone comparisons. I also tried to pick recipes that showcased distinct ingredients or techniques.
The full list of the pancake recipes I considered are in my Google Spreadsheet.
Here are the finalists that I tested:
- Smitten Kitchen’s Tall, Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes: intended to be the “control” pancake with a fairly typical ratio of flour, sugar, butter and egg (although it does omit baking powder, which was slightly unusual).
- Ruth Reichl: Uses high ratio of butter and salt.
- Pioneer Woman’s Edna Mae Pancakes: Uses high ratio of sour cream.
- Clinton Street Baking: Uses separated, whipped egg whites.
- America’s Test Kitchen’s Best Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes: Uses a small amount of sour cream (and encompasses ATK’s rigorous testing).
- The Kitchn Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes: Uses a separated (unwhipped) egg and slightly higher ratio of butter.
- Mel’s Kitchen Cafe Overnight Pancakes: Uses yeast and an overnight rest in addition to regular leaveners.
- Shelby’s Cakey Cinnamon Pancakes: Uses powdered sugar.
- King Arthur Flour’s Simply Perfect Pancakes: Uses malted milk powder.
After the tasting, I also tried Martha Stewart’s Best Buttermilk Pancakes (which was popularly recommended when I put out the call on Instagram) and Epicurious’
Diner-Style Buttermilk Pancakes (which use seltzer) out of curiosity, which I will discuss at the end.
I was worried all the pancakes were going to taste the same, but this turned out to be far from the truth! People had some very distinct opinions on these pancakes. Here’s the final scoring from the 10 tasters:
Analysis of the Best Pancake Recipes
Shelby’s Cakey Cinnamon Pancakes (Flavor: 8.20, Texture: 7.50)
My friend Shelby gave me this recipe years ago when I first started blogging and I haven’t since found another recipe that uses powdered sugar. I loved this recipe as soon as I made it due to the cakey texture that results from the cornstarch in the powdered sugar.
Most other tasters loved it too. I do think this recipe got an unfair leg up since it used cinnamon (no other recipe called for spices), but aside from liking the cinnamon, tasters liked the dense, thicker texture. If you like cakey pancakes (as I do), this is the one for you. It is slightly sweet, very crispy on the edges, and has a very tight, even crumb. 100% of the tasters would eat this again, though that might just be because they all love cinnamon. It is, at least, a BREEZE to whip up, which is a win in my book.
Make this if: You like cinnamon and cakey pancakes.
The Kitchn Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes (Flavor: 7.22, Texture: 7.89)
I included this pancake because it had a higher ratio of butter than the average recipe (though not as high as Ruth’s). It also incorporates the egg separation technique that my previous favorite buttermilk pancake recipe uses. You mix the egg yolk in with the wet ingredients, then stir the un-whipped egg white in at the end. I don’t know why it works, but it always seems to make for a superior pancake.
I didn’t expect such rave reviews, but people LOVED this pancake. It had a slightly close-crumbed texture that still managed to be fluffy and soft with crisp edges. They were definitely fluffier than the winning cakey cinnamon pancakes, which probably accounts for the Kitchn’s slightly higher texture rating. The flavor reminded me of the Clinton Street pancake, but with a superior texture. I would 100% make this again.
Make this if: You’re looking for the perfect, typical buttermilk pancake! This has all the loft, fluffiness and flavor of a great pancake.
Ruth Reichl (Flavor: 7.40, Texture: 7.0)
I included Ruth’s recipe given its high ratio of butter and salt and relatively small amount of flour. And I was stunned at how ridiculously good these are! The edges of this very flat pancake were perfectly golden and crispy; the interior was buttery, salty and custardy. I don’t typically prefer thin pancakes, but I LOVED this one.
When I reheated one of the pancakes, it literally fried itself in the retained butter. I’d always wondered if adding more butter would make it even better (and closer to my dream restaurant pancake) or just greasy. In this case, the additional butter meant great flavor and dreamily crispy edges (and a slightly greasier pancake, but not terribly so). However, it didn’t necessarily contribute to the thick, close crumb of my ideal pancake. These are absolutely a worthy easy-to-make splurge.
Make this if: You’re craving rich, buttery, thin, crisp-edged flapjacks.
Clinton Street Baking (Flavor: 6.90, Texture: 5.30)
This recipe comes from the famed pancake shop in New York City. While their pancakes are delightfully fluffy and above average, they didn’t rank among my all-time favorites. Still, I figured their recipe would be interesting to compare.
Ultimately, tasters (including me) loved the slightly sweet, vanilla-laced flavor and the beautifully crisp edges. However, the whipped egg whites didn’t seem to do much for the texture. They turned out fairly flat and not particularly fluffy, and many commented that it tasted eggy. I personally would eat it again for the flavor (as would most other tasters), though my ideal pancake would be thicker and softer.
Make this if: You are a die-hard Clinton Street fan and don’t mind whipping egg whites.
Mel’s Kitchen Cafe Overnight Pancakes (Flavor: 4.80, Texture: 7.40)
These overnight pancakes rely on both yeast and the typical leaveners to get its rise. After an overnight rest in the fridge (you can rest these for up to 24 hours), these pancakes cooked up tall and fluffy. Tasters oohed as they came out of the pan. However, although flavors loved the extraordinarily fluffy texture (reminiscent of a good, fluffy diner pancake), most were disappointed in the lack of flavor.
The faintest scent of yeast lent it a bready aroma, but the body lacked any sweetness. After cooling a bit, the fluffiness quickly transformed into sponginess. This was definitely a pancake that peaked straight out of the pan. With a bit of added sweetness (more sugar and some vanilla), I think this pancake could be really delicious. I don’t think it’s necessarily worth the overnight rest, but it’s a great option if you want a make-ahead recipe.
Make these if: I would either tweak this recipe or try the overnight pancake technique with your favorite pancake recipe. Or try these overnight pancakes that I also had my eye on (which use only yeast as a leavener).
America’s Test Kitchen’s Best Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes (Flavor: 6.0, Texture: 5.60)
Finally, an ATK recipe that isn’t too complicated! This recipe, which uses sour cream on top of buttermilk, was highly requested. Interestingly (compared to the Pioneer Woman’s pancake which uses a far higher ratio of sour cream), many commenters picked up on the slight tang in this pancake.
Although I thought the flavor was kind of addictive, many were unimpressed by the slightly mushy interior. It reminded a couple tasters of nostalgic pancakes from their youth, like the ones from Cracker Barrel or McDonald’s. Although I liked this pancake, I again wished it was thicker (and that the inside was slightly drier).
Make this if: You’re nostalgic for Cracker Barrel pancakes (just kidding). I would make these again if I had just a little sour cream on hand to use up, but they wouldn’t be my first choice.
King Arthur Flour’s Simply Perfect Pancakes (Flavor: 5.11, Texture: 5.56)
King Arthur Flour includes malted milk powder in this recipe as a way to imitate that “diner” flavor since most food-service pancake mixes use malt rather than sugar. Unfortunately, no one detected the malt, although it vaguely tasted like a more commercial pancake to me. We found the overall texture to be bland and generic. So maybe we achieved the aim of the recipe? The recipe has great reviews on the King Arthur site, but unfortunately, no one in our group was really wowed.
Make this if: Unfortunately, I would not make this recipe again.
Smitten Kitchen’s Tall, Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes (Flavor: 4.0, Texture: 6.14):
I included this pancake due to Deb’s incredible popularity but also as a benchmark for the average pancake (1 egg, 1 cup of flour, etc. etc.). This is quite similar to Martha Stewart’s popular buttermilk pancake with slight differences in the leavening and significantly less buttermilk. Turns out, these made quite the difference. These pancakes was SO INCREDIBLY, UNUSUALLY THICK. They were pretty much my ideal texture: almost breadlike with a powdery bite.
However, I agreed with everyone else that the flavor was sorely lacking. The flavor was slightly salty but otherwise very bland, and thus received the lowest overall score for flavor (though they shot up to fifth for texture!). I did use the smaller suggested amount of buttermilk, so maybe these would have turned out better had I added a little more milk. In any case, I’m curious to try them again with additional sweetener and some vanilla.
Make these if: You want extra-thick and cakey pancakes that are not very sweet and almost like stovetop biscuits.
Pioneer Woman’s Edna Mae Pancakes (Flavor: 4.80, Texture: 5.30):
This pancake stood out for its super high ratio of sour cream and rose to beautifully tall, puffy heights. However, tasters decried this pancake for its chewy texture (I may have overblended the flour mixture, so this could be be user error) and eggy yet bland flavor. It was all around kind of mediocre.
Make these if: I mean, it’s a great way to get rid of sour cream.
As an addendum, after the official tasting (there were only so many pancakes I could make in one day), I tried two additional recipes:
I made these twice because I was bewildered by the first batch. Similar to America’s Test Kitchen, these pancakes were relatively spongy, verging on tasting undercooked on the inside. However, after making them twice, I think this is just the nature of these pancakes. On the plus side, they are dependably moist. On the downside, they are thinner than my ideal pancakes, the flavor was a bit bland, and I personally don’t love a super moist interior.
Make these if: If you tend to like thinner, spongier pancakes, I’d give these or ATK’s recipe a try!
Epicurious’ Diner-Style Buttermilk Pancakes (sorry, forgot to take a picture!)
I’d always been curious to try using seltzer in a pancake recipe since I heard that it made for fluffier pancakes. The pancakes certainly were light, delicate and had great flavor from the vanilla and salt, but they weren’t very tall. If you are a fan of thinner, moist pancakes, I would try this recipe. If you have seltzer on hand, I’d try adding it to your favorite pancake recipe but I can’t say that I think it made a ton of difference. We couldn’t tell a huge difference in texture between these and Martha’s pancakes except that the interior was not as moist and spongy.
Make these if: You love thin and delicate pancakes. I think these would be most analogous to a lower-fat version of Ruth Reichl’s pancakes (less crispy edges and less buttery, but still thin and moist) or a better version of Martha’s pancakes.
Tips and Tricks for Making the Best Pancakes
Here are a few tips for improving your pancake technique:
For a thicker pancake texture, no need to whip egg whites
In the past, I’ve never found this technique to be worth the time and effort of getting out my electric mixer. After this pancake test, I stand by this statement. You can easily get taller pancakes simply by reducing the liquid to dry ingredient ratio. Whipping egg whites in the Clinton St. pancakes didn’t lead to fluffier pancakes compared to pancakes with non-whipped egg whites (and even if I am folding in the whipped egg whites incorrectly, you can still get super fluffy pancakes without whipped egg whites!).
Separate the egg for fluffier pancakes
I do stand by the separated egg theory for fluffier pancakes. I would give this a try with whatever pancake recipe you’re using. Simply whisk the yolk in with the regular wet ingredients, and gently whisk the egg white into the batter until just combined at the end.
The Kitchn recommends letting the batter rest on the counter overnight, which I am very curious to try in the future. Anecdotally, I’ve left pancake batter in the fridge overnight and loved the results the next day. I need to further test this theory, but let me know if you try it out!
Use buttermilk for full-flavor pancakes
I used to routinely swap out buttermilk in pancake recipes for an almond milk + vinegar “buttermilk” mixture. I definitely noticed a difference when using full-fat, real-deal buttermilk. I compared two versions of the Martha Stewart pancakes: half made with the full-fat buttermilk and half with buttermilk substitute. The almond milk pancakes were far flatter and paler. If you must sub an alternative milk in a pancake recipe, I’d recommend looking for a recipe specifically designed for alternative milk OR reduce the milk to keep the thickness and fluffiness of the original recipe.
Best Pancake Recommendations
Update: my favorite pancake recipe of all time that I’ve tried is the Chez Ma Tante recipe via the NYT! You will have to add between 1/4-1/2 cup flour to the batter to get the right texture. But otherwise, I find it very true to the absolutely delicious restaurant version!
Overall, The Kitchn’s Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes and Ruth Reichl were my new favorite discoveries! (Since Shelby’s cakey pancakes were already in my repertoire.) I expect to bust out Ruth Reichl’s recipe in the future if I need to impress a crowd, but will likely stick to The Kitchn’s recipe for more “everyday” pancakes. However, I still have some overnight tests and recipe tweaking work to do to recreate my ideal thick and cakey diner-style pancake!
- Most universally crowd-pleasing pancakes: Ruth Reichl or Shelby’s Cakey Cinnamon
- Best pancakes for the least effort: Shelby’s Cakey Cinnamon or Ruth Reichl
- Best classic pancakes: The Kitchn’s Lofty Buttermilk pancakes
- Thickest pancakes: Smitten Kitchen’s Tall and Fluffy Buttermilk pancakes