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The Secret to Light, Fluffy Pancakes

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked why my pancakes almost always turn out light and fluffy. Even my family has asked, though they’ve actually been right there when I’ve mixed them up and cooked them. I can’t take the credit for discovering this secret, either. In fact, it isn’t a secret.

In the early 1970s, right after graduating from high school, I went to work at a Sambo’s restaurant. I initially started as a dishwasher, later became a waiter, moved on to the position of cook, and ultimately into management. I learned to make good pancakes when I was cooking and part of it may seem counter-intuitive.

For those who don’t remember the Sambo’s Restaurant chain, these restaurants served many things, but they specialized in breakfasts. They had to be good tasting and they were filling. A common breakfast of 4 strips of bacon or sausage, two eggs, and six pancakes cost $1.99 and they had to be done right. At that price, the profit margin was low, so a mistake could cause the breakfast to cost the restaurant more than it made from the breakfast.

Sambo’s relied on high-volume sales, and it worked. Our restaurant commonly made between $800 and $1400 on the 6 am to 2 pm shift. It takes a lot of two-dollar meals to make that much money.

So what is the ‘secret’? The biggest part was in the mixing of the pancake batter. Most people make the batter way too thin, to begin with. If it is thin, the pancakes turn out flat and not much thicker than corrugated cardboard, which is what they often resemble in flavor. They are also very easy to overcook if the batter is thin.

The second part is that most people tend to overmix the pancake batter. This is the counter-intuitive part. When people make mashed potatoes or gravy, they try to avoid “lumpy” potatoes or gravy. With pancake batter, though, the batter should be a little lumpy. If it isn’t, the pancakes will normally turn out rubbery, from overmixing. That is great for frisbees but not so good for breakfast.

The last part is to refrain from overcooking the pancakes. Our grills were set to 350 F and once the batter was put on the grill, it was cooked until the air bubbles had popped within about 1/4-inch from the edge. The bubbles would still be forming in the middle of the pancakes. They were then flipped and cooked about the same length of time on the other side. The result was pancakes that were golden-brown, cooked all the way through, but without being rubbery.

I still make pancakes the same way, though it isn’t as precise because I don’t actually measure the temperature of the skillet. Of course, I also don’t mix up 5-gallons of batter at a time, either. That is a lot of batter, but the restaurant would go through 3-6 5-gallon containers of batter per morning shift.

Still, that is the whole secret to light and fluffy pancakes that aren’t rubbery.

Incidentally, nearly all of the pictures of pancakes on Pixabay are way too thin and at the restaurant, these would have been thrown away. That tells me that many people are used to eating pancakes that aren’t properly made. This also indicates that many people who don’t like pancakes have probably not tasted pancakes that were prepared properly. My own father had a hard time making good pancakes and my wife does, too. The pancakes in the picture I chose are barely thick enough to have met Sambo’s standards.

  • Do you like eating pancakes?

    • Yes
    • No
    • Yes, but not very often
  • Do you feel that you make good pancakes?

    • Yes
    • I don’t cook
    • No

What do you think?

11 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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    • I agree, totally. Some of my fondest memories were of working at Sambo’s. For a while, there was a stink made about the name of the restaurant because it was supposedly disparaging of blacks. Only, “little black Sambo” wasn’t a black, he was from India. Also, the name came from the name of the original owner: Sam Battistone

    • They are actually easy to make; much easier than bread. It isn’t even difficult to make them right, just by making the batter thick, not over-stirring it, and not over-cooking the pancakes.

      I didn’t mention in the article that dinner last night was pancakes, bacon, and eggs. 😀

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